Brienne the Beauty and what this means for us

Relatively short post that attempts to sum up my thoughts on the line “Everyone is beautiful!”

I’ve always had a thing for female warriors in fiction, especially when they’re fighting in a male-dominated society.  Alanna the Lioness was my main girl…at least, until Tamora Pierce wrote the Protector of the Small books, and then my love was shared with Keladry of Mindelan.  These women put everything aside to do what they wanted to do, and endured taunting and secrecy and betrayal for, frankly, the privilege of being hacked at by men with swords.  But I started to notice something with all of these women.

They weren’t just badass; they were beautiful.

Alanna, Keladry, Eowyn, Katniss; they all were at least above-average in what was considered conventional beauty.  Every one of them had love interests; some of them had several.  Many chose to grow out their hair and wear dresses; many got married and had children.  As much as men wanted them off the battlefields, they also wanted them in bed.  Perhaps not their bed, but at least a bed, because of course someone wanted them.

And then, sometime in 2010, I read A Clash of Kings, and was introduced to Brienne of Tarth, and my world changed. (Side note: this stuff pretty much doesn’t apply to Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne in Game of Thrones.  She’s over six feet tall, but she’s also certainly conventionally attractive.)

File:Brienne by quickreaver.jpg
My personal favorite fan art of her

Brienne is a warrior implied to have the skill to best all but a handful of men in Westeros, and not through the trope of being small and quicker than her bumbling male opponents.  She’s six and a half feet tall, and essentially pure muscle, with barely noticeable “female” secondary sex characteristics.  She keeps her hair short, not as a cute pixie cut, but so she can look more male and fight better.  She doesn’t have a quick, sassy wit to keep her opponents off-base: I’d even argue she’s not very bright.  And, most importantly, she’s ugly.  Not “ugly-duckling-but-can-be-a-swan-when-grown” ugly, since she’s supposed to be in her early twenties when introduced.  Not “she’d be pretty with a bit of makeup” ugly: she’s described as having a face like a ham, and no dresses would fit her.  Not Hollywood-ugly, where you take the character’s hair out of a ponytail and switch out the glasses for contacts and new haircut and she’s a babe because she’s actually been one the whole time.  And not even “she’s ugly for a woman but hot for a man” ugly so that hijinks can ensue when someone, male or female, finds her attractive.  It’s 100% possible and implied that no one ever really will.  Her name is Brienne the Beauty, not as a hint to her true appearance when the man of her dreams is waiting in the wings (yes, but what about Jaime, I know, I know, I get it, let me make my point anyway), but because the (fictional but still patriarchal) world mocks her for looking the way she does.

And you know what?  I LOVE IT.

I love it SO MUCH I can’t even express it in speech because I get too excited.  George R.R. Martin finally wrote a patriarchy-defying character in all sense of the statement: no one wanted her on the battlefield, but no one secretly wanted to bang her either.  AND THAT’S AMAZING.  SHE’S AMAZING.  SHE’S THIS UNATTRACTIVE MASS OF MUSCLE AND SWORD SKILLS AND IT’S AMAZING.

Some of you might be tempted to say something like “aww, don’t call her unattractive!  She’s the best!”  You see what’s going on there?  She IS the best, and she’s also unattractive, and that’s totally okay!  Why? Because beauty is 100000% subjective and highly influenced by society and advertising and other associated bullshit and should never, EVER be a measure of a person’s worth.  Statements such as “everyone is beautiful” are well-intentioned, but they miss the mark.  Beauty straight up does not matter to how you should value a person, and this goes double for women because they are the ones who suffer more when their appearances aren’t up to standard.  The ugliest person in the entire goshdarn world is as deserving of your respect as the most beautiful.  “Every person has worth, regardless of beauty” is a much more accurate statement.

I realize that attempting to teach that statement as a replacement (especially to groups that include young girls who have been taught since birth that beauty is the most important thing) will be an uphill battle.  I realize the intentions of calling everyone beautiful are wonderful and pure and good-hearted.  I realize that to maintain a sexual relationship with someone, a perception of beauty most certainly does matter.  I realize a lot of y’all want Jaime and Brienne to get together and go on adventures and be adorable. (Trust me, I SO get that one.) REGARDLESS.  I’d really, really love to see the entire way we speak about a person’s value become independent of how they look.  Because Brienne is my homegirl no matter how ham-like her face.  Brienne the Worthy.  Brienne the Awesome.  Brienne the Badass.  Brienne the Ham-Faced Deliverer of Justice.  Pick whatever you’d like, she’s still the best.  She still has value.  And so does every single “ugly” person in the world.