Please leave Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb’s hair out of it

The Daily Mail has run an article interviewing Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb and I am torn equally between happiness and tears about it. Dr. Lipscomb is a renown historian and the author of several books, including one I found to be extremely valuable during my research, 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII. It is an excellent book and Dr. Lipscomb deserved every sentence every written or said in praise of her scholarship.

So in light of her many accomplishments why in the name of all that is Holy did the reporter ask her about HAIR PRODUCTS and then print it as though it were germane to the interview??

“One minute Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is discussing the bloody foibles of the Tudors, the next she is offering sage advice on the best product for curly hair. ‘Twisted Sista, spelt with an A,’ she says, twiddling her leonine locks while her nose stud twinkles in the sunlight. ‘You can get it at Superdrug, it’s brilliant and it’s really cheap.’ “

Really? That’s your starting point, reporter Elizabeth Sanderson of Daily Mail??

The article also goes out of the way to inform/remind the reader that not only is Dr. Lipscomb brilliant … she is pretty! You know, because that makes it okay for her to be smart and on TV? She is called “striking” only once, but the article features three very attractive pictures of her … all of them highlighting the fact she is young and thin with flowing blond locks and a lovely face.

dr suzannah lipscomb

It is being made clear via unspoken sociocultural messaging that it is “okay” that Dr. Lipscomb is fighting back against sexism is because she cannot be accused of being “ugly”. She is a comely woman and therefore cannot be charged with being a de facto “man-hating” and bitter feminist. These vexing circumstances are not her fault, of course. It’s just aggravating in the wider feminist context that a woman’s pulchritude (or lack of it) is continually signified to be incredibly important and relevant to what she is saying/thinking/doing.

Moreover, I think Dr. Lipscomb would agree that this emphasis on her charms is annoying, considering that she specifically attacks the attitude that only women must look “right” (i.e. a foxy babe) to be seen in a larger medium:

“In terms of television history, we haven’t got there [gender neutrality] yet. Instead, we live in a time where the critic A. A. Gill can claim the classicist, Mary Beard, is too ugly to appear on our screens. Suzannah says: ‘I think that was shameful. It would never happen if you were a man. You would never see them telling a slightly overweight man with white hair to shape up. I’m not saying she’s overweight, by the way – I’m thinking of the male historians who appear on television who may be, you know, not that prepossessing. ‘Yet there is very little comment in terms of their appearance because people are engaging with their ideas.’ And it is that engaging with ideas that matters most.”

Obviously, I am happy that Dr. Lipscomb is receiving mass recognition for her contributions to history. I am thrilled a female historian is breaking into the traditional boy’s club of historical documentaries. I am ecstatic that in the article that she calls Dr. David Starkey out for sexism, and politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and current Prime Minister David Cameron out for basically lying about historical facts in their stump speeches. Frankly, Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb seems awesome and is someone I would really like to hang out with.

I simply wish her visage wasn’t treated as something of such significant value.

Just as irksome is the likelihood that her charms will be used against her, as well as for her. Someone, somewhere, sometime will imply or state outright that her visibility on TV is due as much to her countenance as her merits. (This happens to men as well, but not to the same extent or with the same frequency.) Her work will be partially or fully negated in favor of acclaiming her “cuteness”, and that sucks.

As a small measure of proof that my discontent doesn’t stem solely from the over-analyzing semi-hysteria of an anthropologist who was trained to look for “messaging”, contrast the way the Daily Mail presents  internationally famous author Hilary Mantel with the way it represented Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb. Mantel is almost always in a headshot photo. The only time the Daily Mail has shown a full length picture of Hilary Mantel was in a article about her weight.

British author Hilary Mantel says that she has 'dreamed' of being thin again, and says she has struggled to accept her weight gain

That article is also exasperating because although Mantel rails against the cultural construction that fat people are gluttonous “slobs” with lesser morals, the reader is reminded more than once that Mantel was “previously trim” woman who became overweight for sound medical reasons (unlike the rest of us rotund humans who have no “excuse” for our adipose tissue) and now “dreams of being thin again” and feels like she is in an “alien’s body”.

Seriously, as long as there is the endless emphasis on a woman’s appearance then gender equality is going to remain elusive.  Oh, and someone please tell the advertising industry that holding men up to the same ridiculous cultural mirror and making them insecure about their looks is NOT what feminists mean by equality!

12 thoughts on “Please leave Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb’s hair out of it

  1. You’re reading an article from the Daily Mail. This is a brainless rag of wildly right wing politics and of little use to the intellect. What do you expect?

    1. I refuse to lower my expectations lest they lower their standards even further 🙂

  2. you have to admit that she uses her looks and knows that she is pretty. i was recently watching the vacuous victorian killers show and, really, could she have not chosen a dress/shirt that was any less tight on her? she lets herself be filmed at waist level walking in and out of rooms and the tight-fitting skirt left very little to the imagination.

    an academic does not have to be unkempt and so above it all as to not care about her appearance but you can’t wear blood red polish on your very long nails and tight clothing and exaggerated make up and then claim ”how dare you” when someone mentions your looks!

    1. I agree – she is smart and she interviews many women scholars on her programs, but those tight clothes, and fingernails that are shown off, and her perfectly messy hair, just bugs the heck out of me. and there are plenty of beautiful women whom i like – so it’s not that. I think she uses her looks to the nth degree! and i still watch the documentaries because they are good.

      my favorite documentary people are: Stephen Fry (i like him as a person and he is very intelligent), James Burke (“Connections” intelligent as hell), and Bethany Hughes (history docs and i really like her a lot – she is intelligent and she cares about lower class history as well – her docs are well written, she’s just great! ) . . . there are others, but i can’t think of names at the moment.

  3. I find Dr Lipscomb particularly attractive, but much more so for using her mind and educating people. Women who can ‘dumb-ly’ look attractive are ten-a-penny (it doesn’t make them unintelligent, just into using that power perhaps more than other avenues available to them, and I find that a bit pathetic, in a ‘low-hanging fruit’ manner). As a man, the best men (subjective opinion, mine) like women with the traits Dr Lipscomb shows. It is the greatest virtue to educate ones fellow human being, as long as the ethic is unsullied by commercialism (or relatively-unsullied!). I find it the most nurturing and ultimately maternal expression of intelligence that I can think of. My mother is similar, although not on national TV.

    When watching Mary Beard, for example, I still feel the same, I’m just not physically-attracted to her (or rather sexually-physically). I AM physically-attracted to her calm and happy face and demeanour, though, and that counts for more than many realise, beyond my subjective viewpoint.
    It’s, in fact, refreshing to be able to concentrate on the content rather than the form of the presenter. Dr Lipscomb is distracting, true. However, for all of that, I predict there are many men being drawn to watch her shows and thus being educated, quite co-incidentally, as a ‘by-product’ of their sexual attraction to Dr Lipscomb. This is probably the best way a woman can use her looks in the context. Saying such men shouldn’t be pandered to (as one might argue), is ridiculous, as many such men exist and it’s bound to evolutionary psychology, not just societal context and cultural upbringing (both fleeting, malleable and changing over generational time-scales, unlike men finding attractive women attractive).
    Then again, I’m just one (strange, non-academically-educated) bloke. Whether my subjective views apply much wider than myself, I don’t know. However, I DO know that Dr Lipscomb and her production team (without having had time to watch more than a few minutes out of the corner of my eye) have got me thinking about the Tudors and general integrity of our historical narrative.
    That’s pretty good for a few minutes of exposure, don’t you think?

    “I simply wish her visage wasn’t treated as something of such significant value.”

    I demonstrate above, why it is and for the foreseeable future will be.
    I don’t like it that much, either (I am rather introverted and hate being FORCED to present myself visually in a certain way, rather than people being ‘deeper’ and judging on my deeds, words and thoughts. I live in London, though, so am on a hiding to nothing, there!

    Her work will be partially or fully negated in favor of acclaiming her “cuteness”, and that sucks. ”

    Agreed, as I have partially negated her work (due to TIME constraints, not perception-constraints!) Yet I disagree, as she got my attention, made me think about history (as is her remit, ugly or beautiful!) and anything greater than zero, is a benefit, right?

    Are you a glass-half-empty kind of person? Me too – but it doesn’t help me or anyone else.
    Think about that – since unlike some of Dr Lipscomb’s audience, I shouldn’t have to put an attractive photo/video up here for you to be inspired to do so, correct?

    1. she treats it herself with significant value! and i do watch her documentaries. . .

  4. Yes she is attractive but would I have spent any amount of time watching the shows had she been a poor presenter? Absolutely not. It is sad though when we are deprived of so much knowledge when a certain female academic has the knowledge but not the desired look.

    1. I fail to see how thinking Dr. Lipscomb deserves to be respected regardless of whether or not she is pretty (which she is) makes me “jealous”; explain?

  5. Fact is she is stunningly beautiful. Her eyes are breathtaking and her golden locks are carefully riotous. Furthermore, she is the embodiment of elegance and good taste. If this were not enough, she is bright, intelligent, self assured, self reliant, knows about what she is talking about and certainly has invested an enormous amount of time learning what she has to teach all of us.

    I humbly bow to this heavenly human being.

  6. Very pretty but very knowledgeable, and possesses an enthusiasm, for the subject she is presenting, because she is interested makes me interested too, in the same way as sir David Attenborough, Dr Brian Cox, etc, there are few about. These are people we should cherish, carry on, love it.

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