Yesterday, I saw an ad on TV for Revlon. The ad used the song “Addicted to Love,” the 80s anthem by The Power Station. So, these women are all smiling and posing with their beautifully made-up faces and you hear the words “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.”
My immediate thought was, what the hell does makeup have to do with love? Okay, I understand that women use makeup to attract mates (which, in the advertising world, is usually men), but, really, what does that have to do with love? Is it implying that a man will fall in love with a woman only if she has contoured eyes, huge fluffy eyelashes, cheeks brushed with the perfect matte-finish shade of cover-up, and glossy, outlined lips?
The way that advertising pushes subliminal (or not-so-subliminal) messages on us to sell their products is so insidious that it has become a thread in the fabric of Western culture, particularly American (why would I ask my doctor about a drug I saw on TV?). And preying on—and actually intensifying—our insecurities about how we look is, I think, the most heinous strategy of all.
Anyway, I started wondering if this applies in the literary world as well. Do more attractive authors sell more books than less attractive authors? Of course, this leads to the bigger question of what “attractive” means, but for the sake of keeping the topic simple, let’s just say that “attractive” means what the general population considers appealing. (You can interpret that any way you want—I’m not going down that road.)
Of course, the logical answer should be no. How a person looks should—and doesn’t—have any bearing on their writing skills. Some writers are so private that the general public doesn’t even know what they look like. Some writers write under cross-gender pseudonyms, so they can’t show their faces. But have consumers been so brainwashed into thinking that “beautiful is better” that it affects their book-buying decisions? If a reader sees what a writer looks like, does he or she judge the book differently?