Women In The Media: Is Beauty The Key To Success?
June 13, 2012
By: Fayida Jailler
In April of this year Samantha Brick, a freelance journalist and former TV producer, caused a media storm following her article in the Daily Mail in which she claimed that other women hate her simply because she is beautiful. The self proclaimed ‘good looking woman’ said that during her twenty year career as a writer and broadcaster her ‘lovely looks’ had often charmed her male bosses opened professional doors for her in the media industry. However at times her attractiveness had actively ‘barred her from promotions’, as female bosses, feeling threatened, prevented her from furthering her career. In the wake of her controversial article an important question was raised: how far is a woman’s media success dependent on her physical appearance?
Samantha Brick went on to publish another article for the Mail in which she stated that some women are indeed ‘too ugly for TV’, making particular reference to the Cambridge professor and presenter of the BBC Two series Meet The Romans May Beard. Beard recently came under attack from the TV critic A.A. Gill, who said that due to her looks she should be kept away from TV cameras.
Beard responded by saying that Gill was ‘frightened of smart women who speak their minds’ and especially those who ‘don’t succumb to the masochism of Botox’, adding that she felt ‘happy enough in her own skin not to bother with hair and make-up’. Samantha Brick said in her article that anyone who seeks an on-screen career should expect ‘endless appraisal of their looks’ and so should pay the upmost attention to their physical appearance. She claimed that there are countless university-educated individuals who undergo cosmetic surgery in order to gain prime time slots on major TV channels. Simply put, attractive women increase viewing figures. Unattractive women do not, and broadcasters know this.
Of course this is not the first time women in the media have been the subject of debate. On the contrary, this is an issue which frequently swims in and out of the British media. In 2009 the dance veteran and choreographer Arlene Philips was dismissed from the popular BBC One show Strictly Come Dancing. Philips, then 66, was replaced by the singer Alesha Dixon, then 30, sparking accusations that the BBC had unfairly discriminated against her because she was an older woman. The BBC claimed that they had made the decision in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience, disregarding the fact the other male judges, Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood, were at the time 65, 53 and 44 years old respectively.
So, to return to the question: must a woman be the next Samantha Brick or Alesha Dickson in order to have media success? No, but it certainly helps. In a society that is increasingly obsessed with outward appearance, it is fair to say that both men and women come under scrutiny over the way they look, and whether or not they conform to the stereotypes deemed attractive and acceptable. However in general women are substantially more subject to this scrutiny than men, and judged much more heavily on their appearance, both in the work place and in wider society. In terms of women in the media, sadly it does seem that youth, beauty and a certain glamour remain the prerequisites for a commercially successful career, and whilst there are exceptions (Ellen Degeneres comes to mind) we still have a long way to go before talent overrides beauty in determining the success of both men and women in the media industry.