The big L: Looks

Posted: Feb 18, 2002 12:00 AM
It's an ugly job, but somebody's got to do it. Stand up for Greta Van Susteren's new face, that is. Before Van Susteren had plastic surgery, wags made fun of her lopsided mouth and low hairline. Then, she hands her face over to a plastic surgeon, and now the chattering classes are hissing about how wrong she was to get a makeover. Suddenly, the face that launched a thousand quips became as inviolate as a historical landmark. Her face had character, they crow; now it's too generic. I don't blame Greta. Women and television don't mix. It doesn't matter what a woman says; it only matters how she looks. If she looks too good -- like conservative columnist Ann Coulter -- she's a bimbo who trades on her looks. If she looks like an ordinary person -- like Van Susteren -- she's a battle-ax. Even if, as in Van Susteren's case, her personality always gave a sheen to her less-than-perfect face. Newspaper readers fall into the trap, too. It always astounds me when readers send emails or letters commenting on my looks. As if there is some connection between my cheekbones and my ideas. "You're ugly," some nasty liberals have written to me. OK, so that's the best argument their feeble minds could construct -- but they're only saying what others think, but know better than to say. I answer that I'm not ugly, but what if I were? If I'd been born with bad looks, would that make me less of a human being? I won't even bother pointing out that men tend to be exempted. When men have gravelly skin or bad hair, it can be an endearing idiosyncrasy. When women have physical flaws, they are used as psychic arguments against their very souls. I have to admit that I was one of the mockers. I've never been a fan of Van Susteren -- not because of her looks, believe me, but because of the pro-defense bent of her O.J. and post-O.J. trial commentary. So I gleefully tuned in to see her new face, with the hope that she'd look utterly ridiculous. I told myself she looked worse, until the swelling went down. Now I have to say she looks better. But more than the looks, I like what I've seen in her mind. Greta Van Susteren, bless her, is a plain-featured (and smart-thinking) woman who understood the Looks game and beat it. If people tuned in to make fun of her, well, that helped her garner ratings on her new Fox News Channel TV show, which beat her old home, CNN, by 999,000 viewers to 684,000. She probably knew that people wouldn't tune in to hear what she had to say about tort reform or prosecutorial practices in the war on terrorism. She no doubt understood that the public -- and we in the news business in particular -- could not resist an opportunity to make fun of a plain woman trying to be beautiful. Hats off, pretty Greta. You got my attention.