Thursday, March 19, 2009
Are You Hot Enough To Write?
The awesomeness that is the bloggers of Jezebel take on the disturbing "new" trend of folks paying way too much attention to female authors' looks.
I think that the poetry worlds are slightly more immune to these Hot-Or-Not games, not because poets are less shallow than prosets, but because poetry books tend to be excused from the expectation that they turn profit. It's doesn't matter if a poetess' face is "unmarketable" because her "product" is already so ridiculously "unmarketable" that not even slapping a full-frontal of Jessica Alba (or whomever the current standard-bearer of feminine beauty is these days) on the cover is going to get a collection of contemporary verse on the NYT's Bestseller List.
However, in my experience, in the absence of evil money-hungry publishing agents, we female poets seem to do a pretty good job of tearing one another down. We seem to have very set ideas about what female poets ought to look like - attractive enough to rate an above-average on the scales of Conventional Standards of Western Beauty, but not so attractive as to raise suspicions that one got where she is because of her looks. And, while lowering the bar of Ideal Level of Attractiveness for female poets to "above-average" may seem like a more enlightened, body-positive move than keeping the bar up at the level of say, Jessica Alba, in some ways, it's actually more taxing because, while the looks and body of Jessica Alba are clearly unattainable for 99% of the population, the looks and body of (insert name of female celebrity considered to be "only" slightly attractive here) are at least a possibility (if you're willing to re-direct your the money, time, and work that should probably being going towards your poetry...).
Female poets seem to take it bizarrely personally when other female poets don't meet these arbitrary standards we've set up. I've sat in a poetry workshop and listened to a female professor criticize another female poet's hair and wardrobe. I've overheard female classmates comment that a visiting poet was much fatter in real life than her author photo had led them to believe. I've read XX-penned blog posts expounding upon the "physical and mental" beauty of a certain blonde-haired Alaskan poet. And, yes, I myself have been guilty of occasionally paying more attention to another poetess' appearance than to her poems.
I don't really feel like it's my place to lecture The Women Poets of the Interweb on the inappropriateness of talking smack about the physical bodies of their peers. Given my own cattiness, I don't feel like I've earned that right. I just wanted to point out that: (A) it seems like women poets hold one another to standards of physical beauty (B) this is probably not helpful to Poetry in General and Women's Poetry In Particular.