Nora Ephron Was a Feminist Icon Who Showed Why Women Do Not Need to Be Skinny and White to Be Beautiful


At 71, Nora Ephron, most known for the romantic comedy genius of When Harry Met Sally, has died. Though some of her films can reiterate a societal heteronormativity that are challenged by feminists, she stands as a journalist and writer committed to feminist values who showed her audiences the real need to write and portray complex, nuanced female characters. In the spirit of Ephron's feminist achievements, her recent death has encouraged me to address the less wordy and more visual problem of portraying cookie-cutter, hyper-thin, stereotypically beautiful versions of women in magazines.

The beauty of Ephron's work and the reason I continually revisit You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle even while I generally dislike romantic comedies, is that she creates and portrays women as the writers of their own stories. Her rom-com female characters aren't just plot devices that have to be there in order to make the rom-com a rom-com. They are characters with depth, messiness, and confusion all their own. They are not characters that are just the "pretty love interest."At some level, you feel yourself resonate within them and you can appreciate Ephron's commitment to not selling women short in her work. 

Akin to the spirit of Ephron's commitement to fighting against a simplistic, "pretty face" representation of women, the Miss Representation Campaign (along with SPARK, Love Social, I Am That Girl, and Endangered Bodies) has launched a 3-day challenge to push back against a literal "pretty face" representation of women in visual media. The challenge, titled Keep It Real, begins today and a toolkit is provided for ways to make an impact towards achieving the goal of getting magazines to print one un-photoshopped image per issue. 

What Ephron recognized in her writing, and these organizations recognize in their activism, is that a simplistic representation of an individual or a group of people is not helpful to anyone. For Ephron, writing one-dimensional female characters (and for that matter, LGBTQ characters like Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood) would have been a disservice to the goal of writing well. For the organizations campaigning for change, the portrayal of the stereotypical thin, perfected (usually white) woman has gone on too long with well-researched deleterious impact on those who see such images. 

One of the perks of being so plugged-in (or wirelessly connected, if that's your cup of tea) these days is that there's ample opportunity for online activism. So take the three day challenge to ask magazines for one (just one!) un-photoshopped image per issue while you re-watch You've Got Mail for the 14th time and take a moment to appreciate Ephron's unforgettable contribution to writing, journalism, and film making.