A violet tucked away somewhere in my hair

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

Beauty, in my twenties, seemed to most often be defined as the physical beauty of humans– girls and women in particular, and in that way meant the same thing to me as it has meant for much of my life— not much. Beauty, defined like this, never felt relevant to me. It was something I knew other girls thought a great deal about, but I seemed shielded from a desire to invest much thought or energy into the issue.

By the time a woman hits her twenties, her value system comes with her. My parents raised me more like a “boy” than a girl—I was expected to excel in academics. I was expected to excel in sports and my other activities. I was expected to be strong, smart and powerful. I was top of my class for most of my life and busy doing competitive gymnastics, then varsity track. I went on to be accepted at a magnet high school and then on to Smith College. 

My “looks” did not fall into place in a mainstream sort of way until I was 17. My mother, being Czech, inherited what seems like Czech genetic tendencies to produce beautiful women. I knew I had begun to look much like her by the time I turned 17, people commented on it all the time, but it was more of a scientific observation to me than anything emotional.

I was encouraged to model by the time I turned 18. I thought about it and even went to a small agency in New York to see what it was like. But standing there, having my measurements taken, I thought how wrong this all was for me. I did not want to be a model. I wanted to be a writer and a world leader. 

I moved into my twenties with beauty in hand, but more like a small flower, a violet perhaps, tucked away somewhere in my hair. What mattered to me more was giving thought to my spiritual self, my emotional self, my intellectual self and, especially towards my late twenties, the world around me.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now in my thirties, beauty has a greater role in my life than it had in my twenties. I have come to understand its broader reach—of its existence in so many things and experiences that do, when brought into your life, strengthen and inspire. It was about much more than having a pretty face.

I feel that I have done much of the work I needed to do on myself in my twenties, and now can enjoy such things and experiences and try to make more time to do so. Just recently I returned from a week in the Smoky Mountains—I still can see the swirl of grays and blues against the old oak trees. That, to me, is beauty. Or taking a weekend to paint the white walls of my apartment turquoise. Do you know what turquoise walls can do for a soul? Try it! Or most recently, spending a Saturday evening carving a family of pumpkins with my mom, brothers and sisters. We put them out near midnight, in front of my mom’s house and all were quiet—even my youngest brother. They were lit up in gold and amber– the unison of color, the interplay of light, the echo of love. That, was beauty.

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

Despite my achievements, like other young women, throughout my twenties, I was vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy and lack of self love. These were things I wanted to correct.

Dina Rabadi with her mother, Dana Rabadi, in Jordan

Just like a nation cannot grow and develop if a civil war is going on, I needed to end my war. Once I did that, I had the energy and the strength to begin reconstruction—as well as a space program. Beauty was this planet that I had not been able to see during all of my personal war fare.

Finally, with the debris cleared and the smoke whisked away, I could see the new planet—and I could see it was not a new planet after all. It was earth. It was life. It was in my life all along.

Dina Rabadi is a nationally published writer whose fiction and nonfiction has appeared in more than twenty periodicals including The Boston Globe , The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times .  She is now at work on her first novel.  Dina is also the Founder and Executive Director of Global Alliance of Artists.  For more information please visit www.DinaRabadi.com or www.globalallianceartists.org.


not looking exhausted…

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

I am not the norm.  I had my first child at 21 and my third child by 27.  Beauty meant to me not looking exhausted.  Beauty meant to me, “How do I remotely look nice for my husband?”  I kept thinking…maybe tomorrow I will be pretty again.

What does beauty mean to you now?

Now I KNOW that beauty is within the soul.  Forget what we see on the outside, only look inside the person to see their beauty.  Those that only look at the outside are not worth looking back at.  I don’t know if all of this peace of heart is from acceptance…or if it is from finally not feeling ugly with my overweight reflection.  I do not know myself, so how can I be honest with you?

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

I have learned that the ones we truly love do not even see the outside; they only see what is inside shining out to the world and to them.  I have learned that life itself is ALL that matters.  I look at my dear husband, now 64 years old and see the most handsome man on earth.  He only becomes more beautiful every day.  YES, he is the one that is beautiful.  What now is true in my soul?  “Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder”.
Suzanne, 58


beauty is all about personality…

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

In my 20s I thought that beauty was all about being thin.  It didn’t matter how people got thin or kept themselves thin, but having a good body was definitely the most important component of beauty.  I also thought that beauty was about wearing cool clothes and being self confident.  

What does beauty mean to you now?

In my 30s beauty is about being healthy in mind, body and soul.  I find beauty in people who enjoy life, who laugh and who are genuinely happy on a regular basis.

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

My perception of beauty probably was shaped most by what I thought men were attracted to.  Everyone knows that men are attracted to women in magazines, so in my 20s, that’s what I wanted to look like.  As I got older I realized that, more than anything, men are attracted to people they enjoy being around.  In my 30s, I realized that everyone is attracted to people they enjoy being around, men and woman.  It took me 30 years to realize that beauty is all about personality.

Martha, 32

Chicago area

make-over from the inside

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.

Terryl, 67,

Chicago area, October 2010

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