Open Thread: Susan Boyle needs a makeover?

SBG recently talked about Susan Boyle, the singer who blew everyone away on Britain’s Got Talent despite, gasp, not looking like a Hollywood starlet. The reactions to this woman’s looks have been interesting, to say the least. Katie Couric called Boyle’s story “a reminder that looks can be deceiving” – I believe this was meant entirely as a compliment, but it begs a troubling question: when on earth did we get the idea that talent and starlet looks typically go together? Years ago, the stereotype was that beautiful women lacked talent and brains, and beautiful women really struggled to be taken seriously (think Marilyn Monroe, for just one example). Have we swung to the opposite extreme – the idea that non-beautiful people can’t have exciting talent or brains – without pausing to consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s no correlation between how a person looks and what they can do?

Or is it just that people feel if you’re going to inflict your entertaining presence on us as an audience, and you’re female, you owe it to us to look a certain way? These people would like to give Susan Boyle a makeover. Amanda Holden thinks her ordinary appearance is an advantage (sorry, it’s near the end of the video) because ordinary-looking people relate to her. I wonder why her looks can’t just be a non-issue.

What are your thoughts?


  1. says

    I think I would rather wait until the woman is out of hospital where she’s being treated for the emotional strain of the past few weeks, before we indulge ourselves with further scrutiny about what she ‘should’ do.

  2. says

    It seems to me that this is just symptomatic of the usual collectivism and conformity that comes with fashion/beauty. People who don’t fit culturally-defined standards will be set apart, whether it’s in school or elsewhere. For example, having braces or wearing glasses.

    Mass communication only magnifies the effect.

    Add to that the strange phenomena of people acting as if what other people wear or don’t wear is something for which their opinion has any relevance to. People act like they have a right to not be offended by what someone else wears or what shape their body takes.

    Here’s an example. While at the pool the other day, an elderly woman went for a swim in a bikini. Young girls in the pool impolitely commented on it amongst themselves. Hey, old lady in a bikini, right? Yet, why shouldn’t the woman wear what feels comfortable to her? Should she wear a full-body bathing suit just because the sight of her midriff might offend the sensibilities of these young girls or anyone else who might be watching?

  3. says

    Debi, I’m thinking perhaps she wouldn’t be in the hospital if her looks hadn’t been such an issue. Sure, there would still be the pressure of the limelight and the sudden dramatic shift in her life. But all the jabber about her looks – both the negative and the positive – added an extra layer of scrutiny and criticism she had to be thick-skinned about. Or at least, that’s how I would’ve felt in her situation.

    Frederik, yes. That. I got a very clear impression growing up that women who wore clothes that exposed any imperfect body parts were in gross violation of their social responsibilities. (To my credit as someone who espouses equality, I also applied these standards to men.) Eventually I realized what a crock that all was, and now I’m genuinely happy to see people who are proud of how they look whether or not it conforms to anyone’s standards. But to this day, I still feel the need to hide my imperfect body parts. I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome that; the beauty programming and the fat-shaming goes so deep in my upbringing.

  4. Dom Camus says

    From my perspective the whole Susan Boyle thing – aside from her singing – is a very artificial phenomenon. Nobody was really surprised. Certainly not Simon Cowell or Piers Morgan. But to succeed on a show like that there has to be a “feature” of some kind to your act. If you conform to a standard template, you don’t stand a chance.

    That Susan Boyle was “ordinary” was her selling point, but like anything else on TV there’s no substance behind it.

    (And yes, obviously there is a gender bias – nobody ever remarked that Luciano Pavarotti didn’t look like Brad Pitt!)

  5. JenniferRuth says

    I wonder why her looks can’t just be a non-issue.

    Because she’s a woman!

    Appearance is all the matters in the patriarchy’s eyes, so therefore people struggle to come to the terms with the fact that she isn’t “beautiful” but they still want to listen to her.

    Hence the incessant talking about how she looks.

  6. Robin says

    To quote the old tune, “Video killed the radio star.” With a voice like Susan Boyle’s it shouldn’t matter how she looks. Particularly since she was on Britain’s Got Talent, not American Idol. She wasn’t trying to be the next Kelly Clarkson. She wasn’t trying to start a controversy. She just wanted to show people that she could sing and prove to herself that she could do so in front of a bunch of strangers.

    If she wants to change her look, that’s fine. But she shouldn’t be pressured into it just because she doesn’t look like a manufactured pop princess. The way the media is slamming her at the same time they’re profiting from her talent really infuriates me.

    Ahem. [/rant]

  7. Charles RB says

    Charlie Booker’s rather vicious take on the whole thing – – raised the valid point the whole reason it became a ‘sensation’ was “because apparently it’s a fucking miracle that women who aren’t conventionally attractive are also capable of exhibiting any kind of skill whatsoever”.

    And this leads to a lot of condescending and patronising media takes based on her appearance & coming from a small town. He showed a clip of an American newsreader asking her to twirl for the camera, to which he responds “*fake accent* And do a little jig for us like a MONKEY”.

  8. sbg says

    Or is it just that people feel if you’re going to inflict your entertaining presence on us as an audience, and you’re female, you owe it to us to look a certain way?

    I think it applies to male public figures, too, but at a much less noticeable rate. There’ll be an occasional story about how a man has “let himself go” and instantly people will comment about how it’s part of the aging process leave-the-poor-man-alone! Not so with women.Usually the comments are littered with harsh, rude comments about what an ugly old bitch she’s become.

    I would love for a moratorium to be called on all stories that revolve around a woman’s looks. I’m tired of Kirstie Alley coming back into the spotlight because she got “fat” again, whether she brought the issue to the fore herself or not. I’m tired of paparazzi-snapped photos of women going to the grocery store and daring not to put on make-up or their high-end fashion clothes and being ridiculed for it.

    It’s a pipe dream, I know, but damnit. It’s a constant reinforcement that all that matters about a woman is how she looks 24/7. Her brain: who cares, can’t see it. Her talent: doesn’t need it if her boobs are big enough (real or artificial, but artificial is preferred!). Her commitment to social causes: but what about her going sleeveless in public, how can I get Michelle Obama’s fantastic upper arms??!!


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