Elle Woods is, in many ways, the epitome of the "other girl" that this clichéd phrase suggests. Her feminine taste, affinity for bubblegum pink, and interest in ‘frivolous things’ is intended to make us deem her as unworthy. Decades of patriarchal conditioning and internalised misogyny makes us believe that in order to be successful, one has to be less feminine. Legally Blonde shatters that glass ceiling and proves that these goals aren’t mutually exclusive.
As the story begins, Elle is branded as a ‘dumb blonde’ by her ex boyfriend, Warner. Her own family deems her unworthy of being able to get into Harvard. Many might still argue that she got into Harvard solely off of her looks. Yet that cannot discredit her 4.0 GPA she maintained while being the president of a sorority, a 179 on her LSAT’s, her extracurriculars, and an interest in philanthropy.
Throughout the movie, traditionally feminine values are celebrated instead of being punished. Hollywood is notorious for portraying successful women as cut-throat competetive or heartless like Lara Croft in Tom Raider, but Elle is portrayed as kind and compassionate. Initially, Vivian and Elle are set up against one another due to a shared animosity over men, academics, and career opportunities. But as the film progresses they become each other’s allies and instead support each other when faced with blatant sexism. This sends a message to all the young girls watching - other women are your allies, not a competition meant to be teared down. We can see Elle thrive on female friendships. All her sorority friends can be seen pushing Elle to study for her LSAT’s. Whenever she feels disheartened she can be seen seeking comfort in the company of other women at the nail salon. It is also because of the reassurances she received from another female professer, after a male professor was sexually inappropriate with her, that she stopped contemplating leaving school and started believing in her own abilities.
One of Elle’s most striking characteristics is her relentless optimism. Despite facing blatant sexism at almost every turn in her journey – from getting rejected for a study group, negative remarks from a professor about polka dots, to facing sexual harassment – Elle persevered while remaining true to herself and her personality without assimilating into the new space. Elle didn’t conform to other people’s opinion of her, she didn’t change her demeanour or how she looked for her peers at Harvard. Her laptop screamed pink, her resume was pink and scented, and she donned herself in pink from head to toe as well. Her interests were deemed as frivolous and her fashion merchandising degree were seen as useless instead of specialised knowledge just because they were too “girly”.
She knew who she was and she owned it. She realised that more than a romantic relationship, loving herself and working hard to reach her goals was more important, she did not need a man’s approval and her validation needed to come from inside rather than any man’s approval of her. One of her most iconic lines “What? Like it's hard” is said as a response to Warner’s condescending question when he wonders how she even got into Harvard. The patronising behaviour she faces in Harvard pushes her to do better and prove all the detractors wrong.
Ultimately, the evergreen beauty of Legally Blonde lies in the fact that Elle's femininity isn’t an obstacle for her, something she needs to overcome for success, but an asset of its own - part of what makes her strong and talented. Donned in a bright pink, sparkly dress, she wins the final case using her knowledge of hair care and the familiar charisma she’s known for. In the words of Reese Witherspoon, “It’s incredible...you can be unapologetically feminine but also smart and driven.” Branded as a “dumb blonde” Elle continues to shatter the status quo, proving her position in film history as a better feminist role model than anyone could have imagined twenty years ago.