Michelle Orpe has been a professional TV host for a decade, during which time she has worked predominantly in the poker industry, as a host for shows such as Sky Poker, the European Poker Tour (EPT) and The Big Game.
These days Orpe spends most of her time being a full time mother, after the birth of her daughter Emily; she also writes a column for Learn PokerNews, hosts the TV show My Trade TV and owns her own wedding video company: Silverose Videos.
The first time I met Orpe was back in 2010 when she was working as the host of EPT Barcelona. When she walked into the poker room, the action stopped and men leered. I remember thinking how uncomfortable that must feel for her. She is beautiful, confident and with her decade of experience, the perfect foil for a female perspective on poker.
When you have to wear make up or behave in any way that may fall into the category of hyper-sexualisation. Do you think you have a choice, or do you believe this is just the way it has become for women in order to survive?
I wear make up because I choose to; it’s a choice that I make. It used to be part of a morning routine to wake up, freshen up and feel ready for the day. Make up made my eyes look brighter and my eyebrows darker, and I liked that. I never felt I had to do it, and most of the time I wouldn’t bother. Nowadays, with a new baby in tow, I have no time for it, and rarely wear it, yet I don’t feel any different from the times I would wear it regularly. I wear make up at work because my features will be drowned out if I didn’t. All the males in TV also wear make up in front of the camera. I don’t think woman need make up too survive. Some women actually look better without make up.
Do you feel under pressure to be someone you are not in order to fulfill your role in poker?
I pretend to be someone I am not at every single casting I go to. The casting director doesn’t want to hear about how I prefer to be down my local pub with the dogs. Instead, he wants to hear about how glamorous I am and how many followers I have on my social networks. I play the game, I get the job, I earn the money, and everyone’s a winner.
I am probably the wrong person to ask, as I work in an industry where you are constantly pretending you are someone you are not. If I have a bad day or have had sad news, the show must go on. I slap on a smile and get the job done. I work to earn money so I can live my life the way I want to. It doesn’t bother me whether I’m there because someone thinks I am right for the job, or because someone thinks I look good. If I’m not right for the job I will soon be replaced. What that person thinks has no direct impact on me, so I don’t worry about it.
In terms of the standard male/female stereotypes, a lot of men believe they are superior in a lot of departments, and this belief stems from social conditioning. Have you ever felt the reverse of that as a woman?
This is just science. We are creatures of instinct. When I became pregnant my natural hormones created an overwhelming need to nest. I spent my days cleaning the house and getting everything ready for the baby. My partner’s instincts were to speak to his boss about getting a promotion and a raise. We bear the children, we feed them and nurture them and the males provide and protect them. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule, but in the main I think the world is happy with this. I am attracted to a strong man who is capable of looking after our children and me. I wouldn’t be attracted to anything less.
I like to feel protected by my man and I like for him to take charge when it matters. That doesn’t mean I am not perfectly capable of taking charge and looking after myself, of course I am, but I want my man to be a man. I want chivalry, doors opened for me, drinks bought on the first date and the man to make all the first moves. I also want my man to be stronger than me; it would be weird if I could beat him in an arm wrestle. I wouldn’t call this submissive, just natures way, and there is nothing wrong with nature. I am an independent woman who has her own career and has made her own money and I have never felt like I am at a disadvantage because I am a woman.
Men earn more than women because they are more aggressive in there approach to promotions/pay rises etc. Women are naturally more emotional than men, this isn’t a bad thing, and we need those emotions to keep our family together.
Does it anger you that you cannot just wake up, brush your hair, slap on any old rag and head down to the poker tables?
No, because I can do that if I want. Liv Boeree won EPT San Remo without any make up on and she looked amazing.
What’s your view of the poker world when it comes to the theory of hyper-sexualisation?
The world is full of it and it is a shame, but unfortunately it will never change. People are attracted to attractive people; it has always been the way. Men want to see beautiful girls in a coke advert and girls want to see beautiful men in a coke advert. Poker is full of men and what do men want…sex! As more and more woman start playing the game it may change. Maybe we will end up being the predominant sex at the tables and we can hire some hot men to be on the cover of all the magazines.
I am the ugly duckling. At school I had teeth so goofy I couldn’t shut my mouth over them, I had really frizzy hair and I had a couple of warts on my hands. I was the butt of many jokes. I became more attractive as I got older and my life completely changed. Has becoming more attractive helped me in my career…yes of course it has, the 15 year old me would never have got a TV job.
Do I resent the fact I did better because I became more attractive…no I do not, I worked very hard to look better. I spent hours at the gym, hundreds of pound on hair cuts, I went through four rounds of liquid nitrogen to get rid of the warts and I suffered a brace for four years to sort my teeth out. The sad part was I felt I had to do all that in the first place. I wish I had not succumbed to the peer pressure of school. Maybe I could of spent more time on my grades than my looks. I may have had a fabulous career but if I could do it again I wouldn’t care so much about my teeth and hands as I would of becoming far smarter. Looks may get you ahead momentarily, but looks fade, intelligence does not. A degree is far handier than a six-pack trust me.
If I had to pick between being less attractive and more intelligent, I would pick intelligence every time. You can always change your appearance…not so easy when it comes to your IQ.
Do you feel that the media are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to attracting new female poker players to the game when they focus on sexuality?
Yes I do, but the poker media are not trying to attract more women into the game, they are trying to make as much money as possible. The media puts sexy woman on the front of the magazines; the men read it, job done. What we need is media that reaches out to woman. I don’t think a woman will shy away from poker because they don’t think they are attractive enough, I think a woman will shy away from poker because they are intimidated by all the men in the game. This is why I am a big believer in all female tournaments.
What is your view on the role that female attractiveness plays in poker, particularly when you have to work in front of a camera?
It depends what roles you are referring to. If we are talking about poker ambassadors then I don’t think it matters at all what the woman looks like. A woman will become a poker pro/ambassador because she is brilliant at the game and has proved herself an excellent player, exactly the same as the male pros. If you are talking about modeling/television then we come back to my earlier point. Who is watching poker…mainly men, what do men want…. sexy woman. All the television company/magazine want to do is to make money, if they think putting Cameron Diaz instead of Jocelyn Wildenstein on the promotion material will make more money then that is what they will do, whether it is right or not.