Maybe there’s nothing like needing headshots to get one thinking about beauty and presentation and what that all means.
No doubt, how we react to any one person is always going to be some mixture of what we think of their behavior and what we think of their appearance, coupled with our own psychological and pre-programmed cultural biases. (In other words, why do we think what we think?)
So, like I said. Beauty. Presentation. The works.
Strangely, because my mind is a trap door, this whole business also has gotten me thinking about Richard III. Why Richard III? Because I am obsessed, slightly, and cannot help myself. He’s someone I’ve written about in recently-published fiction and in my forthcoming book of poetry, The History Worker.
Sure, a lot of my curiosity has to do with that pesky princes-in-the-tower problem that has followed him around for centuries—full disclosure: I think he probably played a role in that, and I find this a far more interesting proposition than his supposed innocence (in terms of understanding the complexity of human character)—but I’m also curious about how people react to him based on his appearance, or in some past cases, imagined appearance.
As you may already know, the skeleton of Richard III was dug up in a parking lot in Leicester, England, in September 2012. Lots of tests followed and then the remains were reinterred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. The Archbishop of Canterbury was there and the whole thing was televised. I remember seeing footage of people lining up outside the cathedral to attend the ceremony.
His skeleton showed curvature in his spine, and not mild curvature either.
Before his exhumation, Richard III had sometimes been portrayed as a straight-backed romantic hero, usually in fictional works that insisted on his ultimate innocence in the matter of his nephews. One great example is The White Queen, a miniseries that originally aired on Starz and starred all-around attractive human male Aneurin Barnard as Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
It seems slightly ableist, among other things, to assume that non-murdering Richard must also lack physical deformity.
Granted, I understand that, before the exhumation, many may have assumed the whole hunchback thing was a nasty trick used by people in the past to malign a man who, in some quarters, was thought of as a tyrant and usurper. I get that.
But wouldn’t it be interesting if our modern imaginations could conceive of a way for a Richard III with a curved spine to be less that a cruel despot? Please, please tell me if you know of fictional representations where this is so!
Since his exhumation and subsequent facial reconstruction, plenty has also been said about Richard III’s appearance. I will give you a hint. His handsomeness has been remarked upon. But, in keeping with the theme of what I’m going with here, that handsomeness is not viewed, at least by at least one of the people quoted in the article I just linked to (where there’s also a picture of the facial reconstruction), as a stand-alone attribute. No. It means something. The article discusses comments made by a Richard III Society member in a Channel 4 (BBC?) documentary: “It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. I’m sorry but it doesn’t.” This is followed by, “He’s very handsome. It’s like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now.”
I agree that the dude had a decent face. There’s a softness around his eyes that I’m seeing in the reconstruction. I find myself understanding, on some level, what this person is saying.
Again. Beauty. A pleasing appearance, whatever that might mean.
But I really, really want to resist the pretty intense cultural programming I’ve received to assign any sort of meaning to this.
This is not easy. Still thinking about headshots.