I’m a writer. I refuse to be judged by my appearance.
Having read an article by a Chicago Tribune journalist who was vilified by dozens of readers for having slightly unruly, curly hair, it got me thinking.
To be a novelist or a reporter in the written press used to be a fairly anonymous profession. You were judged upon your choice of words and not on the way you looked. But in this modern age of social media and technology, the world has become a much more visual place. All the handbooks tell me that my picture should adorn all of my online platforms, so that readers can relate to me and feel as if they know who I am. This is absolutely fair enough, I can see the logic and thankfully, I am in no way well known enough for people to feel that they have to knock me down a peg or two by criticising my appearance.
I suppose it would be very easy to use a false image to represent yourself. To do a kind of online ‘Banksy’, or the equivalent of a visual ‘nom de plume’. I’m not certain if such an approach would benefit a writer in their trade or not. But what I am sure of, is that I’ve not invited comment upon my appearance simply by using a photo to identify myself. Writing books has traditionally been a profession in which the stories should really speak for themselves. Are we seriously more likely to buy a thriller novel because the author looks dishy on the dust cover, or on their Amazon page? Maybe we would, but its part in the decision making process is so entirely subconscious that we aren’t even aware it has a bearing on our choices.
The possibility worries me, because where does that leave people with disabilities or facial disfigurements? Should their writing be judged on the way they appear on their Facebook or Twitter page?
The internet has opened up many new opportunities for writers, but our transformation into a more visual age has its downsides. The world can be a cruel and judgemental place at times. I just hope that by tying our image so closely to our work, us writers aren’t playing a role in perpetuating it.