"Just when you think things couldn't get any worse", says Simon Cowell on the déjà vu episode of Britain's Got Talent. Over weight, underdressed and unconventional, it must be Susan Boyle. Oh no it's not, its three years later and its Jonathan Antoine.
Hands up who thought, "now that looks like a star". The uncomfortable truth is that Simon said, as he often does, what many of us think. As the camera panned around the crowd it was obvious everyone had already written Jonathon off before he'd even had a chance. Feeling ashamed? Did we not learn from this three years ago when Susan Boyle defied all our expectations?
I'm all for trusting your intuition. I even give first impressions a good press. But in an instant we forgot this was a talent show, not a beauty contest. We judged before we sampled. We assumed before we knew. This wasn't even the X Factor. This was the XL Factor and we fell for it.
Handsome is, handsome does. Baloney! Ladies and Gentleman please welcome on stage: Susan Boyle, Luciano Pavarotti, Meatloaf, Barry White, Mama Cass......
It's a fact of life that we all judge people. Some of these judgements stand us in good stead, especially when we need to make an urgent decision. Some of these judgements can also be overly harsh and are based on what we perceive to be the truth or on what's comfortable to us.
One would assume that given the title of the show, Britain's Got Talent the majority of people turning up on stage do have some form of talent. So why is it that when we don't like the look of someone, or if they look different to us, we create an assumption that they don't have any talent? This includes beautiful blonde women who are labelled... dumb.
For centuries physical attractiveness has been overwhelmingly important in society. In fact, studies from the Social Issues Research Centre show that attractive people receive distinct advantages - attractive children are more popular with their classmates and teachers; people react more favourably to attractive people; and physically attractive people are perceived as having desirable other characteristics such as intelligence and confidence.
In today's society physical attractiveness appears to have become an obsession. Have we become so superficial that everything about someone can seem solely based on how they look? Is this a new moral code?
I had come to believe that it's only women who are harshly judged on their looks and appearance. But this isn't entirely true. Yes the British media are relentless at picking apart women's bodies and their looks, and Samantha Brick was pilloried because of her article about how women hate her because of her looks. But Jonathan shows us that men can also be judged harshly on their appearance.
I came across a story many months ago about a top car salesman in America. His secret to success? He treats everyone who enters his dealership the same - regardless of whether they turn up in rags or in a business suit. He never, ever judges them by how they look or by their actions. He treats them equally with the same degree of warmth and respect.
To complete the cruel beauty and the beast stereotype we have Charlotte, Jonathon's singing partner and loyal friend. Undeterred by Simon trying to prise them apart, they stuck together. She proved not only to be his muse, but on their next appearance, a vital ingredient to the magic they made. Charlotte treated us to wisdom beyond her years when she talked about her friend. "Before you make a judgement on someone you need to get to know them. It may sound like a cliché, but it's not about judging a book by its cover. You've got to read what's inside".
It certainly was a cliché, but it's an old one and a good one. Will we ever learn?
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