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



Kinky, Curly Hair

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

I was told that I was good looking. My pictures will verify that. But I had serious acne, and I had very,very kinky curly hair. I never felt good about myself. In 1945, we were still very influenced by the movies and what was considered glamour – that was the word – glamour girls. I guess I tried to emulate that.

I resembled a couple of movie stars in that age, and I would get comments about that. One was Lynn Bari. That was the culture of the products being pushed for beauty, like if you use this soap…It’s still going on. I have studied advertising and propaganda. I wanted to be attractive. My parents wanted me to get a husband.

Lynn Bari

I put on make-up. I couldn’t do much with my hair, and I was extremely discontent because the girls that were popular and got to go to all the parties and seemed to have the best advantage were the blonds with straight hair. I wanted straight hair, and I wanted to be a blond…which at one time I did try. We were streaking it then. It was much cruder than today. It looked like hell. I got the pictures somewhere.

Most of my thing was clothing – high heels and clothes. I had gone to work. My parents did not feel that college was necessary for me, and I went to work. I had a small paycheck and I spent it on clothes.

I had to have clothes I could go to work in because there were strict dress codes. Feminine suits. There was one manufacturer called Lilli Ann and I had a studio portrait done with that suit on. My daughter’s got the picture. I had thick brown hair.

I have had plastic surgery on my ears – not until after marrying and having children – because my ears stood out from my head. So I always had to wear my hair to cover those ears or I began to wear stylish turbans.

And then the skin. It was always the skin. I began putting make-up on when I was about 14 years old to try to cover up the zits. It was awful. There wasn’t the help that we have today. And my parents weren’t understanding at all. They were good parents, but the zits were because I ate butter…(laughs) They didn’t know. They didn’t know all the internal turmoil of the sexual awakening, the hormones.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I don’t think of it very much at all because I have a great tragedy in my life. My husband at the age of 83 went to sleep with a tramp. She’s everything I’m not. She’s short and unattractive.

First of all, I have no more illusions about being attractive to any man. I am a completely feminine woman. I’ve had opportunities in my life to be lesbian and been invited, because I was in a business suit and attracted all kinds of women. So I just feel that I’m going to do the best I can. My health is frail and I do the best I can to keep myself personally clean. I bathe everyday. I wash my hair everyday. And I try to get a good haircut and put on my make-up.

I just keep trying. And it’s an effort that in some sense rewards me because a few people are kind enough to make comments. But I can no longer be the ravishing beauty that I was once told I was. It’s all gone.

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

Well, there’s 60 years difference. I’ve changed because I’ve aged. I’ve stayed around a long, long time. I’ve been weathered and I’ve been emotionally distressed to the point where my face was contorted. I’ve got a picture from the year he started this, when we still got together for Thanksgiving, and my face is literally contorted. I still cry. I allow myself to do that as a health benefit. I have to take care of myself. My children are all now far away, and my husband has disrupted our family.

I’ve watched the aging process and learned a great deal. It’s important for me to take care of myself. No one else will. And I don’t believe in using all the drugs that are proposed for me.

Sonnie Willis, 85

San Francisco

rope ladder and the Revlon cosmetic bag

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

We all related to the media and to movie stars. We all emulated them, trying to look our best. In my early 20s, we were at war. It was WWII, and I enlisted as an army nurse. When I enlisted, they were encouraging nurses to join the army. So they said they would give you a free overcoat and a Revlon cosmetic bag.

Cosmetic bags at that point were very popular. They were like little suitcases with a mirror inside, maybe 14” by 18”. Revlon produced the cosmetic bags. We as a group of nurses, every place we traveled, the cosmetic bag went with us. In certain places, we had to climb up and down a rope ladder to get on a ship, and the cosmetic bag was in one hand. In the cosmetic bag, I’m sure we had rouge, lipstick and powder – those were the things we used then. Maybe hairbrushes and bobby pins. That cosmetic bag went everywhere.

In terms of beauty, you were just trying to look your best all through life. Afterward, I raised a family and then worked as a nurse. You were so busy, but you just tried to look your best all the time. I don’t think there are any special beauty tricks. I never plucked my eyebrows or used mascara. I tried mascara but I didn’t like the feel of it.

In those days working as a nurse in the hospital, we wore white uniforms and white oxford shoes. I wish that was true today. I think the clothing nurses wear is very demeaning to their status and what they do. We wore white uniforms all the time, working 48 hours a week and then having a family on the weekend.

In those days, we didn’t have many clothes…maybe one or two dresses, a couple of skirts and that’s it. High heels were always important to me. When I was young, I was considered to have flat feet. My mother took me to a clinic where they used to strap your feet with adhesive. Then you get fitted for special arches to put in your shoes.

When I reached 16 or 17 (at nursing school away from home), the first thing I did was to go out and buy a pair of pumps. In the summer, the pumps that were popular were either black and white, navy blue and white or brown and white. The tip and back were colored. The rest was white. Spectator pumps, we used to call them. When you wore your spectator pumps, you really felt like the cat’s meow.

I never used much make-up. In the 1960s, everybody was piercing their ears. As nurses you were not allowed to wear jewelry. It was very strict. My children and their friends encouraged me, and so I pierced my ears myself which was crazy. I tried to hide the piercing with my hair when I came into work. My boss scrutinized me and saw it. I was reprimanded. I wasn’t allowed to wear the earrings but I left something in (to keep the hole open).

When I was young, we all wanted to look like Lauren Bacall. She wore her hair on the side in a page-boy. That didn’t quite work for me. In the hospital, you had to wear your hair shoulder-length. I was a brunette. As the hair started to fade, I decided to use a tint in my hair because I thought my hair was mousy. I’ve been using a tint ever since. Maybe that’s how I get away with being percepted as younger.

What does beauty mean to you now?

As you get into your 80s, your eyebrows start to disappear. I won’t pluck my eyebrows but I draw them in a little bit. I use eyeliner, and I think that enhances (although it smudges during the day). As far as my skin goes, everyday after I shower, I use lotion on legs and arms. I’ve been using aloe vera gel on my face. I don’t use nail polish because when you work in art, it’s really hard on the nails. If there’s anything I hate, it’s seeing chipped colored nail polish.

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

My youngest daughter is really into fashion. I think being around young people has kept me more contemporary. I want to be stylish. I want to be a knock-out if I can. I don’t buy that many clothes. I work with what I have.

Emily, 88

San Francisco

A glass of sherry in the evening

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

Ria, age 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does beauty mean to you now?

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

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

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

Why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

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

Ria, 78 – Holland

Fashionista in high heel sandals

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

It meant a lot. I was very vain. I used to always wear make-up. I always went out with eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, and of course, always had lip-stick and rouge on. I kept up with the styles. I loved to wear heels…high heel sandals, that’s my favorite, and slip-on heels. I was very much into fashion. I was somewhat of a fashionista.

Then I had a baby in my 30s and things kind of fell by the wayside. I didn’t bother about my appearance and just let myself go. Now I’m trying to get back to being attractive again. I’m trying to lose weight, first of all. I’ve ordered a dancercise kit so I can work out at home and hope to date again.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I want to age beautifully. There aren’t too many role models for women my age, especially around here. I don’t know if you ever watch TV, but there’s a commercial with Jacqueline Bisset for Avon Anew Platinum. That’s a perfect role model for me because she’s about my age group and she looks great. Other women that I think look really great and try to emulate are Jacqueline Smith, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and Sally Field who are all my age.

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

Well, like I said, I had a baby and I got busy, and I just didn’t bother. Maybe it’s lack of self-esteem but I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything, for example, my appearance. I wasn’t very sociable. My social life is starting to pick up now.

Early Boomer

San Francisco, October 2010

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