In the last of six things not to say to an author, the final one is #6: Wow, they sure airbrush those author photographs, don’t they?
After I was interviewed by CBC Radio about The Beggar’s Opera and how it got published, I got a call at my office from a man who said he belonged to a writers’ group that met every month at a restaurant in Ottawa. He asked if I would like to join them at their next meeting. And so even though I was swamped, and struggling with some health problems, and feeling a little burned out at trying to work two full-time jobs (writing and real estate), I said I’d drop by.
As soon as I got there and walked over to introduce myself. “Oh, so you’re Peggy,” he said. “Wow, they sure airbrush those author photographs, don’t they?”
Perhaps it is different for men, but when someone comments negatively on a woman’s appearance, it doesn’t make us feel very good. It certainly flattened me.
I had a drink with the group, made my excuses, and left early.
As I was leaving, the man who said that to me said, “Oh, I hope you didn’t take that personally. I was just making a joke.” He didn’t apologize; I didn’t laugh.
Since then, I have had people who’ve met me at author events tell me they thought I would be taller. (This comment always amuses me: it was once made to me by someone who’d only ever heard me on the radio.)
The thumbnail of my photograph on the book flap is about an inch high, if that. I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to gauge my height from a picture of my head. I’m never really sure how I’m supposed to respond to a comment about my height (I’m 5’2″). It may be a surprise to them, but not to me. But maybe they think short people aren’t supposed to be writers.
All in all, I suspect that most authors (make that most people) find that personal comments about their height, weight, age, or appearance by complete strangers are inappropriate. But for writers, we’re not actors — we haven’t put our images out there on the big screen, where that kind of thing perhaps goes with the territory. We’ve shared our words; surely that doesn’t make it open season on our looks.
We’d much rather you comment on our books.