Author: Campbell, Bruce

Skin Deep

Yesterday, I did something Iíve never done Ė I solicited story ideas on Facebook. I received several good ideas almost immediately, but one caught my eye and fired my imagination up. I will quote the suggestion verbatim: ďWhy is it that people expect a female musician or singer to be, young, svelte, and attractive while it readily accepts obese and ill-kempt male performers.Ē

I can tell you as someone who has never been svelte and attractive (I was young, once) that it seems to ME that anyone who is young, svelte and attractive has an instant advantage, at least on the ďfirst impressionĒ situation.

Iím not sure I agree with the assertion about what people expect, since I have been around bluegrass a fair amount of time, and I donít think there IS an expectation of female performers in bluegrass to have any of those attributes. Certainly those adjectives have typically applied to musicians and singers in other genres, but not so much in bluegrass, at least until we started to see the likes of truly media-genic performers such as Rhonda Vincent and Allison Krauss.

As a professional marketer, I know itís always easier to create demand when your product makes a great first impression, and since the buying publicís first impression of a musician is often visual, striking looks would be a plus, no question about it. But that applies to all genders. Marketers would prefer to present artists who are going to be eye catching, (in a good way), whether male or female.

Letís talk about obese and/or ill-kempt performers, too. Bluegrass has more than its share of highly regarded artists who are, um, full figured, and thatís on both sides of thegender divide. However, since bluegrass fans tend to be more focused on musicanship first, personality second, and looks third, Iím not certain too many careers are derailed by corpulence, unless it affects the performerís ability to travel.

What about ďill kemptĒ? Iím not seeing very many musicians taking the stage at festivals in a truly ill-kempt state. (Side discussion: What the opposite of ďill kemptĒ? Is anybody ever ďwell kemptĒ? ) Honestly, unless oneís talent is truly extraordinary, I donít know how a performer who doesnít present a clean professional image can expect to get far. If the remark referred to some male performers with stubble, I guess thatís somewhat ill kempt. If the remark referred to the trend of younger performers wearing jeans onstage with untucked shirts, thatís an actual fashion statement, whether you approve or not.

At the heart of the suggestion, I think, was the general expectation for females to devote more attention to their looks than men do. Iím not sure who made this ďruleĒ, but I can't remember it ever not being so, and of course it isnít fair. And itís definitely true that this societyís standards of youth and beauty are much, MUCH tougher on females than males. I like to think people of substance tend to not buy into this malarkey too readily.

But again, as a guy who never had craggy good looks or lanky long-limbed charm, I know life truly isnít fair as far as looks go. What really upsets me is when I meet a really good looking person who is also really nice. Now THATíS unfair!

Posted:  9/14/2011

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