A woman goes through several beauty epiphanies in her life — moments of truth, however unpleasant, and of wisdom, however unwelcome, about how others see her.
They are moments when the world beams back to you an image of yourself, a reflection of how you are perceived, that is dissonant with your self-perception. The sudden, sometimes brutal realisation of this dissonance helps you understand who you are.
Suddenly it hits you: how you look is how you feel. Or is it the other way round? How you feel is how you look? I am not sure. Got to think more about this one.
Back to epiphanies. I bet Caster Semenya had the Mother of all Beauty Epiphanies during her sad saga. Make that double, one in a tracksuit and one in a frilly dress. And have you noticed it is men who make decisions and discourses over this young woman’s body? Pass the dictionary, please, so we can look up patriarchy.
I had an epiphany last week, courtesy of Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist and author of the polemic book, Dead Aid. This book is quite highbrow but is displayed on the low shelf at Exclusive Books, so I squatted to take a look.
After two minutes my knees complained. I had to stand up. How can this be? I gym regularly. I do squats with weights. This is totally unfair.
I went to my doctor. She prescribed a test to check for arthritis. There was no arthritis and no health insurance savings afterwards either because the X-rays and bone density tests were so expensive. I can’t get sick until next year, when the savings are replenished.
I moaned to my Pilates guru, R, the sexiest, fittest and gayest instructor in Pretoria. R is just over 40. ‘If it is any consolation, my knees also complain when I squat,â€ he said. Bless him. That made me feel better.
On the same weekend a teenager, who will remain unnamed for reasons of national security, underwent an epiphany of her own. She realised that she doesn’t need to wear a Wonderbra to look gorgeous and attract male attention, at least during the next two decades.
Epiphanies about men and female beauty are epochal. Like the day you discover that men really don’t care whether your legs are waxed or not. Why should they even notice, being hairy themselves?
A lifetime of waxing
Add up all the time and money a woman spends through a lifetime of waxing. It must be like two weeks of holiday by the sea. Or three cases of Jack Daniels. Or the complete works of Edward Said to read while your legs are waxed (at six pages a session, you reach ‘The Endâ€ in 36 years, counting less frequent waxing in winter). The reading option is not available for women who shave, though.
Once I bravely decided to deprogramme myself from waxing during a trip to Bolivia. I figured it is so cold I would always wear trousers. I did. But I also found Mr Right living near Oruro. Do you know what the chances are of finding waxing strips or cream near a hacienda on the Bolivian altiplano? Like, zilch. And do you know something else? Mr Right could not have cared less.
We women have so many ideas about what men like that are dissonant with what men see and desire. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — when she looks at herself in the mirror or at an ad in a fashion magazine. Check out the cool video about ad models being optical illusions at www.campaignforrealbeauty.com.
I remember an epiphany I had in Harare a long time ago. I needed face cream so I strolled into Barbours, one of the few shops that had imported beauty products, and looked at labels. I wanted to read the lies, the empty words that promise to arrest time and wrinkles.
I couldn’t read anything. I needed glasses more than face cream. I bought cream, any cream, and went to the ophthalmologist.
Sixteen years later I can keep working as a journalist thanks to reading glasses. Can you imagine all the adults with failing eyesight who could read and sew and be productive if only they had glasses? That should be a millennium development goal: glasses for everybody who needs them by 2015.
Glasses have a drawback, though. I see age spots and wrinkles I’d rather ignore. I’d rather keep the image in my memory instead of the image the world beams back at me.
I dread the moment when one of the young men who work at Exclusive will address me as ‘Gogoâ€. I am pondering my reaction. Should I look sternly and say: ‘Young man, I have sex with men your age!â€
Do I look surprised and say: ‘Are you talking to me?â€
Or should I just smile sweetly and move on? Just another epiphany in my life.