The Mary Beard Question

I had never appreciated that a make-up routine could be good for the skin.  And if not make-up, then:

‘Moisturiser is quite important,’ my Auntie writes.  ‘You don’t want to end up looking like Mary Beard – or do you?  Now there’s a woman who stuck to her own true self.’

And there’s a woman (my Auntie, that is) who opened a can of wriggling, writhing worms.


Remember that I am a feminist: a woman over fifty is as welcome on my TV screen as a man over fifty.  If she has gone to exactly the same amount of effort with her appearance as the man has, then that’s OK by me.  She shouldn’t have to decorate her face or wax her eyebrows or dye the grey bits out of her hair or regulate her figure.

Although women who don’t, as my Auntie points out, can be ‘a bit distracting.’  Why so, I wonder? Why do I find myself looking woman presenters up and down, noticing their ‘imperfections’, more so than the men?

Anyway:   I love it that people look different to one another; that we wear our ages and experiences on our bodies. And I don’t understand what TV viewer would not want to watch the best educator available, ‘imperfect’ or not. (My Auntie: ‘I thought she [Mary Beard] was very good’).

Beauty (or perceived lack of) was no reason for Professor Beard’s career not to work well: some men who successfully present TV shows all the time are quite ugly specimens.  Take Jeremy Clarkson: his looks are deteriorating AND he’s using politically-incorrect, BBC-banned language; if he was a woman he’d have been axed years ago.

It’s OK for me to spout but I don’t watch much TV.  I confess to having been unable to picture Mary Beard, although her name comes steeped in facial hair and I’d heard it said on the radio that she made no concessions to the beauty industry. I mailed my friend Robin (because he happened to have just mailed me), ‘What is your opinion of Mary Beard?’

And then I thought I’d see what Google Images turned up. I was surprised to find that she looked no uglier than Mr. Clarkson’s prettier side-kick, James May.


Inexplicably, I can find no articles by AA Gill about Mr. May being too ugly for television; nor can I find that May has had death threats from internet trolls.

But wait – my Auntie didn’t ask ‘How does Mary Beard ignite feminist debate,’ or ‘Do you think she looks like James May,’ or even ‘Does this woman deserve a place on prime-time television.’

No.  What my Auntie asked was

‘You don’t want to look like Mary Beard – or do you?’

And she is right.  I don’t.

Then I had an idea and Googled: ‘How old is Mary Beard?’

‘If she is seventy-five or more’, I thought rebelliously, ‘I might say yes, she’s great for her age.’

But Google said:


Fifty-nine!  I have a good image of my mother at fifty-nine. Sadly Mum knew very little about the Romans (“Amow, Amoss, Amatt….”) but she was definitely lucky enough to be better looking then Mary Beard.  Lucky being the correct word, because she wasn’t working at it, either.

I therefore arrogantly assume that nature might be on my side and that I might reach fifty-nine looking thinner, younger and less grey than Professor Beard, too.

But who called thinner, younger and less grey ‘better looking’ in the first place? Mary Beard looks supremely confident and engaging in her pictures. Doesn’t that make her good looking?


But I must concentrate! This is not what my Auntie was asking either.

What she was asking was, ‘You wouldn’t want to make absolutely no effort with your appearance and end up wrinkly, grey and dishevelled, would you?’

Do I want to apply moisturiser now so that in twenty-five years’ time I will better fill a picture of what society expect of me? To be ‘more beautiful?’

How delightful to shout ‘NO!  I’m a feminist, Dammit! I don’t want the smoothest face! No! Nada! Certamento!  NOT!’

But that would be bollocks.

I might not go all-in for adorning myself, but a voice within me still wants to look as close to our cultural idea of ‘beautiful’ (in our society, this means ‘youthful’) as possible.

Would it make the 59 year-old me feel smug to look in the mirror and see a 49-year-old face staring back?  Of course it would!

‘And that is how badly our obsession with youth is engrained into our shallow skulls,’ I thought to myself.

And I put down Auntie’s letter and trotted off to find the unopened bottle of moisturiser that I knew I had somewhere.

Once my skin-cells were feeling better, I found that Robin had e-mailed me back. He had enclosed a link

‘This is where I’ve heard of her recently. Interesting if, like me, you thought archeologists still use trowels,’ he said.

I thought it unusual that he didn’t mention her appearance at all.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s