Magical Makeovers

Our heroine stands before a mirror, and an unfamiliar face stares back at her. Some benevolent force has corrected her flaws and given her the loveliness she dreamed of. Who is she? (potential spoilers ahead) 

She is Bella Swan Cullen, newly made vampire. She is Hermione Granger, taking an opportunity to shrink her large front teeth. She is Robin McKinley’s Beauty, holding hands with her no-longer-beastly prince.

She is always a woman. Young Peter Parker gawked at his newly muscular physique, but his transformation left his face alone.

Beauty and Bella both express surprise and disbelief upon seeing their new selves. When they notice small quirks that remain from their old faces, they seem reassured, all confusion resolved. Hermione’s transformation takes place off the page. She is pleased and proud when she tells Harry how she orchestrated her dental makeover. None of these heroines expresses frustration or remorse over her change.

After my braces came off, I smiled when the little gap between my front teeth crept back. (Yes, I wore my retainer, and yes, it came back anyway.) I’d thought it was cool, and I’d missed it. These heroines baffle me with their eventual calm acceptance of even more drastic changes to their faces.

Robin McKinley’s Beauty has been my favorite book for twenty years. Packing tape and wishes hold its cover on. Thanks in part to Beauty‘s overall emphasis on inner strength and personality, I grew up reasonably content with my own face. I hope today’s girls and young women do the same.


All of the characters I mentioned above, save one, exist in multiple forms of media. I know of no direct movie version of Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I do wonder whether McKinley’s book-loving Beauty inspired Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Here are my reference points for the other characters:

  • Bella: Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (book)
  • Hermione: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (book)
  • Peter Parker: Spider-Man (2002 movie starring Tobey Maguire)



Magical Makeovers — 2 Comments

  1. This is part of what I really loved with the ‘transformation’ in Shrek, challenging the assumption that the “reward” was for our hero to look like a (styrofoam) prince.

  2. I agree, Colin. Fiona is absolutely an antidote to the magical makeover. What else did you love about the transformation?

    I loved the end of Wreck-It Ralph for similar reasons. Have you seen it? I highly recommend it.

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