How do I even begin to describe Isabelle Lightwood? Isabelle Lightwood is flawless. She has two badass Parabatai brothers and a silver snake whip. I hear her hair's insured for $10,000. I hear she does Mark of Cain rituals... in the Seelie Court.
OK, but seriously — when TV Guide took on the task of highlighting amazing, empowered, complex female characters for Women's History Month, Shadowhunters' Isabelle Lightwood (Emeraude Toubia) was obviously one of the first in line considering she's nine kinds of awesome, and she also doesn't always get the appreciation she deserves.
When we first met Isabelle, she was a confident — sometimes overly so — Shadowhunter who seemed to have life locked down. Since then, she's learned hard lessons about her own vulnerability and how distinguishing enemies from allies isn't always as easy as she'd like it to be. Still, unlike a lot of the other Shadowhunters we met when the Freeform series premiered, Isabelle didn't seem to have a pre-existing prejudice against Downworlders. A cornerstone of her personality has always been that she accepts people for who they are, choosing to have faith in the best parts of them rather than the worst. To Isabelle, your choices — who they benefit and who they harm — are more important than any lineage or heritage you might have been born with. Considering that Shadowhunters is built on themes of inclusivity and acceptance, there may be no character who better embodies the show's core message than Isabelle Lightwood.
Her virtues don't stop at her big heart. Isabelle's confidence is another cornerstone of her personality that deserves to be talked about nonstop. So often in the fantasy genre, narratives depend on female characters who are timid, frightened, and bewildered by the magical forces and epic battles surrounding them. To see a warrior on Shadowhunters like Isabelle — who can handle herself just as well as, if not better than, her brothers when facing Downworld warfare and high-stakes missions — made her an iconic female character for the show. Not to mention: She's one of the most sex- and body-positive women on Freeform right now, which is seriously saying something. It's inspiring, to say the least, to think about the young girls who have watched Isabelle Lightwood carry herself with such confidence in battle and in love every week when they tune in to Shadowhunters.
Now, it may sound crazy that I even managed to find some, but let's talk about Isabelle's flaws. Any good TV fan will tell you that a female character isn't interesting because of all the ways she's perfect but because of all the ways she's not. In Shadowhunters' second season, we saw Isabelle walk down a very destructive path, struggling with addiction and the cloud of deception that dependency forced her to wade through in order to maintain it.
Fans slowly but surely saw this bold, capable, principled woman deteriorate before our eyes, stripped down to a person who would indulge her worst impulses over and over again. Rather than turning us against Isabelle, though, her addiction arc allowed us to see her vulnerable for the first time, and when she finally started to claw her way back to getting clean, fans were all that more motivated to rally around her and her recovery. To this day, Isabelle still struggles with the urge to give in to her Yin Fen addiction — as we recently saw with Simon (Alberto Rosende) at the Seelie Court — but now, she's not afraid to make people aware of the fact that she's struggling or to ask for help when she feels a weak moment coming on. And if that's not a shining example of strength, I don't know what is.
So here's to you, Isabelle Lightwood. May you continue to be a force for good and a source of inspiration, even as Shadowhunters comes to an end this year.
Shadowhunters airs Mondays at 8/7c on Freeform.
This week, TV Guide is celebrating some of TV's most underrated female characters. As part of Women's History Month, we'retalking about why Dear White People should put more respect on Joelle's name, looking at how Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbes became the face of a movement, and more. You can check out all our Women's History Month content here.