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!


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

Dela from Ghana

When you were in your 20s in Ghana, what were some ideas of beauty?

When I was younger in my 20s, beauty was defined to me more by appearance – if you were not too fat, neither were you too thin. But just the right size and were nicely shaped. You had hips…like a small waist and then your hips came out nicely. That was a form of beauty to me then. And how you used make-up to suit your facial features, how you kept your hair, and how you spoke. Those were some indications of beauty to me then.

It was always thought (important) to be shaped nicely, like the Coca-cola bottle. We would joke about it. If you were shaped like a Coca-cola bottle, then you were truly beautiful. And not outrageous make-up – say you are black and you put something red – no, something that matches nicely with your color. Women would usually do the eye-shadow, the usual lipstick and the black pencil for their eyelids and lipliner. That was the basic make-up.

By the time you get to your 20s, you start using the relaxer for your hair. So it was part of the beauty for us then. So if you kept your hair natural, it was considered too archaic, outdated. So to look beautiful, you had to use the relaxer and you would go to the salon to have the rollers put in, so it was curled nicely. Women would usually wear curl, although they would occassionally have these kind of braids I have on.

You usually wore beautiful clothes. In those days, women didn’t really wear pants or trousers, so (beautiful clothes meant) anything that looked nice on you. It depended on how you looked. Some people looked good in colorful clothes, some people looked better in plain clothes. If it fit your body, it was considered beautiful. When we were in high school, we were taught that good grooming is the art of hiding the bad features and showing the good ones. So it’s relative. If your legs don’t look too nice, you don’t wear short clothes, so you could hide your legs. So that was a concept of beauty we all grew up with.

Do you have different ideas of beauty now?

Now I think beauty is more from within than what is on the outside. What is the point if you look good on the outside but you are so mean and so wicked on the inside? So to me now, beauty is how you are in your heart. What is in your heart is what comes out on the outside. If you are kind, gentle, loving, I consider that more beautiful than if you are nicely dressed or with make-up. So my concept of beauty has changed drastically.

Why do you think your concept of beauty has changed?

It’s changed because with experience in life, I have come to appreciate that beauty is not what I see on the outside. There’s a lot going on in the world. People are hurting all the time. So what is the point of looking beautiful and then you are so mean? It’s a hurting world where people are in so much pain. I find it more beautiful if you have a heart full of goodness, kindness, nice thoughts about people and acts of kindness. That is what I think should be considered beautiful.

Dela, (much) younger than 50


Dela works with Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights, a NGO which works to provide good reproductive health care for all women, including education to prevent women dying in childbirth. She writes, “ We are currently implementing two major projects in various rural communities in Ghana. The projects basically seek to empower community members to demand for improved reproductive/maternal health services especially for more (midwives, health care centres, better roads to get to the health centres, if any at all and for availability of family planning services) from our health policy makers.”

Check it out at…

Ana Mercedes

What was the importance of beauty for you when you were in your 20s?

When I was 25, I lived in Puerto Rico. Beauty meant being attractive to be able to conquer and feel proud. With the little I had I tried to put on my best. To stand straight and show my waistline. I had beautiful straight hair and tried to take good care of it. I was very shy. I did not put on much makeup but always used perfume. My dress style was not eccentric. My dresses were different, simple and made by hand; my mom had them sewed by a dressmaker and they fit me well. I liked bright red and green, but now I like soft colors and not red. White, gray, and pastel colors.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Beauty means keeping elegant and showing off my figure. Hair always taken care of; now I need to dye it and take better care of it. I like buying clothes and shoes. I like dressing simply but well. Simple makeup as well.

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

Moneywise there is also a difference because in earlier times one could not afford luxuries and now it is different because one has the possibility of having better things. Fashion has changed but I am not an eccentric dresser, nor do I put on fake eyelashes. The difference is that before I had money to buy clothes. I am always the same…I want to take care of myself, to feel beautiful, but not to make someone else feel good but to make myself feel well.

¿Qué significó para Ud. la belleza cuando tenía 20-29 años?

Cuando yo tenía 25 años yo estaba en Puerto Rico. La belleza significaba estar atractiva para conquistar y para sentirme orgullosa. Con lo poco que tenia trataba de ponerme lo mejor que tenia. Estar erguida marcar la cinturita. Yo tenía un pelo muy bonito liso y trataba de mantenerlo bien. Era muy tímida. No me maquillaba mucho pero usaba siempre perfume. Vestida no era excéntrica. Era distinto, el vestido era sencillo hecho por costurera casera, mi mama lo mandaba hacer a una costurera, bien entalladitos. Los colores eran tenues a mi me gustaba el rojo y el verde, los colores vivos pero ahora me gustan los colores tenues, el rojo no. El blanco, gris, colores pastel.

¿Qué significa para Ud. La belleza ahora?

La belleza significa mantenerme elegante y lucir bien. El cabello siempre bien, ahora necesito teñirme y cuidarlo mas. Me gusta comprarme ropa y zapatos. Me gusta vestirme simple pero bien. El maquillaje simple también.

Si es diferente, ¿por qué han cambiado con los años sus ideas sobre la belleza?

Económicamente también hay una diferencia porque en los tiempo de antes uno no se podía comprar lujos ahora es diferente porque uno tiene la posibilidad de tener mejores cosas. La moda ha cambiado pero yo no soy excéntrica al vestirme, ni ponerme pestañas postizas. La diferencia es que antes no tenia el dinero para comprar prendas. Igual yo siempre igual, quiero mantenerme bien, quiero sentirme bella, pero no para hacer sentir bien a alguien sino sentirme bien yo.

Ana Mercedes, 78

San Francisco


Alicia de Guatemala

What was the importance of beauty for you when you were in your 20s?

Life was beautiful because one was young. Instead, today I am old. I remember I was very beautiful because I went to dances and there were many men who sought me out and also boyfriends. But everything has changed. I thought a lot about dressing and makeup. I put on beautiful dresses and golden bracelets and necklaces which I liked at that time. I went to the hairdresser often. I lived in Guatemala but not in the capital. I lived in a small town. I did not come here to the US until I became a widow. But I married when I was 19 at my most beautiful age. I had 5 children: two girls and three boys.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now I am not beautiful anymore. [But] I always like to primp up. I always think of beauty. The most important thing for me now is that every day I have things to sign up for and come here to the center and meet my girlfriends. I never like not taking care of my appearance.

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

Because everything changes [over time]. One is not the same as when young. One likes more things.

I am not that interested in primping up but I always do it a little. I have the pleasure of taking daily baths and looking at myself in the mirror. I was never one of putting on lots of makeup and jewelry.

¿Qué significó para Ud. la belleza cuando tenía 20-29 años?

Era muy bonita la vida porque estaba uno joven. En cambio, ya hoy estoy grande. Me recuerdo que yo era muy bonita porque yo salía a los bailes y había muchos pretendientes y novios. Pero todo ha cambiado. Yo pensaba mucho en el vestido y arreglo. Me ponía bonitos vestidos y las cadenas de oro que me gustaba en este tiempo. Me he arreglado el pelo. Yo vivía ya en Guatemala pero no en la capital. Vivía en un pueblo. Vine aquí en los Estados Unidos hasta que yo me quede viuda. Pero yo me casé de 19 años en la edad mas bonita. Tuve 5 hijos: 2 hembras y 3 varones.

¿Qué significa para Ud. la belleza ahora?

Ahora ya no estoy belleza. Siempre me gusta el arreglo. Siempre pienso en la belleza. Lo mas importante a mi ahorita es que todos los días tengo cosas a de alistarme para venir aquí al centro y encontrarme con mis amigas. Siempre no me gusta estar desarreglada.

Si es diferente, ¿por qué han cambiado con los años sus ideas sobre la belleza?

Porque cambia todo. Uno ya vino y no es igual que cuando era joven. Uno tiene gusto de todo.

No tengo mucho deseo de arreglarme pero siempre aunque sea un poquito si. Tengo el gusto a todos los días bañarme y en el espejo verme cuando vengo. Nunca fui de usar muchos adornos ni de maquillarme.


Alicia, 86

San Francisco

Lauren, age 6

What makes ladies beautiful?

Their smile.

What else?

That they have pretty clothes on.

What do they look like?

Like your clothes.

Would they be pretty colors?

Yes, pretty colors. Red, purple, orange, blue, green or yellow.

Is there anything else that you think would be really pretty?

What you have inside.

Like what?

If you like something and your friend says, “Hey, you’re copying me,” it’s because you like the picture. You make a pretty picture from inside and your friend likes it too.

Is there one beautiful or pretty lady you can think of?

My mom, Mrs. Murphy (my teacher), and you.

Thank you. What makes your mom a beautiful lady?

She dresses pretty and she has a smile and she loves me.

What do you think is pretty or beautiful about you?

That I like myself and I like my friends. And my dressing.

Lauren, 6


Jayden, age 6

What does it mean to be pretty or beautiful lady?

To smile. A pretty dress. Beautiful shoes.

What do those shoes look like?

High heels.

What color?

Purple…purple and pink.

What does the dress look like if you’re making me a picture?

A purple, yellow, green, blue and red dress. And flower earrings. She has blond and brown hair.

Can you think of one beautiful or pretty lady?

My mom.

Why is she a beautiful lady?

Because she’s nice.

Can you think of something pretty or beautiful about you?

Myself. My smile. And my teddy bear, Jayden.

Jayden, 6


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