A school reunion helped me realise, long-term, witty trumps pretty


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“It’s such a bore being beautiful,” a legendary British literary lioness recently said to me. “It means that men underestimate my intelligence. I wish I could make myself less attractive.”

She paused to look me up and down. “So tell me, Kathy, how do you do it?”

Although shocked at her rudeness, I immediately recalled Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words – that nobody can make you feel inferior unless you let them, and so opted to laugh out loud. “What a great line,” I said, scribbling. “I can’t wait to use it in my next novel.” I then smilingly enquired how many years of yoga she’d done to be able to kiss her own backside like that, before suggesting that it might be time she booked into the vet’s to get her claws done.

If you can’t be pretty, be witty, that’s my motto. It’s a survival skill I developed as a surfie girl. Can Barbie and Ken dolls actually copulate? Yes. That’s the only plausible explanation for the perfection of those bikini-clad babes I grew up with. The luscious blonde hair, lapis-blue eyes, long legs, slim waists and those pneumatic breasts which arrived five minutes before they did… Needless to say, the surfie boys were in awed orbit around them.

As a bonsai brunette whose bra cups did not runneth over, I had to try so much harder to get any male attention. Shooting from the lip seemed the best way for me to get noticed. If I hadn’t developed my black belt in tongue-fu, the Dalai Lama would be ringing me up for tips on celibacy.

Still, when I was invited to a surfie-girl reunion recently, those old feelings of inadequacy immediately resurfaced. “I just hope the lights are low,” I said to my sisters as I set off for my teenage stomping ground, Cronulla. “The dimmer switch is the greatest beauty aid known to womankind.” So reluctant was I to be confronted once more by all that pulchritudinous perfection, my feet left skid marks up the path to the pub.

My heart then sank to Titanic depths when the first old friend I bumped into was one of the alpha surfie chicks. From the back she looked the same – lithe, tanned, with beautiful hair, which she was flick, flick, flicking. But as she swivelled to greet me, I realised that the years hadn’t bypassed her face – in fact, I’d say they’d rather trampled it. Yes, she was still pretty but sort of worn, like a Sindy doll that’s been chewed on by a dog for a week. 

As the wine flowed and tongues loosened, it transpired that these beautiful beach babes had attracted all the wrong men for all the wrong reasons. For a while, some became the trophy girlfriends of football players or hotshot businessmen – a big-breasted ornament to adorn his social mantelpiece. But the moment they’d tarnished, all had been traded in for younger models.

Rich man, beautiful woman – the Beauty and the Beast scenario is seared into our psyche. But, whether it’s Donald and Melania, or the model Anna Nicole Smith and octogenarian millionaire J. Howard Marshall II, unlike Disney movies, there’s never a Prince Charming lurking beneath that monstrous veneer.

As I bade farewell to my old girlfriends that night, I suddenly felt pleased that I wasn’t born beautiful. 

Prettiness has its perils. Plus, it’s a diminishing asset. A wit gets sharper, whereas looks can only dull. For meremortal women, if a man spends time in our company, we know it’s because he likes our humour or humanity. We don’t have to worry about his motivations. 

I’m not saying that every beautiful woman marries for money or finds herself exiled into Social Siberia at the first wrinkle, but the surfie reunion did remind me how important it is to tell our gorgeous daughters never to rely on being rescued by some knight in shining Armani – a woman must always stand on her own two Doc Martens. 

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