Dela from Ghana

When you were in your 20s in Ghana, what were some ideas of beauty?

When I was younger in my 20s, beauty was defined to me more by appearance – if you were not too fat, neither were you too thin. But just the right size and were nicely shaped. You had hips…like a small waist and then your hips came out nicely. That was a form of beauty to me then. And how you used make-up to suit your facial features, how you kept your hair, and how you spoke. Those were some indications of beauty to me then.

It was always thought (important) to be shaped nicely, like the Coca-cola bottle. We would joke about it. If you were shaped like a Coca-cola bottle, then you were truly beautiful. And not outrageous make-up – say you are black and you put something red – no, something that matches nicely with your color. Women would usually do the eye-shadow, the usual lipstick and the black pencil for their eyelids and lipliner. That was the basic make-up.

By the time you get to your 20s, you start using the relaxer for your hair. So it was part of the beauty for us then. So if you kept your hair natural, it was considered too archaic, outdated. So to look beautiful, you had to use the relaxer and you would go to the salon to have the rollers put in, so it was curled nicely. Women would usually wear curl, although they would occassionally have these kind of braids I have on.

You usually wore beautiful clothes. In those days, women didn’t really wear pants or trousers, so (beautiful clothes meant) anything that looked nice on you. It depended on how you looked. Some people looked good in colorful clothes, some people looked better in plain clothes. If it fit your body, it was considered beautiful. When we were in high school, we were taught that good grooming is the art of hiding the bad features and showing the good ones. So it’s relative. If your legs don’t look too nice, you don’t wear short clothes, so you could hide your legs. So that was a concept of beauty we all grew up with.

Do you have different ideas of beauty now?

Now I think beauty is more from within than what is on the outside. What is the point if you look good on the outside but you are so mean and so wicked on the inside? So to me now, beauty is how you are in your heart. What is in your heart is what comes out on the outside. If you are kind, gentle, loving, I consider that more beautiful than if you are nicely dressed or with make-up. So my concept of beauty has changed drastically.

Why do you think your concept of beauty has changed?

It’s changed because with experience in life, I have come to appreciate that beauty is not what I see on the outside. There’s a lot going on in the world. People are hurting all the time. So what is the point of looking beautiful and then you are so mean? It’s a hurting world where people are in so much pain. I find it more beautiful if you have a heart full of goodness, kindness, nice thoughts about people and acts of kindness. That is what I think should be considered beautiful.

Dela, (much) younger than 50


Dela works with Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights, a NGO which works to provide good reproductive health care for all women, including education to prevent women dying in childbirth. She writes, “ We are currently implementing two major projects in various rural communities in Ghana. The projects basically seek to empower community members to demand for improved reproductive/maternal health services especially for more (midwives, health care centres, better roads to get to the health centres, if any at all and for availability of family planning services) from our health policy makers.”

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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

Being a beauty is something you cannot fake

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

Beauty to me always meant a girl’s appearance and for me this meant a beautiful face, very clear skin, long shiny hair and the girl had to be thin.  She also had to be very fashionable following the latest trends. I never applied the word to anything else.

What does beauty mean to you now?

For me beauty now holds a stronger meaning. I think it is shown through personality rather than appearance. I  strongly believe that someone who is always radiant (happy face) is a natural beauty as I believe it reflects that person’s personality. Make up and hair straighteners can help make someone look beautiful but its that radiant glow that I believe makes someone a beauty. Being a beauty is something that you cannot fake.

If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed?

Past experience has shown me this. It has been proven to me time and time again that beauty isn’t on the outside – it’s on the inside. An old adage I know. But the people that I used to idolize and wish to be, have always, in the long run seemed to lack genuineness. Its not long before their personality changes their persona. It’s amazing how once you get to know the real person how their appearance changes. Sometimes for the good and unfortunately sometimes for the bad.

Vicki, 27


Ideals change with each phase of life

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

Beauty meant being thin, attractive and “sexy”. Of course, I was looking to marry and have children so being those things helped to insure I’d find a spouse and have children. Although, there were beauties such as Sophia Loren, her self-proclaimed “uneven features”, Audrey Hepburn who wrote that “true beauty comes from her soul” and Helen Hayes whom broke the mold on traditional beauty.  Their presence taught me that true beauty did indeed run more than skin deep.

What does beauty mean to you now?

It is a type of gracefulness, dignity and confidence. The inner person is now more important than the outer shell. Although we are to take good care of ourselves which includes feeling good about ourselves at every stage of life.

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

I am no longer young and don’t have to be concerned with hooking a husband and having children, been there and done that. Life has it’s phases, just as it should be.  Ideals change with each phase of life. Of course, I still enjoy looking as beautiful as I can and enjoy looking at beautiful people just as I enjoy looking at everything else that is beautiful.

Elizabeth, 55

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