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Plain Jane

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"I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose, and small cherry mouth; I desired to be tall, stately and finely developed in figure; I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked."

A character, usually female, who describes herself as homely, ugly or unattractive, or is described as such by another character or the author. These types of characters tend to go one of three ways;

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  1. The character really isn't plain at all and comes to this realization herself or it is pointed out by another character. This type of Plain Jane could have been beautiful all along or grown up nicely as the story progressed.
  2. The girl in question really is homely but compensates for her looks with her skill, smarts, or heart. This type seems to acknowledge her unattractiveness but does nothing to better her appearance and couldn't care less. This type of Jane is usually a tomboy or a working girl. Usually ends with a "Don't judge a book by its cover" aesop, but not always.
  3. The Jane is very aware of her "ugliness" and uses it as a reason to wangst and get attention from others. This more often than not can result in "I Just Want to Be Beautiful".

The Jane can also be the Butt-Monkey of the story because of her looks and used for comedy. If the Jane is only considered ugly in canon, then she may suffer from a case of Hollywood Homely.

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Compare Blessed with Suck, when Jane's plainness acts as an asset, and Ugly Cute. Contrast The Beautiful Elite and So Beautiful, It's a Curse.


Examples:

Anime & Manga

  • Megumi from How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend deacribes herself as plain compared the otaku-ish Tomoya.
    Megumi: I'm completely plain. [...] My grades aren't particularly good, I'm not in any clubs, and I've never served on any class committees. I don't have all that many friends [...]. So all that considered, it's unsurprising that you didn't remember me.
  • Howl's Moving Castle: Sophie often describes herself as not being pretty. While she's not stunningly beautiful compared to the way other, more glamourous characters are depicted, she's not ugly either. Her dowdy fashion sense and lack of confidence also exacerbate her plainness. While she tries not to let this bother her, she does have insecurities about it. When Howl is having an overdramatic meltdown over not being considered beautiful (after Sophie accidentally dyes his hair) Sophie yells at him that she's "never once been beautiful in [her] entire life" and runs out crying. Later, she begs Howl to stay with her even though she knows she's "not very pretty", to which Howl declares she is beautiful. It's implied part of the reason Sophie is more comfortable as an old woman after being cursed is because people don't expect her to be more glamourous-looking.
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  • Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead: Aside from being quite buff from his college rugby days, Akira isn't drawn as particularly attractive or ugly compared to most other characters his age. He's plain and average next to his handsome Chick Magnet Best Friend Kencho, Head-Turning Beauty Shizuka, and the curvy and blond-haired Beatrix. Akira is particularly envious of Kencho, whose handsome face and sociable personality make it easy for him to pick up girls and have sex.

Film

Fanfiction

Literature

  • Lucia from The Betrothed is a type 2, who attracted Renzo (her fiance) with her intelligence and Don Rodrigo because she's a nearly impossible conquest. Lampshaded by many characters who have heard of her plight before meeting her, who then comment they expected someone more beautiful.
  • Cassidy in the Black Jewels novels The Shadow Queen and Shalador's Lady is rather plain by most characters' standards, including her own. (Although her fantasy-Native American love interest considers her red hair and freckles exotically charming.) She's primarily a type two, but she does have some self-esteem issues and insecurities over being abandoned for someone more glamorous.
  • Sonea from The Black Magician Trilogy describes herself as being average looking, but she doesn't lack for male attention and is regarded as attractive by those same males.
  • In The Diamond Girls, Dixie and Jude are both described as being plain-looking, especially next to their more conventionally beautiful sisters Martine and Rochelle. Jude doesn't give two hoots about her appearance, while Dixie is implied to feel a bit more despondent about it because it's yet another thing her sisters overshadow her in.
  • In Dragon Bones, the noblewoman Tisala of Callis is described as rather plain by the narrator, Ward, who nevertheless is smitten with her. She herself doesn't remark upon her looks. She doesn't seem to consider it important. As she makes up for her looks in badassery and a sense of humor, no one else cares, either.
  • Eileen: Eileen describes herself repeatedly as plain, though not extraordinarily ugly. However, she deliberately tries to make herself look as unappealing and asexual as possible, dressing in baggy and unappealing clothes. After she left X-ville and started dressing better, she was still not a great beauty but much more attractive than before.
  • Harry Potter's friend Hermione Granger is first described as frizzy-haired, buck-toothed and shrill, but she eventually outgrows it. That is, the teeth and shrill voice. Her hair is still frizzy, unless she tames it with lots and lots of a magical hair care product, which she considers too much of an effort for every day.
  • Jane Eyre:
    • Most likely the Trope Namer. Jane not only tells herself she's unattractive but most of the other characters do as well. However, later in the story, it's hinted she may be too harsh on herself. She also eventually points out that even if she is considered "poor, obscure, plain and little" she's still a person with feelings and deserving of happiness and respect.
    • Mr. Rochester qualifies as a rare male example. His looks are frequently described as plain, if not downright ugly. But he has a captivating personality and is Tall, Dark, and Snarky, so women still find him appealing. Aaand Rochester is wealthy, so there may be elements of gold-digging there. Once his wealth is gone, and he's also injured from the fire, there don't seem to be many people interested... with the exception of Jane, who loves him as a person.
  • In Let Me Call You Sweetheart it turns out Head-Turning Beauty Suzanne was this in her childhood before getting plastic surgery. The nicest thing her stepfather can say about her looks is that she was "not a pretty girl". Her looks, among other things, contributed to a lot of her insecurities well into adulthood despite her becoming stunningly beautiful.
  • Caroline Ayres, the female lead in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, is repeatedly described as mannish, plain-faced, unkempt, and badly dressed. Interestingly, in the Film of the Book she is played by Ruth Wilson, who had played Jane Eyre — the most famous Plain Jane of all — over a decade earlier.
  • Hazel Shade in Pale Fire, who's a tragic variant. She's overweight, psoriasis-afflicted, and at the age of twenty-two has gotten almost no attention from men (worrying given it's The '50s). This leaves her unhappy and somewhat mentally unhinged and is an indirect cause of her tragic death.
  • Adela Quested in A Passage to India. She knows she's not attractive and several characters acknowledge it as well. She's on her way to marry a guy who is also not good-looking.
  • Pride and Prejudice:
    • Mary Bennet is the only one plain among her very attractive sisters who are all reputed beauties. She strives to gain as many accomplishments as possible — she reads or plays the piano all the time — to make up for her looks. However, it's also implied she's not that smart either.
    • Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth Bennet's best friend, is described as plain by several characters, including herself and the narrator. She knows that's why she's dangerously close to becoming an Old Maid, and she happily marries a stupid and obnoxious man because she knows she can't do better.
  • Another literal example with Jane Rizzoli from Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles series. She's a very good example of Type 2, as it's mentioned in the first book that she went into police work because she knew it was a career where she would be respected for her mind, not her looks. Yet it's also mentioned that she isn't necessarily bad-looking, but seems reluctant to play up whatever attractiveness she might have—wearing unflattering suits, no makeup. And she's clearly NOT okay with not being beautiful, as she often complains about it and resents women who are.
  • The title character of Sarah Plain And Tall, which gets its name from the way she describes herself in a letter.
  • Mary from The Secret Garden. She is described as an ugly and stern child but becomes somewhat prettier as the novel progresses and she becomes happier.
  • In Shades of Milk and Honey, the protagonist, Jane, deems herself homely, especially in comparison to her much prettier sister Melody, who, in turn, envies Jane her prowess in the glamour magic, which is considered an obligatory talent for an accomplished young lady, much like playing the piano is in Jane Austen's works.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Downplayed with Arya Stark. She's considered plain next to her beautiful sister Sansa; Sansa takes after their mother in looks (who is also considered a beauty), while Arya takes after her father's side of the family. Sansa and her friends mockingly call her "Arya Horseface" and when Arya is told that she resembles her late aunt Lyanna, she is confused because Lyanna was considered very beautiful. It's implied that Arya will start to grow into her looks as she ages, with other characters describing her as pretty. It's also implied some of this is because unlike Sansa, Arya doesn't easily fit Westeros' conventions around women's beauty; she's skinny, athletic and often covered in dirt and scabs.
  • Opal Cowan from the Storm books sees herself as plain, especially compared to previous protagonist Yelena, but she proves just as appealing to men, if not more so. The book cover also shows her as being very attractive.
  • In Kir Bulychev's Those Who Survive, Maryana, one of the main characters, continually broods over her ugliness. She's not strikingly beautiful (the fact that she's in a Wilderness Survival Plot on an extremely unfriendly planet doesn't help matters), but she is quite nice-looking overall. Anyway, the main character Oleg is sure that True Beauty Is on the Inside and chooses Maryana over Dumb Blonde Liz.
  • Princess Maria Bolkonskaya from War and Peace is described as having beautiful eyes, but is a plain girl in every other physical aspect.
  • Catherine Sloper in Washington Square is always described as plain. The narrator and other characters describe her as having the kind of looks that would be better suited to an older woman than a 20-year-old, making her perhaps a delayed version of She's All Grown Up.
  • In When Demons Walk, there is Shamera, who considers herself rather average in the looks department, and openly admits that she needs make-up and revealing dresses to attract male attention. As she is undercover as some lord's mistress, and has to look the part, this is rather important. (Her "day job" is thief, which she usually does in men's clothes.)

Music

  • South African singer-songwriter Ampie explicitly uses this trope in his ballad Plain Jane. The video is an affectionate parody of reality TV shows of the The Farmer Seeks A Wifenote  type; in which a prosperous, good-natured but somewhat dim farmer called Johannes is presented with two possible wives who contend for his good favours. The glamorous and beautiful Patricia, who just wants to be wife to a farmer, is the fore-runner who gets most of the camera time. Meanwhile the seemingly dowdier Jane - who dresses in veldt-chic and is a farm-girl herself who aspires to be a farmer with a husband - is practically ignored. This tale can only go one way... Jane wins out in the end and gets the rose from Johannes. note 
Theatre
  • In some versions of Bare: A Pop Opera, Nadia describes herself this way in a song called "Plain Jane Fat Ass."
  • In A Chorus Line, Val describes herself as "ugly, skinny, homely, unattractive and flat as a pancake" when she arrived in New York, before she got plastic surgery to enhance her looks.
    • Bebe's mother always commented on how "different" she looked, and Bebe's desire to be seen as pretty in a conventional way was what made ballet class where she felt most at home.
    Bebe: So beautiful, I'd never live to see.
  • In the opening number of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Princess Mary's one solo line is "and Mary is plain". Natasha also privately thinks of Mary as "plain and affected" in the song "Natasha & Bolkonskys".
  • Hermione lampshades this trope in the opening number of A Very Potter Musical.
    I may be frumpy,
    but I'm super smart.
    Just look at my grades,
    they're As for a start!
    What I lack in looks, well,
    I make up in heart,
    and that's cool,
    and that's totally awesome!

Western Animation


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