Real Leaders

Brave Face. Of Wrinkles and Leaders

Spanish elections are driving the country crazy. We’ve done two rounds already and we may find ourselves having to vote again.

But what nobody’s talking about are wrinkles. Or rather, the absence of them among our so-called political leaders. What happened to our wrinkles of wisdom?

The answer is photography. When we invented a camera to reproduce the wonders our eyes could see, we overlooked the fact that eyes don’t only record images. They also feel. Human eyes, and most animal eyes, interpret the images they record through feelings. The eye is the mirror of the soul: It chooses what details to focus on in a politician’s speech. It is moved to tears by the feelings and authenticity impersonated by the eyes it looks into. It interprets movements and gestures in a much more humane way than scientifically objective camera will ever do.

Today’s celebrities struggle to convey pure perfection in front of omnipresent cameras. We all do, in fact. We know that the camera will miss out on the subtle sway of our hips which elicits attention from a room. Indiscreet lenses will show up every imperfection in our silhouette, no matter how much our expensive dress or suit was designed to hide them among real life’s shadows, twists and turns. Most cameras, in short, will simply erase everything that makes us memorable in real life. It takes a very skilled photographer, a master of human Nature, weakness and unconscious disguise, to really capture a person’s essence in a photograph or a video.

So we see many women in politics showing off shiny, wrinkle free faces. Men too. Their skin shines on camera as if they were my four-year-old niece’s chubby cheeks. Every inch of their faces has been carefully plumped up with hyaluronic acid to appear youthful. Sagging chins are rounded up. Falling eye-lids are held back up in place with a little botox here and some other awful substance there. The appearance of youth has kidnapped authenticity, wisdom and leadership. But hey! Everybody looks great on Instagram!

This may all seem the smallest of details to pass over. You may think it has no importance whatsoever. Let them all spend their salaries on a race against age that they will eventually lose anyway. If it makes them successful and happy, why not?

Well. If only because they are our leaders and they seem to have lost their own leadership. Cameras may prey on visual perfection. People don’t. People only follow those who inspire them, move them, make them feel cared for. People focus their human, non-scientific eyes on those whose own eyes convey a deep, knowing connection. The eyes of a leader are full of wrinkles and lines of expression, just like the eyes of a parent who supports you during the worst moments of your life, when nobody else dares to look you in the face. Through sickness, through loss, through personal ordeals that business meetings try to ignore and parties stay silent about. Only wrinkled eyes and skin faded like an old leather couch will look at you with love, compassion and utter faith in your ability to pull through it all. Such are faces which inspire millions to follow them into scary futures.

Because our eyes, our face, our very skin…they are the painter palettes of our own artistry in life, of our past experiences and how we’ve overcome them, what we’ve learned from them, how they will determine our response to future crisis, lead our people, build our societies. The rich texture our skin acquires as we live one decade after another is the outer reflection of what we come to understand about life’s layers of difficulty. Weathered cheek bones, somber brows or deeply imprinted foreheads express so much more complexity and wisdom with every gesture than the rigid, flat surface of a botoxed, hyaluronized face. Ironically, it is precisely what least flatters us on camera which makes us most interesting, memorable and humane. A leader without wrinkles is a robot nobody can feel secure or connected with.

I love to look at my niece’s innocent, glowing skin. Her shiny eyes full of surprise and wonder at every little thing she discovers in life. I laugh when I remember the time she tested me in the bathroom mirror as I washed my hands one day. She was barely two at the time. She had walked in to the bathroom behind me. “Pino I love you!” she said, purposefully spreading her mouth into a smile. I smiled back at her in the mirror and chirped in glee. “Pino I hate you!” was her next sentence. A small, pouting mouth and barely angry eyes underlined the turn in conversation. I followed her game and made crying sounds with my mouth sagging on both sides. And back to “Pino I love you!” This went on for several minutes as she thoroughly enjoyed the effect that different emotions could have on me.

Two years later my niece is still beginning to understand the six basic emotions depicted in Pixar’s “Inside Out” movie. That is all her primal expressions can come close to: joy, sadness, disgust, fear, anger –oops! It appears the movie left out surprise, our sixth basic emotion according to Paul Ekman –. The soft, smooth skin of our childhood reflects the rigid flatness of emotion we are equipped to express and comprehend.

Of course there is an irresistible magnetism to the innocent glow of youth. It reminds us of who we were before we got lost in intellectual endeavors and social masquerades. Before we faced trauma or grief. But to trust our futures into the hands of childish adults without worries, wrinkles or texture in their faces and hearts would be foolhardy. Idiotic, irresponsible, and only possible in the world of viral trends imposed by the collective ignorance of internet. It is wiki-stupidity. Pure and simple.

Melancholic joy. Sad acceptance of a difficult past. Pride in who we’ve become overshadowed by twinges of guilt on Sunday evenings. Deep love for a man who hurt us many times. Longing for a woman who knows how to be cruel, funny and irresistible all at once. These are the emotions of adults. These are the textures of middle age. This is what we need to share, express and read on our leaders’ faces. Both women and men.

Our beautiful Nature is brimming with ugly trash. Our planet full of abundance fails to feed millions while hundreds grow fat and idle. Our times of peace are more shaken than ever with terrorist attacks. Our financial markets live in a permanent turmoil we’ve begun to call normality. Our politicians can’t decide whether they want to be popular celebrities or wise pillars of our globalized society.

Our world is more complex than it’s ever been before. We need wrinkles, deep lines and weathered skins. Let’s remind ourselves every time we look in the mirror. Let us feel pride of the rich skin tissue we show the world, and the life, brimming with paradoxical emotions, that it reveals every time we smile.

More like this

Most Recent Articles