What’s up with maligning the reputation of the poor hyena and warthog?   Watching them in action on the Serengeti plain got me to thinking about how we think about them in such a negative fashion.    And fashion was very much also on my mind as I considered a comparison between how we view women in a similar way.   So, here’s some feminist musings on the definition of “beauty”.

First, just like advertising with skinny girls selling jeans in a provocative way, any safari company promotes what one will see with the glamorous critters:   sultry cheetahs, strong lions, long-limbed giraffes grazing the skies.  One doesn’t see too many snarling hyena or flapping vultures in the guidebooks except as an educational element.

Then there’s the image of those “ugly” ones as entertaining and lovable.  Disney has taught us Pepe le Pew and Pumba can overcome their looks with personality and a sense of humor.  Hmmm.   Kinda sounds familiar.

When teenage girls are comparing themselves to cracked porcelain dolls sitting on a broken shelf and 30% of the general population suffers from “perfectionism” (according to a Gifted Education consultant in a 2010 paper), the mental wrestling match is real.    And, we all know, social media isn’t exactly helping with self-image challenges.

So, what’s up with assuming looks are everything.   Here’s what we learned about hyenas on safari.  They are the ultimate survivors.   They’ll eat anything allowing them to consume after the big cats have delicately made their selections.   And hyenas work as teams.   (Say that about your favorite size-0 model!)  They will work together to select, surround and attack even elephants at a hundred-times their size and weight.

As for the lowly warthog, they too hold their own on the plain.   And who could denigrate the baby face a mother clearly loves as they root and dig together for a lunchtime snack?  A warthog, Pumba not withstanding, doesn’t worry about proving their value to be worthy as they mosey along popping the warning tail straight up if any predator gets too close.   Not much outruns them on the plain either.

And, yet, the guides will not slow down for either unless you ask.   They have been conditioned to know we don’t want to spend much time capturing these ugly scavengers of Africa.   What if we were to create an environment where these animals are not judged on their appearance but on their character just like we aim to do to help girls grow strong?   Maybe we need more National Geographic specials on the hyena or a series on warthogs like the little meercats.  Cause, ya know, media is EVERYTHING to reputation.

I have to say I didn’t think there were self-esteem problems when we watched a pack of hyenas share a fresh find with a flight of vultures, or when they kept most of us up all night with their CUTE yips and yaps in the hopes of finding dinner castoffs from our camp kitchen in the dark.   The lowly warthog family wasn’t frozen staring at us hoping we would assist with plastic surgery to gain praise like a Miss Universe contestant of the plains.

Their reputation as survivors and predators is appreciated most by those who know them – their fellow classmates in life and the guides who quietly point them out.   They are blessed without the self-doubt and paranoia of the two-legged variety and comfortably carry on with the essentials of their lives – eating and avoiding being eaten.

Hey, maybe that’s the answer:   our lives are too soft.   We have too much time to worry about how big our butts look (trust me, no animals cared about THAT one and often showed off their posterior beauty) or what others think about our adventures on Facebook.    MAYBE if teenage girls (and everyone else) had to struggle for existence, we wouldn’t have time to be influenced by poor image comparisons.

The “loser” in the impala world is the male that can’t win a battle with another male and literally is cast out of the harem having to struggle to find a herd where they can win or face the inevitable likelihood of being eaten by any number of predators.    It’s the way of the world.   One doesn’t want to be the loser.   It’s everything including life and the ability to create more life.  Talk about the compulsive need to prove one’s worth!   It’s the very definition.

So, here’s to the unsung critters of the great plain.   To the uncool kids on the safari playground.   Thanks for providing some perspective.  Thanks for reminding me that labels are unfair.  Cheers for showing us everyone has their place in the pack and we don’t have to be the finest ceramics on the shelf.