Blake Lively is "rich pretty." So is Gwyneth Paltrow. It's a kind of prettiness that's bound up with showing off how much money you've spent. Designer labels only, flat-ironed/wavy hair with lots of upkeep, super skinny, sensibly nice tits.1 Blake Lively in a Forever 21 dress is just another beautiful girl. Blake Lively in Chanel is a different creature, an idea called "Blake Lively." An excuse for the fashion industry to promote boring standards of beauty and wealth through an aspirational avatar.
But Blake Lively seems smart, at least smart enough to know how to control her image. She just gave a quote about how even she was sick of seeing her own face on magazine covers. It's true that her publicity machine was overzealous from the get-go, planting obviously fake stories, but it worked! It helped get her A-List auditions for movies that most CW actresses would murder Chuck Bass to get.
Ingenues make a choice. They can try to appeal to women, or they can try to appeal to men. What is appealing to men is threatening to women. If you want to appeal to both women and men, it is best to be "cute" rather than "hot." If you are superhot and smart and want to appeal to both women and men, your name is Olivia Wilde and I wish you all the best of luck in your quest, lady. Loved you as Marissa's girlfriend on The O.C.
An ingenue who is pretty and smart enough, like Rachel McAdams, can appeal to both sexes without having to do a topless magazine cover. Nobody has to do a topless magazine cover, but it's a given that it'll be asked. The topless2 magazine cover is the tipping point into favoring men. But the streams are totally crossed at this point. We're all trying to appeal to totally different (sometimes conflicting) demographics simultaneously, which is why Katy Perry and Rihanna wear vinyl nurse outfits for audiences of 12-year-old girls.
Here is what women do like about Blake Lively: She's not perfect-looking. Her body is industry-standard ideal, but possibly through augmentation. If she relies too much on long legs, big boobs, and blonde hair now, we can at least still remember when she was a soccer-playing tomboy in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Blake Lively would actually make a great Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's terrible idea for a Great Gatsby movie.3 Daisy is the American archetype of an unattainable rich girl. Pretty, vapid, prone to dancing drunk on tables. Equal parts Paris Hilton and Paris Review. Daisy is not a great character of fiction, because she isn't much of a character, really. She's just a collection of fetishistic feminine and WASP traits, with a laugh that sounds like money.
But is Blake Lively a Daisy Buchanan, really? She constantly creates fodder for tabloids and manipulatively/savvily refuses to comment on it.4 If we don't know what she's really like, it's because we've never seen an interview with her in which she's anything less than bubbly. Her public persona creates the illusion of nonstop effervescence, endless freedom from care, the kind of freedom from care that can only come with having more money than you deserve or could ever possibly spend. Profiles are sprinkled with details about how much money Blake spends, how she buys Christian Louboutins for friends as gifts and stays in the fanciest French hotels.
Lively is more like Ginger Rogers in musical fantasy Gold Diggers Of 1933. The American illusion of prosperity, glamour, and wealth shines most brightly during horrible economic recessions. It's a long-limbed siren beckoning from a rock. The closer you get to the bulletproof glass that keeps you away, the more aware you become of the edges of the scene, the slightly chipped and fading paint on the mural in the back.
Women are mixed on Kate Bosworth because she is pretty enough but nobody knows if she can act. They are anti-January Jones because she incredibly gorgeous but so terrible at acting. The verdict on Blake Lively hasn't yet been rendered. But the girl you are jealous of, the girl who dates Leo, the girl who seduces your boyfriend/husband/friends away from you? Women aren't sure how they feel about that girl. Unless she is very good at acting or makes you feel like you are also her (Angelina Jolie). There's a line, and on the other side stands Rielle Hunter.
Lively is positioning herself as A-List without having any real A-List credentials, besides her part in The Town, which she is still banking on to suggest that she is suited for A-List roles. It's very Internet age of her to publicly declare herself A-list when evidence of her acting talent is still scant at best. It is an extremely calculated series of superficial career moves that lead to being the Green Lantern's girlfriend, Leonardo DiCaprio's staged-photo dream date, and on several covers of Vogue. She's actually a lot like Joan Crawford.
But how is Blake Lively positioning herself for the long-term? Are any people really "Blake Lively fans"? Could Blake Lively open a movie on her own? Will she start taking Kate Hudson's terrible romantic-comedy leftovers? At least Kate Hudson has Almost Famous to remind us that she can be a very good actress. What does Blake Lively have? A TV show on which she plays the sympathetic main character's richer, prettier, more vapid best frenemy Serena van der Woodsen, spiritual heir of Daisy Buchanan? Is Blake Lively America's frenemy? Is she the Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids to our national Kristen Wiig? It kind of all depends on how she handles The Green Lantern's 23 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. More naked pictures might not hurt. If she wants to broaden her appeal, she should try holding a kitten next time.
Molly Lambert writes about pop culture for Grantland.