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.