On the matter of appearances: Mary Beard vs AA Gill

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.

2 thoughts on “On the matter of appearances: Mary Beard vs AA Gill

  1. Not All Who Wonder Are Lost

    Great post Ploy, very to the point and well-written, I like a lot! I kind of see what you mean about ‘looking the part’, but then also I’d like to believe that Mary Beard just wears what she always wears (which works out very well for her in her usual working life, thank you very much) and everyone who has a problem with it can lump it – very good for her, wish everyone had that confidence!

    And, as you say, in her profession, that attitude isn’t necessarily a hindrance in the same way as for example (to reference your piece again) wearing overalls to work on a fashion magazine would be (although I’ve definitely worked in a fair few magazine offices where, let’s just say, people’s ‘best’ wardrobes have not exactly been on show – the same jeans + jumper combo on one of my editors for 4 days’ running being a case in point…!)

    So yeah, guess she does ‘already look the part’, but perhaps that’s because she’s just lucky and confident enough to come from a professional arena where what people say and think is usually seen as more important than the clothes they wear. Refreshing, I reckon.

    AA Gill is just a moron who can’t say anything intelligent about the programme so focuses on what someone’s teeth look like.

  2. b

    His comments are vile, but I’m afraid you’re wrong to call this article ‘sexist’. It may well be an article about a woman’s appearance, but Gill is a professional arsehole towards everyone – plenty of men and women have had their appearance criticised on the end of his ‘wit’. The following article (as much as I usually hate to link to the Telegraph) makes a very valid point too: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9221248/Its-only-sticks-and-stones-ladies….html .

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