Cleft Gorgeous?

A week into the school term the good news is that my TV consumption is under control, and I’m finally getting some reading and writing done.

4321D32A00000578-4778646-image-a-1_1502384172235There is one drama series on BBC, however, that I’m not quite willing to give up and it’s not because it’s particularly good because it isn’t. No, I am watching Strike, based on the novels by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, solely for its lead actor, Tom Burke.

Burke stars as Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective, and he is gorgeous to look at. I’d previously seen him in other TV productions, including BBC’s adaptation of War & Peace, and knew him to be a fine actor as well.

Burke also happens to be born with a cleft lip, which is quite visible on the screen.

Since there are precious few successful actors with a facial difference, I first thought that Burke’s success represented a measure of progress, especially as his cleft never seemed to have a bearing on the parts he played. That may be because Burke is a very handsome man and, judging by his huge following on social media, he’s particularly popular with women.

After the third episode of Strike, however, I was beginning to feel a niggling sense that Burke’s success would never have been possible if he’d been a woman. Let’s say that Strike’s smart and gorgeous female sidekick Robin, had been played not by the doll-like actress Holliday Grainger, but by an actress with a cleft, what kind of response would that have provoked?

It wouldn’t have happened, of course, because TV and film still demand that young women actresses be conventionally beautiful as well as talented. While a male actor with a scar or other facial ‘blemish’ can get away with it, and still be considered attractive and desirable, a woman with a scar and wonky face just can’t compete with the gorgeous, model-type actresses that grace the screen.

Yes, there are a few famous women in the entertainment industry who were born with a cleft or other condition affecting their appearance, but you wouldn’t know about their ‘defects’ if you saw them. That’s because they’ve had so much plastic surgery that only a trained eye could spot the signs of some anomaly.

I’m thinking in particular of the film actress Anna Faris and the singer Carmit Bachar, once a member of the highly successful pop band, the Pussycat Dolls. They were both born with a cleft, but you’d practically need to put them under a microscope to realise. Both have had plenty of operations to perfect their appearance, whereas Tom Burke doesn’t seem to have gone under the knife quite as many times.

All of which begs a question that’s been bothering me for years: is there a difference in the number and scope of surgical interventions female ‘clefties’ undergo as opposed to male ‘clefties’?

Admittedly, I have no data to support my thesis that this is the case, but anecdotal evidence points in that direction. And as a young woman, I certainly felt the pressure to submit to the will of plastic surgeons who treated my face as a piece of clay to be moulded and shaped by them. Thankfully, I had enough self-respect to say enough is enough.

It’s no surprise, of course, that beauty criteria are highly gendered, and a woman with no appearance-related condition at all will still struggle to conform to society’s ridiculous beauty standards. A woman with a cleft or other condition that makes her look different from the norm, however, is doubly damned.

Tom Burke is a bloody gorgeous actor; but if he were a she, few if any would say that.

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