"Playing Ugly" for Oscar Nods

With Oscar noms coming out, it's time to look at what role beauty plays in which women—rather, which women's roles—are selected for top honors. I find this take at the Allure blog interesting; it asks if in order to be given the legitimacy of an Oscar nod, an actress has to "temper her beauty."

It's a good question and one I'll look at later, but for now I'm interested in the upside-notion presented here: Annette Bening and Michelle Williams are singled out here for their "makeunders." And it's true that neither actress was at her most glamorous in their nominated roles—but does that mean their beauty was being tempered? I see it instead as us as the audience being so used to the glamour element that's the norm in films that when an actress plays a role that isn't a glamourpuss, we  legitimately use the shorthand "playing ugly" to describe what's actually a perfectly normal look, in which one's beauty is either a relative non-factor, or is assessed by different means than we'd assess a traditional starlet role. Michelle Williams has the same face she did in Synecdoche, New York, and though she wasn't singled out for her beauty in that role, neither was anyone commenting on her downplaying her beauty. She was wearing standard leading-lady makeup and hair there; ergo, no comment.

Charlize Theron in Monster certainly "tempered" her appearance, to the point of utter transformation, but that's in a different league. The actresses mentioned here weren't onscreen looking disheveled and unkempt as Theron as Aileen Wuornos did—because their characters lived in secure shelters, not at road stops, and could do the things most women do to look standard: comb their hair, apply moisturizer, etc. They looked like normal people—beautiful normal people, to be sure—but normal people. Maybe normal people's looks are tempered by some definitions, but isn't is that what we're used to seeing is so exaggerated that we notice it when it's not there?