It’s the question that has long been dissected and cemented in pop culture, thanks to a memorable episode of The Office surrounding the topic: Is Hilary Swank attractive? Well it looks like the subject is about to be resurrected once again. During an interview with Swank on Los Angeles public radio station KCRW, Kim Masters spoke with the actress about other, older actresses’ struggles finding work in the industry, to which Swank responded, “I’m still young enough that I haven’t been feeling the brunt of that. Certainly, you hear about it … and you do see it, although you also see a lot more roles I think opening up for older women. I mean, Meryl Streep seems to be dominating.” Responded Masters: “Oh, but she’s… the exception… She’s not a pretty girl, and you’re not either.”
Now, if you listen to the interview itself, it doesn’t necessarily sound as though Masters is labeling Swank ugly; she could simply be using “pretty girl” as a synonym for “girly girl.” And if Swank’s turns in The Next Karate Kid and Million Dollar Baby are any indication, it’s true the actress is anything but a girly girl. That’s at least how Swank responded to Masters comment (after joking remarking, “Hey, what are you saying?”): “Actually, I completely know what you’re saying. I play characters. I don’t play a movie star-looking type of person, which I prefer. I mean, who walks around looking like that anyway?”
We could re-launch the Swank hot-or-not debate. (And I would argue that, yes, she is indeed good-looking. Exhibit A, B, and C.) But my real question is: Why in do Swank’s looks matter so damn much? Granted, I understand that beauty is often preferred in Hollywood – movies like, say, Out of Sight wouldn’t have hit so hard without the matinee idol looks of George Clooney and Most Beautiful Woman in the World Jennifer Lopez – but it’s certainly not the sole qualification for Hollywood actresses. Yes, it’s their job to continue to look movie-ready, but it’s also their job to act. And lord knows Swank can do that; the actress picked up two Academy Awards in five years. But perhaps that’s exactly why there’s a fixation on Swank, specifically: Most of her Oscar-winning contemporaries have long been lauded for their looks. (Some, even more than for their work.) When placed in a bunch that includes Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, and Natalie Portman, is it possible to avoid the hot-or-not debate amongst pop culture consumers? Is there some sort of bizarre higher standard for beauty when it comes to Oscar-winning actresses? (Heck, even Helen Mirren has been sexualized since winning an award for The Queen. Though, I don’t blame those who have been tempted to do so. Long live her!) And if that’s the case, where’s the Jeff Bridges vs. Sean Penn vs. Daniel Day-Lewis vs. Forest Whitaker debate? When can we expect to see a Parks and Rec episode surrounding whether we’d drop, date, or marry (EW’s a PG site, friends!) Philip Seymour Hoffman?
So is Swank pretty? Yes. Should pop culture lovers continue to debate the topic? It’s a free country. But should it matter? No. Let’s not distract ourselves with pointless banter on the subject and instead focus on her body of work, not her body. There are more important Swank-related subjects to discuss. Like P.S. I Love You. What the hell was that?
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