Shadowhunters: The Problematic Portrayal of Isabelle Lightwood

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LET ME PREFACE THIS ARTICLE BY SAYING – WE ARE NOT PUTTING DOWN THE ACTRESS PLAYING ISABELLE IN ANY WAY. WE HAVE STATED MANY TIMES OVER THAT OUR ISSUE IS WITH THE WAY THAT IZZY WAS WRITTEN IN THIS SHOW – THE OVER SEXUALIZATION OF ISABELLE LIGHTWOOD. FOR ANYONE TO SAY THAT WE ARE SHAMING THE ACTRESS IS TAKING THIS ARTICLE OUT OF CONTEXT AND MISSING THE POINT OF IT. WE RESPECT YOUR OPINIONS ON ISABELLE – THOUGH WE MAY NOT AGREE. WE HOWEVER HAVE THE RIGHT TO ERASE ALL COMMENTS ON THE ARTICLE – AND WILL DO SO TO ANY THAT CALL THE AUTHOR NAMES, DISRESPECT THE AUTHOR OF THE SERIES, AND USE PROFANITY. IF YOU TAKE ISSUE WITH THIS ARTICLE – EMAIL THE OWNER OF THE WEBSITE erin@fangirlish.com

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Isabelle Lightwood has always been one of my favorite book characters. The first time I read City of Bones, I fell in love with the snarky, kickass woman who didn’t take crap from anyone and walked over boys’ hearts in high heels boots. I loved that she was very feminine, and used that to her advantage. I loved that she was so much more than her body. I loved Isabelle because being gorgeous and fashionable and sexy only made her more of a badass.

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And then the TV show happened. The more I see of their version of Isabelle, the bigger the obvious disconnect between her book and show personalities. Isabelle on the show is cheerful and constantly mocking and joking, but lacks so far any serious, thoughtful side to balance that.. What’s more, she’s downright mean to her brother, taunting and bullying him about his sexuality while Book Izzy was his biggest supporter, and kept quiet out of respect for his privacy. But by far the most disturbing part of her portrayal is the way she’s been turned into a sex object.

In Dead Man’s Party, Isabelle walked into battle in a bright red dress that barely reached her thighs, while all the other shadowhunters wore gear. She found out how to get into the Hotel Dumort by having sex with Meliorn. She joked about her boyfriend cheating on her. She said that she didn’t mind being a distraction while her brothers fought. She took a backseat in the fight, while Alec took over, something he never would have done in the books. She barely fought the vampires at all, and walked out of the hotel without a hair out of place. In the next episode, she pranced around the Institute wearing a bra and leggings, and drew attention to her ample cleavage by saying she wished she had a flat chest like Clary.

And I know a lot of fans have been thinking, well that’s Isabelle. She can fight in a dress.
She looks fabulous while doing it. She uses her beauty to her advantage. And that’s true, to an extent.

MATTHEW DADDARIO, KATHERINE MCNAMARA, EMERAUDE TOUBIA, DOMINIC SHERWOOD

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But the difference is that just because Isabelle can fight in a dress, doesn’t mean that she ever wants to. Have you ever tried to run in a dress? Or heels? It’s not comfortable. Isabelle fighting in an outfit like that because she doesn’t have time to get changed makes perfect sense and has happened in the books, but Isabelle choosing to wear it to a hotel full of vampires, where she knows she will have to kick butt, is nothing but a way of making sure she looks good for the audience. No warrior would ever consciously walk into a battle without armor, without weapons besides the whip curled around her wrist, and without comfortable clothing. Isabelle was woefully unprepared for battle – something that could very well have gotten her killed – simply because she wanted to look good. Or rather, the producers wanted her to look good. That is not a decision that Book Isabelle, or any intelligent woman, would ever make.

Book Isabelle does use her looks to her advantage — though she doesn’t stoop to use it to  distract demons, because honestly, how seriously can you take a demon that’s distracted by a striptease dance — when necessary, but that doesn’t mean that she likes doing it. In battle, she’s always at the front line, not standing back and letting Jace and Alec handle things (especially not Alec. As you may remember, he had never even killed a demon before in City of Bones). And just because Isabelle is very sexually active does not mean that she would be willing to basically sell her body for information, even to her boyfriend. Book Isabelle is a warrior who also happens to be sexy. TV Show Isabelle is a sex object who can also fight. In the show, I’ve seen Isabelle consistently objectified and slut shamed by the other characters, who clearly disapprove of the way she dresses and acts. If the show itself keeps calling her a slut, then her wardrobe is clearly not meant to be empowering. It’s meant to be objectifying and demeaning, and to reinforce the cultural stereotype that says that a beautiful and sexually active woman is a commodity without dignity or purpose of her own.

It’s not slut shaming to point out that a female character is oversexualized. In movies and TV shows, the choice to wear revealing clothing is not made by the character or the actress, but by a man who wants an attractive woman to show as much skin as possible. It’s true that Book Isabelle does wear revealing outfits on occasion, as do many other powerful women, and I don’t have a problem with her dressing like that when she feels like it. What I have a problem with is her baring skin in absolutely every scene, even when it is highly impractical. Isabelle is a very fashionable woman who wears whatever looks good on her, regardless of how much skin it exposes, but the show seems to have a problem with covering her up at any point, and I have a problem with that.

 



 

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I know that Isabelle was not a complex character in City of Bones, and I understand that we can’t expect her to be exactly like she was at the end of the series, but that doesn’t mean I can’t expect more from her. It’s worth pointing out that Izzy does not have a prominent role in the first book, so the main reason she seems one-dimensional is because we don’t see much of her at first. The show, however, is putting her front and center while refusing to give her any actual character development. She’s gotten plenty of screen time to show off her body and prove that she’s confident, sexy and slightly self-obsessed, yet nothing like the book character. She’s getting so many chances to prove herself and develop as a character, yet hasn’t evolved at all.

Isabelle’s portrayal has turned me against the show, which is disappointing, because I’m rooting for Shadowhunters. I’m going to be watching every episode no matter what, and I want it to be good, but their portrayal of Isabelle has been very upsetting. I miss the girl who wore jeans and skirts and took out a demon with a high-heeled shoe. I miss the quotable badass who protected her family at all costs. I miss the girl who respected her brother’s privacy and told Clary to keep quiet about his sexuality because she knew he wasn’t comfortable with it. I miss Isabelle Lightwood, and watching Shadowhunters has made me appreciate her – the real her – even more.

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