That’s quite powerful.
The realization that — in spite of you — no one might want to talk to you, cuts deep. He’s using it in the context of beauty standards, but it’s more than just that. It’s not just that because you are less beautiful than the occupant of the red cocktail dress at the other end of the bar, you might miss a great conversation. That’s deeper than beauty. It’s one of the most galling thoughts you can ever have: Because of something beyond your control — your gender, your race, your sexuality — people might not care who you are. Because of what your cover looks like, people might pass on the book.
You don’t have anything to do with the cover. You can moisturize, I guess. You can put that stuff that comes in tins and that stuff that comes in tiny jars in the places on your forehead you are supposed to put it. You can put substances on and around your eyes that makes you look like an 18th-century prostitute raccoon but that studies suggest men find appealing. You can wear shoes that make you lurch dangerously from spot to spot. You can put in extensions, take off the glasses, do all those things they do to Anne Hathaway in a cheery montage in every movie she’s in (except Les Miserables, where they did them in reverse). You can do all these things — and nothing will come of it. You can only do so much to your cover.
But the book is what you work on. The book is as exciting and as excellent as you have spent your life to make it. And it absolutely galls you when people glance at the cover, and chuck it away, unread, not even bothering to thumb through the acknowledgments to see that David Brooks thought you were “more than just barely … readable.”
I can only speak to this in the limited sense that any woman who writes has to develop a thick, leathery hide, coveted for the manufacture of handbags. The instant you say something that a certain sort of someone disagrees with, he digs up a picture of you and points out that he does not have to listen to you, because your ears look weird. Or you are too fat. Or you are too skinny. Or you are not sufficiently Young And Of The Moment. Or your nose looks like an elbow. Or any number of things that did not occur to you until the instant some troll penned them, after which point they might as well be tattooed on your psyche. (For instance, once a stranger on Twitter described me as resembling “a turkey in heat.” I don’t even know what that looks like. I could have used that space to memorize something more useful, like the rest of the Gettysburg Address or the number of a place that delivers cheese late at night, but instead, I carry that phrase wherever I go.)
No wonder this struck such a nerve. The idea that women have to be beautiful in order for men to find out that they are interesting is ridiculous. But that’s what’s being sold in movies, in all those ads with moisturizer, in all those montage sequences. You were interesting all along, but until you do something to your nose, no one will notice.
In a perverse way, that’s also what’s happening to the Twitter Shambles that is Amanda Bynes. No one was paying attention to her, and so she assumed, if her Twitter is anything to go on, that it was because she was not beautiful enough. So she’s been taunting other people as ugly (the president and first lady and Drake, among others) and announcing her surgeries with a feverish glee. If you’re beautiful enough, then we have to pay attention, right? Instead of filling our pages, we are sitting around feverishly scribbling on the cover. A new nose! Then they’ll listen!
That’s what Dustin captures. Dustin Hoffman, who falls on the scale of male attractiveness where Dustin Hoffman falls, can have a long and profitable movie career. If a single chromosome had slipped — it’s enough to make you cry.
But on the bright side, that is one of the things I love most about the Internet — it’s not big on covers. You get to brush up against the interiors of all kinds of people before you have the slightest inkling of what they look like. You meet people words first, inside out. You don’t know that at parties they’re standing alone in the corner with no one to talk to, because their faces look like wedding cakes left out in the rain. Only later, when they say something you disagree with, do you Google Image search, and then there is, at best, a picture or two, no bigger than your thumbnail.
Of course, when you’re a woman, a picture or two may be enough.