BEACH VIBES: And what they reveal about human beauty

THE beach taught me something valuable recently. Like many guys, I can often find beautiful members of the female persuasion rather intimidating. The thought of approaching these goddesses of beauty and striking up conversation is quite frightening. I'm sure many 'nice guys' out there will empathise here.

It's fair to say that our perceptions of beautiful people are largely obscured by how the media portrays them to be. At nightclubs or social gatherings, people of beauty are further armed with seductive scents, makeup, carefully crafted hairstyles and outfits that attack the imagination.

Clifton Beach, Cape TownOn the beach much is revealed. One might realise that beneath our seductive garments we all have blemishes and spots; birthmarks or scars. Even the most beautiful are perhaps not as attractive as one might imagine them to be if clad in clothing. The ocean washes away makeup and the salty water frizzles our hair. The beach reveals a large portion of our true selves.

It then becomes easy to single out the secure from the insecure; the one's fixated on appearance from the one's who are comfortable in their own, imperfect skins. Beauty is exuded by those with confidence and a sense of fun. It's not so much about how our bodies look by anyone's standard, but how to choose to behave within them; and there's nothing preventing us from taking good care of them.

So enjoy your body, and viva the beach! And now a quick word from Gwyneth Paltrow:

"Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick" - Gwyneth Paltrow

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OPEN LETTER: When human soldiers kill for you

Dear World Leaders,

Could you ever take the life of another human being? What would it take for you to kill someone?

Assuming that most people are morally good, asking this of anyone seems to me morally wrong. Yet this is exactly what soldiers are asked to do when trained and sent to fight wars in foreign lands in the name of “national security.”

We would all like to believe that soldiers are no longer trained to kill by dehumanising the ‘enemy’ – by characterising them as sub-human and less deserving of living a human existence. We are made to believe that soldiers are now trained to kill “only when necessary”, but this isn’t quite the case, is it?

It is not in our nature to kill. Unless one is psychotic, the psychological trauma that comes with killing another human being, even in the name of defence, can have irreparable effects on both the soldier and society.

Instances of girlfriend and wife abuse may increase and traumatised soldiers may become plagued by fear and hatred. Equipping soldiers with expensive machinery – which we all have to pay for – and asking them to “fight for their country” is a burden on us all.

No man or woman should ever be asked to kill a fellow human being for any cause other than their own self-defence. To do this is to suppress a part of their humanity and to lose a part of yours as well.


“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why the parents will always wave back” – Bill Tammeus

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THE INTERNET: Feel free to be a jerk

Guest post by Tharuna Devchand

SO a little while ago the Mail & Guardian suspended a journalist intern for an anti-Semitic comment on Facebook that amounted to hate speech and was therefore in conflict with the South African Constitution. Without a warning, the kid’s career was ruined because of a social networking site where groups like “My name is Khan” (a group that disrespects Hinduism) and “F*** Islam” exist with thousands of followers who spread the hatred.

I’m not justifying what Ngoako Matsha said, nor am I implying that M&G was wrong in suspending him, but consider the medium in which he said it — cyberspace.

In cyberspace, every person should be seen as a figment of their own imagination­. Nothing is real. Nothing we say is a true reflection of who we are. On the Internet, we are all Tyler Durdens. There are no boundaries, no policies and rules to keep us neatly between the lines, no reputations to uphold or cultural conventions to keep us in place.

The Internet is like a global Fight Club. It’s where we can guiltlessly des­troy something beautiful and return to our lives feeling better about ourselves. It’s cathartic and, since we all can’t be Jackson Pollocks, it may sometimes be our only outlet.

I constantly hear people complaining about how perfect their Facebook friends’ lives are or what interesting lives other people on Twitter have. It’s not true. It’s just what people choose to show you on the website that makes it all seem perfect.

Social networking sites house a giant­ community of people all suffering from small-penis syndrome. There is a constant war to keep up with the cyber Joneses. Saying that people exaggerate on the Internet about their lives, their feelings, their opinions and how great their lovers are is an understatement. If peer pressure in real life can drive one to do things one normally wouldn’t do, the pressure to be infamous on the Inter­net can land one in a mental institution. Gosh knows what Anthony Weiner was thinking when he tweeted a photo of his, um ... weiner­.

While it is never easy to work out the true nature of a person in real life, it is 1 000x harder in cyberspace. On the Net, you can be anything and anyone you want to be.

Those who aren’t that popular or who lack friends may upload albums of them being cool with photos of them sloshed with their heads in a toilet just to show that they can party with the best of them. People who are going through tough times may exaggerate all the positive things in their lives and leave out the hardships. And people who are quite restricted or oppressed in their real lives, may go cyber crazy, voicing outrageous opinions and desires on the Net — probably under a pseudonym. It’s a safe outlet that we believe has no consequences — until we lose our jobs for letting loose.

The problem is that there is no line that determines how far is too far until we cross it. We constantly push the boundaries of what is right and wrong just to see how far we can go, whether it’s driving at 129 km/h in a 120 km/h zone or voicing mad love for Adolf Hitler and his beliefs.

Contemporary society has become mostly unaffected by things that are shocking or at least used to be shocking a decade ago, and to deal with this, people try to raise the bar. Cartoonists, comedians and teachers are continually trying to shock people into thinking about things on a different level. Look at how far advertisements have gone to prevent people from drinking and smoking excessively, and to encourage people to abstain from sex, and you’ll see just how just how numb our society is.

Is it okay for me to call my black friend a k***** on her Facebook wall knowing that she won’t be offended? Is it okay to tweet angrily about how upset I am about something the DA said and in turn label it as racist, not because I think that they are racist, but because I just feel the need to put the party down? No, but it feels good.

The South African Constitution currently doesn’t apply to the Internet. Maybe it should, but I doubt that will stop people from saying things, uploading videos and creating images that are shocking. Every day there are more stories of people being judged by their online images. Employers hire people based on their tweets, courts implicate people because of Facebook profile photos, people are fired because of some YouTube video that shows them spray painting expletives on a wall. But it’s those things that make us cool on the Net, that get us hits, that make us believe that this could one day make us famous.

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BUSINESS: Banks, insurance companies, religion, prison and parking lots

I TRY really hard not to be cynical about humans and the world order. Of course there are some honest Abes out there.

I asked a forthcoming bank teller the other day why banks encourage us to swipe our cards rather than withdraw cash. Turns out shop owners have to pay the bank a service fee for using card machines. More physical money in the bank also means higher security expenses.

I asked my favourite pharmacist if it's bad not to finish a course of flu tablets (as specified on the bottle) once you're free of the flu. He told me "not at all! It's only to encourage you to finish the lot so that you buy more." Most products tell us to use them every day, unnecessarily, so that we'll buy more.

Insurance companies are up there with the worst. It took me three phone calls before I could leave my car insurance company for a cheaper one. Those with the "gift for the gab" will say just about anything to make you continue paying a monthly premium, even if it's not car related. Health insurance companies 'want us to be healthy' because that means less claims and more profits.

Even parking lots are a business. Close inspection of my parking slip revealed that the owners of a parking lot in Pietermaritzburg were based in Johannesburg. One can assume that that's where the money is sent.

The Internet is a business. You can't even watch a video on YouTube anymore without an advert popping up. And just look at all those flashy adverts to your right! I would even go as far as to say that education and politics are business. Religion and superstition are certainly big business. "Show your faith!" The more money you give the more faithful and blessed art thou. Even prison is big business.

To not be cynical about all this is to consider that people aren't to blame. We are all forced to live under the system that perpetuates this gross behavior. I only wonder if we’ll ever collectively take a stand and do something about it...

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EXOTIC PETS: Know the commitment you are making

Exotic petsI OFTEN see that neighbour’s cat hunting in the garden and wonder whether cats are simply born to be wild. Several domesticated cats ‘run away’ from home - adding to the growing number of strays that hunt birds, rodents and lizards.

To my knowledge, the domestication of animals by humankind began with the reindeer. Since then, pet stores have thrived, and now offer a variety of exotic animals from the scaly to the fluffy - from around the world for people to keep as pets.

I can understand the lure to own an exotic animal. The good than can come from this is that it should encourage the owners of such animals to take a bigger interest in their lives and better understand their worlds. As an owner of exotic fish, I also understand the chances of survival of such animals in the wild. But once equipped with the right knowledge, the hobby of keeping exotic fishes extends to recreating a safe and happy habitat in which they may thrive.

I all too often notice people coming into pet stores, noticing them see something unusual and getting excited, buying something exotic, and exiting the store without the proper knowledge of how to properly care for their new pet. Pet stores do offer brochures and guidelines on how to look after most of the exotic animals they sell, but what’s really needed is more expertise and customer interaction between animal experts and consumers.

As far as exotic fish are concerned, I appeal to pet store owners to simply print out and place relevant information regarding proper care of different fish species above each tank in the pet store. Information regarding their diet, tank requirements, how large they grow and what other species of fish they can be kept with. This way, at least consumers may get the information they need for proper care of these animals at a glance.

More importantly, it is the responsibility of all those who wish to acquire an exotic pet, to do their homework beforehand and fully understand the commitment they are making. It can be a thrilling and educational experience. Let it be that rather than a tragic and sad end.

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