Boyle-ing Beauty

Deborah - Newark, New Jersey
Entered on April 16, 2009

I believe in the beauty of unadulterated self.

Like millions across the globe, Susan Boyle’s audition on Britain’s Got Talent captivated me.

Boyle, at 47, does not meet our image of a singing diva – she doesn’t fit societal standards of beauty. She debuted in a dowdy dress and a large badge bearing her contestant number. Her only tip to convention was a pair of obviously uncomfortable high heels. She came off as a bit dotty, admitted to having never been kissed, and jokingly performed a graceless hip swivel before her song.

The audience and judges rolled their eyes, waited with dread and then….an angel sang.

As she belted “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, viewers were moved to tears. Simon Cowell beamed. I replayed it on You Tube again and again..

It’s the element of surprise that gets us. The mediocrity of her outside versus the glory of what is inside. In an instant, the beauty of one obliterated our judgment of the other. In an instant, Boyle changes from frumpy to radiant, from ugly duckling to swan, from old maid to Cinderella.

In reflecting on Boyle’s triumph, I wonder how long it will take before Boyle’s outside is redone to better reflect what a singing diva “should” look like. Before the next round, will they pluck, color, paint, wax and starve her? Will she hobble out in even higher heels, tug nervously at a too-short skirt or strategically cover a plunging neckline with her microphone?

While none of this would change Boyle’s exceptional voice, a show business makeover will take something away.

The fact that she hasn’t been groomed to please societal expectations makes her even more glorious. It’s not just her voice that charms us – it’s her unabashed confidence in her talent, regardless of how she looks.

The shock of Boyle’s musical “before and after” reminds us that we still have prejudices to shed. Whether it’s how you look, walk or talk, your sexual orientation, your skin color, your undersized breasts or oversized nose, or another characteristic beyond your control, a lot of us – and especially kids – aren’t very accepting or kind. What do we take from someone when we act on these prejudices and reject one another’s basic selves?

Last week an11-year old in Massachusetts who had been the target of bullying committed suicide.

Susan Boyle also experienced childhood bullying. Was her talent buried for all those years under rejection of her looks?

I believe that our habit of rejecting people who do not conform takes a heavy toll not just on individuals, but on society as a whole.

Boyle’s remarkable story provides an opportunity to take stock of how we receive and respond to people, outside and in. I don’t want to overlook what is truly beautiful by insisting it fit into the uniform mold of our expectations – a mold people don’t, and don’t need to, squeeze into.

I believe in the beauty of ordinary, extraordinary people, like Susan Boyle.