In Panamá, this self-consciousness is increasingly less apparent the farther down one is on the social scale. Gringo women here, as in the Northern Hemisphere, wouldn’t even think of going out into public without being perfectly dressed, coiffed, and made up. Panamanian women (that is those who claim Spanish ancestry) are far less concerned about these matters, though they generally choose outfits that they think make them look more attractive; they at least put on at least lipstick and often pluck their eyebrows. The Ngobe Bugle women, while their bodies are always washed and their hair carefully combed, while they invariably wear immaculately clean traditional dresses, never wear makeup nor in any way do they try to “improve” their appearance – and yet I have never seen a people with women (and men) so frequently beautiful as they.
This lack of self-consciousness is never so obvious as when these Native Americans see a photograph of themselves. They do show surprise, pleasure, and even pride when I present them with pictures of their children. But they are typically nonplussed or even merely uninterested in their own images. I am sure that in part it is because they rarely encounter themselves as an object – their homes don’t include mirrors, and when they wash their clothes in a stream they show about as much interest in their reflection as a cat.
The faces they see are the faces of nature: the ever-changing faces of the mountains that benignly look down on them, the faces of fields and forests in the
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