What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s, and what does it mean to you now?
It’s been interesting to think about your questions—thank you for asking—it’s been a process. I began by thinking of the subject in a psychological context (of course), because a woman’s appearance is based on myriad influences: genetic, socio-economic, her parents’ love and values, the quality of her life in terms of physical and mental health, and surely personal happiness. These are all part of our ideas about ourselves and beauty—so it’s a huge and complex subject.
My ideas about feminine beauty originated in my upbringing—my appearance was closely scrutinized daily, and always found flawed. American culture in the 1940s, -50s and -60s was a secondary influence, though I do remember studying magazines to look like Audrey Hepburn, so maybe I underestimate those influences. My mother put a lot of emphasis on how I looked and on how the house, my father, and she looked—maybe characteristic of that era. I carried these ideas with me into my twenties and thirties as a young mother and in my first marriage. Now in my sixties, I still enjoy a touch of style and good design, but I give a minimal maintenance effort to the appearance of the house and myself; I’m not much into shopping, TV or magazines.
If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?
Things began to change in my early forties. I had been seeing a therapist for depression and a first failed marriage. After several years of therapy the emphasis on superficial appearances began to shift. I began looking more deeply into my feelings and the meaning of things. As I came into my own, I wanted and went after whatever offered more interest, challenge and gratification. Without therapy I would probably have been trapped in an empty box, looking outside myself instead of within for what might make me happy.
Because of this experience, now when I think about women of any age that I consider beautiful, it has a different meaning than when I was younger. I look beneath the surface to see her soul—how she treats herself, how she treats others, ways she finds of doing good in the world, ways she lives her life, and her sense of well-being. I look for qualities like courage, kindness, and commitment to something outside herself. Her religion (or not), her political views, her home and personal appearance seem like the wrapping around her soul.
An example is that I have a small collection of photos clipped from the newspaper of women who have raised other people’s children—a daughter’s or a sister’s child, say, maybe the biological mother lost to AIDS or drugs. I am touched by this. If she has been a loving and faithful parent, I cannot imagine anyone more beautiful.
I came to believe that if we are not in touch with our feelings and with deeper parts of ourselves, we can become too preoccupied with how we look (and with how we feel physically). White hair, wrinkles, and yellow teeth (and even our ailments) don’t matter when we can offer others a warm smile and interest in learning about them. Just as your virtual smile and interest in what I think make me feel good, I admire you for the passion and care you bring to this project.
Passion and care are what I hope matters most in the years I have remaining. I am lucky to have a husband who likes me as I am, but even without him, I am at peace with myself and not quite as self-critical as I once was. How we look and make ourselves appear is an expression of how we feel about ourselves. I chose to address my make-over from the inside. That is where all the augmentation took place.
Chicago area, October 2010