The Hot One Trope, Explained: Why She’s Chosen | Friends & Beyond

Rachel Green, Monica Geller, and Phoebe Buffay are all beautiful – but Friends singled out only one as the ‘hot one’. For a long time, there was a trend on screen where, within any group of female friends – regardless of what any of them looked like – one was always upheld as the hot friend (pretty much always because she was the main love object of the story.) But this trope split off from other ‘hot girl’ tropes for one key reason: her friendships. So where did the ‘hot one’ trope even come from, and how did Rachel (with the help of Monica and Phoebe) change it for the better? (And have we finally gotten rid of it altogether?) Let’s take a deeper look at the ‘hot one’ trope!

The Evolution of the ‘Hot Friend’

For a long time, a female friend group having a designated ‘hot one’ was just a given – it was pretty much just the accepted set up in any film or tv show featuring multiple female characters. (Even among sisters, there’s usually one who is noted as the beauty.)

“One of us at least will have to marry very well. And since you are quite five times as pretty as the rest of us, and have the sweetest disposition, I fear the task will fall on you to raise our fortunes.” Pride and Prejudice

This attractiveness difference often fed into the idea that girls were never really friends – they were just hanging out (and often in competition with one another) until they got what really mattered: a man. And the male part of the equation is key because the entire concept of the ‘hot one’ of course isn’t based on some inherent truth about human beauty – it’s based on what (or, rather, who) the men in the given story are interested in.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, I did not hear a word that you just said cos I can kinda see your party hats right now.” New Girl

The women themselves are all beautiful – but the story would always posit that one needed to be picked out of the bunch as special, and the main way Hollywood likes to show that a woman is special is by pointing out how hot she is.

“Serena looked effing hot last night. There’s something wrong with that level of perfection.” Gossip Girl

Even as society evolved, the attention of men was still placed at the center of many women’s stories – the love of a guy was still seen as the thing women should be striving for, and so the woman that was most desired by the principle men in the story got upheld as the ‘hot one’, even though, it being Hollywood, all of them had to be pretty to even be on screen to begin with. Being ‘hot’ (and, specifically, the hottest one of a group) marks her out as something hard to get, and thus in the framing of many stories, a good “prize” to be won by the man, as opposed to say, a sweet and simple “girl next door” who might be nice to have around but isn’t necessarily seen as a “win.”

“Serena, you’re the most beautiful, amazing, alive person I’ve ever known.” Gossip Girl

But, of course, women have continually pushed back against this gross framing and all of the negative connotations that come along with it.

Over time this trope began evolving and split off from the regular “hot girl” trope – while the “hot girl” is often set alone, unable to make women friends or be seen as anything more by men, the “hot friend” is often allowed to exist as a more full character within the story. She does have friends, and she doesn’t (usually) see them as competition or just a hold over until she gets into a relationship. She cherishes them, and they her. And, if anything, the ‘hot one’ is often actively trying to avoid falling into the pitfalls of the ‘hot girl’ trap. She knows how she’s perceived by others (especially men) changes how she’s treated, and she doesn’t like it. Her sense of self isn’t exclusively tied up in male validation, but she also can’t seem to escape the attention.

“I get it, I’m pretty and not in a ‘from a certain angle’ way… It’s how men see me. I’m not a smart girl, or an interesting girl, I’m a pretty girl.” Grey’s Anatomy

Society might still try to pit the women in these stories against each other, but they push back because they value their friendships. But that doesn’t mean that the seemingly effortless beauty of the ‘hot one’ goes unnoticed.

“So that’s how you look when you’ve just woken up?” “Uh, yeah…” “Nothing in my life is fair.” Gilmore Girls

And often these kinds of stories will allow the friends that aren’t the ‘hot one’ to have their own hot girl moment, making it clear that the entire idea of ‘hotness’ is all about perception more than anything else.

Through its main trio of female friends, Friends explored this trope from all angles, and provides some interesting insight into the trope and why it finally got left behind.

Rachel, Monica, & Phoebe

Early on, Friends slots its friends into pretty well worn tropes: the control freak, the funny one, the weirdo, the nerd, the ladies man, and the spoiled rich girl. All three of the women are clearly beautiful, but Rachel is singled out as the hot one by the story. Interestingly, Courtney Cox, who plays Monica, was initially asked to audition for Rachel, Jennifer Aniston was said to be more like Phoebe, and Liza Kudrow related most to Rachel’s character. And all three had played “hot girls” in various other things before landing their roles on the show – which makes it pretty clear that the whole ‘hot one’ thing doesn’t actually have anything to do with any specific look but instead the way the story choses to frame the characters.

While Cox was beautiful, Monica’s personality was uptight and controlling, something seen as decidedly not quote-unquote “hot.”

“Remember: if I’m harsh with you, it’s only because you’re doing it wrong.” Friends

Phoebe was weird but also self-assured and sexually forward – so she did sometimes get ‘hot’ moments, but they were usually played for laughs.

“God, I love how sexy I am.” Friends

The show itself plays with this perception though with its use of Phoebe’s identical twin sister Ursula. While the two sisters look exactly the same (and in fact are, since both are played by Kudrow herself,) the show constantly points out that Ursula is the ‘hot’ one.

“Everyone always thought of her as the pretty one.” Friends

Through these two, the show was able to explore how being the “hot one” doesn’t really have anything to do with looks, and is all about how you’re perceived by those (namely men) around you.

“They’re twins.” “I don’t care. Phoebe’s Phoebe. Ursula’s hot.” Friends

The show does also explore the male version of this trope: the ladies’ man. The male ‘hot one’ usually has more agency since he’s chasing instead of being chased. But we also see how for men, ‘hotness’ isn’t really a major factor in desirability as far as on screen narratives are concerned.

“Oh no! Two women love me; they’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!” Friends

Monica was initially seen as the ‘main’ character of the group, given that so much of the show takes place at her apartment and she seems to have her life more together than the others. Rachel was initially framed less becomingly, as a spoiled and whiny rich girl. But, as Rachel became more solidified as the show’s main love interest (and thus the most desirable and “hot” one), she was moved to the forefront. While she did have other story arcs, like being out on her own for the first time and reconnecting with Monica, the main thrust of her story was her on-again-off-again relationship with Ross.

“She’s your lobster. It’s a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life.” Friends

Not being the ‘hot’ one gave Monica and Phoebe more freedom to focus on other things and explore other parts of their lives and interests – they definitely do date plenty, but their lives and story arcs don’t necessarily revolve around their love lives in the way that Rachel’s does.

“Here I am about to pop, and he’s out picking up some shop girl at Sl*ts-R-Us.” “Is that a real place? Are they hiring?” Friends

And, through flashbacks, we see that even Rachel herself didn’t always see herself as ‘hot’ – she was insecure about her looks until she got a nose job. But it was this focus on her looks that also got her trapped in the idea of being the ‘hot one’ for so long.

“It’s like all my life everyone’s told me, ‘You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe!’ Well, what if I don’t want to be a shoe? What if I wanna be a purse or a hat?” Friends

Thankfully over the course of the show Rachel does get to start branching out and being more than just the desirable friend – she gains confidence in herself not through her love life, but through growing as a person. Getting a job that she enjoys, and that she’s good at, allows her a new kind of agency to see herself as having value beyond just her physical appearance.

“My work is for me, you know? I’m out there on my own and I’m doing it. And it’s scary but I love it because it’s mine.” Friends

Importantly, the show never framed the women’s relationship as competitive – they weren’t all secretly battling over some guy, they were friends who were all there for each other no matter what. And as the show evolved away from the earlier framing of Rachel being the most appealing one, we got to see how all three of them were desirable in their own way.

“You’re not easy going, but you’re passionate and that’s good… They can say that you’re high maintenance, but it’s okay, because I like maintaining you.” Friends

And, critically, how that wasn’t the main focus of their lives. Rachel’s on screen evolution was in many ways the beginning of the end for the ‘hot one’ trope as it had so long existed on screen.

Everyone’s A Hottie Now

In the same way Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel were all able to evolve out of their initial limiting tropes and become more full, complex characters, well done narratives in general have evolved away from trying to trap female characters in any single box. Nowadays, the ‘hot one’ framing has pretty much been left behind in favor of this more equal exploration of how everyone is desirable and interesting in their own way. A big part of this is thanks to the continued move away from seeing male attention as the end all, be all for women (on screen and off.)

“When I’m telling my own story, for the first time in my life I’m actually happy.” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend It’s also much more accepted that ‘hot’ can mean many different things to different people – there’s not one way to be hot, and so no singular ‘hot friend’. Female characters now are more interested in exploring their own sexualities under their own control – not sitting around hoping they’re chosen out of a lineup by some dude, but instead going after whoever they want (or not, if that’s not their thing.)

“I’m super sex positive, in theory more than in experience, and I am ready to smash some Ds.” The Sex Lives of College Girls

And the focus is much more on becoming the happiest, most capable version of yourself and building strong friendships. Hotness is all about perception, and now we’re finally controlling how we’re seen by the world.