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If a character is beautiful, then that character is a bad person, either publicly or secretly.
Traditionally, heroes are attractive, clean, and well-mannered, and villains are ugly, unhygienic, and boorish. There were some attractive villains - sometimes Evil Is Sexy - but Beauty Equals Goodness used to be taken for granted by writers and producers.
But a trend arose and became inescapable in the mid 1980s with the theatrical release of Revenge of the Nerds and continuing from there, which implies that the majority of good, honest, clean cut and reliable people and credible sources are unfashionable and out of shape or at least Hollywood Homely and uncool. A good-looking character in a work where this holds is either hiding their unattractiveness or geekiness from the public (and will later embrace it), or is a crass, vulgar, shallow, self-absorbed, unintelligent Jerkass.
The 90s played this trope to the hilt with Reunion Revenge episodes and movies where the ugly duckling girl with skinny legs and braces became a supermodel simply by growing up with her pure heart intact, or the geeky boy with the pocket protector and giant glasses is now a handsome millionaire. Meanwhile, the pretty Alpha Bitch is a frumpy housewife or a slutty burnout, and the sexy Jerk Jock is a potbellied gas jockey or mopping up hangover puke spills in the bathrooms at a fast food joint. The lesson of these was basically "beauty is bad if you're born with it, because then you're a jerk, but if you're ugly and nerdy with a pure heart life will reward you with good looks".
This trope provides a layer of This Loser Is You when taken to include not just an average-to-ugly appearance but also crude behavior. The moral of stories where this holds becomes, "Be Yourself, and that never means being pretty or acting polite."
Often, Beauty Is Bad appears alongside Beauty Equals Goodness in the same work, especially in romantic situations, because of the Double Standard. The poor, working-class underdog will have rich pretty-boy rivals, all of whom have the personality of a toad. At the same time, the rich girl for whom he is competing will have a heart of gold despite being the most beautiful girl in school... Uptown Girl and Ugly Guy, Hot Wife both run off "Beauty Is Bad, but only for men."
This trope is the opposite of Beauty Equals Goodness and is related to, but not the same as, Evil Is Sexy. Evil Is Sexy refers to the use of sexuality and attractiveness to add appeal to a villain (intentionally or otherwise); Beauty Is Bad refers to making a character good-looking to indicate that they are insufferable and unlikable.
Please note that Beauty Is Bad refers to conventional measures of beauty. If more than one standard of beauty is competing in a work and this comes into play, it's the more conventional beauties who will be not-so-good.
Anime and Manga
- Griffith as Femto in Berserk is quite attractive. He's also pretty much a Complete Monster.
- Nakago in Fushigi Yuugi couples this with Blond Guys Are Evil. Soi is a subversion; while she looks like a Femme Fatale, she's actually a fairly nice person outside of battle situations.
Films -- Live-Action
- Hairspray is a milder example, in that Tracy Turnblad, while chubby, is still usually quite pretty. The fact remains, though, that the thin, attractive Van Tussel women (and most of the other cast members on The Corny Collins Show) are portrayed as being snobbish and cruel, apparently just because they are thin and attractive.
- While the Van Tussels remain just as horrible in the second Hairspray movie, the other attractive cast members are shown to warm up to Tracy. The Negro Day girls who are thin and attractive are nice from the start.
- Shallow Hal.
- In Shrek, where the good guys are mostly ugly, the villains of the first three movies, Lord Farquaad and Prince Charming, are both handsome.
- Any part played by William Zabka during the late 1980s. He seemed to have made a career out of playing pretty-boy bullies who thought nothing of acting as crappily as possible to anyone not as handsome, rich, and self-important as himself. It should be noted that, by all accounts, the former-actor-turned-Oscar-nominated-director himself is anything but a Jerkass. The characters he played in The Karate Kid and Back to School especially.
- Heavily implied in the case of many supporting characters in Repo! The Genetic Opera. (Not the named ones, but the extras- wanting to look or feel better automatically makes you a shallow, surgery addicted drug whore in this film.) It was implied in the extra material that there was a group of people who were addicted to plastic surgery. Original art for these people showed that they weren't attractive by any means.
- The Alpha Beta fraternity and thier associated sorority, Pi Delta Pi in Revenge of the Nerds.
- Subverted in The Mask: The blonde hottie (played by Cameron Diaz) with whom the Big Bad is involved gets paired up with Stanley at the end.
- More a subversion of Evil Is Sexy. Played kind of straight in the mask, Stanly isn't exactly a sexy dude.
- Famously Inverted with seemingly wholesome Peggy
- Princess Laideronette (whose name is the French word for "ugly" rendered into a feminine name- one of the translations into English renamed her Hidessa) from the 18th-century fairy tale novella "The Green Serpent" is, in spite of having a good figure and lovely hair according to the original illustrations (they only show her from the back), so badly disfigured from birth by a curse flung at her by a fairy who was scorned by Laidronette's parents that she is kept locked away from the world and forced to wear a veil. When she wants to attend a ball in honor of her vain, beautiful, shallow sister Bellotte (who escaped the curse), the only concession her parents make is allowing her a peep-hole to watch the ball so she doesn't frighten the guests. Her virtue is rewarded by the restoration of her beauty, marriage to a handsome prince, and becoming queen in her own right rather than just a consort, while Bellotte is left with nothing.
- In Jane Eyre, Jane herself and Rochester are nothing special, even joking about each other's hideousness, while Blanche Ingram and Georgiana Reed are more conventionally attractive, but horrible and snobby. Charlotte Bronte admitted this was her intent when she wrote the novel, in a rebuttal to her sister Emily, to prove that a heroine didn't have to be beautiful.
- The eponymous character in Tess Gerrittsen's "Rizzoli" series dislikes beautiful women (mostly because she isn't one), and is always eager to apply a negative label to them or otherwise react badly to them.
- Female villains in fairy tales often fit this trope. The wicked stepsisters in "Cinderella" (though to be fair, there are just as many versions of the story that present them as ugly), the wicked queen in "Snow White", etc. In fact, a good many of those villains are only evil because they're jealous that the protagonists are more beautiful than they are.
- Achren, the former Queen of Prydain, is described as being intensely beautiful despite being at least sixty years old, if not much older. She's a minor villain in the first book of the series, and the Big Bad of the third.
- The Indigo series has several examples: Quinas (despite being a mutant) comes to mind. So do Jessamin (who's the avatar of the Serpent who Devours) and Carlaze (who's just a scheming bitch). In all of the above cases, the first thing we hear about is their good looks. However, not every attractive character in the series is necessarily evil. (For example, there's Indigo herself...although not much focus is put on her looks.)
- Bret Easton Ellis' Glamorama is about models who are so self-centered and vain that they become sociopathic terrorists.
- Sauron, being something akin to a fallen angel, was once very beautiful, and used this trait to ensnare humanity in his plots.
- Like Sauron above, and probably a Shout-Out to him, the Big Bad Torak in the Belgariad is described as being the most beautiful of the gods, with a vanity to match.
- Lord Voldemort, Big Bad of the Harry Potter series, was almost unbelievably handsome in his youth, and used it to manipulate those around him. Later on, not so much.
- Though there are plenty of characters in A Song of Ice and Fire who are both good-looking and good people, being attractive and blonde is one of the trademarks of the Lannister clan, who are generally speaking not nice people.
- Used alongside Beauty Equals Goodness in Catherine Anderson's novels. A beautiful heroine is kind, chaste, pure, selfless, and modest. If another woman vying for the hero's affections is attractive, though, she's a shameless hussy who flaunts her body while flinging herself at the man, who is blatantly horrified by such behavior.
- Wang Lung's father in The Good Earth swears by this when discussing his son's future bride. According to him, beautiful women are useless and soft and slutty while ugly women are pure, chaste, and used to the grueling hard work a wife will need to do around the house.
- This idea was played with on the reality show True Beauty, which took a cast of good-looking people and then attempted to see if they were as good on the inside as they were on the outside by testing their kindness and morals. Some of them were, some of them... weren't.
- Most children's shows where the main characters are a Grotesque Gallery.
- A classic Doctor Who example from very early in the show's run is the story "Galaxy 4" - the Doctor and his companions find themselves trapped on a planet along with the beautiful female Drahvins and the hideous Rills.
- Any very attractive teenage girl or adult woman in a Lifetime Movie of the Week.
- Played straight with Morgana and several one-off characters in Merlin.
- In the Law and Order Special Victims Unit episode "Mean", three mean, pretty and popular teenage girls kidnap and murder a fourth pretty and popular teenage girl.
- In the "Thank God It's Friday" episode of Growing Pains, Mike, Boner and Eddie are invited to a party by a hip college dude. At the party, Mike's offered cocaine by a stunning blonde. Message: hot chicks do drugs and therefore are part of the wrong crowd.
- Alias - EVERY SINGLE RECURRING ATTRACTIVE FEMALE ON ALIAS WHO ISN'T SYDNEY IS A VILLAIN.. All of them. The only exceptions are Rachel, who starts off working for an evil organization and doesn't know it yet, and Francie; it wasn't her fault she was killed by her evil double.
- An episode of Joan of Arcadia has Joan believing God is trying to make her preach this, and she begins protesting her cosmetology class by not showering, washing her hair, or putting on deodorant or make up. God then tells her that isn't what he meant. But it kind of was. But not really. The Aesop of the episode was a little confusing.
- In the "Love Conquers Al" episode of Cold Case, it's revealed that the head cheerleader encouraged her track star boyfriend to kill the female track star he had sex with.
- On soap operas, the super sexy characters engage in all kinds of immoral and unethical behavior.
- One episode of 7th Heaven has Mary and Lucy deciding they hate Matt's new girlfriend because she's beautiful. They're actually portrayed as in the wrong for it, though, with Annie calling them out on their behavior and pointing out that there's literally nothing wrong with the girl. They pay for their actions when the girl breaks up with Matt over them.
- The Jimmy Soul song "If You Want To Be Happy" (famously covered by the Coasters) has this to say:
A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall.
As soon as he marries her, then she starts
To do the things that will break his heart,
But if you make an ugly woman your wife,
You'll be happy for the rest of your life,
An ugly woman cooks her meals on time,
She'll always give you peace of mind.
- Attractive women are often seen as inferior wrestlers, or are pre-judged to have gotten their jobs on looks rather than athletic merits. This attitude dates back to Sable in the late 90s. On one hand Sable was ultra-popular for a while and brought back women's wrestling to mainstream promotions. On the other hand, she'd had so much plastic surgery she could barely bump and had to be carried through her matches by the less attractive but more talented Jacqueline and Luna Vachon. To this day WWE tends to hire models that their talent scouts find attractive and send them to developmental territories instead of hiring girls from the independent promotions. There are also the Diva Search divas, who get their jobs by winning a contest that most wrestling fans find boring. So ex-models regularly get accused of being talentless and undeserving of their jobs, regardless of how hard they work to improve their skills.
- WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes, especially in his stint as "Dashing Cody Rhodes", whose character was that of a handsome, but utterly vain and egotistical heel who'd denigrate fans and other superstars for their supposed "ugliness".
- In the Ace Attorney series, nearly every female that other characters describe as "beautiful" turns out to be pure evil. Plenty of "good" female characters are considered attractive by the fandom - Mia Fey in particular - but it rarely comes up in the games themselves.
- One of the Hoenn-introduced Pokémon from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire versions is Beautifly. Despite its appearance of a seemingly innocent butterfly, it has a much darker side. It drains other Pokémon's body fluids to survive. Of course, this is not possible in game.
- Also introduced in the same game, meet Gorebyss. Despite its elegant appearance, it aggressively chases its prey with its spear-shaped mouth into submission. After it catches its prey, it proceeds by draining the prey's bodily fluids with its mouth.
- The Trix in the Winx Club: They are as psychopathic, bitchy, and homicidal as they are beautiful. Heck their hobbies are torturing others for shits and giggles (Mirta, Lucy etc)
- In the "The List" episode of South Park, after Kyle is voted the ugliest kid in the class, Abraham Lincoln tells Kyle that ugly people develop character and kids who are considered to be hot rarely do.
- "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" is one of the most effective things someone can possibly say to make people hate him or her. The usual snarky response is, "Alright, we'll hate you 'cause you're obnoxious."
- Fashion model Naomi Campbell. She's taken potshots at other black models (including Tyra Banks) and has quite a habit of abusing her assistants. An incident where she threw her cellphone at someone has gained Memetic Mutation status. Now she's in court for war crimes accused buying blood diamonds from former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor's regime. Or it could be seen as society's need to prove this trope. According to others, she's exacting but polite to her staff, and if you would turn down a handful of diamonds someone gave you, throw the first stone.
- There is an increasing size discrimination against women who are "supermodel thin". Never mind that some women really are built to be size 2 and there's no more they can do about it than the natural size 14s of the world; they are automatically classified by some as negative and unrealistic role models and earn the frequent scorn of groups and individuals who say that a thin woman isn't a "real" woman and that "real women have curves."
- Let's not forget that most people don't often take height into account--100 or less pounds is supermodel-thin for an average-height woman who are usually about 120lbs, but it's perfectly normal for anyone under that height (and 100-110 pound women generally are rather short).
- There's also Mo'Nique, whose entire act revolves around this trope. Less than 200 pounds? You're a skinny bitch who can't cook who is secretly trying to steal all of the good men from the bigger sistas.
- This seems to be the main point of Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty as well. You'll notice that all the women in the commercials have very attractive faces and perfect hair; they just happen to weigh twenty pounds more than your average model (they're not even fat, either; just the larger end of average). They even Photoshopped them to be prettier.
- That seems more an attempt to get larger women to buy more beauty products than to make anyone feel better.
- Bullies of the Millennial Generation have been described as attractive, athletic and academically accomplished by USA Today in this article, here.
- Some religions discourage (or outright ban) the use of makeup, the idea being that it leads those who view the enhanced person's face into sin (of lust, generally) and/or that the (usually women) who use it are trashy or vain.
- Back in The Dung Ages, anyone who was "too anything" -- too rich, too beautiful/handsome, too smart -- was thought to have made a Deal with the Devil.
- Only if they didn't match their social station. Nobles and royals could be as pretty as they liked. Attractive peasants needed to tread carefully, however.
- The recommendation career coach Marty Nemko makes to employers is to hire ugly people. The reasons he gives are that they're nicer, work harder and are more loyal.
- How many times have you heard the word pretty boy used as an insult? You can bet that any attractive man, especially a younger Teen Idol will get a lot of hate, and accusations of homosexuality (because anybody that's effeminate is obviously gay), from anybody outside their demographic, look at Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic era), Johnny Depp (Pre-Tim Burton), Orlando Bloom (Still). The hate dries up when they
appear in action moviesmature as actors. Theoretically.
- Thanks to that whole lovely Double Standard business, in some ways a pretty woman is taken much less seriously than an attractive man. This is often rooted in the "pretty = "Alpha Bitch" idea, or the assumption that pretty women are automatically stupid and anything they achieve is through use of their looks rather than any actual talent. Even attractive women who are nowhere near So Beautiful It's a Curse territory are, in many fields of work, far too often dismissed as having "slept their way to the top" or something equally demeaning. In a depressing number of situations they're more likely to be leered at than listened to. Attractive or muscular men can catch this, too, sometimes objectified to the point of being called a "beefcake" and also dismissed as dumb. And all too often it doesn't matter how attractive or unattractive you are--if you're blonde, you might as well get used to being treated as though you're mentally deficient.
- Indeed, according to scientific studies, it's far harder for a beautiful woman to get work in the traditionally male professions, like the police, than her less attractive peers, and if by some fluke they get in, they can expect endless sexual harassment and are unlikely to ever be taken seriously. Beauty really is a curse (professionally) if your goals in life involve more than being pretty for a living.
- A recent People magazine story on bullying featured interviews with numerous children who had been victimized, including one lovely young woman who had been harassed because of her good looks--people automatically assumed that she was promiscuous and treated her as such.
- That's the go-to bullying method for victims who are considered attractive. Paradoxically, less attractive victims are mocked for the opposite reason.
- Many of the prettiest animals in Nature are that way because they use bright, striking colors to advertise to predators how poisonous they are. Do not touch the pretty jungle frogs.