This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on February 27, 2019

Years ago, I knew a man whose mid-life yearnings led him to buy himself a red E-type Jaguar convertible. A beautiful machine.

He reluctantly sold it when he found that his mid-section and the steering wheel were not compatible.

Asked for his motives in the first place, he offered that he had been imagining how envious others would be, seeing him as he drove by in that car.


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Oscar Wilde said that there are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want, and getting it.

I thought about that man and his imagined envy by others when I saw the display of shadow Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett on the cover of "Next" magazine, decked out in a what looked at first glance like a leopard skin.

For a brief moment I thought Ms. Bennett had gone big game hunting with the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and, like him, had bagged a member of an endangered species.

Closer inspection revealed that she was just ensconced in an upscale suit with a print of that species. On reflection, it seems she and her National party may be the endangered species.

Paula Bennett has gone through a radical physical transformation and a stylistic makeover.

From the newfound smile on her face and the content of the magazine puff piece, I surmise she wants everyone to know about it. Is there an imagined envy by others involved in her decision to change her body in mid-life?

Only she knows, but like the purchase of a red car, the acquisition of a new appearance doesn't lead to unalloyed happiness as Paula freely admitted in the magazine article.

In the current state of gender politics I'm advised it's called "body shaming" to comment on another person's size, especially weight.


Ironically, that could apply to Paula's calling attention to her new self in leopard spots on a magazine cover.

In effect she's body shaming all those women who, not able to afford the $50,000 or more for the surgery plus the $1000 plus for the upscale designer suit, are left looking like—well, like the old Paula.

Ms. Bennett was dissatisfied with her appearance and took radical action to change it. Up to a point, that's admirable.

It's never been a consciousness of her outer looks which I found troubling, but rather a lack of self-awareness of her effect on others and a deficiency of empathy.

In own words, "I've grabbed opportunities and I've made the most of them, and that has been the key to the many successes I've had."

Besides this expression of her own opportunism lies her history as Minister of denying opportunities for other women, who like a younger Paula, were single moms on a benefit, seeking support to better themselves through education.

Her proposed solution, to Auckland's housing crisis, offering $5000 to encourage the less well off to move, reflected a sensibility that would be comic if it were not tragic.

What took the cake (or was it pie?), in that magazine article, was her self-appraisal.

After complimenting PM Jacinda Ardern for her effective public representation of our country, Paula could not resist comparing herself thusly, "Being able to lead a team and get the best out of each of them is something that maybe I've got more experience in."

Yeah, right. It's where you lead them that counts.

To Duncan Garner, Bennett attributed the necessity for surgery to the stress of parliament that evoked irresistible impulses to consume junk food. Understandable in an atmosphere of hunger for power.

There is a cure for this element of Bee-Hive Syndrome, this insatiable appetite. It's to go out and find ordinary honest work. That can be done voluntarily or with the assistance of those fellow citizens called voters.

It turns out that African leopards are not actually endangered, i.e not close to extinction. They're just vulnerable. Given her self-appraisal, vulnerability is not an attribute of Paula Bennett.