The past week has seen an interesting slew of articles regarding the insulting comments by AA Gill about Classics professor Mary Beard’s audacity to not doll herself up to present her current BBC series: Meet the Romans. Not least a fantastic response from Mary Beard herself.
Aside from the entertainment value of Beard putting Gill in his place, this incident has yet again highlighted a key issue that has dogged humanity for centuries (Romans included) – the importance of appearance.
Should appearances matter? Absolutely not. As the old proverb says: we should never judge a book by its cover.
Do appearances matter? Unfortunately, yes. As much as we try not to, we do make judgements about people based on their appearance. And in the interests of getting ahead, it is important that people dress appropriately.
If someone is turning up for a job interview or a meeting with clients, etc, I would expect them to make an effort to look smart otherwise I’d assume they didn’t care about the job or whatever deal they are trying to negotiate or relationship they are looking to build. If someone works for a fashion and beauty magazine, I would expect them to look fashionable because it is their business to know what looks good. By looking the part, by managing your image, you help control other people’s perceptions of you to get the reaction you want. (Of course looks alone aren’t enough to build a reputation. I’d want my lawyer suited and booted and with an intellect to match his/her’s staggering fee.)
However, the way someone looks should never be an excuse for meanness, sexism or ageism. There are no excuses for nasty behaviour.
Criticising fairly a presenter of a programme is acceptable review practice. What AA Gill did was not. I’d like to highlight that AA Gill not only wrote a nasty, sexist piece, but he also failed to recognise what type of presenter would be fit for this role, thus his judgement on Beard’s appearance is wrong on another level. Meeting the Romans is a serious history documentary, not The Voice or something similarly (and sadly) geared towards promoting the ‘glamour’ and ‘beauty’ of a ‘celebrity’ life. Perhaps he was gutted no one asked him to write what his opinion is on Holly Willoughby’s breasts and missed that key point. No one would expect Beard to doll up to present this intellectual programme. And in fact its target audience would have instead preferred someone who looks obviously like an eccentric academic genius.
Mary Beard said the BBC didn’t insist she dressed a particular way. A rather cynical part of me suspects it wasn’t out of respect for people’s right to dress how they want. It’s because she already looked the part.