Are Pretty People More Successful?

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Made of rubber

How we see an author on a book jacket is how we tend to remember them. We view Agatha Christie as what they used to call a ‘maiden aunt’, more Miss Marple than the tall, glamorous young woman who travelled the world and was probably the first English writer ever to go surfing in Hawaii.

Like Winifred Watson, who wrote the charming ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’, Christie was young and pretty and had written a rather good book. Watson was photographed and got local coverage, so the publishers asked her for more. Being attractive helped, but writing something good was more important. What happens when that is reversed?

Here’s a story from ‘Film Freak’. One day I was contacted by a production company. Two young women said they loved my work. They hadn’t read any of it, but they’d been told it was good. They wanted to film everything I’d written. There was just one snag.

They had hired a writer/director whose name would be on the project instead. They were sure I wouldn’t mind ghost writing for him. His own stories would be interspersed with mine. They kept emphasising how incredibly brilliant he was. I read some of his stories. They were dumb, clichéd and boring. At our next meeting, the girls brought the genius in. I found myself faced with a ridiculously handsome six foot three bronzed bodybuilding surfer.

Perhaps it was payback for all those horrible old men in the English film industry who used to grope starlets. My stories were never filmed. The series was ridiculed by critics and cancelled. A lesson had been learned; most people’s jobs are boring. They want to have a bit of fun, and those two saw that their surfer would be a lot more fun than being stuck with me. Funnily enough I would have been fine with that if his stories had been good.

Research has shown that in an office or any normal environment, a pretty face is often listened to more. Whether we care to admit it or not, most of us work in peer groups and don’t allow many from outside its range to join in. CVs are now searchable, and your future boss may be checking your FB page. Should your looks be considered like this?

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The other night I found myself sitting a few feet from Tom Ford. He moves like someone who is used to being constantly observed. Every tilt of the head and shift of the arm is studied. His image is micro-managed, as it needs to be, but he comes over as a bit fake. Female celebrities are natural, like Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams, or they stay very still. Men don’t know what to do with their hands. Actors are often not at all pretty in the flesh. Their heads are too large, their eyes are strange, they’re too self-conscious. They can be bored or boring, unpleasant, mean or mad. A few are also adorable. But being beautiful is part of their job.

This being the season for it, (writers and film people always have busy Octobers) I’ve had an unusually social month, and at certain gatherings you can see that the invitees divide neatly into two groups; the ones who bring in money and the ones who look pretty. I know a company that only hires stunning blondes who speak four or five languages. It’s a way of raising their game (their staff interact with bored businessmen who welcome smart conversation with pretty people).

We now live in an incredibly vain, internalised society which piles pressure on the young to look good, although picking Kim Kardashian, someone who looks like she’s halfway through the 100 Layers of Makeup Challenge, mystifies me because I’ve never heard her speak. Maybe she’s fascinatingly interesting. I should check it out.

It’s easy to say that looks don’t influence us, but they clearly do. Although another research project found that there’s something we respond to more than mere physical symmetry – facial animation is considered very charismatic.

On this front, at least, writers have a lock. We ain’t pretty but we get pretty animated. I rarely post shots and stick to what I do best, putting words on a page and not looking good in the morning or at any other time that doesn’t require a superhuman effort. Hey, I’m a piggy-eyed, awkwardly tall 63 year-old, I’m not meant to look good. Luckily I’m in a job where the work comes first.

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7 comments on “Are Pretty People More Successful?”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    You’re one of the adorable ones, sir.

  2. Jackie Hayles says:

    Fantasy vs. reality again (thanks for mentioning Hypernormalisation, which was great) …. and now Wonderwoman is the UN Women’s Ambassador. What hope is there? At least giving the Nobel Literature Prize to Dylan was a pleasant surprise in this crazy year.

  3. John Howard says:

    A nice roof top breakfast in Kings Cross and a chap is waiting for his builders tea and muesli to arrive. Ah, the small pleasures in life.

  4. John Howard says:

    P.S. Picture at top, fake life. Picture at bottom, real life.

  5. Ian Mason says:

    I have a pet hate of author’s head-shots appearing on the back of their books. Books require you to imagine the appearance of their protagonists; in the days when it was rare to have a mugshot on the back of a book, so too you had to imagine the authors. I have been deeply disappointed by many modern authors – they look nothing like I imagined them. Strangely, older authors look exactly like I imagined them – George Orwell looks just like I imagined Winston Smith to.

    I did have a mental image of Christopher from his writing before I actually saw a photo. I can’t remember what it was like as I’ve seen that mug too many times now (usually here) and that has completely erased the internal image I had.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Just remember that Admin’s alleged photo comes after a mild (?) concussion and a violent allergic reaction, topped off with a dislike of mornings. I shall remember him as I met him, pleasant, witty, appreciative and looking more like Mr. Ford than that poor suffering soul at the bottom.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    The Kardashians are an interesting bunch, The father was the OJ Simpson lawyer, the step father Bruce Jenner was an Olympian who after gender transition became Caitlyn Jenner, they are rich socialites with previous links to Paris Hilton and so on.

    We’ve always been interested in the lives of the rich and the circles they move in and this family was part of that, just on TV. This is just a continuation of the gossip columnists, those beloved by old crime films who are always being bumped off, and the Hollywood scandal sheets.

    The Beautiful people have been part of court circles and so such like and society has always been fascinated with them, we’ve just gone back to a time of no news, I blame the rich who control the press and such like, and I disagree with the argument it’s what people want as populations have risen but sales of newspapers and even their sites have gone down due to a lack of information. On the net the BBC and Wikipedia are highly ranked.

    Film stars and pop stars have been UN ambassadors for years, Danny Kaye was one on the 50’s, so Wonder Man has already done the job.

    Wayne.

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