Beauty is so subjective; the ideas and notions we have about it come from many different places. Whether our definition of beauty comes from words of encouragement, a not so pleasant experience, society, culture or our family, we all have a very different relationship with what it means to be beautiful.
The person who shaped my idea of beauty is my grandmother, who focused a lot more on her outer appearance before she married my grandfather, started a family and became an active member of her church. Without getting into denomination or anything religious, I will share that she eventually followed the rules of her sector by not engaging in any type of westernized ideals of beauty. That included very conservative dresses, no makeup, and no jewelry or hair styling, which was a big change from how she once dressed (as you see from these pictures). How she balanced these rules with her desire to still want to dress stylishly and wear nail polish always fascinated me. We spent many Saturday nights combing each other’s hair and painting our nails as play time. These experiences taught me that makeup and fashion were actually liberating forms of expression and a celebration of womanhood.
1. As a child, my grandmother taught me that happiness is your best asset. When I was a girl, my grandmother worked in Manhattan as a nightgown seamstress. I saw firsthand what went into beading and embroidery, and even went with her to work a few times. A factory job is not exactly considered glamorous, but she never complained about it, ever. I saw her as this woman who knew how to sew beautiful garments, which was a skill she used to make her house warm and welcoming with drapery, pillows and bedding. When I think of the pride she had in everything she did, I recall her smile and laughter the most. It lit up a room, and always made me happy.
2. As a teen, I learned not to hide behind makeup and fashion. As a teenager, my grandmother would often talk to me about her younger days, and how much she loved dressing up in beautiful dresses and heels. She felt compelled to share this after noting how much I had succumb to trends … and quite a few awful ones at that. She would encourage me to love my hair (lots of weird haircuts and colors were taking place), my eyebrows (over-tweezing), stand tall and proud (I was a sloucher). She would tell me all the time that I was beautiful and that it’s important to always present yourself well. I finally listened when I entered college, and stopped feeling so awkward. Oh, those teen years. This second lesson in beauty was to love yourself — to use makeup and clothes only to enhance your own natural beauty and physique.
3. As a young woman, my grandmother taught me that beauty is believing in yourself. My grandmother used to get the biggest kick out of seeing me get dressed up for job interviews or anything that marked my new chapter in life. She would tell me to enjoy this time, that it goes by too fast. She encouraged me to work hard at school, work, and anything I wanted to do in life. She would gleam with pride at all of my accomplishments. It was also during these years that she was diagnosed with cancer and was given less than a year to live. But she was determined to fight it. She taught me that there’s nothing more beautiful than a woman who walks with confidence and carries herself with strength and determination.
4. When I became a mother, my grandmother taught me that giving without expecting anything in return promotes beauty. As a first time mom, I gained weight, my body changed and I was exhausted. My grandmother helped me through the transition by calling all the time to check in and offered me opportunities to nap while she stayed with my son. She was living with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, yet she always thought about my well-being. Giving without expecting anything in return — that right there is the fountain of youth. Expectations of others is an invitation to stress and resentment, which leads to unnecessary aging of the mind, body and soul.
5. When I had to say goodbye to my grandmother, I learned that beauty truly comes from within. Eleven years after she was diagnosed with cancer, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. She got to see her great grandson be born (which was her dream), she got to travel, and go to a few restaurants she enjoyed. She never asked for much. The final and greatest lesson in beauty I learned was how much of it comes from within. And that all the extra things we do (products, makeup and so on) should not define us, but should be used as tools to bring out the beauty we already have. Beauty is the essence of who we are and how we feel, and that is by far the most important thing I ever learned about what it means to feel and look beautiful.