Ever knew or read about the beautiful girl that both the guys and the girls adored? I met one back in the 1980s when I did my first college degree. She was tall, blonde, sporty, fun-loving, stylish, sexy, smart, and kind. She was Miss Congeniality and Miss Universe rolled into one; a bit like Farrah Fawcett in the original Charlie´s Angels, minus the airplane take-off hairdo so in vogue in the 1980s, along with neon leotards and beefy shoulder pads designed to make the curviest woman look like a young Schwarzenegger in drag.
But at the end of the five-year degree, the boys in the course awarded Most Sexy Girl vote to someone else, a brunette with lips that made you think of cherries, a behind that made you think of apricots, long straight hair so silky you could think of drinking it, and velvety wide brown eyes as seen on anime and manga popularized 30 years later. All in all, she was very edible, which clearly didn’t go unnoticed by the boys, while our mostly brunette girl lot puzzled over their choice in frustration. Had they chosen our local Farrah Fawcett, that would have been alright by us – we were clearly out of her league – but this ordinary brunette – this attainable anyone – this overgrown Heidi of the Alps?! It was obscenely outrageous, like sweet girl child actresses developing breasts!
Many years later, I came to muse over another overt sexist injustice prevailing even in the most gender-equalized parts of the world: why old men, even paunchy, rotund, old men with face folds and lower lips sagging south like a St. Bernard dog after a difficult Swiss mountain rescue – why they are still connected to their maleness. Whereas old women, even slim, elegant old women with a lifetime legacy of wrinkles, don’t even have hands, let alone vaginas: they got claws; mammalian no longer, but reptilian, knobby, ossified talons.
There are, however, women able to retain a femininity that neither wrinkles or menopause could dislodge; women like Iman, or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, or Diana Vreeland, or Christiane Amanpour, or Coco Chanel, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or Frida Kahlo, or Laurie Anderson. Or those perennially popular über-icons of style, like Audrey Hepburn, the one and only quintessential gamine ; or Grace Kelly, the original little girl princess dream come true and tragic; or Lisa Fonssagrives, the first supermodel before supermodels were invented [who I tend to mix up with Dovima of the famous beastly picture] and the highest paid model in the late 1950s, when she earned $60 an hour, which compares to Evangelista‘s $10.000 a day benchmark four decades later.
Off the tip of my keyboard, I effortlessly piled over twenty names on the list of ageless femininity. Then I got stuck with ageless masculinity. Men typically cited as icons of style or sexiness or both – Clooney, Pitt, Kennedy, DiCaprio, and so on – they invariably feel so… one-dimensional. As if their agent or personal coach or secretary of state had told them – this is the one thing you look good as, so do try to focus on it, and it alone. Pitt is pretty. Clooney is crafty. DiCaprio is frat-house daring. Kennedy was, well, luckier than Clinton about what you can do for your country. [Envision Miss Lewinski in the middle of an NFL stadium choc-a-bloc with celebs and the security detail, wearing something expensively designed for invisibility with blindingly sparkly accents, and singing Happy Birthday Mr. President to Bill and Hillary.] And Mathew McConaughey – well, he does a great rendition of a male Mona Lisa, circa 500 years later [imaginary agent’s voice: “now, sonny, you go to the Lew-vre and observe what that Moan-a-Lissa does with her mouth.”]
Matter of fact is, off the top of my head I can only come up with one male name: PETER BEARD. “Peter who?” People I tell this to invariably ask. Peter Beard: all-American dream boy, sun-bleached Long Island childhood, Ivy League college, wildlife photographer,and Karen Blixen‘s platonic passion in the outskirts of Nairobi, if you believe the Hollywood rendition of the baroness’s book Out of Africa. Once described as “half Tarzan, half Byron” by Bob Colacello, diary writer for pop art pioneer Andy Warhol, Peter Beard´s Africa earned him a place in the world-class photography hall of fame alongside names like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.
Just like our local Farrah Fawcett all those years ago, Peter Beard is in a class of his own. But unlike the testosterone-surging Catholic boys back in college picking the proverbial peach, my Mr. Most Sexy vote goes to an unattainable, adventurous man who aged well, probably because of fear of old age, recklessly roamed the African wilderness, produced truckloads of world renowned art, was inspired by a Nordic vixen in the sub-Saharan bush, mingled with cultural elite, was bone crushed by an angry cow-elephant, and serially charmed women that paparazzi live to shoot. How Peter Beard´s life is not as wide open on Wikipedia as a butterflied lobster char-grilled at a Cuban paladar, is a baffling mystery.