The other day I saw a rather strange tweet. It said, with accompanying pictures to prove its point, that supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid were making books the hottest new accessory. And this only because the two were spotted carrying books with them, as they went around doing their everyday supercool supermodel stuff.
For me, this was a weird argument about books being a hot new accessory, because, duh, books have ALWAYS been a hot accessory. If you have any doubt whatsoever, try sitting in a public waiting area reading a book. You will attract attention. You might even find some people peering curiously at the cover trying to get a sense of what has engrossed you. Some braver souls, unable to control their curiosity, will come right out and ask what you are reading. As a conversation opener, a book is probably the next best thing to babies and puppies. The day I met the spouse back when I was in college, I was nose deep into Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will. Not exactly the most comfortable book to have in hand while a young lad is trying to make his first move, but it did catch his attention. That is another post for another day. But seriously though, that a book could be considered a fashion accessory is to my bibliophile heart blasphemy on par with homes that have bookshelves with the books arranged by the colour on their spines.
As a conversation opener, a book is probably the next best thing to babies and puppies.
While there is a survey that does state that for some buying books and not reading them might be a thing, for most folks, books are bought to be read. Perhaps a one time read, perhaps to be abandoned few chapters into it, or to read over and over.
What scares me about this kind of a post, is that it fetishes reading. It takes reading out of the range of normal activities that every single human being should be doing, if they have had the privilege to be educated, and makes it that horrible word “trendy.” Reading is not meant to be trendy. Books are not meant to be fashion accessories. Books are everyday. Reading is every day, every spare moment you get, in the bus, in the train, while eating your meal, on your flight, stuck in traffic, waiting at the doctor’s, waiting outside a school gate to pick your child up, reading is perhaps what makes waiting bearable. No wait, perhaps reading is what makes life bearable?
What scares me about this kind of a post, is that it fetishes reading. It takes reading out of the range of normal activities that every single human being should be doing.
The second premise that sticks in my craw is the surprise that supermodels who read are “more than just pretty faces.” Why is it, as Dorothy Parker, so beautifully put it, that beauty is only skin deep but ugly cuts straight to the bone. What we get from this kind of messaging is that pretty girls don’t need anything more than their beauty to get them by, but those who are not so genetically blessed need to develop other interests to make themselves more interesting. They are ones who read. Not the pretty ones. The fact remains that all people who are interested in reading will read, the pretty, the not so pretty, the handsome, the not so handsome. On the flip, people who aren’t readers by nature, will not read. No matter what their ranking on the attractiveness scale.
What we get from this kind of messaging is that pretty girls don’t need anything more than their beauty to get them by, but those who are not so genetically blessed need to develop other interests to make themselves more interesting.
The other annoying smarmy assumption this tweet implies, what with supermodels making books a fashion accessory is that they aren’t carrying the books around because, duh, they might seriously be readers who enjoy reading books. The slimy implication is that they’re carrying the books to create an image of themselves as being readers, and therefore by extension intellectual. This leads on to the rather blinkered vision notion that beautiful women are not intelligent, and therefore, cannot have intellectual pursuits. To this, I raise them Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Hedy Lamarr. That beautiful women will not read books is also a presumption that these women are pre-occupied with their looks to the exclusion of all else. But perhaps it is just this, the threat that these women present. In a society where a woman’s beauty is considered her currency, for her to be armed with brains too makes her threatening to the status quo. That she should have ‘intellectual’ pursuits is considered radical, when all it is, is simply, the very human need to have stories in our heads. We all need stories. Good, bad, pretty, ugly, average looking. Reading is not something that is contingent on appearance of the reader. When you read you are the character you are reading about, you inhabit their skin, their life, their circumstances. When you emerge you slip back again into your own. What else allows you this ability to live multiple lives?
In a society where a woman’s beauty is considered her currency, for her to be armed with brains too makes her threatening to the status quo.
But, we do need more people to read, and if seeing a supermodel reading a book makes them pick it up, I’m not going to be complaining at all. All I have to say is don’t reduce books to an accessory. And don’t reduce pretty women who read them to people who carry them around as an accessory. By doing so, you disrespect both the woman and the book.
Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.