Friday, April 17, 2009

Oh No! Not another Susan Boyle post!

My friend Gabriel asks on his Twitter feed:
I have seen the Boyle video many times and I still am moved - what is it that evokes this response in so many people?
I went to answer him and realized that 140 characters wouldn't be able to do it justice.

Susan Boyle has become an international sensation. Her YouTube video is doing the rounds on email, Twitter, Facebook and everyone has the same reaction. What is it that evokes this teary response in people? Is it her gray hair, her matronly wardrobe, her unplucked eyebrows, her lined face, her lack of make-up? These things have become so foreign to us; we are not used to unadornment. We never see it. Particularly on television. Couple that with a beautiful voice, clear as a bell, a beloved song, and a good back story (47, lives with a cat, never been kissed) and Bob's your Uncle. Tears flow.

Friends took us to dinner last night at The Grill in Beverly Hills, a venerable establishment, know for the deals that are made there at lunchtime. On any given day you will find studio heads, agents, talent, etc. At night, it's full of the old crowd and, surprisingly, British tourists. (I love British tourists. I love that they're all gussied up and out for a night on the town in LA, all lip-glossed and hair-done and excited to be on holiday. I know how that feels.) I realized that my girlfriend and I were probably the only women, other than the Brits, who hadn't had work done to our faces. On the table behind us were three women and their husbands, all in their (late) sixties. One woman was a dead ringer for Joan Rivers, another was Barbara Eden, but wearing a distinctly hideous shade of brown lipstick with liberal use of dark lipliner, and the third was Bette Midler (or an approximation of Bette Midler). I could not stop staring. The Maharishi kicked me under the table finally. "You're doing it again" he hissed.

Everyone in Los Angeles has "work" done. Botox, restylane, juvederm, chemical peels, eye lifts, cheek implants, neck pulls are commonplace. You don't see wrinkles in Beverly Hills. Ever. You don't see grey hair (sometimes an occasional root). Even men die their hair horrendous shades of Elvis black (with matching, caterpillar-like eyebrows). We have, I believe, actually forgotten what aging looks like and we fear it. God, how we fear it.

I once went to a well-know dermatologist in Beverly Hills, whose name I'd love to print, but can't. I was all of 32 at the time and I went to him at the suggestion of a friend because I was breaking out on my chin. Other than that, my skin looked pretty good. English and pink and healthy. He walked into the room, took one look at me and suggested I try botox. I was appalled. I started to doubt myself. "Jumby, am I looking old?" I whined when I got home. Needless to say, I didn't have botox until I was 40. I had it once to cheer me up and it did cheer me up. The doctor I saw was brilliant and he managed to smooth out my forehead while still giving me control of my eyebrows. (I am one of those unfortunate people who speaks in a very animated way, so losing the use of my eyebrows would be a dead giveaway.) J didn't even notice I'd had anything done. But I did. I loved my new mill-pond skin. But, it seems, not enough to do it again.

Susan Boyle represents the kind of unadorned beauty that we all desperately yearn for. She brings us back to times long gone. To Vera Lynn and the war effort and days when girls would pinch their cheeks instead of applying rouge, and don their work books and dig trenches in Lincolnshire. She reminds us of innocence, or perhaps and innocence that we'd all like to regain. How much more can we do to ourselves that propels us away from what we really are? How many different suits of armor do we have to wear to hide ourselves from everyone else?

I love Susan Boyle and I loved watching Simon's face as she sung. He is so good. It was a brilliant act. Of course he knew that she'd bring the house down. Ant and Dec knew too, otherwise why would there have been a camera in the wings waiting for their reaction? But what we didn't know is how profoundly we'd embrace this lovely, dumpy middle-aged woman. She could be you or I, without the trappings, without the clothes or the make-up, or the Vogue, or the blonde hair. She is, truly, all of us, deep down inside.


Jessie said...

I like your description of the Susan Boyle phenomenon, and I agree with much of what you say.

I have been thinking a lot about her, as she has been so pervasive in the news. Maybe it is the cynic in me these days about the fact that we never see aging anywhere anymore. The Photoshopping in women's magazines is absolutely insane at this point; I remember reading my mother's magazines when I was younger and women had expressions on their faces, fine lines, etc. They showed their AGE. I don't see how these images don't affect even the most confident woman or girl who has been constantly reminded by her mother of how beautiful she is.

I think Susan Boyle shocked many people because it made them remember that people can be talented and beautiful and successful without being beautiful on the outside, according to our society's currently skewed standards. It has become an unfortunate reality, particularly for women today, that women who are attractive tend to have more opportunities in life (even if they aren't so talented). They are simply treated differently, as was evidenced by Simon Cowles' face when she walked out on stage. Is it fair? Of course not.

I am young, work in a professional environment, and I see this every day. I've been lucky to have relatively good genes (I'm no Hollywood starlet), but I have witnessed this sort of dynamic, not only between men and women, but among women as well.

To me, Susan Boyle shattered that ceiling in our ingrained consciences in a way, and was a reality check of sorts. I appreciated her for being true to herself and just going for her dreams. I don't think many women in this country would have had the courage to do that, unfortunately.

NB: I don't mean to say that I think Ms. Boyle is unattractive, just by LA's / mainstream American media's standards, perhaps.

Miss Whistle said...

Dear Jessie,
I'd love to use this as a guest post. May I? Or would you like to tweak it first? Let me know.
Great stuff. Thanks.
Miss W x

Anonymous said...

I think you are fine as you are and your being not perfect makes you perfect. Not all people by the way are taken by beauty and so influenced by it, other than LA. Most find personality, kindness, honesty and just simply being fit and healthy more important. Personally i find fault in people more attractive than perfection and am not drawn to these male model types finding 'real' men more attractive...being a women. This women you are speaking of bought tears to my eyes i found her so moving and...beautiful.

Jessie said...

Hi Miss W,

Sure, feel free to use it as you like (although I am wondering if pervasive should have been "pervasively in the news").

I agree with Anonymous; I find honesty, kindness and personality more important attributes in a person, and physical "imperfections" as something special that should be embraced. Unfortunately, I sometimes don't feel as though this opinion falls within the majority when reality sets in. I blame the media for some of this because the images we see become ingrained in our minds. It would be nice, for instance, if women's magazines disclosed image retouching, because most of simply cannot and do not (naturally) look like these women.

Not sure if you saw this, but it was nice to see that France is addressing the issue (maybe):


Wzzy said...

This broke my heart a little - from the end of a story today:

"She said she has no plans to get a makeover or alter her wardrobe -- "Why should I? Why should I change?" -- but did predict one big lifestyle change.

"I won't be lonely," she said. "I certainly won't be lonely anymore.""I hope the world continues to be kind to her. And to us all.

Wzzy said...

Also - not that these women weren't at the front of the good-looking DNA line anyway - but the new issue of French Elle apparently has eight cover photos, all of actresses with no makeup, photoshoping, or retouching. Not headhsots, mind you, but daring and timely nonetheless.

Here's a story about it, which includes the cover photos of Monica Bellucci, Sophie Marceau and Eva Herzigova.