80 on a 3-wheel bicycle…

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

I was a young mother with two children. My 14 year old sister was living with us. I think the first thing I did to keep myself sane during that time was going to therapy. I was 21, with two babies, my 14 year old sister and my best friend’s husband was killed in an unfortunate hunting accident. At that time, I was just trying to hold life together.

I do remember wearing a girdle. The first time I went to see the therapist for all this craziness happening around me, I was running around the house getting everything ready and I couldn’t find my girdle. My sister had it. She had worn it to school. People actually wore girdles in those days. I remember going to the therapist and just blurting out, “I would have been here earlier but I was looking for my girdle.”

I guess that was one thing I actually did for my beauty was try to contain my body, which was sad because I really had a cute figure and I thought I was heavy. I wasn’t stick thin. I always had big boobs and matching nice hips and a waist. I wasn’t thin, but I was very shapely. I think it’s sad looking back that I thought I should wear a girdle. Now everybody wears those Spanx, which hold you in like a sausage.

My mom was this wild Italian woman. She wasn’t a real feminine mom, but she gave me three things. She said I had beautiful eyebrows because they had an arch. I was always happy about that. She always told me to stand with my shoulders back. She would say things like, “Walk with your shoulders back. Stick your head up straight and walk with your shoulders back. Don’t stoop like Janet down the street. You’ll look sneaky.” That was a great beauty secret from my Italian mother.

I did always stick my chest out and have nice posture. My mom wasn’t real good about teaching me about the feminine side but she gave me my sense of humor, told me to stand up straight, told me I had nice eyebrows and that I was a good swimmer. I think those were my confidence boosters. Those were my beauty secrets. That’s what I remember from my youth.

I remember I had a yellow outfit, tight-fitting with the sides cut out. So I was dancing with this yellow outfit on and this guy says to my husband at the time, “Wow, look at that dish in the yellow outfit.” And he goes, “That’s my wife.” (laughs)

But I was so focused on trying to grow up, raise kids, and then of course the accident really impacted our whole life. It went from being in school, happy and carefree, to the opposite way too fast. I never regretted having my children, but some of the other things made life really tough. With my younger sister – we’re 9 years apart – but I got put in the position of being her mother. Just now, we’re starting to become sisters. It took a lifetime.

At 29, I got divorced. I went to Europe for 3 weeks. I came back and the kids’ dad walked out the next day. I was 28 years old, with 2 kids, in commission sales. And I thought, How am I going to do this?

I was very, very blessed. I worked for a wonderful man who put his hand on my back, like the hand of God, and said You can do this. I was very lucky. I just started selling real estate. I just put one foot in front of the other and I did okay. I made a living for us.

In 1981, it was a really bad market like now, and I ended up having to sell the cute BMW I had and sold real estate on a bicycle to support my family that particular summer. So those were my beauty products – I went back to exercise. (laughs)

What does beauty mean to you now?

I ride my bicycle almost everyday by the ocean. I exercise at the gym. I use face creams. I always looked younger than my age, but I have caught up now. My hands were always older than my age. My skin is so dry. I now put Neutrogena oil on my skin when it’s wet. People have always complained to me about my dry skin, like when I get a massage or have my nails done. I think it’s just part of my constitution. I have always fought it. The crummy thing is that I’m getting wrinkles and I don’t like that. I haven’t really accepted that yet, even though I know it’s part of the natural aging process. I can’t say Okay, I have inner beauty. And I know I do. Sometimes I see myself and I think Oh, you look different than you feel. I feel younger and better than when I look at my dry skin sometimes and see aging. I don’t like that. It’s not okay with me yet.

I think the thread of “My Beauty” is energy, keeping myself fresh by taking a day off alone several times a month. I have done this mostly on Fridays for many years. I travel along the coast both north and south. I put my music really loud and sing. Usually nobody asks me to sing, because I can’t carry a tune. (laughs) I sing with my sunroof open. I go down to Santa Cruz, get a nice massage and walk along the beach.

I still have longing for closer family ties to my siblings. They’re kind of all spread out in different directions. No one’s been in one room for 25 rooms. I’ve seen them all individually. They don’t come visit, but I go see them…I’ve decided that’s my gift to the family. I’d like for us to all be in one room, while we’re all still here. That’s a longing, for that connection.

What keeps me feeling young, healthy and beautiful is nature, art, living by the ocean, learning to be an artist, sculpting, painting. I enjoy gardening.I also think “reinventing myself” keeps me young. The last several years I have been learned to sculpt on stone and paint. What’s next? I think I have a book inside me that wants to come out, so maybe a writing class. I think these cycles are my ovaries needing to create. I still have one left.

Have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

I didn’t get my nails done until 5 years ago. I really like doing that – going for a pedicure and manicure – so that’s a change. It’s a lot of fun. I think I take more care. I’m good about taking my vitamins. I go for acupuncture once a month, for balancing the female stuff. I think a lot of what beauty means to me…I love art, I love dancing, physical activity – hiking, cross-country skiing. That isn’t products but that’s what I think makes me feel beautiful. Being connected with people.

For instance, my business is really slow. I went in moaning to my manager and she said I needed to go see some people. I didn’t want to see people. But I went to the Pumpkin Festival and bought all these silly little pumpkins on sticks…$80 worth of pumpkins on sticks. I didn’t want to be strapped with all these stupid things so I thought I’m going to start seeing people. So I went to my clients’ houses – people I liked and had sold homes to over the years – and I bought them a pumpkin on a stick for Halloween. I chatted with them, and all the sudden started to feel better. I had been in a funk. I started going to baseball games with my lucky outfit…orange pearls for the SF Giants, matching earrings and a bracelet. I’m an extrovert, so to rejuvenate, I need to go out and things start happening. That’s what keeps me going.

I always looked younger than my age. When I got divorced (at 29), I had a boyfriend who was at Chico State College. My younger brother was really upset. He was a crazy guy, running around with all these women, and he wondered what I was doing. I was having fun! “But you have 2 kids to raise!”he said. And I answered, “You have 1 daughter to raise!” We were both single. He was so upset that I had a college boyfriend. It wasn’t really popular in those days to have a younger boyfriend.

There was one period of time when I was dating 3 or 4 guys at the same time. My dad would come over to watch the kids. He was just great. One night, he took me aside and said, “You know? I’m worried about you.” And I said, “Why?” “Well, for one thing, aren’t you afraid you’re going to get their names mixed up?” (laughs)

I got married again at 39. Even then, I didn’t feel my age because I was a bride at 39. I felt so young. My daughter and son walked me down the aisle. That was one thread about how I felt about myself…I always felt younger than I am. I say I’ve caught up. I think my face has caught up, but I don’t feel like my spirit has. I still don’t feel like I’m my age. I was telling someone, “In 15 years, I’ll probably be on a 3 wheel bicycle,” and I started laughing. I’ll be 80! And if I’m 80 on a 3 wheel bicycle, that’ll be pretty damn good. (laughs) Groceries in the back on a 3 wheel bicycle.

 

Patricia, 65

California

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

Florida

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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