Susan Boyle Uniquely Herself: No Extreme Makeover Necessary

By Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

April 24, 2009

Susan Boyle became an Internet sensation and media darling with her triumphant singing performance April 10 on the television show "Britain's Got Talent." Various clips of Boyle online have now received more than 100 million views, according to viral video tracking firm Visible Measures.

What catapulted Boyle past other singing competition contestants? In addition to her undeniable talent, it was the low expectations of a society that places great value on physical appearance, to the point of prejudging what might be inside. Boyle is 47 years old and not considered attractive or chic by our culture's standards. It's clear that the producers of "Britain's Got Talent" knew that the audience and judges would take one look at Boyle and laugh. The audience did not disappoint, and judge Simon Cowell even rolled his eyes upon learning her age.

Forget for a moment the question of why people would assume that a "frumpy" looking person could not be a talented singer. Boyle quickly put any doubts to rest when she began to sing beautifully. She taught the audience and the judges an old lesson, one that any five-year-old should already know: "Don't judge a book by its cover."

So, what happens next? The media debate over whether or not Boyle should be made over, of course. Surrounded as we are by images of glamorous celebrities and airbrushed models, most of us can't help but imagine reshaping Boyle into a cookie cutter idea of femininity.

Fashion writer Robin Givhan even suggested in the Washington Post that Boyle herself really doesn't have any say in the matter:

Should Boyle have a makeover?

The politically correct answer: Only if she wants one.

The honest answer: Yes.

Now that Boyle has become famous -- and her fame portends a financial windfall for someone, if not her -- the decision is no longer merely a reflection of her desires. Indeed, the wrong decision has the capacity to unravel the centuries-long tradition of fairy tales.

Ok, if Boyle wants to polish her appearance, that's fine (and it looks like she may have made a few modest changes, judging from recent photos). But Givhan seems to be saying that, whether she likes it or not, now that Boyle stands to make a fortune for some music bigwigs, she must submit to the makeover machine. This is cynical to the extreme.

As cynical as she may be, Givhan apparently has a weakness for fairy tales, and she insists that they be validated in reality. "Transformation is always part of a good story" she says, adding "[t]he tale of Susan Boyle will not be complete until the shy spinster blossoms . . . let Boyle's fairy godmother finish her work."

So, the blossoming of a woman's singing talent is not a good enough story in and of itself? She must become a swan on the outside for the entertainment world to be truly happy? This notion is terribly sad, and it sends absolutely the wrong message to girls and women of all ages.

Fortunately, in an online Washington Post discussion that followed the publication of Givhan's article, the large majority of commenters disagreed with the writer. Most of them understood that the impression Boyle made was due in large part to her apparent comfortableness with and confidence in herself just the way she was -- and shouldn't that be good enough?

The NOW Foundation began its Love Your Body campaign more than 10 years ago to stand up to attitudes like those expressed by Givhan -- attitudes guaranteeing that yet another audience will snicker at yet another "ugly duckling" in the future.

The Love Your Body campaign identifies and challenges our culture's sometimes dangerously narrow beauty standards, offering reassurance to girls and women as they struggle under enormous pressure from the "looks police" who pervade our advertising and media industry. And, best of all, it encourages us all to embrace and love ourselves, regardless of how well we measure up to modelesque ideals.

In fact, Susan Boyle's triumph exemplifies the message of this year's Love Your Body poster contest winner: "Be You(tiful). Beauty. True You."

Read more about the Love Your Body campaign.