The eternal beauty of a mouth with character

9 May 2011

Others might prefer Julia Roberts’ big toothy grin or Kerry Washington’s perfectly kissable pout. For myself, I like actresses whose mouths do additional work for them beyond simply looking pretty — mouths that gives women character. We live in a world in which actresses keep getting told to medically alter their most distinctive features to bring them into line with mainstream tastes; rather, I want to celebrate real women’s faces.

Take Sophia Loren. No matter whether viewers got distracted by those curves and those cheekbones, her mouth always offered a kind of gravitas to her parts onscreen. No one could be mistaken into thinking she was eye candy alone. She signaled a whole range of emotions with variations of the set of her mouth as seen here — disapproval, distance, determination, controlled rage. That mouth could break your heart and win your respect. When she kicked you out, that mouth might well be the thing you remembered most. For a 76-year-old goddess, as she is now, her mouth gives her a grandeur that I, for one, would kill for.

But there’s also Carey Mulligan‘s little smirk. She’s one of the few ingénue actresses of the moment whose distinctive mouth always tells me she’s far more imaginative, interesting, and pragmatic than her blonde loveliness and dimples might otherwise lead us to expect. Considering how often she’s played straightforward girly-girls (think Bleak House and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) her mouth always undercut any impulse to underestimate her. If you scan through Google images of her, she’s invariably photographed with her mouth clamped shut tight, which gives her a perpetually ironic or grimacing look. It just goes to show you: even if you’re everyone’s favorite girl actor right now, their love might be won by the intelligence that obviously backs up your Twiggy-like cuteness.

And oh for the long, long jaw and mouth of Khandi Alexander. I’ve loved her ever since her early NewsRadio days — a love so pure that I am (still) willing to forgive her turn on the otherwise unwatchable CSI: Miami as the medical

examiner Dr. Alexx (!) Woods. If there remained any doubt about my forgiveness, it’s been resolved now that she’s in HBO’s Treme as the owner of her family’s bar. Alexander’s face has an elegance that bespeaks her early career as a dancer and choreographer — for stars as prominent as Whitney Houston — but it’s that mouth I celebrate every single time I see her. She can sneer, purse her lips, or explain detailed medical terms with equal aplomb; and when she smiles, she flashes the most astounding mouthful of beautiful teeth.

On the topic of teeth, however, I’m really getting sick of the super-perfect caps that actors use to whitewash their delightfully irregular fangs. I was crushed when Michelle Rodriguez changed her sexy, slightly crooked teeth in for a generic set out of a magazine; she might as well be anyone. Who would Steve Buscemi or David Bowie be without those teeth of theirs? In the absence of many crooked-teeth heroines to choose from in the acting world, I’m going to celebrate Kirsten Dunst, whose lateral incisors pop out a bit and remind us she’s a real woman. Even just on their own, Dunst’s teeth give her entire face a youthful realness that reminds me of how many of us finally got liberated from our junior high-school braces only to discover our teeth had other ideas. Plus, in Dunst’s case her teeth always remind me of her early star-making role in Interview With the Vampire (1994), made when she was only 12.

Dunst’s comparatively thin lips also reminds me to sing a short song to the early Barbara Hershey. I was too young to notice her until the wonderful Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986 — remember when his films all seemed to be wonderful?) in which the excellently creepy Michael Caine lusts for her. One of the best things about that film was its capacity for making us see Hershey’s superlative beauty and her natural ease through Caine’s eyes. Hershey always seemed a bit unaware of how truly beautiful she was — except her great, thin-lipped mouth and slightly jutting chin always gave her a glamour that even a high school girl could wield as a weapon. For that reason it was crushing to hear in the early 90s that she had undergone lip augmentation for the film Beaches. She later had the procedure reversed (or perhaps the lips deflated on their own?); I’m still working on reversing my frustration with her as a poster child for the Angelina Jolie craze for absurdly poofy lips.

And finally there’s the mixed-race Devon Aoki, who channels a little Christina Ricci with her unusually small jaw and petulant pout contrasted with her prominent cheekbones and striking eyes. In Sin City she played the ruthless killer Miho. The story never met a female stereotype it didn’t like — it casts Miho as mute (yeah, I know) who was sure to slice you in half with her swords if you crossed her, especially if you made the mistake of calling her a “Jap slut” or “Jap slag.” Misogynistic stereotypes aside — and I think you know how much it takes for me to set them aside — I got stuck on Aoki’s unusual mouth. I’ve got a small jaw myself, so I know that Aoki’s orthodonist must have become wealthy finding ways to make all her teeth fit in as they should; most of all, I’m delighted to see a broader range of great mouths on female actors.

I’m racing back to finish grading now, but do let me know if I’ve missed anyone.

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12 Responses to “The eternal beauty of a mouth with character”


  1. […] a sorry state of affairs. A few months ago I wrote about the eternal beauty of a mouth with character, but I think having a real nose is even more radical. (Shall I be hyperbolic? There’s a […]


  2. […] course, alongside my posts calling for more real noses, unusual mouths, and real female athletes’ bodies, this one is hopelessly idealistic. But who knows? Maybe in […]

  3. Didion Says:

    Okay, despite having loved Ruth Wilson in an earlier version of Jane Eyre, I have now discovered her beautiful mouth and terrific acting talent in the BBC series Luther, where she plays the best serial killer/sociopath I’ve ever seen. Just look at these images, which still don’t do full justice to her gorgeous, wide mouth:
    Ruth Wilson
    Ruth Wilson, tumblr
    Ruth Wilson, Luther


  4. […] for actresses who break out of the ridiculously strict Hollywood standards when it comes to noses, mouths, body size, and other body parts so frequently adjusted by plastic surgeons. Now, don’t get […]

  5. Trthmstr Says:

    Nice article. It is glaringly obvious though, that Sofia Lorens magnificent beauty and power, definitively dwarf the other women in the article. Aside from Barbara Hershey, the others are ridiculously below Sofias level. Barbara Hershey is classically beautiful. Sofia Loren is mesmerizingly, fantastically, hauntingly beautuful. Her kind of womanly beauty seeps into the soul, and into the sub consciousness and will forever haunt a young mans dreams. If she were to toy with your heart she could rip it out, hollow it out, and ruin the.rest of your romantic life. She has a power and dignity that could make a slave out of a mans soul. In front of her colossal edifice of grandure the others are mere diminutive trinkets to waiting for a slight.breeze to blow them from the stage of public.consciousness.


  6. […] it’s comments like these that make my blog so resoundingly esoteric. (See posts on noses, mouths, and teeth.) Esoteric it may be, but it’s my growing opinion that hair is an easy site for […]


  7. beautiful girls.Kirsten dunst is bellisima

  8. nenad kovacevic Says:

    The most beautiful mouth I have ever seen.


  9. Ruth,I want to mary you immediatelly.

  10. Maria Says:

    You forgot Shu Qi


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