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



The following is the only interview completed at my exhibition in San Francisco. I left a stack of interviews out for anyone to fill out. It was done by an artist, originally from Germany, who also happens to be a guy…

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

Sex…No, not really, but it was closely related, as TV told us it is. This is true for how I assessed the “beauty” of  people. The beauty of people was a concept of common culture for me. In nature, it was different. My father showed me beauty away from people, disconnected from common culture…beauty as something that touches your heart.

What does beauty mean to you now?

The beauty of nature won. Beauty is something that touches your heart. It’s not what touches anybody else’s heart, and it’s not measurable. Nobody can tell you what is beautiful and what’s not.

If different, why have your ideas changed?

Simply?—– I got older. I had to become my own person. I had to find my own definitions. Intrigue me, touch my heart and you’re beautiful. Also, you don’t need any apparel to be beautiful!

Heiko, 41

San Francisco

kittens on black velvet

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

How you dressed was important.. You always had high-heeled shoes on, which I’m sorry I did because I had problems later on. I was living in Stockholm, Sweden. I came to the US  when I was 23. The style was prominent waist and an underskirt so your skirt stayed out. I wore my hair in a French twist. My hair was slightly long. Sometimes I went to the hairdresser and she puffed it up. When I look at pictures now, I get frightened. The styles in Sweden and the US were about the same. In Sweden, no one was super rich, but we got by. You bought a new sweater for Easter or maybe a new French lipstick. But you didn’t go out to shop and shop.Women wore more make-up in the US.

I came to the US and stayed (at first) for a couple of years. It was very exciting. I had a relative in New Orleans who sponsored me. It was exciting to go to America. Today everybody comes here for vacation, but at that time you didn’t. I lived with my relatives, and they had a young daughter who was 16. She was into make-up, clothing and dating, and I thought it was odd. I had other interests, like my dance study. I liked boys, but it wasn’t the same. I never used to date when I was 16. She was really angry because she didn’t get a car on her 16th birthday. For me, to get a car you had to work and buy it.

I was pretty ignorant about Americans. From the movies, everybody had big Cadillacs and lived on cul-de-sac streets. They slept in nice negligees and never had sex. When I first came to the South, people didn’t know where Sweden was. They thought I said Swiss and mentioned coo-coo clocks. My best friend was German. If  people thought I was German, they didn’t like that, understandably. Maybe some of the men had been in the War. So I always had to to say, “I’m Swedish.” And they said, “What’s that? Oh, coo-coo clocks and watches.”

The economy wasn’t that fantastic in Europe. In Sweden, the economy got much better in the ‘70s. There really were no foreigners in Sweden when I was young. But then in 1956, with the Hungarian Revolution, I met a lot of Hungarian students who came to Sweden. They worked as dishwashers. They had a lot of problems, a lot of run-ins with the police. In the ‘60s, a lot of Italians came. Growing up, I never saw a black person really. If you saw someone, he probably worked at an embassy. Today the picture is altogether different. It has changed for the better in many ways…interesting food, more cosmopolitan, but there are also problems.

I studied classic and modern dance in Sweden – that was my first love. But I was tall, so there weren’t many opportunities for me as a dancer. I was offered a couple of jobs abroad but my mother wouldn’t let me go. One was in a nightclub in Germany. I could have worked a job in Paris too. But if was a little iffy. It was more like a showgirl cabaret. I got a job for one season in a theater in Malm in My Fair Lady. The ballet master told me he liked my expressions but he said,“You have to go abroad because you’re too tall for ballet.”

During this time, one was very concerned about one’s appearance and weight, especially studying dance. Not everyone was naturally skinny. So everybody was on diets all the time. We just didn’t eat. We had our regular jobs at the office during the day. At night, we had to study. We ate something made of grape sugar to get energy. That’s all we ate. We sometimes ate a meal late, but not regularly. Everybody was like this…you had to be really skinny and on a very strict diet.

We drank a lot of coffee, and people smoked a lot. I smoked a little. I think people did this so they wouldn’t eat. My sister smoked and unfortuantely, it killed her. She was afraid to gain weight. We didn’t talk about anorexia. It was just the style. I had some friends who were naturally skinny. I thought they ate so much and still didn’t get fat. In that world of dance and modeling, you make your living from your body. Nowadays you have to be skinnier than ever. The models today in all these magazines are like 14 years old.

For me, weight has always been a problem. Now in my old age, I still want to be skinny, but it’s hard. Your system changes. I like to eat certain things. Except for the last 15 years, I have been on diets all my life.

Some foreign art students interview me (as an artist) because they have to write papers. They ask me why I paint women’s legs. It’s sort of a feminist statement. In Europe, men used to look at your legs. Here they look at your breasts. I remember many years ago, I walked up a hilly street here in the city, and some guy came running after me because he saw my legs. He was a foreign man and was interested. I never thought I had very good legs, but he thought so. I thought it was cute and good for my ego.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I think inner beauty is more important. I probably thought that when I was younger too, but there are many other things, like wanting to please a man. That’s why we all dressed up. When you get a little older, you get dressed up for your girlfriends. Now dressing up is nice, but it’s not important.

I have a Swedish niece who lives in Florida. She used to be a model (and I did too in Sweden). She just came back from Paris where she met her American model friends.They are all so skinny. They have lifts and breast implants. My niece doesn’t, but she says, “Oh, my nose is so bad. I need to do plastic surgery,”.

She is 54, and she is a very good-looking girl. She is slender and worked many years in Japan as a model. She meets other models and they tell her she needs to lift this and that. I tell her, “Please don’t do that,”. It can be very dangerous. Plastic surgery was nothing we talked about when I was young. My friends here talk about face lifts. I don’t think European women are so much into it as American women. It’s much more natural.

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

Hopefully we change for the better as we get older. Your value system should be different. Otherwise it means you’ve stopped growing.

I have a feeling that people look at you (and judge). I’m overweight with gray hair. I used to have red hair. (As an older woman), they think I do a certain type of art…sweet art. It can’t be anything interesting. If they see my art, that’s one thing. But if they see me, they expect I’ll be painting kitten s on black velvet. I’ve heard comments like“Your art looks like some young person did it.” They all like my colors. And it’s nice when they give you a chance. We always have to give people a chance. We cannot judge people from the façade.

Anonymous, over 60

San Francisco

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