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

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

A violet tucked away somewhere in my hair

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

Beauty, in my twenties, seemed to most often be defined as the physical beauty of humans– girls and women in particular, and in that way meant the same thing to me as it has meant for much of my life— not much. Beauty, defined like this, never felt relevant to me. It was something I knew other girls thought a great deal about, but I seemed shielded from a desire to invest much thought or energy into the issue.

By the time a woman hits her twenties, her value system comes with her. My parents raised me more like a “boy” than a girl—I was expected to excel in academics. I was expected to excel in sports and my other activities. I was expected to be strong, smart and powerful. I was top of my class for most of my life and busy doing competitive gymnastics, then varsity track. I went on to be accepted at a magnet high school and then on to Smith College. 

My “looks” did not fall into place in a mainstream sort of way until I was 17. My mother, being Czech, inherited what seems like Czech genetic tendencies to produce beautiful women. I knew I had begun to look much like her by the time I turned 17, people commented on it all the time, but it was more of a scientific observation to me than anything emotional.

I was encouraged to model by the time I turned 18. I thought about it and even went to a small agency in New York to see what it was like. But standing there, having my measurements taken, I thought how wrong this all was for me. I did not want to be a model. I wanted to be a writer and a world leader. 

I moved into my twenties with beauty in hand, but more like a small flower, a violet perhaps, tucked away somewhere in my hair. What mattered to me more was giving thought to my spiritual self, my emotional self, my intellectual self and, especially towards my late twenties, the world around me.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now in my thirties, beauty has a greater role in my life than it had in my twenties. I have come to understand its broader reach—of its existence in so many things and experiences that do, when brought into your life, strengthen and inspire. It was about much more than having a pretty face.

I feel that I have done much of the work I needed to do on myself in my twenties, and now can enjoy such things and experiences and try to make more time to do so. Just recently I returned from a week in the Smoky Mountains—I still can see the swirl of grays and blues against the old oak trees. That, to me, is beauty. Or taking a weekend to paint the white walls of my apartment turquoise. Do you know what turquoise walls can do for a soul? Try it! Or most recently, spending a Saturday evening carving a family of pumpkins with my mom, brothers and sisters. We put them out near midnight, in front of my mom’s house and all were quiet—even my youngest brother. They were lit up in gold and amber– the unison of color, the interplay of light, the echo of love. That, was beauty.

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

Despite my achievements, like other young women, throughout my twenties, I was vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy and lack of self love. These were things I wanted to correct.

Dina Rabadi with her mother, Dana Rabadi, in Jordan

Just like a nation cannot grow and develop if a civil war is going on, I needed to end my war. Once I did that, I had the energy and the strength to begin reconstruction—as well as a space program. Beauty was this planet that I had not been able to see during all of my personal war fare.

Finally, with the debris cleared and the smoke whisked away, I could see the new planet—and I could see it was not a new planet after all. It was earth. It was life. It was in my life all along.

Dina Rabadi is a nationally published writer whose fiction and nonfiction has appeared in more than twenty periodicals including The Boston Globe , The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times .  She is now at work on her first novel.  Dina is also the Founder and Executive Director of Global Alliance of Artists.  For more information please visit or

It felt like putting on a mask

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

I just turned 30 and actually still feel in my 20s although my view on “beauty” has developed. In my teenage years and early twenties I acted as if it’s not important how one looks. Bigger-sized clothes felt comfortable, make-up took too much time to put on and my hair had to be fixed quick and easy.


Around me there were different types of people: “Modepoppen” – always following fashion/trends and a lot of make-up; “Kakkers” – expensive clothes (brands), rich parents; “Gabbers” – track-suits, listening to House-music; and  “Alto’s” -alternative clothes, organic food, blowing. I decided it didn’t bother me and I didn’t want to belong to any group, but I also liked to wear the specific Levi’s everyone wanted and the Olily shawl (Kakkers), so I ended up also wearing this. The same with shoes…a special trend and a year later I had those shoes. For clothes I looked for which colours suited me and which didn’t. Wearing bigger-sized clothes felt good but also camouflaged my female figure (which I was insecure about).

My eyesight isn’t that good. I needed glasses at the age of 12, but I refused to admit I couldn’t see that well. The moment I took driving lessons I had to wear glasses, which meant I only wore those during driving and watching TV. I didn’t like spending much time doing my hair, but I noticed I spent more time than I would admit. I also tried to wear high-heeled shoes, to look taller and also because I heard “men like women in high-heels”. For accessories I wore long colourful earrings, bracelets and necklaces which were cheerful and feminine.

I liked nail polish, but “make-up” was not for me…too much work and it felt like putting on a mask. People need to like me as I am. Sport? What’s that? No, not for me, I didn’t see the value.

In my early 20s I told myself “beauty isn’t that important”, but I thought about and acted more on it than I would admit. I also thought outer beauty is worth nothing when you don’t have a good character. Some girls looked beautiful but were very annoying to get along with. I wasn’t jealous at all.

What does beauty mean to you now?

The new millennium just started when I was in my early 20s. A lot changed around me concerning the beauty-image. The bigger sizes became more tight. I followed the trend. My insecurities about my image began to disappear as I got  older. I found my own style,  more feminine clothes. No more wide-leg trousers or bigger-sized long sleeves but stylish trousers, funny skirts and colourful blouses. I noticed I had a good figure and didn’t need to hide it.

I also noticed that by wearing feminine, colourful clothes (colours that suit me), I feel better. I decided that glasses can be a nice accessory. Now I wear contact lenses (no more wet/damp glasses) because actually I don’t want to hide my beautiful eyes, ha, ha. I wear a little make-up, like  mascara , because I think it looks good and accentuates my eyes. It doesn’t feel like a mask; it’s subtle but effective. I put lip gloss on for parties and holidays. Very impractical but it looks festive. Putting a little make-up on I feel a bit more beautiful and polished. Nowadays I use organic skin cream (for very dry skin) because my health is more important to me.

I have long hair and usually wear it in a ponytail, sometimes loose; most important is that it has to look clean. I often polish my nails and toenails transparent, sometimes colour. It looks good and I feel better. Now I also see the value of sport, not only to maintain my weight but also to feel fit, have more energy and because it’s healthy.

(Outer) beauty  isn’t that important. Above all, I want to be healthy and happy. Real beauty comes from within; that’s clear to me. When I feel good and cheerful, I radiate that. A cheerful and friendly face is more beautiful than an angry or churlish face. The more time I spend to relax, visit friends and family, and be helpful to others, the better I feel and look.

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

The fun part is, when I accept more who I am, I take better care of my looks. I believe in God and believe he made me beautiful the way I am/look.  I honour Him by looking well and taking care of myself. That means I don’t only take care of how I look, but I also take time to relax and be there for somebody else. I notice that by doing this I become really beautiful.

I also really enjoy elderly women who are cheerful and enjoy life; that’s how I want to grow older. Outer beauty declines, but a good character lasts and that is an invaluable beauty!

Hanneke, 30


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…

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