Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A woman's appearance: the oldest double standard in the business

By now you've seen or read the story of Jennifer Livingston, the Wisconsin anchor who called out a viewer who sent her a disparaging email regarding her weight. The young lady turned the viewer's comment into a lecture on bullying, and made some very valid points.

Good for you, Jennifer. I've always loved women in my newsroom who take no prisoners and kick ass.

But let's face it, the lead was buried here. What really needs to be addressed is the double standard that applies to women in the business. It's the dirty little secret kept behind closed doors as managers watch resume tapes.

Women have to be attractive. Men don't. In this high-def world, women have an expiration date. Men just get more distinguished. If you watched "Castle" this week you saw a young anchor refer to an older female as "approaching her sell-by date."

You can name dozens of unattractive men on the networks. Overweight guys have been doing weather and sports for years. Overweight, bald, thinning hair? No problem. Al Roker and Willard Scott kept their jobs when they had to shop at the big and tall store. Harry Smith has been bald as long as I can remember.

Now, name an unattractive woman on a network. And have you noticed some "women of a certain age" are being shot in soft focus?

We all know that television is a visual medium, and as such, appearance is important. There are still countless pageant queens out there who can't do much more than read a prompter. Alas, television, like life, is not fair.

Full disclosure: I often tell clients they need to improve their appearance. Not because it bothers me, but because it will make them more marketable. However, I've done this with men as well as women.

Bottom line, not much is going to change. But Jennifer may have started a discussion that needs to be held. Perhaps her on-air rant might make a few managers think differently today. Maybe some ND is watching resume tapes today and for the first time doesn't dismiss the credible woman who isn't "stripper hot" and looks a little plain. Maybe he notices that the gal who's not a size four can really write and turns a killer package.

Television news ratings have been heading down for years. Maybe it's not just the bias problem, or the lack of real journalism.

Maybe we just need to hire some real people who didn't step out of a modeling portfolio.


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