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!


A glass of sherry in the evening

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

Ria, age 23

I lived with my family in a village in the countryside until 23. It was a few years after WW II in the 1950’s. I worked in a grocery shop and gave my wages to my dad to support the family. We had no luxury or beauty products. It was not available and was considered a waste to spend money on luxury.The first few years my clothes were hand-me-downs from my four older sisters, which my eldest sister altered.

I left the family home at 23 and moved to the city. I first lived with an aunt and uncle and later rented a room in a big house. At the beginning of the 60’s I had a bit more money to spend and sometimes bought lipstick, eyebrow-pencil and nail polish.

I stopped putting on lipstick after I married because my husband didn’t like it.

I liked shoes with heels (pumps), and I remember wearing a beautiful pair of red heels in  the 60’s.

When my daughter was born in 1970, I stopped working full-time. I worked part-time after a few years at home because I wanted to have my own money to feel independent

I visited a beautician for the first time  when I was 45. This was  a gift of a colleague (who was also beautician). She gave me a great beauty-tip: “Start the day with drinking a glass of lukewarm (boiled) water. It’s very good for your skin”. I started immediately and have never stopped.

I never used a lot of make-up…some face cream and always nail polish.  I colored my hair until my mid 60’s. It’s white now.  With clothes, I wear nothing special or fancy.

What does beauty mean to you now?

My aim is to get old in a healthy way…no plastic surgery or Botox for me.  I use the same make-up  products: face cream and nail polish.

The clothes I wear are casual during the week and on Sundays, more ladylike.

To keep fit, I swim, folk dance, cycle and walk. I eat healthy, vegetarian, fresh food. I enjoy my glass of sherry in the evening.

Why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

In my 20’s we had no money. Make-up was not available or seen as waste of money.   Now I think “Why?”    Nowadays we are bombarded with products and images in glossies, on TV, in the streets. It is totally different.  I am content and enjoy my life.

Ria, 78 – Holland

Bobby socks and a pink satin ribbon

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

A lot of my personal ideas of beauty came from my mother…not that she was really a beautiful lady but she had a lot of sense of fashion. Even though we didn’t have any money because they were immigrants from Mexico, she was so clever. She would go to second hand stores and buy me all these little French wool suits…all these beautiful little clothes so I would look well groomed. So grooming is what I consider what it means to be attractive. As I grew up and was in my 20s, I started to work (at 20) so I always dressed in the style of the ‘50s. That was suits, hats, white gloves, purses and heels to go to work. Everything was important.

I never wore a lot of make-up because my parents were very strict. I always had to look decent like the other ladies. That was my introduction to beauty, and I still carry that even at this age.

Hairstyles were simple. When I was in my teens, I had long black hair which I used to wear in a ponytail with a ribbon. It was bangs, a ponytail with ribbons, and typically, full skirts with bobby socks. If you were lucky enough to own a cashmere sweater, that was part of the look.

At the age of 16, one of the things I was able to do with my first job for the post office during the Christmas holidays, I saved enough money to buy a cashmere sweater. So I had my cashmere sweater for Christmas. That felt pretty good. It was pink, and my mother made me a full skirt in lavender. So I wore that with a pink satin ribbon in my hair, and white buckskin shoes with white bobby socks. I thought I looked pretty good.

For work I wore white gloves and gabardine suits. The brand name that every young woman wanted to own was the RosenBlum Gabardine Suit. You could get those in the Emporium, which was a wonderful department store here in town, or Macy’s. All the good stores carried Rosenblums. They were just tailored suits with straight skirts.

As I started to work and was able to buy my own clothing, I would save money and be able to buy something. In those days, it wasn’t really credit cards, it was lay-away. If you put $1 or $2 away on a suit, eventually you’d own it. That’s how my mother used to buy me clothes. She used to make a lot of my things, but if she saw something when I was a little girl, she’d say “Let’s buy you that coat. It’s a Shirley Temple original.” She would put a dollar away or $.50 until I had it.

At 18, I remember I did have acne. So I was very careful. I tried to use less and tried to do whatever the doctor would recommend. I didn’t use a lot of make-up, but if things were not too clear on the face, that’s when I discovered what they called pancake make-up. It was in a little jar and creamy. That still have it, but they don’t call it that anymore.

I would try to cover up some of my blemishes. It didn’t really do any good. I didn’t wear eye make-up and I don’t need eyebrow (make-up) because I have thick eyebrows. It was usually lipstick and some sort of make-up on your face. When I started high school, I wore lipstick everyday. The make-up I didn’t wear everyday, only maybe if I was going out on a date.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I love fashion. I can’t help it. I grew up with the way my mother was, making my clothes and then I made my clothes. She insisted I learn how to sew. I started to make my clothes, and I did for my daughters. I still love clothes.

I love hats. I’ve always loved hats. Even when I was working at 20, I wore a hat everyday. I feel incomplete without a hat. I’m lucky that my daughter gives me a lot of her old things. I have a pretty large wardrobe because they’re hand-me-downs. No different from the time I was a child and my mother would go to thrift stores. To this day, if I see something that I think Oh, this will be good for a performance or for a show, I buy it.

Have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

When I was young, I would dress for the office – the professional look. Then I married and became a mom, I was casual. I tended to my children. I wanted them to develop in a certain way, so I was involved in their activities. I was that kind of a mom…Girl Scout leader, whatever it had to be, I was there for them. As I retired and it was just my husband and me, I was very casual again.

But now in the last 10 years, and even more so since I started this dance class (as the teacher), I want to dress up. The image is not because I want to show off. I’m trying to convey that a dance instructor should look a little different. And maybe some of the ladies will be willing to try something different. You know? It’s happening. I see the ladies fixing themselves up more for coming to the Center and my class. They even change their hair-dos. And they’re starting to wear a little lipstick. It’s not vanity for them. Especially with ballroom dancing, you’re pretty elegant. You’re supposed to look that way. It may be a lost art, but I’m sort of continuing that. That’s how I see beauty.

Lupe, 78

San Francisco, October 2010

“Maternity clothes were much different in the 50’s” – Interview #1

This first interview was graciously done by a friend of mine. It gave me a chance to work some of the bugs out and practice with my tiny tape recorder. I’m very thankful for my friend’s patience, sincerity and good sense of humor…

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s? (this could relate to clothes, make-up, hair, diet, body, etc.)

From the time I got out of high school until I was 25 years old, my body was focused on having babies.  Married at 18 I had all three of my children by my mid twenties.  Maternity clothes were much different in the 1950’s…mostly skirts and smocks to hide your growing stomach.  People say you glow when you are pregnant. Lipstick was the only makeup I used.  During those years, diet was not an issue and after all my children I managed to get back in shape. My hair was usually permed and sometimes lightened.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Beauty is keeping your body healthy both inside and out.  Diet, Exercise and attitude are critical to a happy life – DANCE TO THE MUSIC!!

We are all obsessed with how we look when we look at ourselves in the mirror. I am very much into how I dress and how my hair looks. I am always thinking, what is that person looking at me thinking?

I’ll never forget waking up one morning when I was about 41 with my left pupil dilated. I thought my gosh, what could this be? It was Adie’s Pupil, which hits women over 35 for whatever reason. An eye surgeon explained it as a disconnection in the back of the eye. During this time, whenever I met people, I kept thinking,  I wonder what they’re thinking about my eye?

People do the same thing with people with disabilities. You overlook (physical) things when you’re really engaged. It’s not so much the physical as how you feel about them and how they respond to you.

In some cases, the way people dress is very provocative. You’ll see a lot of women, 60 and up, who still dress like maybe they’re in their 30s. That’s not attractive at all.

Hair color is another thing. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve grayed like my mother. I’m happy with it, so I don’t have any reason to change it. So many people play around with different colors in their hair so every time you see them maybe it’s a different color or a different hair style. I see myself as a certain image. Even when I have my hair cut and the hairdresser does her thing (like this spiky stuff), I think no, that’s not me. I change it as soon as I get home.

I enjoy life. I have a great outlook, so I think I’m aging gracefully (laughs).

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

In my younger years I did hair color and was very into dressing. I took a psychology course one time with a very flamboyant instructor. One evening I wore a matching sweater and skirt in a soft orange. I was sitting near the front, and he looked at me and said, “Why do you wear pretty clothes?” And it was like oops. This was very embarrassing. To this day, I don’t even know what I responded to him. I was so shocked. But what he was intimating was that I wanted attention.

At this stage in life, I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I like to dress conservatively. I don’t wear a lot of make-up. When I do wear make-up, a lot of people will tell  me how nice I look, but just ordinarily, I don’t put on make-up every morning.

(Beauty means) maturity, life experiences, priorities, loving who you are and caring about others…I met a woman once who was over 100 years old and terribly crippled with arthritis.  She lived in her own home with some help from outside.  We had a great conversation about her life.  Her mind was sharp, her eyes sparkled and  she had the warmest smile.


What do you see in the culture of what is considered beautiful (from magazines, television, etc)?

What I see in magazines and so forth is not anything near my age or my desires. Every magazine I pick up is targeting younger (women), like Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. If it isn’t an advertisement, it’s these skinny models (although she does cover some feature stories). Even Ladies’ Home Journal is geared toward women in their 30s and 40s.

At one time, I tried to email Oprah because all of her programs were geared to women 60 and under, where they do make-overs and so forth. They don’t really cover a lot of issues with older women who are widowed. You look in the audience of Oprah and Ellen Degeneres and they’re all very young. I guess that’s where the advertisers make their money, with the younger generations. I don’t feel left out or anything. It’s just interesting to me to see how the values are set on that age group of people.

Anonymous, 70´s

San Francisco

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