The beauty impediment

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, they say. But what if the beholder(s) are unable to look beyond the beauty? What if the person gets defined, slotted, pigeon holed by that beauty? What if that very beauty becomes a stumbling block towards character development? This is not everyday attractiveness I am talking about. This is the stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty. The kind that only very very few women are naturally (without the aid of cosmetics, surgery or camera jiggery pokery) blessed with.

My daughter has an incredibly beautiful friend. The sort of friend that gets offered modelling contracts by strangers on the street. This girl is also whip smart. Unfortunately, in the intensely competitive teen milieu that is much too much of a fortunate combination. So she downplays her intelligence, and sails by on her looks. She is popular and well liked because of it. More’s the pity.

A man can be drop dead gorgeous and super intelligent, and no one ever questions it. Look at George Clooney. Or better still, Justin Trudeau. Yet a woman needs to forever hide her intellect under a bushel, or Heaven forbid!

Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian actress from the 40’s was well known for her breathtaking beauty, and the added glamour quotient she brought to the silver screen. Less for the fact that she was also the inventor of the Spread Spectrum Technology. A pioneer in the field of wireless communications, that would become the bedrock of cellular technology. This fact was only recognised and celebrated towards the end of her life. Frustratingly for her she was typecast by her singular beauty.

Now don’t get me wrong. Beauty is a wondrous thing to behold. Beauty and youth are a potent combination. And I can’t think of one single woman who would turn down the chance to be both. If only it were not so limiting!

Charlize Theron, the Amazonian South African actress, with the endless legs would probably say the same. Her Oscar winning turn in the movie “Monster” wasn’t just due to her acting chops.It was also the remarkable transformation that she embarked upon, making herself look downright ugly, so that the focus could be on her performance and not on her face.

Why is it so difficult to accept that a woman can be preternaturally beautiful, and also possess the attributes of intelligence, wisdom, talent, aptitude, ability and ambition? Is this a narrow view that is subscribed to and cultivated only by men, or are we women just as guilty of it?

Helen of Troy, another mythic beauty, was ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, and the Trojan war. Men fought to own her, and sadly, that is her legacy. How much more interesting it would be to exhort a 21st century Helen to build some ships instead?

To set store by something as transitory as beauty, is to ignore (to our detriment) those qualities that are far more valuable in the long run. Warmth, empathy, grit, loyalty, compassion, intelligence – all of which are just as, if not more beautiful, than a genetic accident.

These are the qualities worth celebrating. This is the wisdom we need to pass down.

“Beauty should be the icing, not the cake” – Unknown.


A day in Waiheke

We amble towards the ferry station. I’m too caught up in my conversation with my friend to notice what a glorious day it is turning into. Not so my children, who practically gambol on, excited at the prospect of visiting an island, and enjoying the sunshine they are so deprived of in England. Excitedly we board, rushing up to grab seats on the open upper deck.

Auckland is a world away from home, and it has taken us several years of girding our proverbial loins to make the journey. The last time was sixteen years ago, pre children. It was the start of the Millennium, and all I can recall of that trip was the pregnancy nausea that dogged me through out, allowing me to enjoy very little of Down Under. This time it’s proving to be a different trip.

Melbourne was cold and blustery. Their Autumn had just started, and ill prepared in our denim jackets, we shivered our way determinedly visiting all the landmarks, hopping on and off the free tram that circles the heart of the city.

Auckland is warmer, not just in temperature, but also in the love and hospitality our hosts and our friends have extended to us. Arousing us from our jet lagged stupor is no easy task, but they are enthusiastic, and soon we are too. Up until now we have been to see the Auckland museum where we got an insight into the Maori culture amongst other interesting historical and cultural information. We’ve walked up to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano and the highest natural point on the Auckland isthmus. We’ve strolled on the beach at Mission Bay, loving the water lapping at our feet.

Today we are setting out on our little adventure to Waiheke. Even as we board the ferry, there is a palpable sense of excitement. Not just because we are in such beautiful surroundings, but also because it is a shared experience with our friends. We are all too used to it being just the four of us, and having company adds that extra bit of enjoyment that we rarely get to savour.

A 35 minute ferry ride away, this incredibly beautiful island is a treasure trove of exotic flora and fauna. This is fiercely safeguarded by various conservation societies. However, on a day like today, we have little on our minds but some wine and food and a lazy day watching the waves beat upon the many unspoilt beaches we intend to explore. To that end we board a local bus that chugs along at the same somnambulic pace as the islanders. There is no frenetic rushing around that we are accustomed to in our daily living. Slowly our worries and our tensions drop away, as we gaze upon vista upon verdant vista.

Famous for its many wineries, our friends tell us that some of the wines we have been imbibing are made upon this very island. All at once, we are keen to sample the wares, and alight at a supermarket. A trolley dash ensues, with each member of our party choosing an item for the picnic we are planning on the beach. The result is a somewhat chaotic mix of food and drinks. No matter. We are just too chilled to care.

Another bus drive with a friendly Maori driver ends up in a photo call, with him as the somewhat bemused celebrity in our midst. He cannot imagine why this motley bunch of Indians want a picture of him and his bus, but is kind enough to oblige.

Laden with our packages, we make our way down to the picnic spot on Onetangi beach. There is a public barbecue that is already in use by another family, and the man nods congenially in our direction. With the smell of sizzling sausages, our tummies rumble, signalling that it maybe time for some refreshments. Out come the wine, the pizza, the crisps, the salad and the assorted sundries we’ve brought along. The children dig in with relish, while we laugh and chat and bask in the rare luxury of al fresco dining in such fine surroundings.

After lunch, the children run off to play in the water. We sit and soak in the sunshine, reminiscing about our own childhoods. Our memories are tinged with nostalgia, and a sense of just how fleeting time is. From college to marriage to children turning into teens, to parents we have lost, and an impending sense that someday not that far away, it will be us. We clutch on to the joy we are feeling in the here and now. Moments like these that will carry us through the troughs that inevitably mar every life. Moments like these that will remind us that life gives just as much as it takes away.

Afternoon turns to dusk, and we drag our reluctant children back to the bus stop that will take us to the ferry station. We have time for one last drink. I order a Mai Tai at the bar, and whimsically place the flower garnish in my hair. The sun is setting in the horizon, and the myriad hues it lends to the sky are a painter’s delight. The water has borrowed the colour orange, and like molten lava the waves roll forward and backward, fierce and magnificent, speaking a language all of their own.

On the ferry ride back we are quiet and reflective. A glut of beauty is sometimes too overwhelming to process all at once. Added to that is a sense of sorrow as we are to depart the next day for Sydney. Our short trip has been so full of love and laughter and beauty and wine (always some wine) that it is a wrench to return to civilisation.

No matter. As long as there is a will, there is a way. And our will will find us a way back to this Paradise.