Eudora Welty, Homely Woman

For some reason a thought passed through my mind about a passage I read some months ago about a Eudora Welty biographer who insinuated that the reason Welty became a writer was because she was unattractive. This caused something of a stir in some literary circles.

Obviously artistic talent has little to do with physical appearance, although Hollywood would have you believe otherwise. While I can say that in my experience the top 10 most talented people I have ever seen have been reasonably unattractive people, there are certainly exceptions. It’s really a non-issue, a purely coincidental affair [1]. What’s interesting to me is the disquieting truth that many unattractive people do tend to develop talents and generally become more interesting people because they can’t get by on looks. While I maintain that the reason I took up the guitar was to make weird noises, getting girls has certainly been more than one awkward-looking guitarist’s reason to start playing [2].

Writers, painters, musicians, actors…are we all doing what we do because we’re not good-looking and/or we sucked at football? It may well be true. If you’re an unattractive person, it behooves you to develop an interesting or pleasant or creative disposition so that people will be attracted to you. If I had been better at following through on my swing and had less acne, perhaps I would have been a baseball star and girls would have taken more notice of me, and I wouldn’t have had the free time or inclination to practice an instrument or write or read books, etc.

I think the critics of that Welty biographer feel threatened by the notion that homely people become creative people because they’re homely. I don’t entirely recoil at the idea. I wasn’t good at sports and I certainly didn’t get by on my looks, but I am what I’ve become and I like it. I don’t envy the beautiful people or the atheletes. Their world appears even more illusory and empty than the worlds the rest of us inhabit.

This reminds me of a line from an episode of Sports Night:

And in that moment, Dan was reminded once again why he wanted to write in the first place. It’s for the same reason anybody does anything: to impress women.

1.) The arguments of eugenics enthusiasts notwithstanding.

2.) I would like to remind the audience that, if anything, the guitar stole a social life from me in high school, and thus far has been responsible for bringing me only one girlfriend. And we only met because she was my bass player.