what i communicate

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

During puberty and my early 20s I mainly wanted to distinguish myself from the rest. I think this was partly part of my personality and partly in being a twin. I had a strong need  of developing an own identity. I wanted to be different with my clothes. I didn’t wear well-known brands (those years everybody at school had Levi’s pants and Nike shoes) but liked colourful clothes and strong contrast.

I had shawls/scarfs (cotton handkerchiefs with different prints and long shawls with painted prints) and also home-made earrings, made with beads and rubber. I didn’t wear make-up; to me beauty was “Puur Natuur”. I wore sailing clothes for a while to identify with the people in that world (for example sailing coats with brands like Gaastra, Helly Hansen and Musto).

My idea of beauty was influenced by movies. I thought Leonardo Di Caprio (Titanic) was beautiful. For me the ideal beauty image was long, blond hair (I’m blond), a small waist and long legs (I don’t meet those requirements). It didn’t mean that I didn’t feel attractive/beautiful. In general I was content and didn’t spend a lot of time on outer beauty, but studied and developed (creative and musical) talents and spiritual (church) activities.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I enjoy beauty in/of: materials, nature, art, theatre, but also in diversity of people. Outer beauty for me has to do with radiance. A strong personality radiates power: a passionate person with a vision on a certain project/goal; someone with compassion for the weaker in society; people with great faith; a dependent/open child; a burst of laughter…a treasure inside that reflects a twinkle in the eyes or a loving act. This is also how I want to express my beauty.

Besides that, I like to wear clothes that I like. At festivities/celebrations, I wear something special and pay more attention to my hair and make-up. I think you can accentuate inner beauty by taking care of outer beauty.

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

The difference to me is especially the calm and the depth I found in the meaning of beauty and finding my identity, in knowing  who I am. At first it was a desire to distinguish/accentuate my uniqueness. Now I experience the freedom to choose what I really like and make my inner beauty stronger. I found it’s not whether you follow fashion/trends or put on make-up, but it’s what I radiate and how I appear to those around me. A beautiful impression is defined by my physical appearance, but more importantly, by what I communicate.

What I want to communicate is: love, peace, happiness, power, integrity, wisdom, reliability. That’s beauty for me. My belief in God helped me to think differently. I´ve appreciated sermons and books about identity (for example, who am I in Christ). My education and contacts with fellow-students/friends and how/what they think about this has helped contribute to a different view.

A period of “rebelling” against the mainstream with regards to outer beauty (i.e. media) and a clear choice in difference of clothes and hairstyle concerning my twin-sister helped me to find my uniqueness and by doing that, choose what I really like.

Lieske, 30

The Netherlands


Interviews in Catalonia: Maria Rosa – Part 1

Haga clic para ver la entrevista en castellano…

What were your ideas of beauty when you were young?

I worried more than now, naturally. Unknown to my mother, I painted my lips since she did not let me. She said, no, you are too young. I was fifteen years old and still could not wear lipstick. But whenever I could, I (secretly) took Mama’s make-up. To be more beautiful, I pinched and put some oil on my cheeks because they looked better with a little oil. Things weren’t like they are now. Now you can use make-up and get dressed up. Then it was – well, not banned – but not looked well upon. They called a woman who was well-dressed and painted a woman of the world… a whore. It was completely censored. You couldn’t do it. Now you can use make-up and groom yourself, even use sun-screens at the beach . In my time, nothing. Only soap and water. Some girls looked good and others not as good because not everyone was equal. But we were happy.

Territories controlled by the Nacionals (Franco) & the Republicans (Reds) in 1938

Franco’s war (the Spanish Civil War) started when I was seven years old. It was very traumatic because they started bombing, destroying homes. I was little, but I realized what was happening. I got anxious when I heard planes passing. I’ve always experienced anxiety since that time. When something happens that is not normal, I get anxious, which goes back to the bombings we experienced.

 Franco arrived and he was The General! It was terrible – for forty years we lived in a police state. Everything was forbidden. We couldn’t speak our Catalan language. You had to speak Spanish. If not, you were thrown in jail. It was a terible dictatorship. He couldn’t stand Catalans. People of Madrid and other parts of Spain, fine. But the Catalan language, to him it seemed like dogs barking and howling. Fortunately, he died, but until then, we experienced so many changes.

(During the war) we couldn’t buy anything; we didn’t have money. For three years, we were completely wiped out. We barely ate because we couldn’t buy food. At this young age, I was eating banana peels, cut up small, because there was nothing else. We were hungry. We lived in Barcelona at the time. My father was taken away to a concentration camp (in a village near the Ebro) which they had to go to by boat. Later it was occupied by the nationals and the Reds. My father was Red and fought with the Nationalists against Franco.He had been in hiding, but they came to look for him at home and took him away. He was held in this concentration camp and when he came home after the captivity, and we hardly knew him. He had aged twenty years. He was completely emaciated, a disaster.

Maria Rosa & her younger sister

 The postwar period was also hard because everything was underground. My father was a baker and when he came home (from the camp), he started making pastries. Someone would come by asking do you have flour? Yes, but only if you give me eggs, he’d answer. We used to exchange food. It was the only way to eat well. Because if not, there was nothing. There was no bread, no rice, no oil, nothing. You had a notebook and you had to cut coupons, like in Russia. Today, this week you could get chickpeas. But really nothing, a bit of this, a little of that. Sometimes it is so painful, I don’t want to remember. It’s a shame.

 Franco’s people were rich. The generals’ women wore coats of cinchilla and bear fur. Those of us who couldn’t wear those things would admire them, what beauties. It was like that. The rest of us wore very simple dresses. No one wore pants. Everyone dressed up, and all women over forty had to wear black because they were old. Not now. I have a picture of my grandmother (at forty) and it seems that this woman is a hundred years old. You couldn’t go out unless your skirts were below the knees. The hair style was a tight bun. Beauty shop, not a chance.

 After the sixties, tourists started coming here to Catalonia, and Catalan women saw other women. And we thought great! These girls are wearing short pants. We said And what about us, silly us? They opened our eyes, these tourists. We saw a different, more open, relationship between men and women. Here, if you touched a man’s hand, it was sin. Here everything was sin. In contrast, the foreigners went to bed with each other and it was normal. An impossible thing. Then we smarted up and said, screw them. We’re also human beings like them. Now girls go to bed right away – it’s natural. Now, no more praying all day. Then everything was repressed. And all day Franco, Franco!, praising Franco. When he came to Catalonia, we all had to go to the school ground waving little flags. It was very nice. Very traumatic.

 The tourists were the blessing. There came a time when people were spending their money and restaurants started…and a completely different way of life. The best thing happened. Germans, British, tourists from around the world came. And we were still young women and thought oh, how beautiful! They looked like they came from another galaxy. I remember one day some friends invited me to come to Barcelona to see a bus of Russian girls. We all went to see them because we believed that the Russians were completely different from us because Franco said strange things, like Russians were terrible demons. Well, we went to see them and saw the most beautiful girls, all blond. We decided that it was all a lie. Our youth was completely wasted. Everything against the government was a sin.

 After that, women began to dress up. Renowned designers came here. When visitors came, Spain got money and began doing things well. It was great. The tourists’ money was the best thing that could happen. With them came well-being – cars that no one previously had. Seat started a car factory here in Spain. Before that nobody had cars. A family would be lucky to have a bicycle. A new, very different life began.

Grandmother at 40 (seated), with her six children

 In the beginning of the 1970s women began to open their eyes, for example, to use night and day creams. Things that are very normal now. Before that everything was looked down upon. To buy and wear cream for what? Women began to show more leg and chest; sometimes you saw pants. There weren’t many women in the city who were offended by this, but in rural areas, people said that women who wore these clothes were all whores. Now it’s not like this.

 At that time, a 40 year old woman was considered old. My grandmother had 6 children. One had to have children because taking birth control was forbidden. You had to have the children God sent you, as if God had something to do with it. Children came when the husband wanted sex. When the boss told you, “Upstairs!” that meant he wanted sex. Imagine! There wasn’t much room for subtlty or romance, nothing about love. When he was done, the woman could go back to the kitchen.

To be continued…

Maria Rosa, 82

Pla de l’Estany, Catalonia

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

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



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

When I was young I liked to dress up and go out—I felt so young! I felt very happy. I was always a happy person. I don’t feel old now. I liked dancing very much. My dad gave me many dresses, boots and shoes. Since the age of twelve I put make up on. I lived in Colima, Guadalajara (Mexico). My parents had a jewelry shop. They both worked in the jewelry shop, and we had many employees. My mom was French. She was very beautiful and my dad liked her very much. He was handsome and liked dancing very much. My mom was very serious and only danced waltzes. But my dad liked to dance anything and put on hats.

I married in Colima to a Guatemalan man, a good husband. I married at 26 and he was 15 years older. He was a good husband and bought me a house for our three children.

I came to San Francisco at 25. I met my husband here and stayed. He died of a heart attack; he worked very much. I asked him why he worked so hard, and he said he wanted to provide for the family.

What is the importance of beauty for you now?

I always like to dress up. I always go the beauty parlor. One should always dress up, primp up. I dance salsa. I have admirers…there is one (now) a year older than I. But we are just friends.

If different, why have your ideas changed?

It is the same, because thanks to God I have always liked to dress up. My children help me; they love me very much. I am very friendly. When I get upset I go for a walk.

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

Cuando era joven, me gustaba vestirme, salir, me sentía tan joven! Me sentía muy contenta siempre estuve contenta. Yo no me siento vieja. Me gustaba mucho bailar. Mi papa me daba muchos vestidos y botas y zapatos. Desde los doce años usaba maquillaje. Vivía en Colima Guadalajara. Mis papas tenían una joyería. Mi mamá era francesa, los dos trabajaban en la joyería y teníamos muchos empleados. Mi mamá era muy bonita y a mi papá le gustaba era muy guapo y le gustaba mucho bailar. Mi mamá era muy seria y bailaba vals nada mas en cambio mi papá le gustaba bailar y ponerse sombreros.

Yo me case en Colima con un señor de Guatemala, muy buen esposo. Me case a los 26 años y el me llevaba quince años. Era buen esposo el me compro la casa y para nuestros tres hijos.

Yo vine a los 25 años a San Francisco. Conocí a mi marido y me quedé. El falleció del corazón, trabajaba mucho. Yo le decía porque trabajas tanto y el quería mantener a la familia.

¿Qué significa para Ud. la belleza ahora?

A mi me gusta siempre arreglarme. Siempre voy al salón de belleza. Siempre hay que vestirse, arreglarse. Voy a bailar salsa. Tengo enamorados, hay uno que tiene un año mas que yo. Pero somos amigos.

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

Emma making me a special Colima lunch

Es igual, porque gracias a dios siempre me quise arreglar. Mis hijos me ayudan me quieren mucho.

Soy muy amiguera. Cuando estoy enfadada salgo a caminar.

Emma, 83

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

“Draw Winky”

What were your ideas of beauty in your 20s?

It had nothing to do with wearing make-up (like my sister). I dressed really poorly. I wore a lot of jeans. I never cared to dress up, put make-up on, or do my hair. My hair was long. I braided it or pulled it back in one ponytail.  I didn’t care about looking beautiful because I didn’t care about what guys thought. If a guy worried about looks, let him worry about looks with somebody else.

In high school in the late 60s and early 70s, the style was wearing platform shoes, but pants had to drag. I was so tall that when I wore platform shoes, my pants wouldn’t drag, unless I made them. I would start buying them with cuffs and start letting them out as far as I could. By the time I finally got it all figured out, it was out of fashion. Oh well. (laughs) There were hip-huggers but I don’t have hips so I never worried about them.

I remember in high school, one of the girls wore a little t-shirt and leggings to school. Back then I thought, Wow, she’s fat. I look at the picture now and think, Not really. She doesn’t look that bad. Lots of women walk around like that. I’d never been heavy until after I got married and had kids.

All through high school I wore pants or dresses with pants underneath or knee socks. It was or wasn’t the style, but I had a skin condition and had to cover my skin. I had a boyfriend for 2 years, but it wasn’t because of anything I wore. We just got along.

What are your ideas of beauty or image now?

At my age, I wear a little bit of make-up and I’ve got to do a little something with the hair. I’ve seen women in t-shirts and jeans that look better than others (in the same). But I think it’s just a little of everything. My church talks a lot about your personality and your attitude. The guy that I’m seeing says, “You’re interesting to talk to. I wanted to get to know you more, to find out about you.” Now that we’re serious, I asked him, “Have I changed any since 2 months ago?” He said, “No, you’re still interesting.” We both have a lot in common.

Some guys like the girls that act flirty and all that, but some guys don’t like a woman who’s loud and needs attention. And ever since my boyfriend and I started being serious, all the other guys at church, well, I wouldn’t say they’re coming on to me, but they’re all talking more.

Is there a change in how you think about beauty?

A lot of it has to do with the way I act. I grew up in Alaska and the (mainland) US as a military brat. It’s hard because you don’t get to know that many people. You know them for a year and then you have to leave. My father didn’t encourage us or my mother to make friends. He said people  just wanted to see what we had. So he wouldn’t allow anyone to come over or let me go anywhere. My exciting day was going to school, coming home to do my homework, helping the other kids, and starting dinner. Mom would come home. Dinner would be half done, so she’d finish it and we’d eat. We cleared up and did the dishes, and then Dad said, “Well, do what you want.” And it was like whoopie. I never went to movies as a kid. I never did anything.

My parents paid for me to take an art school advertised on TV – the “Draw Me” Winky. I took it for 3 years but didn’t finish it. My father threatened to disown me if I went to college. He said a woman needed no more education than high school because she would get married and a man would take care of her.

When I was young, I was a real crier. I still cry at the drop of a hat. I’m really sensitive. But back then, I couldn’t talk to people. I was really shy. Now if I was in school, I’d be on the debating team. I could stand in the front of the room with a whole bunch of people and talk, whereas when I was 20, I didn’t have any confidence. I don’t know what it was. I got nervous that I would say something wrong. The beauty part has changed a lot. I kind of wish back then I would’ve taken more pride in how I looked.

Susan, 56


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