Tag Archives: 16th century beauty

Anne and Natalie Defy the Ideal: From Susan’s Book and Interview with Natalie Dormer

The following is the intellectual property of Susan Bordo.  Please do not quote or cite without attribution to: Susan Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming 2012.

Defying the fashion for blondes, which many privileged women with less than “whitely” locks tried to achieve through various recipes for hair and skin-lightening, Anne grew her dark hair so long that she could sit on it.  Before marriage, young women were permitted to wear their hair loose (after, it had to be hidden under a hood; the exception was the Queen, on those state occasions which required her to wear a crown.)   Religious ideology aside, Anne, must have been quite a ravishing sight, dancing at court, her thick, chestnut mane cascading down her back. “Her gracefulness rivaled Venus,” said the French courtier Brantome. When spotted after she returned to the English court by the French king Francis (whose wife Claude Anne had attended when she was younger) he declared:  “Venus etait blonde, on m’a dit: L’on voit bien, qu’elle est brunette.”  (“They say Venus was a blonde; but you can well see that she is a brunette.) Henry was obsessed with besting Francis, and the comment must have both pleased and provoked him. He was fiercely jealous of Francis’s reputation for style and dash.  I imagine the comment making its way around court, sending hearts and tongues aflutter, gossiping over the “brunette” beauty, as controversial—and influential—as the debut of the twentieth-century “flapper’s” short hair or Twiggy’s pixie.

Natalie Dormer, who plays Anne, is naturally blonde, and she auditioned that way, fully expecting, however, that if she got the role, she would play her as a brunette.  After she received the phone call telling her she’d won the part, she immediately dyed her hair.  When she arrived on set, she was shocked to discover that they had wanted her to remain blonde:

“They were really unhappy and it was communicated to me that I’d almost jeopardized my casting. But it’s such an important detail! Because she was defying the ideal, of what it meant for a female to be attractive. So we’re all barely cast, and I went to Bob Greenblatt with my heart in my mouth, and told him how important it was that Anne be dark. You have to let me play her dark! Some might say I was being melodramatic and self-important.  But I thought it would just be a direct betrayal of Anne. Of her refusal to step into the imprint of the acceptable norm at the time. “

The 16th century ideal

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