Deborah Rudman

Delving into photographs and memories, Deborah Rudman uncovered an unexpected beauty secret I t was prompted by a browse through old photographs – the printed-atthe-pharmacy, hard-copy kind, stuck into a ring-bound album, with transparent sheets of protective film separating the pages and a cheesy sunset scene on the cover. (It did date back a bit. ) Here was a forgotten face, there a much-loved pet, there a granny who was eccentric and fun: good memories and a few faded ones.

In one photo, a group of us were celebrating: we had just finished Matric. We were laughing, glasses in hand, and teasing one another, no doubt, chaotic and conspiratorial.

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What struck me, above all, was how lovely we all were. Snapped in a moment when the ‘now’ was even more exciting than we’d ever thought, growing up. And the ‘tomorrow’ – if we thought about it much at all – was a promise of more of the same. The heartaches and disappointments that we all must have experienced before that moment had left no sign. The pangs that must have bruised our hearts had just glanced off our cheeks, leaving no outward trace of inner turmoil. Did we appreciate that we were lovely? Probably not, because what I also remember is that we were anxious. Experts in self-criticism.

Everyone else was enviably taller and longer-limbed – or shorter and cuter. Our hair was too frizzy to be alluring or too boringly straight to be seductive (no bed-head there). A lopsided smile, too many freckles, no dimples… So many beauty deficiencies, so many reasons to fret. What else was in that photo, apart from the hidden insecurities and doubts? As I took a closer look at these faces from the past, it all came back to me. Deena was the musical girl, who’d played the piano in every concert throughout high school. Terri, witty and entertaining, wanted nothing more than to perform – and always did, putting on a show to amuse the rest of us.

Lesley was an enthusiastic novice cook. Marja was cheerfully hopeless at maths but could do our make-up before an evening out like a pro. Jen was the dreamy and imaginative one. And Freya was a ‘natural’ with people, gifted beyond her years with insight, empathy and patience. What a collection of beauty, in so many different forms. Then I realised what it was that made every girl in the photo beautiful. Opinions may differ, but for me beauty is a deep and enduring interest in something. Enthusiasm is beautiful. Joie de vivre is, too.

It’s a wider-than-the-sky love for life, it’s putting-yourself-out-there courage, and it’s spotting and embracing your own best bits! It’s laughing with others, or at yourself. (Which is why some of the world’s funny ladies – Allison Janney, Tumi Morake, Miranda Hart – rank higher on my attractiveness scale than the humourless ‘classic’ beauties like Nicole Kidman. ) You’re beautiful when you allow yourself to dream, to try, to take a chance … when you understand that you have something special that is uniquely yours and is something to be proud of – whether it’s mastering the smallest task or accomplishing a great goal. So, are you beautiful? Without a doubt. Don’t forget it or waste it. You’ve never been more beautiful than you are now.

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