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Why men can be ugly and talented and women only botoxed to behold

AnyBody just read this most fabulous article on The Guardian website - an insightful piece by Tanya Gold about the media's beauty fascism against women. Why is it that women who do not fit into the Britney Spears mould are not represented by the media, unless in a self-depreciating comedic role? Where are the 'real women' character actors? Where are the new generation Liza Minellis and Dame Judy Denchs? They have been replaced with female eye candy, nice to look at but empty calories to boot. Gold uses the media's reaction to Susan Boyle as an example of our prejudice - for here is a woman who dared to break the mould and was daring enough to stand on a stage and sing, unapologetic that she isn't a size zero plastic clone...

It wasn't singer Susan Boyle who was ugly on Britain's Got Talent so much as our reaction to her

By Tanya Gold, The Guardian, Thursday 16 April 2009

Is Susan Boyle ugly? Or are we? On Saturday night she stood on the stage in Britain's Got Talent; small and rather chubby, with a squashed face, unruly teeth and unkempt hair. She wore a gold lace dress, which made her look like a piece of pork sitting on a doily. Interviewed by Ant and Dec beforehand, she told them that she is unemployed, single, lives with a cat called Pebbles and has never been kissed. Susan then walked out to chatter, giggling, and a long and unpleasant wolf whistle.

Why are we so shocked when "ugly" women can do things, rather than sitting at home weeping and wishing they were somebody else? Men are allowed to be ugly and talented. Alan Sugar looks like a burst bag of flour. Gordon Ramsay has a dried-up riverbed for a face. Justin Lee Collins looks like Cousin It from The Addams Family. Graham Norton is a baboon in mascara. I could go on. But a woman has to have the bright, empty beauty of a toy - or get off the screen. We don't want to look at you. Except on the news, where you can weep because some awful personal tragedy has befallen you.

Simon Cowell, now buffed to the sheen of an ornamental pebble, asked this strange creature, this alien, how old she was. "I'm nearly 47," she said. Simon rolled his eyes until they threatened to roll out of his head, down the aisle and out into street. "But that's only one side of me," Susan added, and wiggled her hips. The camera cut to the other male judge, Piers Morgan, who winced. Didn't Susan know she was not supposed to be sexual? The audience's reaction was equally disgusting. They giggled with embarrassment, and when Susan said she wanted to be a professional singer, the camera spun to a young girl, who seemed to be at least half mascara.

She gave an "As if!" squeak and smirked. Amanda Holden, the female judge, a woman with improbably raised eyebrows and snail trails of Botox over her perfectly smooth face, chose neutrality. And then Susan sang. She stood with her feet apart, like a Scottish Edith Piaf, and very slowly began to sing Les Miserables' I Dreamed A Dream. It was wonderful.

The judges were astonished. They gasped, they gaped, they clapped. They looked almost ashamed. I was briefly worried that Simon might stab himself with a pencil, and mutter, "Et tu, Piers, for we have wronged Susan in thinking that because she is a munter, she is entirely useless." How could they have misjudged her, they gesticulated. But how could they not? No makeup? Bad teeth? Funny hair? Is she insane, this sad little Scottish spinster, beloved only of Pebbles the Cat?

When Susan had finished singing, and Piers had finished gasping, he said this. It was a comment of incredible spite. "When you stood there with that cheeky grin and said, 'I want to be like Elaine Paige', everyone was laughing at you. No one is laughing now." And it was over to Amanda Holden, a woman most notable for playing a psychotic hairdresser in the Manchester hair-extensions saga Cutting It. "I am so thrilled," said Amanda, "because I know that everybody was against you." "Everybody was against you," she said, as if Susan might have been hanged for her presumption. Why? Can't "ugly" people dream, you flat-packed, hair-ironed, over-plucked monstrous fool?

I know what you will say. You will say that Paul Potts, the fat opera singer with the equally squashed face who won Britain's Got Talent in 2007, had just as hard a time at his first audition. I looked it up on YouTube. He did not. "I wasn't expecting that," said Simon to Paul. "Neither was I," said Amanda. "You have an incredible voice," said Piers. And that was it. No laughter, or invitations to paranoia, or mocking wolf-whistles, or smirking, or derision.

We see this all the time in popular culture. Do you ever stare at the TV and wonder where the next generation of Judi Denchs and Juliet Stevensons have gone? Have they fallen down a Rada wormhole? Yes. They're not there, because they aren't pretty enough to get airtime. This lust for homogeneity in female beauty means that when someone who doesn't resemble a diagram in a plastic surgeon's office steps up to the microphone, people fall about and treat us to despicable sub-John Gielgud gestures of amazement.

Susan will probably win Britain's Got Talent. She will be the little munter that could sing, served up for the British public every Saturday night. Look! It's "ugly"! It sings! And I know that we think that this will make us better people. But Susan Boyle will be the freakish exception that makes the rule. By raising this Susan up, we will forgive ourselves for grinding every other Susan into the dust. It will be a very partial and poisoned redemption. Because Britain's Got Malice. Sing, Susan, sing - to an ugly crowd that doesn't deserve you.


Reader Comments (22)

Here, here and then some - it was deeply disturbing and shocking that the ugly reaction to her was 'news' all over the world
April 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter9billionnames of god
No sé inglés, pero me gustaria compartir la profunda emocion que me causo esta mujer, su voz maravillosa y su conmovedora humiladad. Les tapo la boca a todos. Un ejemplo de mujer.

I do not know English, but I'd like to share the deep emotion that I caused this woman, her wonderful voice and her poignant humility. Les tapo mouth at all. An example of a woman.

From Chile.
April 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterManuela
But the judges did ta least recognise their reaction was ugly.
April 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterclara
The prejudgement is an efficient response....the vast majority of characters of the Susan Boyle ilk are deluded and a waste of time. She surprised us, so what? If we didn't ever form judgements based on slight prejudices about what normally happens in such situations for the sake of efficiency we would never be surprised and would never get anything done. Surprising, eh?
April 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBoo
I couldn't agree more. We're all programmed to judge based on superficial information. I guess I'm guilty as well. In fact we posted about this on our site about eye wrinkles,
April 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Here are my thoughts on the Susan Boyle phenomena. I think it is more than just the disparity between how she looks and how she sings. And no matter how she was discovered, I am certainly glad we know about her now.
May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSherie Sanders, MA
Boo,your comment is odd. Unless by "of the Susan Boyle ilk" you mean "people in general" as clearly her physical appearance will have absolutely no bearing on her singing/acting etc talent?
May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMyf
In Italy also in parliament you cannot spot an ugly woman, living here it's like living on another planet. Women age in desperation, whith duck like lips, dressed like teenagers, it's so depressing.
May 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermanoela
wow. so if we fill our parliament with beautiful women the all our problems will disappear. thats where we've been going wrong! its nothing to do with the ugly men.....
May 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhannah
I find this piece equally disturbing to the original. Who says that Susan is ugly? The author is using exactly the same criteria in her judgement as the rest. Susan is a wonderful human being who is warm and pink with a limb at each corne; who in addition has the most fantastic voice. Please, please stop going on about her appearance and concentrate only on her amazing singing talent!
May 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
Boo while I appreciate your point I must ask you to remember that there are equal numbers of the so called good looking 'non Susan Boyle ilk' who are just as deluded!
July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Susan Boyle looks much more relaxed these days, has a new hairstyle, and she seems to have more confidence. I think she has moved on since the X Factor and grown as a person...(?)
Who am I kidding-this is all media hype!!
August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSheila
I am also guilty. When Susan Boyle walked on the stage I thought she looked like like she belonged on a psych unit...but her voice brought me close to tears. I don't know why we do it either, because I am "hippy" or "heavy", whatever you wanna call it. I don't wear make-up everyday, and I struggle with my own image every day.
November 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
What is even more wonderful is the fact that although Susan did not win that night, she has accomplished her dream, selling well over a million copies of her CD album, being invited to the White House and generally being touted by the powers that be. Way to go, Susan!
December 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJo
Well, I like the way you are trying to convince us.....
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