Legally Blonde. Dir. Robert Luketic. MGM Films. 2001.

Legally Blonde. Dir. Robert Luketic. MGM Films. 2001. 150 150 Lucy Sutherland

Robert Luketic’s 2001 film Legally Blonde follows sorority girl Elle Woods’ journey at Harvard Law School, with her chihuahua, Bruiser. Bruiser is used as a demonstrative device of Elle’s hyper-femininity and superficiality; displayed through costume and dialogue. This emphasises Elle’s triviality against the Harvard students’ dull severity to highlight and criticise the misconceptions and prejudice towards Elle’s hyper-femininity. While the camp representation of Bruiser contributes towards Luketic’s anti-prejudice message, by using him as a tool to advance this message, the film demonstrates ignorance towards Bruiser’s identity and denies him autonomy and respect as an individual being.

Figure 1: Elle introduces herself and Bruiser to her new peers

Elle’s ‘otherness’ is visually exemplified by her bright pink clothing in comparison to the other Harvard students’ plain colour palette, as demonstrated in Figure 3. Bruiser is anthropomorphised by being dressed in clothes to mirror Elle’s own colour palette of pink and purple. In place of a conventional collar, Bruiser’s collar resembles Elle’s necklace worn in the opening credits (see Figures 4 and 5), therefore likening him further to a feminine human rather than a conventional dog. Elle’s endeavour to match Bruiser’s appearance with hers presents a superficial solidarity between the two characters, suggesting Elle views Bruiser as a human friend and an extension of herself rather than simply a dog.

Figure 2: Elle holds Bruiser as they wear colour-coordinated outfits
Figure 3: Elle’s necklace shown in the film’s opening credits

Additionally, Bruiser is introduced by Elle by his full name “Bruiser Woods” to further exemplify Elle’s personification of him, describing them “both” as “Gemini vegetarians”. Elle advances her perception of her and Bruiser’s affinity through the phrase “we’re both”, introducing Bruiser with a surname, astrological sign and specific diet to highlight her perception of Bruiser as similar to a person. In mainstream media, chihuahuas are often associated with wealth and triviality, often portrayed as ostentatious accessories of superficial and daft female owners and Hollywood stars, rather than conventional pets. Therefore, the film’s choice of Bruiser’s breed as a chihuahua catalyses the audience’s stereotyping of Elle’s character through exploiting the unforgiving cliché of owners of the dog breed, catalysed by the attention given to trivial details such as astrological sign and diet.

Figure 4: Public figure Paris Hilton holds her pet chihuahua who is dressed in pink.
Figure 5: Paris Hilton sits with her pet chihuahuas who are all dressed in clothing
Figure 6: Promotional poster for Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Figure 7: Promotional poster for Chihuahua The Movie

Elle’s treatment and presentation of Bruiser further alienates herself from her peers as it contradicts the typical attitude towards pet care likely to be held by the other Harvard students and the audience. A conventional regard to dog owning may involve feeding your pet other animals in the form of dog food, with the belief that dog’s require meat protein for a healthy diet as discussed in Rothgerber’s article.[1] Additionally, a traditional pet owner may believe that dressing dogs up in clothing would be against the animal’s will, infringing their autonomy in the name of human superficiality. [2] An audience member with these views may consider Elle as not only amusingly ostentatious, but somewhat unethical and ignorant towards her dog’s autonomy.

Through her amusing relationship with Bruiser, the audience is invited to align themselves with the other Harvard students in criticising Elle’s behaviour as ridiculously excessive, like the stereotype of hyper-feminine women with small ‘toy’ dogs. Thus Luketic uses Bruiser as a device to advance the audience’s immersion into the film’s message: criticising the students’ quick assumptions that Elle is naive and unintelligent due to her extravagant behaviour and attention to the trivial.

However, the use of Bruiser as a device in this way is arguably problematic because he is presented as a trivialised prop to entertain the human gaze rather than respecting the dog as an individual animal. The film does not address animal ethics in the film, yet Bruiser’s representation as an accessory to advance the presentation of Elle’s character denies Bruiser any individual character of his own.

Figure 9: Promotional Poster for Legally Blonde
Figure 8: Elle arrives at Harvard with Bruiser


Luketic, Robert, dir., Legally Blonde (MGM Distribution Co., 20th Century Fox, 2001)

Minatri, Citra, “The Representation of the Blonde Girl through Elle Woods as the Major Character in the Film ‘Legally Blonde,’” (unpublished thesis, State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah Jakart, 2009)

Rothgerber, Hank, “Carnivorous Cats, Vegetarian Dogs, and the Resolution of the  Vegetarian’s Dilemma”, Anthrozoös, 27.4 (2014), 485–98 10.2752/089279314×14072268687844>

Spencer, Stuart, and others, “History and Ethics of Keeping Pets: Comparison with Farm Animals”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 19.1 (2006), 17–25 10.1007/s10806-005-4379-8>

[1] Hank Rothgerber, “Carnivorous Cats, Vegetarian Dogs, and the Resolution of the Vegetarian’s Dilemma”, Anthrozoös, 27.4 (2014), 485–98 10.2752/089279314×14072268687844> (pp. 486-487).

[2] Stuart Spencer and others, “History and Ethics of Keeping Pets: Comparison with Farm Animals”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 19.1 (2006), 17–25 10.1007/s10806-005-4379-8> (p.17).

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