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.


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


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

When I was growing up in the bayous of Louisiana and the Mississippi delta, I didn’t think much of those kinds of things at all. I remember being tortured with bobby pins. My aunt would wash our hair and roll our hair up in bobby pins, criss-crossing them. We had to sleep like that. In the morning, I would take them out and have these little spring curls. I was horrified. I did not want this in my life. I would immediately go out and run around the yard, and they would fall because my hair is naturally straight. That’s my first beauty memory or this concept that I was not okay the way I was, that I needed to be altered and improved somehow. As a young girl, I totally rejected that.

But I also remember standing on the side of the bathtub when my aunt put on lipstick, watching her. I can remember how it feels even now, moving my lips in the way you put on lipstick. I’ve never worn lipstick. But still it’s a feeling of being hypnotized by that action…a woman staring at herself in the mirror and coloring her lips. That’s a really strong memory from when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old.

Fast forward…I was subject to all the fashions going on. I remember having short shorts, bell-bottom and low-rider jeans in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. I was really attracted to shoes, particularly flamboyant shoes with bows and odd heels. I would buy them but never wear them. When I went shopping, the odder they were, the more attracted I was. I would bring them home and they would be in my closet. I would never wear them. I would keep them for a few years and they would go away and I would add new ones. This probably went on for about 10 years…this odd thing where I was attracted but didn’t wear them.

I remember in my 20s getting my ears pierced by a girlfriend. It was on a Sunday afternoon. We had Sunday tea. We were all there in our big hats. This was in the South, in Jackson, Mississippi. The tea evolved to whiskey. I was the only one there who did not have pierced ears. As we became more and more inebriated, my friends decided I must have pierced ears. It felt like an initiation. I had no idea how you did this. No one in my family had had their ears pierced in front of me or told their piercing stories so that I understood what the process was – my mother’s ears were pierced but I never knew how she came to have pierced ears. My friends got ice out of the refrigerator and froze my earlobes. They took a hatpin from one of the ladies’ hats (which had held her Sunday hat) and put it in some fire and stuck it in my ears. After that, I had pierced ears.

This was during the time of the hippy movement. I had long hair and listened to Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie. I had 3 other roommates who didn’t look like me at all or listen to that music at all. I started to diverge from my first strict primitive Baptist culture to hippy, more liberal thinking. I started reading about Eastern religions and doing that kind of exploration. There was a really divergence at that point. It was less about keeping up with the norms, like the dress had to be down to here and that you wore your white gloves and went to church regularly. You had hats and Sunday attire which you always wore on Sunday.

At that point, I had started to go to dances in bars and nightclubs, which I had not done in that kind of way before. When I was growing up in Cajun, Louisiana, I always went to dances. But the whole family went to dances. They were these huge pavilions where everyone danced. There were babies and grandparents there. That was a different kind of thing. Your parents were always there with you.

I wore peasant blouses and long hair. By then I had earrings. I didn’t wear that much make-up. That wasn’t part of the hippy mentality. But I wore Patchouli perfume oil. That was sort of the group I fell in with. We spent a lot of time out in nature, camping. I wasn’t dressing up. Even for work, it was very plain. I was in Jackson, Mississippi, at the time. I moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was 27, and that was really interesting because I had this idea that I was moving to a really liberal environment. In a lot of ways it was.

I was trying to leave the narrowness of the Southern culture behind. It was a real conflict because I absolutely loved the South. I loved the land, the stories, the Gothic, rich, thick drama of it. But I didn’t like the narrow life that women had to live. In my opinion, we had very few choices of how to live our lives there. I have Native American – Choctaw – on both sides of my family. I wasn’t interested in living in a culture where other ethnic groups were treated so badly. I had a daughter by then, and I was really interested in her living in a more open society and culture.

So I moved to Portland. That was a real shock. In a lot of ways it was wonderful. I was not hanging out with people who were interested in how you looked. They didn’t wear make-up, they didn’t do much to their hair. They wore weather appropriate clothes because it was raining much of the time. Once again, we spent a lot of time outdoors. It was just not what you thought about, your physical appearance. I always wanted to be in good shape. I didn’t want to be out of shape. But it wasn’t anything I thought about very much. I was healthy and very physically active. It was never much of an issue.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I am probably much more aware of it on a day-to-day basis, being almost 64. I started thinking about it in my 40s. I’ve always used a moisturizer on my skin and tried to take care of my skin. In my 40s, I also started exercising my facial muscles. It was sort of a spontaneous thing and I thought well, of course you need to exercise your facial muscles, just like you exercise the rest of your body.

I have really good genes. My mother,when she passed away, had no wrinkles. I think a lot of it has to do with being Choctaw. She was just beautiful. Her bone structure was incredible…big, wide forehead, strong jaw, high cheekbones. I read a book once about a woman shaman who was being taught to exercise her face everyday.

I worked with a Medicine Woman one time who taught that we should not wear sun-shades as much as we do because there is a relation between the sun and our brains that doesn’t get activated as much as it should because we’re always wearing sunshades. Of course, she subscribed to the fact that you should not wear underwear and should always wear skirts so there’s no impediment between you and Mother Earth so that energy is always available to you through your Root Chakra.

I did start coloring my hair, early in my 20s. I’ve always colored my hair (since then). Now I’d probably let it go back to it’s natural state except that it’s in-between the world. It’s not gray and it’s not blond. I’ve gotta wait. At some point, my mother’s hair became beautiful white. She let it go and it was just gorgeous. That’s what I’m looking forward to, getting to that stage in my life. I still exercise my face everyday in the shower or in the car. I don’t want to scare people.

I’ll open up Yahoo and see “Five Beauty Tips.” I’ll immediately go and see if I’m doing those tips. They never talk about exercising your face. It’s always about creams or things you eat. What you put into or on your body, but never mention exercising your facial muscles. I don’t understand that.

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

When you’re young, you don’t have to think about age the way you do when you are aging. I’ve done experiments when I’m riding public transportation and I sit across from an elderly person who’s in their 70s or 80s or even older. I actually try to engage with them visually. I try to look them in the eye and acknowledge their existence because I feel like they’re so accustomed to not being seen. Nobody notices them. You can see the look of surprise on their face when they realize you’re actually looking at them and acknowledging them as human beings. In that glance, all this information gets transferred. There’s all sorts of information and energy that gets transferred that’s totally unspoken.

That was the first time I started thinking about what it means to be invisible, to be old. How old equals invisible to the rest of the culture, and how sad this is. So there’s a part of me that does things…I exercise my face and try to stay in shape physically. There’s all sorts of prejudices against obesity, aging, wrinkles. There is a conscious decision on my part that I do not want to become invisible. I do not want to deal with the prejudices. I don’t want to have door closed or not have opportunities because of those kinds of perceptions.

I’m much more aware of it now at almost 64 than I was at 34. At that time, I didn’t have to deal with it. I was not in that world. Now I am in that world. I just lost my job. So here I am at 64 out in the job market. Fifteen years ago when I was about 50, I remember looking for a job and going to several different headhunter employment agencies. I was 50 years old and considered myself in my prime in terms of my skills and abilities. I remember walking in there and reading the expression on the person who was interviewing me and knowing I would never get a job there. I was 50 years old.

That was my first real experience of this reality of what it means to age. I remember thinking You’re going to have to make opportunities for yourself in some other way because these doors are closed to you now and that’s because you’re this old. It just gets more complicated as you get older. I don’t think I’m interested so much in beauty as how that translates into aging and how the culture looks at aging. It doesn’t honor older people. It doesn’t look at them and say what an amazing resource this person is.

Annie, 63

San Francisco

A little grooming makes heads turn

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

I wasn’t aware of notions of beauty. As a consequence I wore no make up. Nor did I go out and by any fashionable clothes ( financial restraints restricted my desire to deck out in fine clothes.) The circle of people I moved in did not spend time making themselves look attractive, as we did not feel the need to do so, because we were not allowed to date men. I did not wear make up until my 30’s when I got married and had two children. I wore make up in order to gain confidence, to feel good within myself, to go out, mix with people and socialise, hoping that the foundation that I wore would hide all imperfections that I had. The same went with clothes and visiting the hair dresser once a week. I was more aware of the need to make myself more attractive once I was out and about from the confines of domesticity (including bringing up the children).  At the end of the day, it really made me feel good, and I gained self confidence to talk to people etc.

If you look at Western culture, girls wear make up and nice frocks to go out on dates with boys, which was totally alien to us, because our (Indian) culture was different – it was not the done thing. I felt blase about beauty in this sense until I discovered a little grooming made heads turn when I left the front door – especially the male species.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Beauty is definitely as asset if you have it, whatever age you are. But with advancing years, if you can preserve it, all the better. To keep  what you have is important at my age, it makes me feel  happy in my inner-self. I sometimes look in the mirror and think, ‘I still look good at this age!’ Often people cannot guess my age correctly. It is a back handed compliment in a way!

I once had an interview with an Avon sales rep at my door step. When I told her my true age, she nearly fell backwards in pure disbelief. I think it was very flattering and made my day! If someone of your own sex says how good you look, that is uplifting, but its even more flattering when men pay you compliments. Beauty to me now is something that makes me happy.

I don’t give aging a thought. It is a natural progression which everyone has to face sometime. One has to accept the fact that one can’t be beautiful as you grow older, as I do not believe in cosmetic surgery or anything like that to preserve what I have got.

Why have your ideas of beauty changed over the years?
My ideas about beauty have changed over time due to environment and competition all around you – i.e women trying to look good to go out to work. This made me embrace the fact that to be beautiful inside and out can make me friends.
Shantala, over 60

Aging and political correctness

Even Artificial Women

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

Particularly in my 20s, I was struggling with my own personal issues and trying to come to terms with my sexual identity. I always felt “out of step,” even as a child, with my contemporaries. I had an extraordinarily difficult childhood. I’m sure that influenced me a lot.

My mom left when I was very young. I felt like I didn’t belong. In early high school, I  can remember seeing a lot of other girls who were my contemporaries become quite absorbed with their appearance and with boys. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I kind of thought they were faking. At first I thought they probably felt like I did and that they were going to a lot of trouble in making it up.

I was struggling so much in my 20s. I had so many emotional problems dealing with abandonment by my mother and the possibility that something was wrong with me sexually. The traditional feminine concepts of beauty seemed silly to me. They seemed both silly and also made me feel inadequate. On one hand, I could dismiss them as a bunch of phony crap and on the other hand, I thought there’s something wrong with me. I’m not feminine and beautiful like my counterparts. There was a huge emotional struggle for me. I didn’t buy into it and I felt like I should.

I became reunited with my mother in high school. It was always a love-hate relationship. My mother was very consumed with beauty. She went to modeling school and dated movie stars. My mom was very flamboyant, very into appearance, make-up and dress. She was married four or five times, and was consumed with superficial beauty and dress. In high school, I was reunited with her and went to live with her in Virginia. I went from podunk Idaho, where I had to ride a school bus for an hour to get to a non-accredited school, to Virginia, to a mother and a step-father I didn’t know and a huge urban lifestyle.

It was a hard time. I spent my whole life trying to get my flamboyant mother to love me. I  felt like there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t like my mother, and she let me know it. I didn’t care about make-up. I would have off and on periods where I tried, for example, to wear make-up.

I decided that I wasn’t beautiful, and since I couldn’t relate, I fluctuated between (beauty/image seeming) superficial and ridiculous and it being a reminder that something was wrong with me.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now, I’ve gone a bit the other way. But in my older days, I find myself having more respect and attraction to/for heterosexual older women. It seems to me that they do make more of an effort of keeping themselves active, fit and attractive, whereas lesbians in general just get old and fat and excuse it as being politically correct. It’s crazy! I think I’m becoming homophobic in my old age (laughs).

A Shell-Shocked Approach to Life

If I went to middle America, I’m sure that heterosexual women would be sitting on the couch, getting fat and not doing anything also. I think it’s being in an urban area. Most of my art friends are heterosexual and I find that they’re finding their way and keeping themselves up. Generally, I don’t find that true with older lesbians. I think younger lesbians now have had a different experience than the older ones. So my guess is that there isn’t going to be so much difference in 25 years between hetero- and homosexual women in urban areas.

The older women have been so influenced by feelings of shame. Shame takes away everything.  A lot of older gay people have had a whole lifetime of trying to come to terms with shame. Feeling ashamed is more damaging to your whole soul and being than feeling inferior. Because Americans are so crazy about sex and religion, the very core of being of gay people was more damaged.

Some people say that the gay people were able to go to the cities and find their communities. But that’s like when they’re in their 20s, after all the damage is done. I remember as a young person going to bars, the first thing we did was to see how to get out if they were raided. Having been in a bar that was raided, we went out the bathroom window. It was illegal, and this was in California. You would be arrested. And I was a school teacher and could have lost my job. If anyone knew that I was a lesbian as a teacher, I would have been fired.

The Angel of Mercy

I think more than a lot of my friends, I struggle with aging. I am an ageist. I cannot deal with aging. Heterosexual women in urban areas seem to be fighting aging too, more than the lesbians I know. If I had time and money, I’d get every cosmetic intervention I could. But I don’t think of it as a feminine thing. I think of it as an anti-age thing.

I hate that business when people say, “Ah, but getting old’s better than the alternative.” I’m not so sure. I find aging so negative, so unacceptable to me, that I think dying is better. I can’t get into “aging gracefully.” I feel that when I can’t have the kind of life where I can be active, where I can schlep all over the country setting up booths for art shows, I don’t want to live.

I want to have the kind of life I want to have. When I can’t have it, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to sit home, watch television, take the dog out in the yard. I don’t want to do that. It’s not me.

What has influenced your change of mind over the years?

I have the concept of being feminine all mixed up with age. I see an older woman who keeps herself fit and dresses attractively as a symbol of not being old. Other people might see that as being more feminine. It’s becoming the same to me.

I think the idea of  needing to age gracefully works for some people and just doesn’t for others. I think especially in California with accepting all people and therapy for everything,  people can be over-the-top with political correctness. People go kind of nutsy about that…to accept your aging gracefully. And I think Screw it. I’m not going to do that. It’s like the kiss of death to me.

Hiding from Pain

I’ve had mostly older friends. And now friends that I’ve traveled the world with have basically become almost invalids. It’s upsetting. Maybe it’s part of a judgment I have…that they could have avoided it, that they let themselves get fat and ill. One of my closest friends  used to fly and had a sail boat that she took to Central America. Now, she can barely walk across the room. It’s been heartbreaking. She should have fought it better. I think she’s accepted some of those Midwestern values about aging.Not my mother. She was having every intervention imaginable when she got old. But my father and step-mother just sort of embraced getting old. I think it was a geographic thing in a way.

Jana, 67

San Francisco

(all above artwork by Jana)

curves in all the right places

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s and what does beauty mean to you now?

I probably wouldn’t have admitted it in my 20s, but I think I had pretty standard ideas of beauty…what the culture and what my mother told me was beautiful. She was influenced by the culture just like everyone, and I was too. For women that meant a good, well-proportioned slim figure, with curves in “all the right places”, preferably tall, clear skin, nice hair, male attention and stylish clothes and shoes. So basically perfect everything. Like I said, I wouldn’t have admitted that I was influenced by that stuff, but I know I was. It was an underlying standard and pressure all the time.

I did have one consistent quality of beauty. I had long, thick eye-lashes. That was one I could count on. The figure? I was small with kind of a boyish figure. When I did develop more curves, I liked it but I was also afraid that it would change any minute. My skin wasn’t consistently clear. I wasn’t tall, so that was something I couldn’t change. So the eye-lashes? That was something I had – long, thick eye-lashes. I did have to use mascara to accentuate them. I didn’t like going out of the house without mascara because of that. That was my one quality I could count on when all the others didn’t quite measure up or felt too “movable”.

By college, I found the thrift stores, and I had fun experimenting with clothes. It was more free.  It helped to be in a more diverse community too. I knew lots of women who didn’t fit those standards of beauty…women in theater and in art. I noticed qualities in them that were really appealing…personality, humor, other kinds of talents. I noticed that even those other qualities did get male attention. But I think I still secretly held those old standards of beauty too. They still worked on me a bit and lured me into thinking life would be easier and more “sure” with those qualities.

I’m 46 now. I’ve seen changes in my body, and even my thick eye-lashes aren’t the same as when I was in my 20s. I still wear some mascara but the mascara doesn’t quite go on my eye-lashes the way it used to. My world hasn’t come to an end because my eye-lashes aren’t quite as long and beautiful as they were. I see other women my age and older who don’t match the standards of beauty anymore. But they have a different kind of beauty, a beauty appropriate to their age. I find that really appealing. This has helped me too in relaxing some of those standards.

I think it helps that I don’t live close to my mom, who, even though she’s 80, still does hold a lot of those standards of beauty. When I see her, she mentions things about my hair or my clothes which still can feel like I’m 13. I think having some distance helps.

Why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

I think my ideas have changed for two reasons: my own experience in a changing body and seeing that my world hasn’t fallen apart with the changes and also knowing a lot of older women who I consider beautiful and role models in the way they’re aging. They have a naturalness about themselves and their physical appearance. Their beauty seems to come from inside them instead of all the external things which used to matter so much.

They may have some external qualities which are beautiful or not. Yet they still have a beauty that comes from something deeper. They smile a lot and they laugh a lot. And they laugh in a real way. They care about things deeply, like other people, animals, and the world. That makes them interesting and beautiful.

Susan, 46

San Francisco, October 2010

“We all looked alike…”

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

As a teenager I think movies had a great influence on us. As a young woman in the ‘40s, we all looked alike. We all had long hair turned under, like Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth. We brushed it 100 times a night, and we still had the little pompadour in the front. I think physical beauty was something we were always looking for. The figure had to be just so. You had to emphasize your waist, and of course, your boobs were very important. What we thought being pretty was all about was having a nice figure. Our hair was very important to us. Like I said, we all looked alike. We dressed alike.

There were a lot of things on the market after us too. I always remember the LifeBoy soap ad with “B-O.” Of course, we struggled not to have body odor so you always used a deodorant. It was Mum, which was a cream and which ruined your clothes.

I think (beauty) was mainly physical. We didn’t worry too much about the mental part. The intelligence part didn’t enter into it too much. And you had to be a good dancer. In the ‘40s, you had to be a good dancer because that was the era of the Big Band music, and it was very danceable. That was very important to us. I think we were pretty self-centered. We probably didn’t see beyond our own little world too much.

When we were in high school, we wore brown and white saddle shoes, and we wore skirts, blouses and sweaters. We went to a public school. The Catholic school didn’t provide transportation. I remember we had to iron our blouses on the weekends to have them ready for the week. In the winter, we wore ski pants (which were very heavy) and ski boots because it was very snowy. If you had to walk, it was very icy.

In the spring and autumn, we usually wore a skirt and sweater. In those days, sweater sets were inexpensive and came together. You wore a blouse and a sweater, and that was really your school uniform. Most everybody dressed the same. Except in the winter, we bundled up and wore ski suits. Since we lived 12 miles from the nearest village, we were picked up and transported to school.

We lived in the Adirondack Mountains growing up. When I was 17 or 18, my father sent us (my younger sister and me) to business school. He sent us to New York (City) at that age. We lived with an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and commuted to Manhattan to school which was quite an experience for two kids who were inexperienced with the world. We found it quite a change to our lives because we had never ridden in a subway to school.

So we were going every morning in a subway…crowded subways, I might add, where anything could happen, and usually did. We were such innocents that we were very friendly and outgoing. Finally on one of our walks to the school from the subway station – where we said good morning to everybody we passed, including the policeman on the corner – finally after a couple of weeks, he told us that we had to not be so friendly because New York wasn’t the friendliest of cities. We had to really be careful.

That was kind of an eye-opener for us too, because in a small town, everybody knew you. They knew your business, and they knew when you misbehaved. Your father knew it when you got home because somebody had called him on the telephone and said you had done something. So you were disciplined when you got home.

Of course, we were young women during the war years and made sure we kept the troops happy. We went to dances. We went to the hotels. I lived in New York at that time, so we’d go to the hotels to hear the Big Bands. When we were in business school, we even sneaked out of school to hear Frankie at the Paramount and screamed like every other young girl. After business school, it was of course “Get a job,” which we did. We stayed in New York after that. We didn’t return back home to live.

I had a sister who was married to a serviceman who was living there, so we ended up moving in with her. Then when my parents divorced, my mother came and we all sort of lived in the same building together. When we went to business school, I wanted to be a dress designer. I wanted to go to the Pratt Institute. My younger sister (by 19 months) was very bright. She should have gone to college. But my father’s answer to that was “First you’re gonna learn to earn a living. Then you can do whatever you want.” And of course, the purpose of that was that he was going to leave my mother and wanted to make sure we were all earning a living and could take care of her, which we did.

So we all lived together…my sister and her two children living upstairs. We lived downstairs in a studio apartment, four of us in a studio apartment. We helped my sister with her children while her husband was overseas.

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

I still think I’m hung up on figures. I let myself go, which has been a big disappointment to me. I’ve gained a lot of weight. I keep excusing it and saying it’s part of aging. But it’s just because I like to eat. I haven’t met a food I don’t like.

I know some folks around here who I think are really beautiful…not physically beautiful, but they’re beautiful in their spirit. They’re very loving and affectionate. They don’t hesitate to respond to a show of affection on your part or they will inaugurate it. I think it’s the inner beauty which comes out as you age, not so much the outer beauty. You come to grips with yourself too. All the things you thought you’d do and want to do and haven’t done. You have to accept the fact that you’re fallible. And you have many regrets.

Frances, 88 (San Francisco)

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