Sometimes, plain, “overweight” women over age 30 can have something of value to offer the world!
As Boyle introduced herself, the cackling audience provided background noise. Then Boyle sang, and she sang beautifully. Cue the standing ovation and stunned praise. The judges were stunned not at themselves for underestimating a talented woman for superficial reasons, but that a woman like her could possess such a lovely, powerful voice. Each reminded her that “everyone was against [her]” (to paraphrase judge Amanda Holden) before eagerly endorsing her. Boyle was cheerful and optimistic through it all, and the combination of backstory + performance + personality has endeared her to people on a global scale.
The tone of the Susan Boyle media frenzy is one of delighted shock – the same delighted shock expressed by the judges and the BGT audience who initially snickered and rolled their eyes at the woman. As Jezebel’s Sadie observed, they’ve “reduced her to a two-dimensional character who reaffirms our belief in the Power of Dreams.” She’s never been kissed, she was mercilessly bullied as a child, she dedicated the past few years to caring for her ailing mother – her underdog story appeals to a public overwhelmed with home foreclosure and job losses and a desire to transcend their circumstances. I have no way of knowing whether Boyle feels exploited by all the attention, but the freak-show element to the reporting makes me uncomfortable.
Yes, it’s true; there are people out there made invisible by their size, their disability, their class, their frizzy hair… who have amazing but untapped talents and abilities. I wonder who else we are missing out on. For every pre-fab “artist” who sought stardom for stardom’s sake and whose talent is the willingness to undergo soul-sucking makeovers, there are dozens of Susan Boyles. I might be more upbeat about Boyle’s newfound fame were I not convinced that the reverse halo effect – wherein people assume that a person with one supposedly negative quality (overweight, ordinary looks, a learning disability, etc.) – has only negative qualities – was one of the hurdles in her way in the first place. We saw it in action when she took the BGT stage.
Many people are claiming that “she showed them!” But what did she show them? I fear most of humanity considers Boyle a charming exception to the “rule” that only the young and conventionally attractive are worthy of entertaining us. Maybe at this point, Boyle is just thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to showcase her singing voice on such a grand scale. I am really happy for her and I hope she’s able to continue doing so.
No doubt it feels good to prove your detractors wrong like that. Have you ever had that chance?