Are Pretty People More Successful?
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?
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.