the beauty myth

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

At this moment I’m still in my 20s so I’ll talk about my teens. As a teenager I wasn’t occupied with beauty or my own looks very much. I was too busy doing other more fun things. 🙂 Still, like most women and most teenagers, I wondered how other people perceived me and if I looked OK to those around me. I would sometimes get (negative) comments from kids on the street that probably affected me. So I wasn’t sure if I was beautiful or if every body part looked “OK” but I tried not to worry about it.

I didn’t want to spend too much time on my looks. I refused to use make-up. I didn’t shave my legs/armpits. I didn’t read fashion magazines and buying clothes meant ultime boredom to me. I thought women who were “natural” (no make-up, surgery, comfy clothes, etc) of any age looked the most beautiful. Skirts could be pretty in my opinion, but most of the time they were not for me. I was very much a tomboy, but also a bit androgynous, both girly and boyish. For example I enjoyed performing ballet wearing tutus, but in real life, trousers, T-shirts, big jumpers, all stars and combat boots suited me better and made me feel better.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I don’t think my view on it has changed a lot. I’m more conscious of the influence of advertisements, the fashion industry and peer pressure now. I enjoy reading and writing about the beauty myth and body acceptance, and I still don’t spend much time on my looks. Comfortable clothes are perfect. I cut my own hair, and I still don’t understand and won’t use make-up in daily life. I rarely wear dresses, and when I do, it almost feels like I’m in drag, so I wear trousers under them. I think I’m more accepting of my own body now, and don’t worry about being too skinny, too pale or whatever. I can see the beauty in myself better and also realise beauty standards are a construction.

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

I’m probably lucky to have lots of feminist friends who look critically at the beauty industry and have different views on beauty, ageing and women than most mainstream opinions. It helps a lot to have supportive and accepting friends who don’t judge how I look or criticise me if I don’t shave my legs. I’m surrounded mostly by women of my own age but I also sometimes work with older feminists, who are beautiful both inside and outside. They serve as examples and working together and learning across generations is very inspiring.

Nina, 28



My Mother’s Compliments

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s and what does it mean to you now?

As a young girl, my mother showered me with compliments. She thought I was absolutely beautiful. She also thought she was the only woman in the world to ever give birth. That was lovely but I always felt shy about it. Now, as I grew older and went on with my life and traveled, I felt in my mind that I was always searching for similar comments. Because of that, I always tried to have everything neatly in place and look as good as I could. Once in a while I’d get a comment, not about beauty but about cuteness, adorableness, attractiveness, well put together.

At this age, I’m actually still searching for that because the mother/daughter relationship…you want to keep that going. I have heard over the years that a lot of mothers, when their daughters become 13 or 15, say “You don’t look very good” or “Can you do your hair differently?”

Not my mother. I was very, very lucky. It kind of made me search  for that repetition. I don’t really know if I’m beautiful or not because it was only really my mother who really thought so

Whatever I came out with, my mother thought was beautiful. The only thing she told me not to do was to wear brown, and that’s pretty small. No criticism. One interesting thing about her that connects the look to the mind was, for example, shopping for a prom dress. She would say, “Bring me your babysitting money and let’s go downtown. I’ll bring an equal amount of money and we will shop for a dress, very reasonable, simple and elegant. Then we’d come home and we’d put a scarf, the pearls, to make it look more ritzy. I couldn’t afford the price of dresses that my peer girls were purchasing, and nobody knew that I got a more reasonable dress because the posture or the pearls…

My mentor and idol was always Grace Kelly because she was elegance and charm.

Did you think of your mother as a beautiful woman?

Well, I thought she was. I am medium height and she was extremely tall. She thought she was too tall, but she could dress and look very attractive. I tried to take her advice and get rid of my nervousness and build my self-esteem.

So beauty to me meant to put on a nice appearance and so doing, to be able to really relax in the event, evening or dinner and hopefully get some kind of “Gee, you look great tonight.” Some kind of compliment. But if I didn’t get the compliment, that was okay.

Have your ideas about beauty changed over the years…your idea of being attractive or beautiful or cute?

Not at all.

Barbara, 69

San Francisco, October 2010


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