Talented? I Don’t Care If You’re Sexy

In reply to yesterday’s column about what’s happening in the Fatosphere, reader and all-around amazing person KSEW brought up this issue:

Any thoughts (or have you heard?) about Jonathan Antoine’s big Britain’s Got Talent performance? I watched it and I’m truly impressed by his vocal skills and the depth and richness to his voice at only 17, but I’m finding myself really cranky at all of the people who are like, “WOW this kid is SO AMAZING would you believe it because HE’S A FATTY!!” Just about done with the fact that the human race doesn’t seem to acknowledge that talent and worth are not automatically the sole property of the pretty or skinny.

So with you, KSEW.

Full disclosure here, I have not heard Antoine’s performance. I cannot tell you off hand whether I would agree that he’s amazing or just think he’s a meh singer. I would have to hear him first.

And that’s kind of the point: I would have to hear him. Thus far I have only seen him, and that gives me no indication whatsoever of whether or not he can sing, dance, act, juggle, tame lions, or balance a checkbook.

Why? Because body size doesn’t indicate talent or lack thereof in any walk of life.

Do I enjoy looking at performers I also find physically attractive? Of course I do. It doesn’t hurt my feelings one jot that Johnny Depp and David Bowie happen to ping my pretty meter as well as do their jobs tremendously well. But you know what? I also think Timothy Spall is a pretty darn fabulous actor, and I don’t find him pretty. I don’t care. His job is to act. He does his job tremendously well. The fact that his face isn’t one I want to see on the pillow next to mine doesn’t change the fact that he’s a versatile, nuanced actor who can bring me to tears of pity or of laughter with his performances. Did I care that Warren Zevon wasn’t my idea of pretty, either? No. I loved his voice, his playing chops, and his incredible lyrics. I listen to his albums and hum his songs all the time. Why? Because he was a formidable talent.

In some ways, the worst thing about the ‘but people have to be pretty to be talented’ is the idea that there’s only one way to be pretty or sexy. Me? I can’t sit down and quantify what sexy is. I can’t even tell you how I define it for myself. It happens or it doesn’t. I honestly don’t know if I would lust after Antoine or not. I haven’t seen him in action yet, so I have nothing to react to but pictures, thus far. I might hear him and watch him in action and find him simply talented or not. I might find myself fantasizing about covering him in maple syrup and then cleaning him up… as soon as he’s street legal on this side of the Pond. I don’t know.

I do find David Bowie and Johnny Depp sexy. I find Meatloaf sexy. I found John Belushi sexy. I find Eddie Izzard sexy. I find Avery Brooks sexy. Pretty much the only thing I can find in common between these men (aside from being talented performers) is that they’re, well, all men.

And what about other, more immediately vital aspects of life than entertainment?

Once, many years ago, I was on a jury in a murder trial. It wasn’t fun, and I don’t recommend it as entertainment. Still. Every woman on that jury – myself included – thought the defense lawyer was a very attractive man in a rumpled sort of way. But we decided the case based on the evidence and the theories presented. Not one woman in that jury room thought the prosecutor was pretty, but we all agreed he made by far the better case. We sent the defendant to prison for a very, very long time.

Why? Because it didn’t matter who was pretty, who was sexy. It didn’t even matter that the defendant was a kind of cute kid and very, very young. He was. He was also a cold-blooded murderer.

I shudder to think what the outcome might have been if the thing we were most focused on was the relative sexy of the lawyers.

8 Responses to “Talented? I Don’t Care If You’re Sexy”

  1. The gold digger April 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    When I was in college, my Shakespeare prof asked us to cast Othello. Whom would we pick to play Iago?

    The class named several character actors who are not that handsome.

    My prof shook his head. “No,” he said. “I would put Robert Redford in that role.” This was in the early 80s. “Evil is not ugly. It is beautiful and that’s how people get seduced. If it were ugly, then we would not be attracted to it.”

    Just as talent is not correlated with weight nor beauty, neither is good.

  2. The gold digger April 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    PS I wish more voters chose candidates based on evidence and theory than on pretty and sexy.

  3. Liz April 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    I suspect that part of the difference is the setting. It’s entertainment. People – for right or for wrong – bring their assumptions about looks to it, and are less ashamed because, in the greaters scheme of things, they’re not deciding a murder trial or anything.

    That said, I was a little surprised at the amazement that a non pretty person could sing. Like, it was on the British news headlines. It can’t be that surprising?

    As for my sidenote on what’s sexy, the person has to be *there* to do it for me. I can acknowledge that someone is good looking, of course, but to be truly “sexy”, they can’t be two dimensional on a screen or page.

  4. Leigh Ann April 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    I don’t think sexy necessarily has to do with looks. I mean, there are good looking people that aren’t all that sexy, and there are sexy people who aren’t that good looking. Sexy to me involves pesonality–it’s life, a spark, the essence of somebody. It’s just that our culture is so superficial sometimes that judgments are made purely on the surface. I think Jonathan’s marvelous, frankly. I hate to say I think he’s sexy, because he’s only seventeen and gosh, I’m old enough to be his mother and then some. But there’s definitely something there–the kid’s got charisma. And sing? Like an angel. Twistie, you must find the audition on YouTube and play it as soon as possible.

  5. LBTEPA April 2, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    I saw this on youtube and all I could think was, so, if he couldn’t sing so beautifully then it would be all right to be so hateful? Fat people are only acceptable if they are sensationally talented? I was so angry my head nearly exploded. I actually dropped the f-bomb in a comment on our minister’s FB page (she was the one who posted the link)

  6. Jezebella April 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I had this same problem with Susan Boyle – everybody acting so feckin astonished that such a non-thin, non-blonde, non-young person might have a good voice. I mean, really, Simon Cowell, you’re going to roll your eyes and snicker at a homely lady before she even opens her mouth on a TALENT SHOW? Argh. The not-so-sub-text is exactly what you said: only pretty people are talented, and the world is shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – when a chubster has a talent. It’s just so offensive, but at the same time, it’s so very blatant that it gives us an opportunity to point and say: “LOOK! See what we’ve been telling you about anti-fat prejudice? SEE?”

  7. catrandom April 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    “Beauty equals talent” is based on self-selection to some extent, I think. Most people who look like Mr. Antoine wouldn’t have the courage to put themselves out there at all, no matter how well they sang. All entertainers have to put up with a certain amount of hateful garbage thrown their way, but a man as fat as this will be wading through it, even if it is slightly mitigated by his obvious abilities. And of course he knows that. Takes more courage than most of us have.

    This kid as a singer? On first listen, he sounds like the real deal to me, with a very warm, masculine voice. In any event, this is a serious singer and no novelty act. For whatever difference that will make.

    (And Timothy Spall in Secrets & Lies? Sexy as hell. Playing a plain good man is one of the hardest things an actor can do; by the end of the movie, I was kind of in love.)

  8. KESW April 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    I’m so flattered you turned my question into a whole post!
    Reflecting on the subjectivity of sexy, I agree with above commenters that there is a significant non-visual aspect to how sexy a person is. Part of it is personality, but I think part of it also is tactile, based on the fact that usually sexy = a person I could imagine having a physical relationship with.

    For example, my husband gives me a hard time for being a David Tennant fangirl, which I think is based a little bit on some insecurity of his that before him, my “type” was very much the skinny, dark haired boy nerd with glasses. My husband, on the other hand, is more of a husky Viking; and MILES sexier to me than a bony geek (though I will still gaze fondly upon them). I just can’t and don’t want to imagine (for me) what it would be like to “have and to hold”, so to speak, someone that skinny.