Much has been said about Susan Boyle’s performance on the variety show “Britain’s Got Talent” and of our initial summary judgment of her based solely on her appearance before she even began to perform. But there’s a new chapter to this story that hasn’t be addressed as of yet. In the last few days, word has come out that Boyle has recently undergone a makeover – nothing really dramatic unless one considers a woman getting her hair done and buying a new outfit significant. What is noteworthy, though, is the public’s perception of Boyle’s decision to pamper herself.
Within hours of pictures being released on the web showing Boyle’s new look, people were either expressing dismay or cynicism regarding her ‘transformation’. It was clear that many people were disappointed that she decided to make such a change in her appearance. And yet, Boyle’s makeover sheds some light not only on how this whole situation has impacted her, but what it says about us.
Since Susan Boyle’s stirring performance, she has been heralded as a reminder of how superficial our society has become in ascribing value on a person based primarily on their appearance; “Britain’s Got Talent” judge Amanda Holden stated right after Boyle’s performance that she was a “wake up call” for all of us to realize how cynical and judgmental we’ve become. And yet, looking at the negative response to Boyle’s changed appearance, it becomes apparent that we still haven’t learned anything from that wake-up call, preferring again to focus on outward appearances than internal talent or abilities. It’s clear that many would like Boyle to win not just on account of her amazing performance, but because she would become a real-life version of the ugly duckling transforming into a beautiful swan. But from that vantage point, one could argue that she’s already begun that process, foregoing her disheveled hair and frumpy outfit for a coiffed look and more flattering clothes. Certainly that is a step in the right direction. So why then all the negativity toward her change in appearance? The answer, dear Brutus, likes squarely in ourselves.
While humans have always placed importance on physical attributes, in recent years the focus on physical appearances has surged to the point of creating a physical ideal that is virtually impossible to attain. Those who spend any amount of time in the limelight are only too aware of this, being the targets of unflattering press coverage over any perceived weight gains or revelations of the loss of toned arms or legs. Even photo shoots featured in magazines are subjected to much scrutiny, falling under suspicion over how much of it is real and how much of it was photoshopped. However, in spite of all this, women, and now to a smaller degree men, still feel this pressure to try to conform to this manufactured concept of beauty.
With Susan Boyle, people found an unexpected cause to rally around as a challenge to this pressure. The collective hope that she might go on to win this competition stems not only from an eagerness for a real-life ‘happily ever after’ ending, but because it would confront the feelings of inadequacy or insecurities many feel about their physical appearance thanks to our society’s unhealthy obsession with the physical ideal. From that vantage point, it’s understandable why some people would be disappointed with Boyle’s recent make-over as it would appear that she’s now succumbing to the very thing many saw her as being a challenge to. However, what we should realize is that we’re only seeing this from our perspective and not taking into consideration what this whole situation has possibly meant to Susan Boyle.
It was clear from the very start that Boyle has led a cloistered life for quite some time. However, she knew that she had within her something special, the gift of a powerful voice and as she told everyone while standing on that stage, this was her chance to show all of us that she had something valuable to share. Although I’m certain she knew how impressed everyone would be with her vocal talents, I doubt she was expecting that people would also embrace her as well. While we’ve all been mesmerized and moved by her story and performance, the fact is that Boyle herself has been impacted by our collective reactions as well.
For the first time in perhaps years, people are taking notice of the unassuming and quiet Susan Boyle, cheering her on in her quest to bring her dream to life. Through this expression of well wishes and even admiration from people all over the world, it’s not hard to see that she cannot help but see herself differently because we now do. The fact that Boyle only got a simple haircut and new outfit shows us that she doesn’t want to make herself into something she isn’t; instead, those words of encouragement, support, and admiration have perhaps spurred her on to show everyone a better version of herself.
Although much attention has been given to how Susan Boyle has made us look into the mirror and see how quick-to-judge others we can be at times, the fact is that we also have made a difference to Boyle, by proving to her that her life does indeed matter and should be lived as such.