Winona Ryder Looks Like Every TV Mom In 'Stranger Things,' And I Hate It

by Zara Barrie

I love Winona Ryder, fiercely. She's always been my favorite actress.


She has that intense stare, an electric gaze that's unapologetic and deeply vulnerable at the same time. She has a unique, severe kind of beauty.

Her Snow White-pale skin is boldly contrasted by massive, honey-colored eyes and thick, black lashes.


She's not the sugar-blonde girl next door, with the backpack hanging off her dainty shoulder. She's different. She's exotic. She's not accessible.  

Ugh, if there is one word I hate with every fiber of my being it's the word "accessible."

What does it even mean to look "accessible" in a world so diverse? I can't tell you how many times I've been turned down for roles in my 15-year stint of being a professional actress because I was told I wasn't "accessible" enough by casting directors.

"Girls want to see other girls they can relate to. The 'girl next door' with blonde hair and the blue eyes get the good parts," my former agent, Gordon Sleezeball* said to me once.

"Think about getting highlights. Your features are, like, so dark. This is California, Zara. We're all about the 'healthy glow,' the tan skin. It's what girls can relate to in this country."

OK, Mr. Gordon Sleezeball, so you're saying that unless I look like everyone else in Los Angeles, I won't be able to execute a moving performance an audience can connect to?

For a long time, I dumbed down the severity of my looks because I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted people to not be so distracted by my all-black attire, pasty white skin and raven hair.

Instead, I wanted them to focus on the ~emotional nuances~ of my performance.

I got the highlights, and I went to the tanning bed (I got that hyperpigmentation to prove it, babe). I wore the blue jeans and the plain t-shirt.

But it never felt right. I'm harsh-looking. I'm exotic. I'm big-featured and wildly dressed and pale by nature. It's who I am; these things can't be helped.

I might not look like every other girl, but I still have feelings like every other girl.

And I can still emote those feelings in a way that resonates with other girls, regardless of how different I look from them. Because girls aren't as dumb as agents like Gordon Sleezeball think.

I was always empowered by Winona Ryder. Her innately gothic energy, her unusual beauty and her overall intensity spoke to me in a time when I was made to feel like a weirdo for having those same qualities.

And yeah, she's played some strange, ethereal roles, but more often than not, she played educated young women who were falling in and out of love, young women who were trying to navigate the post-collegiate life and young women who were battling universal issues like depression.

We watched her grieve breakups and make a fool of herself in front of her crushes and even get locked up in a mental hospital because the sadness inside of her was so unshakeable.

And we watched her do it with her cool, edgy hair and fabulous hipster style.


And you know what?

Just because she wasn't cookie-cutter didn't mean her feelings weren't accessible to all girls. In fact, I would argue she was more accessible because she was authentically Winona Ryder through all of it.

And real, whole people are authentically themselves no matter what.

We're ourselves when we're crying. We're ourselves when we're in a gut-wrenching breakup. We're ourselves when we're devastated, and guess what? We're even ourselves when we're mothers.

It's been a long, Winona Ryder-less stretch, hasn't it? Oh, how I've missed her so. And even though I fucking hate "sci-fi" with a fiery passion, I was chomping at the bit to watch "Stranger Things."

I couldn't wait to see Winona Ryder feeling feelings on screen again!

Lucky for me, my girlfriend felt the same way. She's had a crush on Winona Ryder her entire life.

We cuddled up in bed full of excitement like two teen girls about to see Justin Bieber, or that Zayn Malik character, or whoever else the kids are gushing over at the moment.

About 20 minutes in, we were both completely emotional traumatized (My God, why did no one WARN me how dark "Stranger Things" really is?), but uncharacteristically quiet. There was an elephant in the room, and we weren't acknowledging her presence.

But you know elephants don't appreciate being ignored. So finally I blurted, "It's kind of hard to see Winona Ryder like this."


"I agree," my girlfriend said, her seafoam eyes cast downward, like she was ashamed for missing cool Winona.

And the more I thought about it, the more it kind of pissed me off that the producers made her character so, well, frumpy.

The more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off that the producers made her character so, well, frumpy.

I know, I know, that's just "the character," you're saying. I can feel your judgement through the screen.

You probably think I'm being a sexist man, acting upset because a beautiful woman isn't on television. Maybe you're accusing me of falling victim to the "male gaze."

But I'm not talking about something so simple as her sheer "pretty" factor. I'm pissed off because they stripped her of her individuality and put her in tracksuits and gave her the most mundane, un-cool, un-Winona Ryder-looking haircut.

And I bet I know WHY they did it, too.

Because no one believes a stylish, exotically beautiful woman could also have a full emotional range. No one believes a stylish, exotically beautiful woman could be grieving her missing child. No one believes a stylish, exotically beautiful woman could have problems.

Because women are put into boxes — as I'm sure you know by now — especially as they age.

We can't wrap our brains around the idea that a woman can have sex appeal and also be multifaceted. You're either one or the other in this world.

It's the same reason I was told to water down my distracting style to be an actress. No one would take me seriously if I dared to go to an audition as myself. No one will take Winona seriously if she's still cool Winona.

Women are put into boxes — as I'm sure you know by now — especially as they age.

No, we must strip her of coolness, otherwise we won't feel empathy for her, right?

I'm SO sick of that nonsense, babes. We're feeding the machine of the male gaze by only showing frumpy women as smart and complicated.

Why can't we have a woman who is hyper-intelligent and going through real, intense shit, and who is also an aesthetically pleasing, edgy individual starring in a show?

"Well, Zara, she is grieving a missing child, and the character DOES live in a small town," my editor Alexia brought up when I bitched about it this morning.

"So a woman has to live in a big city and have no children if she wants to maintain her personal style?" I bit back because I was feeling raw and bitchy from a hangover.

"Fair point," Alexia said, grinning. (No one loves a good feminist debate more than Alexia.)

And the more I thought about it, the more I began to see the media is constantly depicting women with children as homely and uncool, and maybe that's part of the reason I've been so afraid to have children.

Like, the essence of yourself gets viciously ripped out of you the moment you give birth, and you're just a shell who looks like every other frumpy mom in mainstream America.

And that's not true. You're still you when you're a mother. And I refuse to keep having my intelligence insulted. It's how the man keeps us down.

And yes, I'm still focusing on Winona Ryder's performance as I continue to watch the show.

And truth be told, she's slaying the acting game. She's killing it, girl. But I can't help but think something is slightly off about her, even as she hits every emotional beat perfectly.

What's off is the fact she's missing her signature Winona factor. She's brought the cool Winona factor to every role she's ever played, whether she was the romantic lead or a patient locked up in a mental ward.

And that's what made her so different and intoxicating and refreshing. It was almost political to see a woman navigate the intricate struggles life presents to her, without letting the hardships swallow her whole and rob her of her identity.

I can't help but think "Stranger Things" would be better if they let Winona's character chain-smoke and go to all the dark, deep emotional places, while still being the intensely beautiful, unique woman she inherently is.

But they took that away from her so she could be more "accessible," I suppose.

And look, I'll still watch the show. I'm not being THAT wildly radical.

But what I'm really trying to say is this, kittens: If you're unique, if you're stylish and strange and pale and can't help but stand out like Winona, don't go thinking you have to start dressing like a frumpy woman (when you're not naturally FRUMPY. If you're authentically frumpy, that's fine, rock on) in order to be taken seriously by the world.

Because you can actually be a wild contradiction. In fact, you're fabulous as a wild contradiction.

Real humans don't always make sense. You can look like something, but feel like something entirely different inside. It's what makes you interesting.

You're fabulous as a wild contradiction.

And we need people like you in the predictable world, where women can only be beautiful and vacant or complex and mediocre-looking.

Don't lose your edge in order to be understood by the masses. Because I have a hunch we're undermining the intelligence of the masses.

After all, aren't we weirdo-looking goth girls part of the "mass," too?