The Face Behind the Words
March 11, 2005

Perhaps it's just me, but when I read a book, the first thing I do is turn to the back flap to see what the author looks like. I don't do this from a "shallow" viewpoint. I do it because when I enjoy something, I want to attach a face to my enjoyment. Unfortunately,our culture is very much fueled by "looks."

A consistent observation I've made about visual media in general is that higher standards are set for women. I certainly am one in favor of well-grooming a nice attire, but what I find perplexing is that not only do women have to be smart, we also have to look well-put-together, only to have people completely ignore our intelligence and focus on our appearance. It's a vicious cycle.

On average, female media personalities have to look fabulous well into their older age while the men--also known as "the decrepits"--can wear toupees, have sagging skin and missing teeth all while anchoring the network news. There will never be a female version of Michael Moore because a woman could never get away with looking like that and still be considered credible.

The writing world is a bit different. I've always found it interesting that certain writers (bloggers especially) choose to reveal their identities while others stay behind the curtain.

When I started my weblog, I threw up a photo because I wanted people to know there really was a legitimate person behind this site. Plus I figured that as a columnist, I'd have to do it anyway so I might as well just put myself on out there. The unfortunate thing is that while no one is under any obligation to post their photo, when a woman doesn't, people start drawing their own conclusions.

Recently, blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin changed her weblog photo. When she did, people had a lot to say. It's a seemingly insignificant thing, but I bring it up because in the past, Malkin's opposition had a field day with her looks. Posting your photo online makes you an open target--especially if you're a woman with contrarian views. People cannot fight the urge to draw some sort of connection between works and appearance.

Some interesting conversation has been generated around the idea of how a person's image contributes or takes away from their writing/weblog. Mick at "Uncorrelated Thoughts" writes:

I suspect in most cases, NOT having a photography probably serves the reader the best...LaShawn Barber has a nice, friendly picture on her site. She seems happy to see me and has cookies in the living room... Does it help the blog? In LaShawn's case I think it does. Nothing intimidating or off-putting about it.
Interesting. I can't really imagine what people might imagine me to look like without seeing my picture, but it's a given that we all formulate some idea of what a person looks like regardless of tangible proof.

Words and thoughts don't exist in a vacuum. There are real-live breathing people behind every thought that's ever been expressed on the earth. Whether or not those people choose to identify themselves (and how they go about doing that) seems to be entirely dependent on the culture.

Take for example, the real estate industry. Most real estate agents display their picture in their advertisements. I once asked an agent why they did this. The reality is that purchasing a home is a major decision and when clients can see the face of potential agents, it establishes credibility and comfort.

Similarly, major newspaper columnists generally have their photo published alongside their work as well.

So what does credibility look like? It depends on the times. There has long been a debate around about whether or not Ludwig van Beethoven was a black man. We're not talking Afrocentrism here (which I don't agree with), but mounting evidence that Beethoven was not "white". I'm a pianist so this discussion has always intrigued me. What I find so fascinating (and telling) is the lengths to which some scholars have gone to refute Beethoven's "blackness." I mean, surely Moonlight Sonata and other great classical scores could not have been written by a black face. Not now, and certainly not in 18th century Germany right?. So why the battle? Well, it's all about perceived credibility.

We subconsciously prefer the vessels of certain expression to look a certain way. I often think my age works against me. I opt not to put my photo on the frontpage because I'd rather people first read my words. Funny though because when I read columns and weblogs, there's a certain mystique about visual anonymity that forces us to use our imaginations.

Afterthought: Incidentally, somebody emailed me and told me it was time to update my photo, so my brother and I shot each other's photo yesterday for fun. I'm not too pleased so this one will be temporary, but my brother...is he my twin or what?

Posted by Ambra at March 11, 2005 10:54 AM in Life
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So is he really your twin?

Maybe I missed something. *dunce*

I added a photo to my website because my boss was having all the staff take headshots for the station website. I figured since I'm linked on the station site and I link back to it from mine, people were gonna see it anyway.

Up until that point I'd fought like mad to avoid putting a photo out there. I work for a conservative Christian talk station and the identifying audience is mostly White. I had no intention of toning down what I was going to be saying due to "who" was in the audience, but I know that the impact is different when people have to form the image in their own minds.

Without a picture, if I talk about racial/ethnic reconcilliation, no audience member feels that I'm taking sides. My mother was very hard on us about education and because I loved learning I was always (and still am) told I "talk White". This also went a long way in what I could do on-air.

After the boss re-vamped the station sites and added the wonderful new pictures, I got a call from one of my favorite listeners. He's a 12 year old who would call a couple of nights each week after "Adventures in Odyssey" just to shoot the breeze, let me know he was practicing that week's scripture memory verse, tell me his grades...whatever. The last time we spoke he said "Hey, I looked at the new website and I saw your picture! You sure don't look like I thought you would. Nope, you sure don't." He just kept repeating this.

I thought the best approach would be to get his mind off it by changing the subject, but he just kept saying it. After that call, I haven't heard from him again and it's been over a year. I know that it probably shouldn't, but of all the possible reactions I was braced for, this one hurt me. I could deal with soem ignorant adult, but this really hit me.

I've recently considered taking it off my website. Who knows? The other difficulty is that I do commercial work and some of that comes from my site. It's a rotten catch-22.

Anyway...

It bugs me that on the fashion reviews of Hollywood shows the men are always chastised if they wear anything other than a Black tuxedo. I don't think I've ever worn anything so boring. When I went to the opening night of Tyler Perry's last play, I wore a snakeskin suit. (It is much better looking than you might be thinking- it's more than stretched-out boots!) I only have one plain Black suit coat and even that has brass buttons. Guy should be more outgoing.

As far as your picture goes Ambra, you look great! Don't let your appearance enter into the decision of "to use or not to use".

That boy there is my 16-year-old brother, 7 years my junior, but people think we're twins. He's like the male version of me (but only in the face).

now THAT hair can preach, young lady... :)

Mark I think the traditional black tux is boring too. I especially don't like bow-ties or cumberbuns. But Johnny Depp's postman suit was just not cool. I'm also against tuxes in any pastel shades.

I can understand not wanting to show your photo on radio. I have no way of gauging whether or not the fact that I'm black deters people from my site. I could really care less. I am who I am. I look the way I look. It's too late for me to try to be anonymous. LOL

I love that I have people using my favorite phrase!!!

This is the longest my hair's been since college. I'm in the middle of a bet that says I can't cut my hair until, well...until something happens. It's torturous for me because I have a hair-cutting problem. I'll snip snip in a minute.

Men, as long as I can remember, have always been accused of being the more visual side of the species. I'd like to say I always subscribe to the 'content of their character' thing regarding people (especially women), but I know what I like. However, a person's looks are less important to me overall than how they choose to carry themselves. Hygiene certainly means more to me than looks, believe that. I can have a glorious conversation with someone that may not be what I consider attractive, but I have a finely tuned magnus probiscus and I tend to recoil at offensive BO. As for television anchors/personalities, Barbara Walters has NEVER been 'cute', although her work is impeccable. I suppose men can get away with more, but women have kinda-sorta asked for it. It all started with Eve. She SAW (visual) that the tree was good for food, so she took a bite and convinced Adam to do the same. Original Sin was a VISUAL thing first. So consider it the legacy of Eve, all of this extraordinary attention (which amounts to a double standard) regarding a woman's looks versus a man's. Ambra you have the luxury of being attractive, so whatever pic you put out there will serve you well--unless you intentionally falsify your appearance. Ms. Malkin is attractive also, so I am confused as to why she would be attacked on her looks. It is poor slobs like me that found themselves balding and graying about 20 years too early that have had to make serious adjustments (both attitude and actual). So for me, I am glad God blessed me with a nicely shaped dome, since bald pates are in for Black men. Also, the gray in the goatee is distinguished. Still, it is what COMES out of a person that makes them what they are. If we all looked the same and had different colour eyes, there would be drama with that too.

I've dealt with the issue by only posting a partial picture. I figure if people like me, they'll draw a pretty face for the other half. If they hate me, they can easily add horns and feel satisfied with their drawing. After all, I just want everyone to be happy.

I guess the ugliness of Halfbright and Helen Thomas is just a reflection of their souls. You have pretty soul.

...A pretty soul, of course.

I didn't know Michael Moore was credible :)
I have noticed though that in general Fox News
has more physically attractive personalities of
both sexes than CNN...maybe that accounts for
their climb in ratings?
jeffl

Er.... gotta disagree with that one. CNN has taken great effort (I believe) to ensure that they have the most attractive anchors.

I prefer FOX for news, but CNN wins the race as far as good looking anchors. The thing that for me saves them from the "weather girl/bimbo" trap is that after checking out their website you find that all their anchors and reporters have truly earned their stripes.

The looks are just icing on the cake.

Sorry, you can't beat Jackie Reid on BET News. Period.

Agreed. I've always thought Jackie Reid was drop-dead gorgeous. She doesn't get her due.

Dean Koontz's early books had his picture with the toupe. I forget at which point he dropped it but all recent books have his current bald head. Guess he got so rich he stopped caring.

Most of the women on Fox are sickening--dyed blonde helmet heads. Every time they move their heads they look like glossy broom sticks that are being shaken.

Getting back to you, Ambra, since the post was about you ... I appreciate your pictures, because when I see your smile it makes me smile. I suppose a follow-up to this post could be on the subject of makeup and how (most!) men don't bother with it while many women have to agonize over it and spend the big bucks on it.

Something from last year that I would have voted for Best Blog Post 2004 was the one where you photographed yourself displaying different emotions (or was it moods?). Perhaps an update for that too?

Well as for the blonde hair-dyed talking heads, it's probably worthwhile to point out that men are visually stimulated. (Not bad, just fact). Women on the other hand, are generally stimulated by what they hear. This probably accounts for the reason why the decrepits have such illustrious careers and Barbara Walters keeps tucking and pulling.

Anyway...MarcV I think you're talking about the "Emotional Locations of a Conservative" photo thing I did. That was funny. My favorite was the "Sorry Everybody" one. I kinda stopped doing that...too many haters.

Hrms. I could care less if a book HAS a dust jacket. I've certainly never deliberately turned to find out what the author looks like.

When I REALLY like a person I only know by voice/writing over the net/etc then I want to meet them in person and see if the reality is as interesting as the online (I used to play PernMUSH and similar. I met a LOT of people online without even webpages to post pictures on. So the pictures I could get of people were cherished. But I got to know them by their words, so what they looked like was always secondary.)

Hi Ambra...

I do respect those bloggers who post a photo on a bit higher level than those who don't - simply because it takes a level of comfort and confidence in that blogger's "self" to be able to stand firm and be noticed. I'm currently battling the decision on which picture to post on my freshly developed site, so I can relate...and I do agree that women are held up to a different standard (fairly or not).

And on that note - without being too offbeat here - I think you look great in your new photo. As a digital photography hobbyist, I think it's a crisp photo with good contrast and sharpness. You've also, possibly inadvertently, created a nice color balance between your jewelry and the greenery in the background.

It's a scary society that judges a book by it's back flap/cover. Credibility is a strong word (you'll note the publishers and editorial board of a newspaper aren't normally pictured anywhere), but having a pic is a sales tool, or a way to further "personalize" your offering.

As a former model (and a male one at that) I'm not much antsy about my looks. I chose to blog without picture and with a sparse description of myself because I figured it would give me more freedom in blogspace. In some ways it does, in others it's limiting.

It's supposed to be blogging in a mask and costume, but since I have not revealed an authentic alias (no real "cover" so to speak), with only my content on display, I do sometimes feel naked anyway.

I have seen a few female-written blogs that, as far as I can tell, are popularish mainly because of the writer's looks. Work it if you got it. As above, so below; as in meatspace so in the blogverse.

p.s. you look good with longer hair, but perhaps in a different style? and your brother shares eyebrows and lips with you; other than that, if you were both the same age, i'd think youse were an "item," not blood.

You're much "preppier" than I expected. You may not totally appreciate your looks, but you look really good. Trust me, I'm a mom, I know.

"There will never be a female version of Michael Moore because a woman could never get away with looking like that and still be considered credible."

Never heard of Rosanne Barr, huh? She was popular for years. Perhaps you've heard of her...

I can't speak about male news anchors, but personally, I think CNN has the more attractive female news anchors. Fox News is doing better because they're better journalists.

As for your photo, Ambra, I like the one you've got posted in your bio better. You don't need to change it (right now anyway). :)

Mayflower Compact Coalition (Wangstas Fo' Shizzle My Nizzle)...

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman today attended the unveiling of the 21st Century Mayflower Compact at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.. The nine-point agenda includes support for school choice and private social security accounts. The Coalition is advised in part by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s consulting firm.

African Americans often reach different and surprising conclusions on social issues that the casual (Caucasian) observer just won’t understand. For example, Black folks still want to see Michael Jackson find happiness. His high-pitched voice and soulful delivery is the soundtrack of generations and has a permanent place in the Black community’s psyche, no matter the plastic surgery, skin bleaching and alleged child molestation charges. Possibly, it’s the “he’s still Black” phenomenon that African Americans well understand. They want Michael Jackson’s name cleared. In short, they want him to make good music and just leave the damn kids alone.

Likewise, Blacks see Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance Program, popularly known as Social Security, as an entitlement forced into place during a period when “bigots” wanted to run things. And against the odds, a well respected Franklin Roosevelt was able to established needed protection for the public from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. As its original name suggest, African Americans believe the insurance program was created to do much more than provide an old age benefit.

Wangstas (whites and uh oh oreos) are extremely white people who attempt to be “gangsta” (cool with Black people) in order to “pimp out.” They dress, speak and act for all practical purposes as a African Americans aside from the fact that they are not. Normally they are hated by the fam for being fake.

The White House and its oreos who support overhauling Social Security have launched a highly targeted campaign to convince Black people that President Bush’s plan to create private investment accounts will have special benefits for them. The ghetto fab element about the GOP message to African Americans: “The shorter life expectancy of Black males means Social Security in its current form is not a favorable deal.”

Proponents of privatizing social security who claim no group has as much at stake in the debate over reform as African Americans, in fact, are right. Black families of workers who become disabled or die are much more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be dependent on the grip available from disability and/or survivor benefits. Blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 23 percent of African American children receive survivor benefits, and 18 percent of the community are disability beneficiaries.

Although the wangstas are making a special effort to appeal to the strizzeet with the 21st Century Mayflower Compact, the “lower life expectancies” illusion appears to reached every one except the African American senior. Their attempt to focus on a very narrow element of the system (current program based on longevity is unfair) is misplaced and doesn’t gain cool points. What the oreos fail to realize is their attempt to be “down” for da brothas... is just “gosh-darn” obnoxious (using their vernacular) and another clue identifying the new face of segregation.

“A’ight?”

Social Security is an insurance program that protects workers and their families against the income loss that occurs when a worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. All workers will eventually either grow too old to compete in the labor market, become disabled, or die. President Roosevelt created the program to insure all workers and their families against these universal risks, while spreading the costs and benefits of that insurance protection among the entire workforce.

It is a “pay as you go” program, which means the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) payroll tax paid by today’s workers are not set aside to pay their own benefits down the road, but rather go to pay the benefits of current recipients. The tax is progressive. The low-wage workers receive a greater percentage of pre-retirement earnings from the program than higher-wage workers. And, in the 1980's, Congress passed reforms to raise extra tax revenues above and beyond the current need and set up a trust fund to hold a reserve.

As was the case when the program was established, higher-wage workers still oppose the social nature of the program. They argue low rates of return as a reason to switch from the current “pay-as-you-go” system to one in which individual workers claim their own contribution and decide where and how to invest it. In short, rather than sharing the risk across the entire workforce to ensure that all workers and their families are protected from old age, disability, and death, higher-wage workers want to enable opportunity to reap gains from private investment without having to help protect lower-wage workers from their disproportionate risks.

Allowing high-wage workers (who are more likely to live long enough to retire) opportunity to opt out of the general risk pool and devote all their money to retirement without having to cover the risk of those who may become disabled or die, is da fo’ shizzle identifying the republican party’s desire to return to a segregated society.

Roosevelt’s benefit formula currently in place intentionally helps low income earners. Lifetime earnings directly factor into the formula. And, thirty-five percent of Black workers born between 1931 and 1940 had lifetime earnings that fell into the bottom fifth of earnings received by workers born in these years. African Americans’ median earnings (working-age in jobs covered by Social Security in 2002) were about $21,200, compared to $28,400 for all working-age people.

HNIC, President Bush, does acknowledge the difficulty Blacks will have in accumulating enough savings in their individual accounts to provide for a secure retirement once the progressivity of the current system is eliminated. However, he has only suggested allowing lower-income workers to place higher portions of their income into the uncertainties of investment accounts (creating even more risk).

Yes! Private accounts would be passed on to children or other heirs. But, what the HNIC and his oreos doesn’t explain is lower-income workers would be forced to buy an annuity large enough (when combined with their traditional Social Security benefit) to ensure that they would at least have a poverty level income for retirement.

Yo’ playa... da new private Social Security account fizzle sucks!

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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Why I'm Not a Republican Parts I, II, III, IV
Reflections on the Ill-Read Society
The ROI of a Kid
The Double-Minded Haters
Hindsight
Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?
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Requisite Monthly Rant: the State of the Nation
College Curriculum Gone Wild
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