A violet tucked away somewhere in my hair

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

Beauty, in my twenties, seemed to most often be defined as the physical beauty of humans– girls and women in particular, and in that way meant the same thing to me as it has meant for much of my life— not much. Beauty, defined like this, never felt relevant to me. It was something I knew other girls thought a great deal about, but I seemed shielded from a desire to invest much thought or energy into the issue.

By the time a woman hits her twenties, her value system comes with her. My parents raised me more like a “boy” than a girl—I was expected to excel in academics. I was expected to excel in sports and my other activities. I was expected to be strong, smart and powerful. I was top of my class for most of my life and busy doing competitive gymnastics, then varsity track. I went on to be accepted at a magnet high school and then on to Smith College. 

My “looks” did not fall into place in a mainstream sort of way until I was 17. My mother, being Czech, inherited what seems like Czech genetic tendencies to produce beautiful women. I knew I had begun to look much like her by the time I turned 17, people commented on it all the time, but it was more of a scientific observation to me than anything emotional.

I was encouraged to model by the time I turned 18. I thought about it and even went to a small agency in New York to see what it was like. But standing there, having my measurements taken, I thought how wrong this all was for me. I did not want to be a model. I wanted to be a writer and a world leader. 

I moved into my twenties with beauty in hand, but more like a small flower, a violet perhaps, tucked away somewhere in my hair. What mattered to me more was giving thought to my spiritual self, my emotional self, my intellectual self and, especially towards my late twenties, the world around me.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now in my thirties, beauty has a greater role in my life than it had in my twenties. I have come to understand its broader reach—of its existence in so many things and experiences that do, when brought into your life, strengthen and inspire. It was about much more than having a pretty face.

I feel that I have done much of the work I needed to do on myself in my twenties, and now can enjoy such things and experiences and try to make more time to do so. Just recently I returned from a week in the Smoky Mountains—I still can see the swirl of grays and blues against the old oak trees. That, to me, is beauty. Or taking a weekend to paint the white walls of my apartment turquoise. Do you know what turquoise walls can do for a soul? Try it! Or most recently, spending a Saturday evening carving a family of pumpkins with my mom, brothers and sisters. We put them out near midnight, in front of my mom’s house and all were quiet—even my youngest brother. They were lit up in gold and amber– the unison of color, the interplay of light, the echo of love. That, was beauty.

If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

Despite my achievements, like other young women, throughout my twenties, I was vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy and lack of self love. These were things I wanted to correct.

Dina Rabadi with her mother, Dana Rabadi, in Jordan

Just like a nation cannot grow and develop if a civil war is going on, I needed to end my war. Once I did that, I had the energy and the strength to begin reconstruction—as well as a space program. Beauty was this planet that I had not been able to see during all of my personal war fare.

Finally, with the debris cleared and the smoke whisked away, I could see the new planet—and I could see it was not a new planet after all. It was earth. It was life. It was in my life all along.

Dina Rabadi is a nationally published writer whose fiction and nonfiction has appeared in more than twenty periodicals including The Boston Globe , The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times .  She is now at work on her first novel.  Dina is also the Founder and Executive Director of Global Alliance of Artists.  For more information please visit www.DinaRabadi.com or www.globalallianceartists.org.

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