Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Face Fit for Radio?

by Siena Hocking

Mary Beard
Photograph: Caterina Turroni/BBC/Lion TV 
AA Gill, Sunday Times journalist and TV reviewer, is currently in hot water because of his harsh comments about historian Mary Beard who is presenting a new BBC programme about the Romans. He wrote in his newspaper column that she was ‘too ugly for television’ and that ‘she should be kept away from television altogether.’ This is not the first time he has commented on women being too ugly for television. Clare Balding, a high profile BBC presenter on a wide range of programmes, also came under fire and suffered at the hands of AA Gill. Not only did he state that she ‘looked like a big lesbian’, he later went on to refer to her as a ‘dyke on a bike’ when she presented a programme called Britain by Bike.

So, the question is, can you really be too ugly for television?

Nowadays, it would seem that how you look is important if you want to be a television presenter, especially if you are a woman. We are seemingly deluged with images of ‘picture perfect’ women presenting a huge variety of television programmes, but are they offered these jobs because of their knowledge of a particular subject and presenting skills or are they plucked from obscurity because they are ‘easy on the eye’ and would therefore attract a larger audience? Does our obsession with perfection mean we will dumb down programme quality in order to satisfy our appetite for aesthetically pleasing presenters?

Does the same rule apply to men? It would appear not. Women with ‘flaws’ seem to be easy prey for quite a few TV critics, whereas less than perfect men who are a far cry from being Adonises, are apparently exempt for some strange reason. Very rarely would you read that a male TV presenter is too ugly, too fat or too geeky for television; they are accepted for who and what they are, unlike women who are subject to all sorts of unnecessary insults and abuse at the hands of cruel, possibly misogynistic, male TV critics. Perhaps they’re running scared? Mary Beard has reacted to AA Gill’s barbed comments by extending him an invitation to attend one of her lectures because she believes he is frightened of intelligent women and the only way he can cope with them is by insulting them – in her opinion, a sign of male weakness and insecurity.

See also Zoe Dukoff-Gordon's article on the tyranny of body image:

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