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Faceless celebrity maintains ownership of her body


Sia Since 2013, Australian singer-songwriter and director Sia has not shown her face in magazines, videos or performances. When attending events she shows up as an 'inanimate blonde bob' – using a wig to conceal all but a few features – and in live performances she artfully directs the talents of others to front her music.

Her reasons for hiding her face make sense to me, yet she has copped plenty of criticism. To not flash an appropriately beautified face along with her voice has been treated almost like a betrayal of the female celebrity contract. The backlash starts along the lines of 'Is it because she is ugly? What is she hiding under there?' And gets nastier from there. Her response? It should be about the music and the work – not the face.

'Music is for the ears, not the eyes, right?' is how she recently put it to actor and comedian Kristen Wiig in a piece for Interview magazine. 'I love that the work that has gone into it has been behind the scenes. People say, 'Enough of this shit where she doesn't show her face,' and 'It's a gimmick.' For sure. I'm trying to do this differently, for serenity. I want you to be entertained … I'd just rather it not centre around whether or not I have cellulite.' Her experiment draws a clear boundary between herself and her role as a female entertainer, one where popularity rests on the obsessive public scrutiny of appearance.

There's no doubt Sia possesses the raw talent for success. Her voice is phenomenal; her smash hit Chandelier - about her struggle with alcoholism - was nominated for four Grammy awards this year. She also composes songs for the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna and directs her own music videos. Yet audiences remain bitterly hungry for the glamorous image they think they're owed - and sadly, this comes as no surprise.

Generally it's regarded as incomprehensible if, as a woman, you don't bolster and promote your looks to enhance your success. This is not just the case in the entertainment business.

At times in my life where I have chosen to shift my focus away from outward beauty, I've had some a range of unsolicited comments. A close male relative once told me, 'A little bit of make-up doesn't hurt, you know. There's no need to be extreme and wear none at all. You're attractive and young, you should make the most of that.'

On another occasion, a man I was dating at the time thought it appropriate to disillusion me on what clothes men like. One day I said, 'I love the way Ellen [DeGeneres] dresses, her style is so different.' He responded: 'Just so you know, men don't like the way Ellen dresses. She looks like a man. That's not what guys find attractive.' Even if he really had been designated a spokesman on behalf of all men everywhere, what was most offensive was the presumption that my sole aim in choosing what to wear was to attract men.

There is a societal ownership of women's looks and physical appeal that just doesn't apply to men. It seems anyone is entitled to comment on a woman's physical attractiveness at any time, in any context. But as pointed out in a recent article about Sia in the Guardian, when other artists have chosen to conceal their appearance it hasn't been a problem – because those artists, from bands like Daft Punk and Slipknot, were men. Yet the calls for Sia to show her face and stop with the perceived nonsense have been almost obsessive. Like anyone, she is not immune to societal expectations and public perception. 'Of course I want to be loved,' she said. 'So when people say, 'Show your face, you're not ugly.' I want to say, 'I know. I'm not doing it because I think I'm ugly.'

In a 'Women and Hollywood' interview published in March, critically-acclaimed American composer Jeanine Tesori said, of women in the field of music, 'There are some badass women who are ambitious and hungry and brave, and they're in pop.' It's easy to see by looking at the pop artists dominating on an international level – Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift to name a few.

Women's ability to take control of their careers has increased noticeably in the world of pop, arguably more so than in other forms of entertainment. Yet their success seems tied inextricably to their image. While these are undoubtedly talented women, what happens to their success without it? For Sia, this is a reality she has chosen to 'face' by covering hers.

'I'm 39, and I would like to be able to make great pop music for another 20 years,' she said. 'And it feels like creating a sort of inanimate blonde bob and allowing other people to play the role of the pop singer, it affords me a little bit more freedom in terms of my expiration date.'

Not yet in her 40s, it's depressing that such a powerhouse of talent is worried about getting too old for success. Not wanting to give that up based on factors that are neither within her control nor have any bearing on the quality of her music makes a lot of sense.

So what happens when a female artist releases music without selling her whole body as part of the package? Thanks to Sia we are learning that resisting the pull of good music is not easy, even if the heartfelt lyrics and beautifully composed melodies are delivered by a giant blonde bob. This holds a great message for all women - that society does not own your beauty, and your beauty need not be what makes or breaks your success.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer, journalist and occasional blogger.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Sia, feminism, entertainment, body image



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Existing comments

Megan, thanks for your article which presents a very thoughtful challenge to the public to recognise genuine value and not become preoccupied with appearance. I wonder how many artists don't find a voice because they don't meet the public demand for beauty that is skin deep. I suspect that they are mostly women.

alex nelson | 09 April 2015  

At the risk of being accused of bigotry I would say that if I wanted to discuss the great questions of the moment – climate change, the government’s appalling treatment of asylum seekers, on-going western imperialism vis a vis the middle east, Tony Abbott’s prospects at the next election – my immediate inclination would be to head for a woman sans make-up and wearing flat heels rather than one with her face plastered with raddle and ears sagging under the weight of metal or plastic. As for Sia (I must confess I’ve never heard of her, a clue to my age perhaps) is her use of a noun, expiration, as an adjective an indication of the quality of her lyrics?

Paul | 10 April 2015  

Had to go and look at a clip. Monotonous and gimmicky. Give me artists like Susan Boyle.

Paul | 10 April 2015  

Marketing is marketing...If music is for the ears and not the eyes, then what's the point of the big helmet wig? Looking at someone's face isn't just about wanting to judge or own them, or even appreciate their beauty, but just a part of human expression.

AURELIUS | 10 April 2015  

"It should be about the music and the work – not the face."... Bravo.
There are many reasons for wanting to be 'faceless'. To avoid the intrusion of 'adoring fans'; or that of prying journalists. In another realm, many authors have assumed a nom de plume for various reasons. Often a forceful quotation that has a ring of truth about it is given without acknowledgement, because if its author was named, the force of it would be dismissed because of some irrelevant factor related to the life-style of its originator.

Robert Liddy | 12 April 2015  

Thank you but how do we change perception that female beauty is the first requirement for ALL females, regardless of any other talents, skills or attributes? Witness the shock of the "judges" when the wonderful Susan Boyle opened her mouth and sang - contrast that with their obvious antipathy at her first appearance. As a woman of a "certain age" and not conventional beauty I have struggled to be heard fall my life. I am used to people expressing great surprise at my capabilities - I am often sure this is because I am disregarded due to first appearances.

Julie Brack | 12 April 2015  

Even before I was given a chance to prove my ability, my new male boss said to me, "I don't need just a pretty face".

Sara | 15 April 2015  

No trouble with your essential argument, Megan - gender always seems to play differently. There are, though, some male singers I've never appreciated at all until I saw them on stage. For my musical taste, a 'rough passage out' needs compensatory elements - i.e. a sense of the individuated personality of the singer. With others - read, whatever the gender, most opera singers when holding a mike - I'd rather just hear the music and see nothing.

Graeme Turton | 27 September 2015  

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