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A brief history of high school movie DUFFs (who aren't really DUFFs)

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Guy D'Alema

Fictional high schools have long been cruel to attractive actresses. Take the adorable Mae Whitman, for instance—she stars as the title character in The DUFF, which opens today. The acronym stands for “designated ugly fat friend.”

Now, as Todd VanDerWerff writes over at Vox, DUFF doesn’t exactly mean what you think it does. “The film goes out of its way to argue that anybody can be a DUFF in pretty much any situation,” VanDerWerff explains. “It’s all about confidence and projecting that you’re comfortable in your own skin.” Even so, it seems strange to stick Whitman with the label—and as EW’s Kevin P. Sullivan notes, “In some ways, Bianca (Whitman) is your typical ‘different’ high school heroine. She wears flannel, edits her school’s paper, and has weird interests in unpopular things like zombies.

So yeah: Teen films have a tradition of implying that beautiful movie stars are dowdy high-schoolers. And even when they don’t call those characters “ugly” or “fat,” they do imply they’re somehow in need of improvement—which is so not the case. For example:

Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club (1985)

Allison Reynolds starts as a lying, pixie-stick-eating, dandruff-shaking “basket case” with a penchant for wearing black and a (great) shaggy haircut. But all she needs to nab the “athlete” is to wipe off that eyeliner, get a headband, and change into some pastels—because Ally Sheedy was already gorgeous.