Bad girls – we may fear them, and we’re supposed to hate them. But some of us love them! I do, and I know I’m not the only one. But what makes a villainess so special? And what makes her so attractive?
Let’s start with looks: heroines may be ravishingly beautiful, but villainesses are undeniably hot. And not necessarily in some inborn perfection or spending-hours-in-the-gym-working-on-their-bikini-body way. The villainess’ image is self-created shock and awe – you can’t take your eyes off her, and not just because she might kill you.
And it’s not just in fairy tales that the villainess creates such a stunning image – psychologists have researched the correlation between evil and excellent self presentation. Bad girls (and boys) who exhibit what psychologists call the Dark Triad of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy – tend to adorn themselves very effectively. Darkness can be glamorous, for sure, but well-dressed darkness is irresistible. We know that pain and drama are on their way, and we can’t wait – which may explain why so many villainesses look a lot like dominatrices:
Villainesses show their dominance in other ways besides dress: they play by their own rules, which may be the most glamorous thing about them. While the rest of us are tactfully dealing with office and family politics, the villainess is casting curses on her enemies, or simply kickboxing them off a rooftop. Even a non-cartoon villainess gets to cut through the red tape of good manners and say exactly what she thinks:
A villainess gets to be a bitch when she wants to – or when she needs to. Bitchiness is a charge so often used against women who are not playing nice, but sometimes there really is no other way to get things done. And villainesses get things done.
Which may be why we really love them. With all their plotting and scheming, the villainesses are the ones driving the plot. They’re proactive. And smart. Their lives are more interesting. Maybe most everyone hates them, but they’re the ones with initiative. The heroines, as beautiful and nice as they are, are usually asleep waiting for a kiss. Or a rescue.
Some of the most popular fairy tales were created to illustrate the necessities of courtly and moral life to young noble women. Purity would be foremost among the desired virtues then, but in the modern world, we want to openly incorporate creativity and ambition into our lives – we can’t just pull strings from behind our fluttering lace fans. So we need our villainesses – even the old school ones – to show us how to break the old rules.
Modern retellings of fairy tales allow the villainess her own story of purity and redemption, and why not? Life is not fair, and it usually takes a lot more than falling asleep to bring a good end to a tricky situation. Bringing moral complexity to our fairy tale witches and bitches allows us to strive to be nice, but still break a few rules when we need to – and to look fabulous while doing so.