There are certain events in my life that I know never would have happened if I’d been born ugly. Real life-changing events to which I entirely owe my looks.
I am not being conceited or boastful; it’s a simple fact that had I not been quite so lucky in the great DNA lottery many doors would have remained shut to me.
The first example is winning my first column on a newspaper in 2003 ― which in turn led to my first book. ‘We have to give her a column,’ said the editor to his section head after our meeting. ‘She’s so pretty.’
This proclamation was given to the team out of my earshot, I should say, but relayed to me by one of them over lunch afterwards. It left me torn between being offended that I didn’t get the job because of my ability to write and thrilled to have a column. But in the cut-throat world of journalism there is no room for the feminist moral high ground. A column is a column, whatever it takes to get it.
I should think acting is even more competitive. So I was rather surprised to read recently that Keira Knightley laments the fact that she misses out on roles because she is too pretty. I would wager she has won many more roles than she’s lost due to her good looks.
And would you rather be cast as Beauty or the Beast? Do you hear George Clooney moaning about the fact that he could have become an accountant if he hadn’t been so darned handsome?
I am not doing a Samantha Brick. She famously triggered a storm of abuse in April 2012 for saying how gorgeous she was, and that other women hated her because she was so beautiful.
I don’t think I’m so stunning other women loathe me en masse. And I’m not so pleased with myself that every time I look in the mirror I think ‘yippee’.
Quite the contrary. I used to loathe the way I looked. My legs were so thin when I was a teenager I used to wear two pairs of trousers to make them look more shapely. I was so flat-chested I was nick-named ‘the plank’. But now I am thankful for those legs and, at least, I don’t have droopy boobs.
At 45, I see good bone structure and skin that has only a sprinkling of fine lines thanks to rigorous application of suncream. My figure has remained the size it was at university thanks to yoga and tennis and a disciplined attitude to food, and I still have a head of thick dark hair, though that I owe to my mother.
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who has aged relatively well, in part due to the effort I’ve put into staying fit and healthy.
One of the things my chic Italian aunt taught me was that taking care of your appearance is good manners and shows respect for those around you, as opposed to something to be ashamed of, which is the usual attitude in Britain.
Here, the prevailing view is that if you spend time on yourself, you’re vain and superficial. Vain and superficial? Possibly. But also smart. Because good looks work and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.
Keira’s argument is that she wants to be treated as a serious actress and not a sex symbol. Which is fair enough. But I don’t agree with her that beauty and gravitas are mutually exclusive. She is a great example of a woman who has achieved both.
On the whole, you’re better off being nice-looking than not. I think Keira is being disingenuous if she says the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
I can’t see how good looks are in any way a barrier to a career. They’re rarely a barrier to anything as far as I can tell. I probably wouldn’t have a driving licence if I hadn’t worn a mini-skirt to my test. Yes, you read that correctly.
I was at Durham University. I had failed my test five times. Finally, a friend said he would buy me an intensive driving course, two lessons a day for a week in Harrogate at the end of which I would take my test. My test was a disaster. I rolled backwards on the hill start and went the wrong way down a one-way street, almost crashing the car in the process.
At the end, we pulled over and I prepared myself for the usual ‘I’m sorry to say Miss Frith Powell, you have failed.’ Incredibly the dour Yorkshire-man next to me told me I had passed. ‘Really?’ I exclaimed. ‘Well,’ he said, glancing at my legs. ‘Only just.’
My husband only hired me because he thought I was pretty. We met when he interviewed me for a job on Trade Finance magazine. I knew less than nothing about trade finance, but I got the job. Years later, he admitted his hiring policy. ‘Interviews are such a lottery,’ he told me. ‘So you may as well hire the pretty one.’ I am not saying that looks alone will keep you in a job (I did eventually get fired from that magazine, thank God. I was hopeless at it, a stark fact no number of charming smiles could disguise) but they will present you with opportunities to get in the door, spoken to and remembered.
I suspect Keira might have got her first role in Pirates Of The Caribbean in part because she is such a stunner, but they wouldn’t have cast her again and again if she’d been useless. Her looks will undoubtedly have opened doors for her in the industry, but her talent has kept them open.
My daughters are now 13 and 15. I, of course, think they are stunning. ‘Have you any idea what an advantage you have already, before you’ve even said or done anything at all?’ I keep telling them.
It may be unfair and it may not be right, but the truth is that if you walk into a situation as a pretty girl, 9.9 times out of ten, your looks will work in your favour. According to a study carried out by the University of Luneburg, Germany, in 2011, good looks are the single most important factor for a successful career. The study found that being beautiful is as important as having a degree.
Beautiful women ― and men ― will come up against some people (usually ugly ones) who discriminate against them because they don’t want nice-looking people around them. But on the whole, if you look good, you’re going to be more successful in life.
For living proof that good looks help your job prospects, you only have to compare the careers of Paul Scholes and David Beckham.
Both were very talented football players. In fact, some say Scholes was the more talented of the two. But only one of them looked good in underwear. I predict that Scholes could wander down the King’s Road unmolested (even in his underwear) and no one would give him a second glance. Becks would be mobbed before he took his jacket off.
Daniel Hamermesh the U.S. economist has coined the term the ‘beauty premium’, which means that attractive CEOs benefit their companies in various ways. For example, the share price rises when they have made a television appearance. Of course, especially for women, looks can determine what paths our lives take.
As the writer Nora Ephron once said: ‘I honestly believe that if I’d had bigger breasts my life would have been different.’ Though it’s fair to say her achievements as a writer and director hardly make her one of life’s under-achievers.
Maybe the point Keira is trying to get across is that if you look like Marilyn Monroe you are unlikely to become a tax inspector. Or even get to play one in a film.
Some women do rebel against their lot. For example, Brigitte Bardot, who was once the most beautiful woman in the world, decided to give up on looking after herself and look after donkeys instead. And then she ended up looking like one.
I guess if Keira is seriously disgruntled about being too pretty she could follow Brigitte’s lead and opt out.
But, somehow, I doubt she will. Because being beautiful is not something any woman will give up on easily. There are too many advantages to be gained.
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