The beauty of Susan Boyle
View from the Strip
By Casey Lessard
If you haven’t seen the amazing internet sensation, Susan Boyle, get yourself to YouTube right now and search for her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Go ahead. I’ll still be here when you get back.
Angela and I were among the very first people outside of Britain to see the video (Angela remembers there were only 30 views when we watched it last Saturday night, and as the Strip goes to press, there are now a million times that amount). The Scottish woman’s performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables is stunning, even after listening to it 100 times (seriously). It’s no surprise that Ms. Boyle, a single 47-year old woman from southern Scotland, is a global phenomenon.
What should be surprising, but depressingly is not, is how much attention has been paid to her appearance and the fact that she said she has “never been kissed”, which was a self-deprecating comment taken seriously by every media outlet. One went so far as to interview Drew Barrymore, the star of the film, Never Been Kissed, who Boyle should kiss first, like either woman cares about the answer.
Susan Boyle was judged by her looks – called frumpy, dowdy, ugly, plain, simple, and all variety of negative terms by other media – from the moment she took the stage with her freshly curled hair and a gown she bought for her nephew’s wedding. But to her, this is how she wanted to appear in front of the judges, her nation, and now the world. She may not qualify as the top choice for next year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, but neither would 99.99999 per cent of us. Seriously, who are we to judge her looks?
Besides, does that matter? She didn’t go on Britain’s Got Talent to be a model; she went there to sing, and her talent has sent shockwaves through the world wide web. She is an amazing singer, and she has a joyful sense of humour. She is debunking perceptions of how celebrities and regular people should appear in public (she’s disarmingly normal in interviews), and turning the global (especially North American) standard of beauty on its head. She’s not actually that unattractive (physically or especially intrinsically), and would be as welcome at a dinner party as any celebrity I’ve ever met.
More disturbingly is the answer to the following question: would Boyle’s appearance be so heavily criticized had she been a man? Perhaps one wearing a suit from a supermarket with worse teeth? If you look back, the winner of the inaugural Britain’s Got Talent, Paul Potts, fared much better when he meekly presented himself in front of the judges. The fact that he was respected before and after he opened his mouth (although his teeth were heavily debated and eventually fixed) reflects our bias against women who aren’t visually perfect compared to men who present themselves similarly.
The judges and audience never expected an average looking single woman in her late-40s to have any talent or value. It’s shameful, and not only do we need to realize that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (as has been said far too many times this week), but we should also consider that the cover is fine just the way it is.
Love you, Susan.