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Surface beauty, appearances can hide ugly truths

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

When I was growing up, my mother would often tell me not to judge a person by how they looked or what they wore.

When I went back to graduate school to study animal behavior, I was continuously reminded not to misjudge a wild animal for a domestic one just because it looked cute or pretty.

All my life, I have been aware that beauty is not skin deep. Little girls, at an alarmingly early age, often judge each other by who wears the designer clothes, who has the biggest house, and who acts “cool.”

It is a sad side road they usually take until they find out the hard way that choosing your best friend has nothing to do with anything external.

I don’t know how old we have to be to really realize that often times the most beautiful faces don’t belong to the movie stars with their makeup and all, but rather to the beloved, deeply wrinkled face of their grandmother.

A memory I’ve never forgotten was, as a 12-year-old I went on a school field trip to an art exhibit. The main artist devoted most of his work to faces: young faces, happy faces, sad faces, horrified faces and a whole section on faces of elderly Native Americans.

We were herded through the exhibit in single file which was fine by me until we got to that special section it stopped me cold.

The very first picture was of an old Indian woman. I couldn’t take my eyes off of that face. Dark gray hair pulled back sternly from the face. Eyes dark below puffy lids. Disarrayed brows of white and the deep ridges and wrinkles on her face and neck.

Her presence was somber but her dark eyes were what truly held me. I remember feeling like I could literally crawl inside her eyes enroute to her heart and her soul. It was the most beautiful face I’d ever seen in my 12 years.

I believe now the beauty came through a sense of character. I could see she had lived and loved and suffered until life itself sculptured that magnificent face.

There is a stunningly beautiful sea creature. It floats in salt water, its body an iridescent purple and long tentacles a deeper shade of bluish purple. Having lived on islands most of my life, I have seen thousands of these creatures both in the incoming tide or strewn along the beach where the waves have brought them. I’ve seen them from the size of half dollar to the size of a basketball. Without a doubt, they are gorgeous.

They are also deadly. Any human foot, leg or arm or any where on the body that has contact with this creature will drop into terrible pain. They inject poison into our central nervous system and it can be fatal.

They are Portuguese Man O’ War. At certain times of the year, the ocean seems full of them. Even if you’re taking a walk on the beach, you have to watch your step because even if the Man O’ War is dead, if you step on its balloon-like body, the pain will drop you to your knees.

I use the Portuguese Man O’ War as a perfect example of something that can look beautiful and good on the outside and yet can be deceptive.

I once wrote a Tonka poem about this creature. I used it as a symbol to address the danger of judging something or someone by what you see only. Here it is.

“Warriors”

Man O’ War strewn like balloons across the sand,

Tentacles like a string, deadly poison sting.

How deceptive their beauty.

There really is such a thing as deceptive beauty. We need to be nice to everyone, but choose carefully who we let into our hearts.

The view from the mountains is wondrous.

Jean Brody is an animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado.

Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.