“To still be culturally relevant as a 63-year-old female is so deeply, deeply gratifying. It’s something that I could have never expected, given what I was told. And I believe I had something to do with it. I’ve crafted some part of this moment in time. And I’m really fucking proud,” Frances McDormand tells writer Abby Aguirre in Vogue’s January issue. Standing in a deserted landscape, wearing a Fear of God hoodie, McDormand’s absence of visible makeup and natural waves offer a radical departure from traditional Hollywood beauty tropes.
A Yale graduate with two Academy Awards for best actress—as well as what the industry calls the Triple Crown of Acting (Tony, Oscar, Emmy)—McDormand is already gaining buzz for her performance as a van-dwelling American traveler in Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. It’s another major role in her nearly four-decade-long career that offers a representation of realness onscreen. It’s proof that as a female in an industry historically driven by dated, male-dictated beauty norms, there’s more than just life after 40—there’s power in the long game. Below, seven times that McDormand rewrote Hollywood’s beauty codes:
“We are a bunch of hooligans and anarchists, but we do clean up nice,” McDormand announced as she took the stage in 2018 to accept her second Academy Award for best actress, this time for her role as relentless, jumpsuit-clad Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In an instant, global headlines recognized both the win and her decidedly bare, makeup-free face. While the world may have finally realized it, this brand of raw, unfiltered beauty is her trademark.
Swathed in Valentino, McDormand became arguably the most memorable Heavenly Body at 2018’s Met Gala. Taking the opposite approach to framing a glamorous headshot on the red carpet, a feathery teal headdress obscured her face almost entirely. Captured dancing through the museum to the tune of Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head at,” she remembered the moment while referencing her next Academy Awards look—custom Birkenstocks: “Last year, while swanning on the grand staircase at the Met Gala, by invitation of Pierpaolo Piccioli of the House of Valentino, a spark ignited in me.”
There’s a case to be made that the ability to express emotions unfrozen by toxins and fillers gives actors an edge. “McDormand has long made it a policy not to manipulate her appearance. She does not use Botox to flatten her wrinkles or filler to inflate her cheeks,” writes Aguirre in January’s issue. “When she smiles (and she does often), there are no patches of muscle paralysis. When she furrows her brow, it actually furrows.” McDormand has been vocal about the importance of supporting and celebrating women as they age. “Getting older and adjusting to all the things that biologically happen to you is not easy to do, and is a constant struggle and adjustment. So anything that makes that harder and more difficult—because I don’t believe that cosmetic enhancement makes it easier; I think it makes it harder,” she told NPR in 2014. “I think it makes it much more difficult to accept getting older. I want to be revered. I want to be an elder; I want to be an elderess.”
Decades of film castings created a space for ruthless physical critique. “I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t cute, I wasn’t beautiful, I didn’t have the body,” McDormand tells Aguirre of the rejections her husband, director Joel Coen, helped her “depersonalize.” It led to her own dismissal of the industry’s endless obsession with looks. Jordan Kisner revealed in a 2017 profile for The New York Times that McDormand doesn’t even own a full-length mirror. Kisner points out that the actor doesn’t hesitate to state her weight in a public interview, followed by another McDormandism: “I’d much rather not be aware of how fat my ass looks.”
Instead of calling up the paparazzi to swarm her stoop before stepping out in a shoot-ready beauty look—a publicity move that accounts for the repetitive coverage of many stars—McDormand swore Aguirre to secrecy before meeting for their Vogue interview. Making sure the actual location wouldn’t be revealed to the public was paramount—and could have led to McDormand’s unconventional fountain of vitality. “At close range McDormand is quite beautiful,” Aguirre writes. “Her skin is rosy and glows with good health, enhanced (I imagine) by the fresh drinking water she procures from a spring near her house.”
As a comedically pitch-perfect middle finger to the male gaze, McDormand brought to-go assets for auditions after being typecast for the prosthetic breasts she wore in 1987’s Raising Arizona. “I started getting scripts that literally said big-breasted woman,” she tells Aguirre, who writes that “she brought the boobs to auditions, carting them around in a box. ‘They became props, like a false nose or a wig. You could play the boobs.’ At one audition it was suggested that the production might be able to work a boob job into the budget. ‘As in actual surgery?’ I asked, unsure that I’d heard her right. ‘Actual surgery!’ she shouted.”
Whether it’s a close-cropped cut or windblown curls, McDormand’s hair doesn’t require a colorist—for good reason. “There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45—sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face,” McDormand told Frank Bruni in the Times’s “A Star That Has No Time for Vanity” in 2014. “Well, not everybody,” Bruni writes. “Her own short hair on this late September afternoon was an impish chaos of dark and white patches and untamed tufts pointing every which way. Looking old, she said, should be a boast about experiences accrued and insights acquired, a triumphant signal ‘that you are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.’” Rather than trying to rewind the clock, the best is yet to come.