Skip to Content
Sydney Sweeney at the world premiere of "Madame Web" held at Regency Village Theatre on February 12, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

To be born beautiful is a gift, but to end up hot can be a curse. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is also true that you can look in the mirror and be the beholder of yourself. Beauty is something intriguing; “beauty is not a need but an ecstasy,” the poet Kahlil Gibran once wrote. “A heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.” This is not the same thing as being hot.

Someone else declares you hot, for one thing, according to standards set at large: by the culture, by society, by (generally) those who can afford to be picky. Beauty is the je ne sais quoi that makes an image linger, even if just for one person or one night; it is elusive and strange. Hot is simpler, a decision made in the shopping part of the brain.

Fortunately and tragically for Sydney Sweeney, she is both. She has a face like a grown-up Anne Geddes baby and legs that go for days. She has a rack so perfect that it kicked up an absolute shitstorm of takes just by existing.

Last weekend, Sweeney hosted Saturday Night Live. It’s hard to say how she performed; the writers did not give her much to work with. Similarly to Jacob Elordi’s appearance earlier this year, most of the sketches were about her being hot. (In Elordi's appearance, for example, one misguided sketch had women attempting to get Elordi drunk, at an AA meeting, in order to sleep with him.)

If Sweeney's hotness has clear and observable deranging effects, they didn't produce much in the way of amusing derangement. Sweeney did a sketch where she played a cheerleader who flirts with a golden retriever; she donned the Hooters outfit and became the most hated waitress there because she got more tips than anyone else, despite being bad at the job. In the opening monologue, Sweeney showed a pretty adorable Powerpoint she made to try to convince her parents to let her become an actor. The second slide, clearly an added joke, reads, “Plan B: Show boobs.” 

None of these jokes are great jokes, which isn’t surprising. Part of hosting SNL is being willing to be the butt of the jokes, and unlike Dakota Johnson (who hosted a couple of weeks ago) the writers couldn’t razz Sweeney for nepotism. She is not the child of famous people, and she was not an overnight sensation or riding some kind of orchestrated studio push. All Sweeney seems to really do is work. She is 26 years old, and it feels like she’s been in Hollywood for decades. She was on Euphoria, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the first season of The White Lotus. In the last year alone, she’s starred in Anyone But You (a mid rom-com) and Madame Web (awful!), and she’s now promoting a new movie where she plays a nun: Immaculate. And because you cannot razz someone for working hard, SNL's writers razzed her for being unbelievably hot.

Her success, and Saturday Night Live's failure to come up with anything funny for her to do or just to do around her, would not be worth writing about if people had been able to be normal about any of it. But people lose their minds over Sydney Sweeney. In 2022, I wrote about a whole press cycle that emerged around her simply stating that she doesn't have enough money to take maternity leave. Here we are again.

Earlier this week, a pair of gross and embarrassing stories went up on the websites of conservative newspapers. At The Spectator, Bridget Phetasy wrote that "Boobs are back!" Women with great racks, she claimed, were "a creature shamed to the brink of extinction," before Sydney Sweeney struck a blow against the boob-shamers by looking the way she does. In the National Post, Amy Hamm wrote an article that begins by asking, “Are Sydney Sweeney’s breasts double-D harbingers of the death of woke?”

What a strange sentence! First off, Sydney Sweeney does not have double-Ds. Anyone who has ever been fitted for a bra knows that. Secondly, I didn't even know you could use "woke" as a noun. I don't really think you should, but apparently you can. The writing is meaningless, but somehow enraging all the same. This is by design. These blogs are antiques—the kind of rage-bait hate-click trapping that was everywhere during the traffic-war era. That model is very nearly dead, so we might as well assume these people are being weird for the love of the game.

All of this becomes more sinister because Hamm, who wrote the National Post blog, is also a TERF. She co-founded the anti-trans group Canadian Women's Sex-Based Rights and faced a disciplinary hearing at the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives in November for making "discriminatory and derogatory statements regarding transgender people." This makes her a pretty lousy person, but just the right sort of author for a post like this. It takes a narrow, hateful worldview to see a beautiful woman in a great titty dress and immediately turn it into a political crusade. No normal person could have written something like this; no normal person would have thought it.

The breast, both Phetasy and Hamm seem to argue, can only be important in its sexualized state, as a way to attract men. There is no acknowledgement that many people (not just men) are sexually attracted to boobs; again, it is a feat to write about Sydney Sweeney and somehow find a way to be anti-queer about it. We have returned by accident to a dire late-2020 online conversation about boob guys being Republicans. "The steady flow of Boob-Guys-Are-Republicans content isn’t worthy of serious attention, and it’s probably harmless," Miles Klee wrote for Mel Magazine at the time. "The worry, however, is that this idea will keep recurring until it becomes a subconsciously accepted fact—conventional wisdom, in other words." Four years later, we see that assumption solidified.

The politicization of the Western white woman's breast is not new, to be clear. There's the association of "bra burning" with second-wave feminism, for example. That comes from a protest of the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City in which feminist protestors threw various items into a "freedom trash can," planning to light the contents on fire. They threw bras in there, but also threw other things. "The liberation of the foot from the high heel or the stomach from the girdle could have been taken up by the media as appropriate symbols of this new movement," professors Hilary Hinds and Jackie Stacey wrote in an academic article. "And yet it is the fetishism of the bra and the breast that has lasted for 30 years as a metonym for the essence of women’s liberation." The trash can's contents were never even set aflame, because of police restrictions.

But sex sells, and cultural hangups are stubborn, and bra burning became a symbol of something, or everything, wrong with feminism. It's not dissimilar from the micro-genre of TikToks popular among young conservatives right now that feature a beautiful, young, always white woman saying something like, "I'm not a feminist, I know how to cook dinner" or "I'm not a feminist, I can wear dresses and feel pretty." Those TikToks serve as an entry point to tradwife content, which is either an opportunity for young white women to try to "reclaim" something they feel that they have lost or fetish content that doesn't know or can't admit that it's fetish content, or both.

The argument running through all of this is that feminists don't want women—don't want you, specifically—to be beautiful. They want you to be ugly. In that sense, I guess, Sydney Sweeney is a conservative hero on account of being beautiful in the very specific ways that white conservative Americans appreciate. Just by looking like that, she is somehow striking a blow against those who don't want people to look like that. There's no agency in it, but that fits, too.

The American right has no Hollywood celebrities it can call its own right now. Obviously, a conservative celebrity would have to be white, and they lost Taylor Swift when she came out as a Democrat a few years ago. Now she and her NFL football player boyfriend, a best-in-class athlete who does ads for vaccines with his mom, have invaded another of the spaces the right was trying to keep for itself. But here, just in time, is Sydney Sweeney: blonde, thin, petite, incredible rack. Her hair is often softly curled in waves such that she could, in black and white, pass as a Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe type. She also once attended a party for a family member where people were wearing novelty Make America Great Again-style hats and has been pretty quiet about politics. She's a perfect queen to be crowned, and also there's really no one else.

It is not lost on me that these articles about whether Sweeney's breasts herald an age of anti-wokeness or the beginning of a new era were written by women. These articles aren't about Sydney Sweeney, the actress. Sweeney's breasts are the subject, the topic, and the point, much more so than their owner. They are referred to with shocking consistency as if they belong to Sweeney in the way a bracelet might belong to her, and not as a part of the body she was born with. "You thought you were a mind," as Emily Ratajkowski wrote in her memoir My Body, "but you're a body."

The personal is political, as they say. But in a situation like this it is easy to see how quickly one person's personal can be extrapolated into someone else's politics. What Sweeney does or does not do with her body is fundamentally not our business. It's hers. But I do not think the answer is as simple as Danielle Cohen put forth at The Cut. "This should go without saying, but please leave Sydney Sweeney’s boobs alone," Cohen wrote. While many people certainly need to be bonked and sent to horny jail for their posts this week, there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual attraction. Horny jail is not real.

To expect everyone to ignore sexual attraction, or to simply ignore Sweeney's boobs alone, does not allow for appreciation of the human form, which is part of being human. In a sense, Phetasy is right—boobs are back. Or, more accurately, they aren't out of fashion. The reactionary anti-boob decades that followed the Clinton-era breast augmentation period seem to be coming to a close. The difference in actresses cast for Mean Girls, for example, is a stark example of this. The original cast looked great, and the new one does too, but the body types are different. That's not what anyone is talking about here. We aren't talking about body positivity. We're talking about elevating one person's body as beautiful at the expense of everyone else's. What these writers seem to want is a return to a simple, completely unattainable, body type that everyone agrees is the only attractive one.

If we continue to imbue people's bodies, or just parts of people's bodies, with deep symbolic meaning connected to the failure or success of political agendas, we are doomed to a kind of isolated, individual politics. The individual—in this case, Sydney Sweeney—can never be the center of any successful political movement. That sort of thing is collective by its nature, in the same way that breasts are a part of a human body.

That creepy desire to sever that human wholeness and reattach it to some pre-fabricated mission or gripe is, to me, the crux of this whole stupid discourse. It is normal to be horny, but no one is being normal here. Your horny feelings are for you, or maybe to text a friend. It is, among other things, a waste to make them indicative of some greater trend, or a condemnation of a political stance, or to otherwise put them to work to such petty ends. Your horniness is too valuable for that, and it's yours alone.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter