Gutsy Living: Life’s too short to play it safe

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

I was born in Denmark in 1957, and moved to Nigeria, West Africa, for the first six-years of my life. My teenage years were spent in Paris, and then boarding school and University in England.

Beauty in my twenties did not consist of make-up and all the things young girls seem to focus on in southern California, where I now live. In fact, as you can see from the photo, I did not wear make-up, and I’m shocked how at twenty-four, I look more like a kid than any fourteen-year-old California girl does today. Trying to look grown-up before your age was not important to my friends and me in Europe. Perhaps clothes and being thin — not too skinny though—were more important than our hair and make-up. The only girls who seemed to care about ironing their hair straight were the American girls who attended my school in Paris. I do remember rolling my skirt up to make it look like a mini-skirt at school, and begging my parents for a pair of black boots that covered my knees, but that’s about it.

At twenty-one, I tanned my face with one of those stupid and dangerous sun lamps and that was about all I did in my 20′s, except for lemon juice to lighten my hair. I never paid attention to manicures, pedicures, waxing, highlighting my hair and all the things girls did in the U.S., until after I moved to the U.S. In fact, I did not get my first pedicure until forty, and to this day, I still feel like it’s a luxury. Whenever I see moms with their five-year-olds in the U.S. getting expensive manicures and pedicures, it makes me angry. I don’t believe it’s necessary to focus on beauty at five, or even at age ten. I think kids should remain kids and not think of beauty at such a young age.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now that I live in the U.S., and I’m fifty-four, I do pay attention to nutrition, exercise, staying in shape, taking care of my skin with

Fit at 47, Belize

quality products, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. While I admire many “older” women, like Jane Goodall, who do good for the world rather than spend time worrying about their looks, it’s more common to have procedures done to stay younger-looking today. I spend more time taking care of myself now than before. I feel that it is my duty to look as good as I can for myself, and to stay as healthy as I can for my family. Since I have too many Gutsy things I want to do in my life, now that my three sons are out of the house, I try to maintain my strength at the gym, and exercise my brain through learning new things, especially online. I think as women age, self-confidence and knowing who you are and wonderful gifts that we receive. At least we get something positive out of aging.

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

I live in a superficial society (Southern California) where looks are more important than in other parts of the world. I feel sucked into trying to look as young as I can and sometimes wish that I didn’t care, but I do. I prefer to be honest, if one day I get a face lift, rather than pretend (like some women who say they’ve been blessed with good genes.) So if/when I decide to have my face lasered or a face lift, I shall probably write about my Gutsy laser, or my Gutsy face lift. I think most women care about their looks to some degree, and if they don’t, they’re either not telling the whole truth, or they really don’t care, and if so, I admire them for being that way. Perhaps it’s time for me to leave the Los Angeles area, and move to another remote island where people don’t seem pay much attention to how you look, and you stop caring too.

Sonia Marsh Bio

I’m a mother, wife, author, blogger, unconventional thinker and world traveler, who happens to love tropical islands. My upcoming travel memoir is about our family’s move to Belize.

Freeways to Flip-Flops: Our Year of Living Like the Swiss Family Robinson, Parents move their kids from Orange County, California to Belize hoping to find a solution to their family problems. Once there, mom questions the sanity of their decision to move almost daily, until an unexpected event reconnects her family.

I’m the author of a blog called: “Gutsy Living: Life is too short to play it safe.”

If you’re a writer and would like to submit your own, “My Gutsy Story,” please check out the following contest page with guidelines and sponsors.


Ernestina of El Salvador

An interview done by my friend Patty of her grandmother Ernestina…

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

Grandmother in her wedding

“My grandmother said that when  she was young, she never really knew or wondered because she lived so far out in the country that she never really got to think about it.

But then she got quiet and said that for her there was always a difference between beauty and elegance. She didn’t know about beauty but her cousin, who was apparently the cutest one, she always thought of as elegant.

Why? I asked. Because she was tall, always dressed nicely and had a good manner about her. ..Then she said something about actresses and movie stars. This was back in the 1940’s or 50’s.”

What does beauty mean to you now?

My friend Patty continued the interview another day. She writes, “I went to see her (my grandmother). She didn’t really want to talk about it at first. But then she started. She said there are a lot of pretty things today. But nothing she would consider beautiful. She made a distinction between the two today. And a lot of nice things, like having visits from her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, although it didn’t happen as often as she would like.

With all her daughters in the youngest's wedding

She considers a woman today beautiful if she is nicely dressed “not naked” is the closest translation I can come up with! . There’s a word here – “chulona” –  which she used. It basically means as long as she’s not skimpily clad, and she looks nice in her clothes, she could look beautiful.

But she added something this time. She said that women should be educated, and talk properly, even cultured in what she speaks, to be considered beautiful by her. A woman of the world, so to speak! So I guess her view has changed a little. The world has grown and changed for her. Sometimes it gets to be a little too much. And there are a lot of things that are not nice, or peaceful any more. But she keeps constant prayers, and still hopes. And every once in a while, there is beauty still to see.”

Ernestina today

Thank you to Patty for perservering to hear her grandmother Ernestina’s thoughts. May the new year 2012 be full of beauty for both of you, and all my readers too!

Beyond the Book

Taken in 1983 with my then boyfriend

Color Me Beautiful. I’m a winter. Seasons uncovered in the student lounges of Virginia Tech. 20-something co-eds brought our color palettes, books and material swatches to try and determine the best colors for being beautiful. We were young, free and innocent; after all, it was pre-911, pre-Challenger, pre-downward economy, pre-Iraq. Our frets and worries centered on dating and parties.

At the student center color wheels in hand, we’d stick our wrists under different types of lights to see what tones glowed in our skin. Hair color proved more challenging. If we dyed or bleached our hair did that change the palette? Debate ensued, more swatches by our faces, and lights, the ever present lights to look for yellow or blue undertones at our wrists.

Our discussions led to clothes swapping as no one had extra money to buy the proper garments. We all sought to be beautiful but not one of us could define what being beautiful truly meant. To us during the 1980s, beauty equated to wearing the proper color sweaters over our jeans or sweatpants. No one used accessories or make-up. Our skin was flawless, not yet wrinkled or spotted from age.On hindsight, our innocence made us beautiful.

Skin care was another point of debate in the student lounges. Did we need a “system”? We’d read about “skin care systems” in Vogue and Seventeen but had no idea what that really meant. Most of us washed our faces with Noxzema, and used a dab of Clearasil when we had a pimple and that was all. Moisturize? Not at that age. We used Bonny Belle Lip Smackers for dry lips and occasionally wiped some lotion on our legs. Being unspoiled by age, weather, stress and life kept us outwardly beautiful.

We wore our hair large and long set with hot rollers after a shampoo with Preference by L’Oreal. That’s what the celebrities promoted and we wanted that same glamorous look. When special events approached, we attempted sleep although our hair was rolled and bobby pins poked into our scalps. Once we had the ideal set, we’d spray it into helmet shape perfection so that no hair moved from place. More time was spent on hair setting than any other part of our body.

Those days of Noxzema and hairspray seem a lifetime away. Today as a 40-something woman, I appreciate the importance of moisturizer and celebrate the laugh lines around my eyes developed through years of joy. I’m much more conscious of what I put on my face, preferring eco-friendly products.

Exfoliate. That is my beauty mantra now that I’m a bit older. If there’s a body part that can be exfoliated I do it.Origins makes a delightful product using sea salt called Modern Friction. Once every few days, I use it to deeply clean my face. My hands get a good smoothing with Crabtree and Evelyn 360⁰ Solution. I scrub my body with Body Shop’s shay butter exfoliator and then I lube everywhere with nut butters of all types. Lips deserve extra special care so I make an exfoliator for them out of raw sugar and honey. Instead of Bonnie Belle, I use Alchemilla organic lip balm for moisture. I definitely spend more time on my skin now but for me it’s a luxury and escape from the demands of daily life.

Taken last year with the same man

Beauty now means laugh lines, highlights and moisturizing. And yes, exfoliating. Life makes us beautiful. Not palettes or color swatches. I don’t need a “system” just common sense and the ability to embrace my inner beauty. Those early days in the student lounge really taught young women how to be a community and to cherish one another for who we were not what we ought to be. The best life lesson for beauty is to be the original masterpiece as we were created and just keep the dry skin away.

Cheryl Stahle from Doylestown, PA (USA) is a memoirist and storyteller as well as an author addressing the joys of families built through adoption. Cheryl facilitates writing groups for both adults and young adults and is putting the final touches on her first book due out in 2012. You can find more of Cheryl’s writing and a schedule of speaking engagements at or on FaceBook.

Esther Kane on Embracing Aging

Our latest interviewee is writing a book on Embracing Aging! She is looking for women 40+ who want to help women age with self-love!

She writes: “I’m looking for women to provide their experiences (positive and negative) with turning: 40, 50, and 60 (all contributors will remain anonymous) for an upcoming book on helping women feel empowered about midlife and to embrace ‘fearless aging’ in a youth-obsessed culture. Please answer some or hopefully, ALL of the following questions in your reply:

How did you feel about turning 40 (50) or (60)?

How did you celebrate this milestone birthday?

What were your hopes and dreams for this age (i.e. What did you hope to accomplish by this age?)

What was difficult about reaching this milestone?

What was wonderful about reaching this milestone?

What do you think about our youth-obsessed culture and the constant pressure to look younger than we are? How do you feel about cosmetic surgery? If you’ve undergone such treatments, please share your experiences.

Thank you so much!”

You can send answers via e-mail to:

Esther Kane, MSW, ( is a psychotherapist, author and women’s emotional well-being expert. As a respected speaker on women’s issues, she has written and published three self-help books for women including What Your Mama Can’t or Won’t Teach You: Grown Women’s Stories of Their Teen Years; Dump That Chump: A Ten-Step Plan for Ending Bad Relationships and Attracting the Fabulous Partner You Deserve, and It’s Not About The Food: A Woman’s Guide To Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies. The book and audioprogram is available to order online at

I´m grateful to be in my forties

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

In my twenties, I think I took my beauty for granted. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought. Who needs to when your skin is glowing, your boobs are chin-height, and everyone tells you how beautiful you are? I definitely had my insecurities and in fact, feel like my 20-something body and face were somehow ‘wasted’ on me because I didn’t appreciate them back then. When it came to how I looked, I was incessantly critical and hard on myself for being too short, too dark, too curvy, and the list went on. When I look back at pictures of myself in my twenties now, I feel sad that I didn’t appreciate how lovely and beautiful I actually was. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young”.

Also, in my twenties, I was engrossed in university studies and managed to obtain two degrees during those years. I like the fact that my looks didn’t help me in any way with getting good grades or becoming a good therapist. In fact, I had to rely on my brain more than anything and that, in retrospect, is a very good thing. I learned at a very young age that I was first and foremost, intelligent and being smart and using my abilities to think critically was what was most encouraged in my family. I’m glad my family had those values, otherwise I would have been in deep trouble. I feel so much for those young women out there who are valued mostly for how they look, not for who they are. Models and pop singers come to mind. I always look at them and think, “What’s going to happen to your self-concept and self-worth when your looks are gone and you’re no longer considered “hot”?”

What does beauty mean to you now? If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

My concept of beauty has definitely changed over the years, especially since I turned forty recently. As I said before, I was always considered attractive, even beautiful, by some, so I didn’t obsess over my looks too much. I just thought they would ‘do’ and went on with my life. However, once I reached 35, I started to notice huge changes in the way my body and face looked, and for the first time in my life, really had to face how I felt about looks and the ageing process. Having recently turned 40, however, I have some extra body image concerns to add:

* graying hair

* wrinkling skin

* downward pointing breasts

* unexpected weight gain

All of these have come as a major shock as somehow, I guess I had thought I would be immune to all of the side effects of ageing. But no, Mother Nature would have me learn otherwise. And while I am working really hard at growing older without plastic surgery, botox, or other toxic attempts to extend my youthful appearance, the weight gain has been a real doozy.

However, I have managed to lose most of that weight over the past year and a bit through common sense eating and regular exercise. But my size and shape are definitely different from when I was in my twenties- a fact of life that I have resigned myself to as it’s better than the alternative- having no body at all.

I guess I’m becoming a more spiritual person as a result of facing these facts about my body and the ageing process, which in my opinion, is a good thing. I mean, who couldn’t use a bit more spirituality in their life? Plus, I’m starting to change my view of what is considered “beautiful” which is providing a great sense of peace and well-being. I’m really starting to appreciate the beauty in women who are 40+. I’m starting to realize that confidence, wisdom gained through life experience, and knowing oneself, is incredibly beautiful, and even sexy!

Sure, I really appreciate the smooth skin and gorgeous physiques of women in their twenties, but instead of comparing myself to them, I silently say “bless you sister-it’s your turn now” and make a mental list of reasons I’m grateful to be in my forties. This always helps me feel better and centers me back into myself and the reality of the wonderful life I have now. It’s definitely not the same life I had when I was in my twenties, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that I like the life I have now SO MUCH MORE…


Esther Kane, MSW, ( is a psychotherapist, author and women’s emotional well-being expert. As a respected speaker on women’s issues, she has written and published three self-help books for women including What Your Mama Can’t or Won’t Teach You: Grown Women’s Stories of Their Teen Years; Dump That Chump: A Ten-Step Plan for Ending Bad Relationships and Attracting the Fabulous Partner You Deserve, and It’s Not About The Food: A Woman’s Guide To Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies. The book and audioprogram is available to order online at


My own quirky beauty

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s ?
I’m currently at the end of my twenties, so I’m answering from the perspective of early 20s versus now.  In my early 20s I saw beauty in two very different ways at the same time.  Mostly, I was afraid to be beautiful.  Beauty seemed like a liability.  If you were attractive, people, particularly male professors, did not take you or your ideas seriously.  I was more interested in my creative and intellectual pursuits.  So I hid.

I dressed more like a boy than a woman, wearing clothes that were many sizes too big, and I dyed my naturally blonde hair dark brown.  Just the change in hair color alone was enough to notice a marked difference in the way people–even women–responded to me.  That was the only truly conscious decision; the clothing and hiding in that sense was completely subconscious.  Only looking back am I really aware of what I was doing.

At the same time, I also wanted to be noticed by my male peers.  Obviously this is in direct competition with hiding!  This essentially led to me feeling like beauty was almost always out of reach.  I felt like I was forced to choose how I wanted people to view me: intelligent or pretty.  I wanted both, but was not sure how to do it.

As I’ve gotten older, I would say sometime near the end of graduate school or shortly thereafter, I finally decided I had to own both.  And for those who saw intelligence only or beauty only, that was their problem.  I had to stop worrying about the perception of others so much and trust that people who got to know me would see me for who I am–a unique individual with both brains and beauty.  I still struggle with this.  I know I’m smart, but I certainly don’t feel beautiful every day.  But at least I’m relaxing into my own natural beauty instead of hiding it or molding it into someone else’s ideal.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Beauty means being a fully self-actualized woman.  This is a work in progress of course!  Beauty is far more than physical and intellectual to me now, it’s about the total package, the way a woman lives her life.  With joy, passion, love, bravery, laughter, and compassion.  I think a beautiful woman joyously dives into her dreams and works to realize her full potential in all aspects.  That’s of course a tall order, and I feel both energized and exhausted thinking about it! haha  But I like that thought better, because then beauty is a never ending process, not just a point to achieve and desperately hold onto.

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

I think my ideas have changed because I’ve met some women who have shown me fantastic examples of what beauty really is.  I’ve also started appreciating myself more, and I won’t put up with as much self-inflicted abuse over physical beauty as when I was younger.  I am what I am, and there’s only so much physically that I can change and still feel like myself.  Plus, if I can admire the individuality and unique beauty of others, why cannot finally start to appreciate my own quirky beauty?

29 year old female artist

San Francisco

¿Qué significa para ti la belleza cuando estaba en la edad de 20 años?

 Actualmente estoy al final de mis veinte años, así que voy a responder desde la perspectiva de los 20 años en comparación con ahora. Cuando tenía 20 años veía la belleza de dos maneras muy diferentes al mismo tiempo. Sobre todo tenía miedo de la belleza pues me parecía una responsabilidad. Si era atractiva, la gente, los profesores y en particular los hombres, no tomarían mis ideas en serio. Yo estaba más interesada en mis actividades creativas e intelectuales así que me escondí.

Me vestí como un niño más que como una mujer, usando ropa demasiado grande, y teñí mi pelo rubio natural de castaño oscuro. Tan sólo el cambio en el color de pelo fue suficiente para notar una marcada diferencia en la manera en que la gente, incluso las mujeres, reaccionaba. Esta fue la única decisión verdaderamente consciente, la ropa y esconderme en ese sentido fue completamente inconsciente. Sólo mirando hacia atrás soy consciente de lo que estaba haciendo.

Al mismo tiempo, yo también quería ser notada por mis compañeros varones. Obviamente, esto está en oposición directa con el hecho de esconderme! En esencia, esto me llevó a sentir que la belleza estaba casi siempre fuera de mi alcance. Me sentí como si estuviera obligada a elegir cómo quería que la gente me viera: inteligente o bonita. Yo quería ambas, pero no estaba segura de cómo hacerlo.

Conforme me he ido haciendo mayor, yo diría que en algún momento cerca del final de la escuela de postgrado o un poco después, finalmente decidí que tenía que poseer ambas. Y que aquellos que vieran únicamente la inteligencia o la belleza, sería su problema. Tuve que dejar de preocuparme por la percepción de los otros y confiar en que la gente que me conocía me iba a ver por lo que soy –una persona única con tanto cerebro y belleza. Todavía lucho con esto. Sé que soy inteligente, pero desde luego, no me siento bella todos los días. Pero al menos me estoy relajando en mi propia belleza natural en lugar de ocultarla o moldearla en algún otro ideal.

¿Qué significa la belleza para ti ahora?

La belleza significa ser una mujer totalmente auto-realizada. ¡Este es un trabajo en progreso, por supuesto! La belleza es mucho más que física e intelectual para  mí es un paquete completo, la forma en que una mujer vive su vida: con alegría, pasión, amor, valentía, risa y compasión. Creo que una mujer hermosa alegremente se sumerge en sus sueños y trabajos a realizar hasta su máximo potencial en todos los aspectos. Eso es, por supuesto, una tarea difícil, ¡y me siento llena de energía y al mismo tiempo agotada al respecto! (Ja ja) Pero me gusta más esa idea, porque entonces la belleza es un proceso que nunca termina, y no un punto a alcanzar y al cual aferrarse desesperadamente.

Si son diferentes, ¿por qué tus ideas sobre la belleza han cambiado con los años?

Creo que mis ideas han cambiado porque he conocido a algunas mujeres que me han mostrado ejemplos fantásticos de lo que realmente es la belleza. También he empezado apreciarme más a mí misma, y no voy a aguantar  tantos malos tratos auto-infligidos a la belleza física como cuando era más joven. Yo soy lo que soy, y sólo hay tanto físicamente que puedo cambiar y todavía sentirme como yo. Además, si  puedo admirar la belleza  individual y única de los demás, ¿por qué no puedo finalmente empezar a apreciar mi propia belleza peculiar?

 artista con 29 años

San Francisco

Flaunt your good parts

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

I was never a girlie-girl who played with dolls. I liked to read a lot and do things outdoors like riding my bicycle and swimming. As a teenager I had a lot of male friends and I was an enthusiastic basketball player. I never understood girls who spend all their money on make up and expensive hairdressers. I saved my pocket money and the money I earned at my weekend job to be able to travel in the summer. As a student I never had money for extra’s so no expensive clothes. I remember Benetton was very popular but it was simply out of my reach, I did not miss it not be able to buy it.  I liked to make my own clothes to give it a personal “touch”; I remember knitting a lot of sweaters. And you can buy good clothes at the market.

What does beauty mean to you know?

Now in my forties I still don’t spend a lot of money on make-up, hairdressers or clothes. The only thing I use is a day and night creme. I still have no gray hairs and almost no wrinkles. I think that’s also because I have a very optimistic character. I’m very critical about what I eat.  I’ve been a vegetarian all my life and I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. I don’t smoke but I do like a good glass of wine (hey it’s made of grapes……). I still love to cycle and swim, and I feel great in my body. Although I could lose some pounds I love my curves. I truly believe that beauty comes from within. You first need to be happy with yourself and not try to please others.

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

I don’t think my thoughts have changed a lot. In my eyes everyone is beautiful. We all have something to be proud of. You just need to flaunt your good parts. Of course it helps if you have a supportive partner (mine tells me I’m beautiful all the time) and friends who are honest with you. I think women should be more supportive of each other and not be so judgmental.

Simone, 41

The Netherlands

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