‘Come off it, Keira! Lucky women like us owe everything to our looks’
As Miss Knightley laments the fact that she misses out on roles because she is too pretty, one writer says she should be grateful
There are certain events in my life that I know never would have happened if I’d been born ugly. Real life-changing events to which I entirely owe my looks.
I am not being conceited or boastful; it’s a simple fact that had I not been quite so lucky in the great DNA lottery many doors would have remained shut to me.
The first example is winning my first column on a newspaper in 2003 — which in turn led to my first book.
‘We have to give her a column,’ said the editor to his section head after our meeting. ‘She’s so pretty.’
This proclamation was given to the team out of my earshot, I should say, but relayed to me by one of them over lunch afterwards. It left me torn between being offended that I didn’t get the job because of my ability to write and thrilled to have a column. But in the cut-throat world of journalism there is no room for the feminist moral high ground. A column is a column, whatever it takes to get it.
I should think acting is even more competitive. So I was rather surprised to read recently that Keira Knightley laments the fact that she misses out on roles because she is too pretty. I would wager she has won many more roles than she’s lost due to her good looks.
And would you rather be cast as Beauty or the Beast? Do you hear George Clooney moaning about the fact that he could have become an accountant if he hadn’t been so darned handsome?
I am not doing a Samantha Brick. She famously triggered a storm of abuse in April 2012 for saying how gorgeous she was, and that other women hated her because she was so beautiful.
I don’t think I’m so stunning other women loathe me en masse. And I’m not so pleased with myself that every time I look in the mirror I think ‘yippee’.
Quite the contrary. I used to loathe the way I looked. My legs were so thin when I was a teenager I used to wear two pairs of trousers to make them look more shapely. I was so flat-chested I was nick-named ‘the plank’. But now I am thankful for those legs and, at least, I don’t have droopy boobs.
At 45, I see good bone structure and skin that has only a sprinkling of fine lines thanks to rigorous application of suncream. My figure has remained the size it was at university thanks to yoga and tennis and a disciplined attitude to food, and I still have a head of thick dark hair, though that I owe to my mother.
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who has aged relatively well, in part due to the effort I’ve put into staying fit and healthy.
One of the things my chic Italian aunt taught me was that taking care of your appearance is good manners and shows respect for those around you, as opposed to something to be ashamed of, which is the usual attitude in Britain.
Here, the prevailing view is that if you spend time on yourself, you’re vain and superficial. Vain and superficial? Possibly. But also smart. Because good looks work and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.
Keira’s argument is that she wants to be treated as a serious actress and not a sex symbol. Which is fair enough. But I don’t agree with her that beauty and gravitas are mutually exclusive. She is a great example of a woman who has achieved both.
On the whole, you’re better off being nice-looking than not. I think Keira is being disingenuous if she says the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019