by KRISTIN DEVITT
It’s still one of my old gags, “I got out of television before they had to put Vaseline on the lens”.
But there is more than a little truth to the fact that as a woman on television, you get that sense that your time may be up at a certain age. That there’s a shelf life. I should add I made the leap over to PR before I hit 30!
After quick stints doing the graveyard (midnight to dawn) shift at one Brisbane newsroom while finishing my uni degree, and a whistle-stop three months reporting in Rockhampton, I landed a Brisbane reporting and weekend newsreading role at the tender age of 21 in the early 1990s. I covered many news rounds over the ensuing nine years from courts to police, parliament and the arts.
Looking back now, there is a part of me that wishes I had ignored that one news director who declared I “didn’t have the x-factor” after nearly ten years on air. The same one whose wife took great issue with me wearing pink lipstick reading the news. Still not sure if it was fuschia or fuschia on me that was the problem. Who doesn’t love hot pink? Reminds me of another of my quotable quotes: “x-factor, sex factor, couldn’t give a max factor”.
But at the time, and certainly I know it is still the case for many young women on tv, the pressure to be slim, to be forever young, was great.
I take great joy in seeing women newsreaders in Australia continue to deliver our tv news into their 40s, 50s and beyond. Travelling regularly overseas as I do, this is something I have seen as the norm rather than the exception in Europe and the US. It’s okay to catch up.
But I don’t see many of them greying, wearing glasses, putting on a little pudding around the middle, as opposed to some of their male counterparts. That would be just too much wouldn’t it?
I am short sighted, and wear contact lenses every day, but I recall in my mid-twenties coming back to the newsroom from a story wearing glasses, and a news boss bailing me up to ask if I had worn them in the shots! No, rest assured, I took them off for my piece to camera, and for my noddies, couldn’t see a thing, but I knew the aesthetics were more important than authenticity. Wait, that all sounds a bit bitter doesn’t it?
I am going back more than 15 years now, but the subject still riles me. You see, while there are increasingly women of all ages, shapes and sizes having a voice as tv news reporters, I would like to see more of these women delivering the news from the desk as well. I love beauty as much as the next person, but when it comes to news, I like it coming from someone who knows what they’re talking about. Someone who has covered a natural disaster, a cracking court case, a political bun fight. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Speaking of which, one of my favourite reporting memories was while covering the 1996 Charleville floods. The stoicism and good humour of that community I will never forget.
Our cameraman and I filed three times a day, for morning, evening and late news. But I got in trouble for looking “too glamorous” because I was wearing a silver fob chain that I never used to take off, thigh deep in floodwaters. Sometimes you just can’t win.
It is important to point out that some of the most physically attractive women news presenters are also some of our best journalists and intelligent, interested people. I should know, I count many of them as my friends.
So what’s the answer? Well as Jennifer Livingston (see below) points out, this debate is about not judging. And for my money, it’s also about rising above. I personally know visionary news directors and producers who today are encouraging women to stay and even return to on air roles.
And no doubt polished presentation is always important. In my role today as a PR advisor, I teach corporate media training, central to which is knowing your area, and looking and sounding the part.
So that means don’t wear a brooch that looks like a large beetle is climbing up your jacket, and sit on your coat tails for a straight line. And more importantly, know your subject, think about your audience, have a conversation with them.
The beetles and the rounded shoulders can be sorted by wardrobe. Engaging with an audience takes a bit more.
It’s a shame to rule out generations of women who may not cut the mustard in the looks department, but have so much more to offer. Pink lipstick or otherwise.
Earlier this week Mamamia showed you a video of Jennifer Livingston, a female newscaster who responded to a viewer who called her fat. Her response is going viral around the world and it shows just how tough the public can be on female reporter’s looks:
Managing Director of KDPR Kristin Devitt has forged a successful career spanning more than two decades as a highly effective communications strategist. With a background in broadcast journalism including time spent as a journalist and presenter with the Ten Network, Kristin has established her credibility on the media map. She is also the director of Babes in Business, Brisbane’s premier women’s networking organisation
Do you think there is more pressure on women to look a certain way in professions like journalism? Do you think there is enough diversity of shapes and sizes on Australian screens?