“Change the chip”

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

 Ideas of beauty for me were about internal stereotypes because of constant bombardment from the media and the perception I had (and still have) of the ideal woman: perfect body, perfect measurements, angelic face, fashionable… entirely superficial. Standards of beauty have evolved and been adapted to the times, traditions, religion, etc..

 At twenty, I felt a covert imposition of standards, through advertising, to present society as different from what it was and with the idea that one could change his or her body to feel better. But more shocking was the connection of these personal and societal changes to the purchasing of products and services. The market is greedy to grow, and grow exponentially, through dishonesty. Most disturbing is that the media and stereotypes in advertising manipulate and influence with so much power that they can “change the chip,” so to speak, in people’s minds, thus creating consumption into a basic necessity and making consumers believe that they are the ones who choose. As I see it, this is a very shallow business formula.

When I was 20, I wasn’t too worried about the physical (superficially speaking). I was a pretty natural girl, and at that age was very aware of who I was and how I saw things, or I thought I saw them…my head was full of thoughts of university and big life questions like where did I come, where am I now, and where am I going?

 I was connected with internal beauty but was completely unaware of it. I saw “beauty” as superficial external factor, not very important and not as an internal factor, the essence of a person, her values and beliefs.

What does beauty mean to you now?

 My perception of beauty has not changed much, although I suppose it is maturing. The essence of the person, her behavior, strengths and weaknesses, projects, dreams and illusions, defeats, all that person’s experiences are what make her grow, learn, choose and be beautiful in herself…that is what I am learning as beauty.

 Beauty is a set of characteristics that make each person unique with infinite possibilities to fulfill her dreams and goals. This is beauty to me: to live in harmony, to hope and learn, to know and be right with yourself, to be happy with small successes…this is beauty.

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

 I guess my concept of beauty has matured to the point where I see each person as different, with everything that entails. Different and beautiful in herself, both the physical body and within.

Ester, 26
Cornellà del Terri, Catalonia
All above artwork is by Ester.

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


an Afro and a mini-skirt

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

The way you dressed made you feel beautiful…mini-skirts was one of them. I liked to wear mini-skirts. Some people say that women dress for men, but I (have always) dress for myself. When I did dress up, I knew when I looked good…well, at least I thought I did. I knew I would get men’s attention. In my 20s, the Afro was in style. I don’t know that I thought it was beauty, but it was stylish. So I wore one sometimes. I didn’t use a whole lot of products – I still don’t – because to me that didn’t make you beautiful. I always liked some type of cologne. I would use products like Noxzema for acne.

What are your ideas of beauty now?

It’s more about what’s on the inside than on the outside now. Some people can really be very beautiful on the inside and not so much so on the outside. I think you have to get to know a person to know what beauty they hold. I can remember a time when I was probably in my 30s. There was a woman who worked at the shop where my husband and a bunch of other men worked. Everybody talked about how beautiful Betty was, and I thought Betty’s a dog. (laughs) Betty did not look good at all, but all the men thought she was just wonderful. I wondered what Betty had that the rest of us didn’t have. Talking to the guys, it wasn’t her outer beauty, it was her inner beauty. I’m surprised that the men saw that.

I don’t do any routines to be beautiful, maybe I should. I always use lotion or some type of moisturizer. I don’t necessarily do it for the sake of beauty. I don’t really have dry skin, but you know, you get ashy. That’s why I use it. I just make sure I take a bath, brush my teeth, comb my hair, try to look well. But I don’t care that I’m not the striking beauty.

Is there a change in your ideas of beauty?

There’s not really a change in how I think. I don’t think my thinking was the norm even when I was in my 20s, especially being black. From the images that black people see on TV and in ads and the things black people were told by their families or by white people, many of them started believing if you were black, you weren’t beautiful. On TV, you see blond hair and blue eyes. I think people think that that’s beautiful. Black people themselves thought that lighter complexions made you beautiful. That never bothered me. I never thought that, but the idea was prevalent. People say Oh, I don’t believe it, but then you look at TV and the ads and see it there. So people think, Oh, it must be true.

Lee, Ohio
Editor’s Note: I found the above Elle image in an interesting related blog post


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


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

Beauty to me in my 20s had a lot to do with my physical appearance. I wanted to look attractive so people would notice me, especially men. I teased my hair into a fashionable bouffant style, wore eye-makeup, blush, lipstick & 3″ high heels. I looked to fashion magazines for my ideal of beauty. I also strove for some inner qualities of beauty–patience,not arguing, criticizing or gossiping (sometimes). I finished off my beauty with a smile which “revealed” my inner cheerfulness.

What does beauty mean to you now?

My ideal of beauty has changed over the years. I found a definition in the Bible which became my new ideal:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, instead it should be that
of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands like Sarah.. . . you are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear”  I Peter 3:3-6
I also found a man who loved & appreciated me for who I was. He found me attractive without bouffant hair,eye-makeup, lipstick or 3″ heels.
Another fact which contributed to my change was placing my trust in God. He has given me hope because He is guiding me as a shepherd. He supplies all my needs (I shall not want), and He protects me(even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death). He has forgiven my sins (through the death of his son Jesus which paid sin’s penalty).Therefore I am free from guilt, regret, & fear. I think these are aging & disfiguring qualities. I strive to do what is right by obeying Him. My mirror is found in God’s words in the Bible. I have peace & joy in my heart.

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

The difference between my 2 ideals of beauty is because of my love relationship with Jesus Christ, my shepherd. He gave His life for me & loves me. I desire to reveal His beauty.

Linda, mid 60s

Beauty is more inward than outward

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

In my twenties I enjoyed wearing clothes that were in style. I liked changes everyday, pretty colors, and things that were unique and made me stand out a little. That  was quite important to me. I wore little make-up; it wasn’t that popular then. I was always rather thin and active. I didn’t have to worry about my weight. I was quite proud that I was thin. But I also was very small busted (almost non-existent) and was neurotic about that fact.  It took my self-esteem down a lot.

What does beauty mean to you now?

 Now beauty is more inward than outward. I’m a little happy that I have my gray hair and don’t have to spend time coloring it, and the Bible says its a good thing. That was all I needed to know. My clothes  are about the same. I  watch my weight and try to stay fit. I realize now that frame is inherited and not to be proud of the fact that I’m thinner than most woman my age. My body image is more normal, and (ideas about) bust more normal too. I wear more make-up too, to accent my eyes. Otherwise my face looks very blah. I still like to look by best.

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

The Bible has influenced my thinking  tremendously. I now believe inner beauty is the real beauty. Kindness and a smile are more beautiful than gold or silver and an expensive outfit. Goodwill (store) here I come!


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