When one thinks of The Wizard of Oz, one of the first lines that comes to mind is when Good Witch Glinda proclaims, “Only bad witches are ugly” (right after she asks Dorothy if she’s a good witch or a bad witch, in one of the most subtly hilarious burns in cinematic history). A simplistic concept that was popular in folktales, fairy tales, and older Disney films, it established the metaphor of an ugly heart seeping into a person’s outward appearance.
Strangely enough, however, that concept has reversed itself in modern literature, most especially in the genres of romance and YA. Now, female villains are almost always depicted as incredibly beautiful, and their physical beauty is depicted as a false lure to the hero, a threat to the heroine, and an indicator of the villain’s inherent moral weakness.
Now, the core idea behind this is pretty harmless—the presence of a beautiful villainess (either a romantic rival or a bitter ex) provides an opportunity for the hero’s romantic enlightenment as he realizes the heroine’s inner loveliness is preferable to the villain’s outward hotness. But the common execution of this concept in romance leads to conflicting, hypocritical, and often misogynist messages about women and the power they have over their bodies and appearances.