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.

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