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


Brenda Starr, ace reporter

Brenda & Basil Dance in Diablo Canyon (crop) - by Mary Lou

Actually my idea of beauty was formed during my teenage years by movies, movie magazines and the daily cartoons in the newspaper. I followed the adventures of Brenda Starr, ace reporter, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Oh she seemed to live a more exciting life than my mother and aunts! Brenda was tall with flaming red hair, feisty and bright. She was a reporter who traveled the world and had many handsome men falling in love with her. One man whom she deeply loved was the mystery man, Basil St. John, who always sent her rare black orchids. This type of romantic life appealed to me more than raising a family, scrubbing floors, washing and drying dishes, etc., which was my job as I grew up in a large family with seven children.

When I was 22 years old I left Pittsburgh for Santa Monica, California with a girl friend. The expression at that time was that it was like “ leaving black and white for technicolor.” I left a city of steel mills and soot for a new world–Los Angeles and Hollywood. Santa Monica was a true paradise with its sunny beaches and palm trees. It was also a frequent hangout for many of the Hollywood stars. It was here that I found most people were interested in healthy foods and physical beauty. This was so different from my life in Pittsburgh.

I married when I was 24 years old and within two years moved down to San Diego. I studied figure drawing and painting. Many of the models were female nudes–mostly slender and beautiful. In order to learn more about makeup and fashion, I signed up for a charm course. I wore a long blonde fall (hairpiece) and tied a red,white and blue sash around my head. I wore a navy blouse and miniskirt, a long white vest and white go-go boots. What a costume!

What Does Beauty Mean to You Now?

Today I still value physical beauty because I certainly try to keep in good shape, eat healthy foods and exercise. I try to balance my life by taking care of myself and at the same time continue to draw and paint and learn how to play the piano.

There was no emphasis on physical beauty or education in my childhood. These are the values that seemed to be intrinsic to me alone. However I was fortunate to have a family with strong morals. For that I am thankful.

If Different, Why Have Your Ideas About Beauty Changed Over the Years?

My idea of “beauty” hasn’t changed so much as it has been “expanded.” I see great beauty in someone who is strong as she faces adversity. Or a person can also appear more beautiful if she has a fine sense of humor.

It was Brenda’s physical beauty that first attracted me as a teenager but in the long run, it was her intelligence, her values, her sense of adventure and personality that continues to attract me.

As an artist I have painted several large canvases with Brenda Starr and placed her in exotic environments depicting her romance and adventure with the mystery man. Brenda will always be my heroine …….my alter ego.

And she never got wrinkles!!!

Mary Lou, 72


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