How Zooey Deschanel Brought Girliness Back Into Pop-Culture

“We don’t need to look like men or dress like men or talk like men to be powerful. We can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way.”

By Chloë Lemaster3 min read
How Zooey Deschanel Brought Girliness Back Into Pop-Culture

So says girly girl Zooey Deschanel.

Best known for her role as Jess Day in Fox Network’s hit series New Girl, Zooey Deschanel has come to be the It Girl of polka dots and Peter Pan collars. With a girly girl reputation that has preceded the star for over 20 years, it’s hard not to fall in love with the real-life manic pixie girl energy Deschanel radiates. Whether it was in Elf or Bridge to Terabithia, the multi-talented celeb has made a style impact, most notably bringing strength and empowerment to being a girl again. 

Women’s Greatest Strength Comes with Being a Woman

Among the crowd of Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart, and Amandla Stenberg, it seems the look of the androgynous tomboy is all the rage, leaving little room for female celebrities who pride themselves in being female. Deschanel goes against the grain with her skirts and frills, eyeliner and florals. Harnessing your natural femininity isn’t an easy task, especially in a society that still equates girliness with weakness and frivolity, but the actress never seems to shy away from bringing her own flair to femininity. 

Not only has she stood out among her colleagues, but she’s received a decent amount of backlash from feminists for sporting bright colors and a girly style. The actress’s response to these claims was that of most true feminists – women’s rights begin by stating the obvious, women are great when they are themselves. “That is weird, right? It’s the total opposite of what we should be doing. Why is being feminine or girly a bad thing? Why do we need to act like men to be strong and powerful? We all have different qualities but they’re equally as good,” she says

Art Is Beauty, Beauty Is Art

Some of our favorite celebrities are known for having several talents, and Deschanel is one of those. Not only has the 41-year-old actress played her way across everyone’s television screens, but she’s also found another calling in the music industry. Next to singer-songwriter and guitarist M. Ward, Deschanel formed the musical duo She & Him in 2006. The Oregon-originated duo released their first album, Volume One, which consisted of several tracks written by Deschanel herself, in March 2008. The duo has released six albums, the latest being released in 2016. 

Though She & Him is still a rather unknown sound, Deschanel’s talents have grown further, most notably a viral cover video with her 500 Days of Summer co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt that was published on YouTube nine years ago and has amassed over 20 million views. While rocking a pearly dress and a princess’ tiara, Deschanel strums the uke and smiles, singing one of Ella Fitzgerald’s timeless hits, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” It’s hard to watch the video and not be reminded of motherly lullabies and young girls singing to themselves in front of bathroom mirrors. More than the tiara, Deschanel effortlessly carries with her an air of womanhood few appreciate. 

Getting Her Look

Maybe we’ve cut them ourselves or maybe we only considered it in passing, but Zooey Deschanel’s bangs have been making a statement since the early 2000s. Next to the dark and artsy hair is her simple makeup, accentuating one of the actress’ best features, her eyes, and of course, her fun wardrobe. While plenty of actresses and female musicians dress up for celebrity galas and the like, it seems rarer to find a female celebrity so comfortable in her femininity that even “dressed down” radiates her girliness.

Though society has valued womanhood over girlhood for a long time, Deschanel manages to balance on the fine line in between. A mature look, one that reminds of us our favorite preschool teacher, mixes with that of a well-dressed middle schooler. Somehow we get a staple statement: I’m a girl, and I’m proud. I’m a girl, and I see that as a strength. 

“I don’t know why femininity should be associated with weakness.” Deschanel has said. “Women should be free to express who they are without thinking, ‘I need to act like a man, or I need to tone it down to be successful.’ That’s a very good way to keep women down.”

Deschanel's style is defined by girly dresses, mod prints, and her signature bangs. Some of her favorite brands include Rachel Antonoff, Ulla Johnson, and Rebecca Minkoff.

Girls against the Grain

Hollywood has done a great job at boxing women in: fun, sensual, little bit of humor, basic. Few well-known actresses seem to stand out. The ones who do are remembered for it. One of the most notable being Jennifer Lawrence. Back in 2018, Lawrence was criticized for wearing a dress in February in London during an outdoor photoshoot to promote her movie Red Sparrow. Her male co-stars were wearing coats, which elicited comments about the different expectations for what men and women should wear. Feminists ridiculed Lawrence for back-tracking and making women look like nothing more than near-naked objects.

Lawrence responded, “That Versace dress was fabulous, you think I’m going to cover that gorgeous dress up with a coat and a scarf? I was outside for 5 minutes. I would have stood in the snow for that dress because I love fashion and that was my choice. This is sexist, this is ridiculous, this is not feminism… Everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold, THAT’S MY CHOICE TOO!”

These actresses, Deschanel and Lawrence among them, aren’t not feminists. As a matter of fact, most of them are outspoken about women’s rights. The real reason they butt heads so often with so-called feminists is because of different agendas: one that thinks women’s independence and freethinking is what we’re fighting for, and another that sees women as needing to uproot all ideas and preconceived notions men have created for them

Closing Thoughts

Zooey Deschanel, like most celebrities, has become a voice and role model for many young women, especially those valuing their natural femininity as an instrument of empowerment, rather than a weakness. Only a handful of female celebs seem to stand next to Deschanel in this rare form of true feminism, but the ones who do are trailblazing for young women to see that what makes them women is what makes them strong.

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