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Style > Beauty

In The Eye of the Beholder: Three Generations on Beauty

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Beauty has been a trending theme in society for hundreds of years, and in the past century, there have been more changes to beauty standards and trends than ever before. In America specifically, the country has transitioned from more of a conservative to a liberal approach toward what is beautiful, thus allowing people to become more comfortable with expressing themselves through their fashion. As someone who has grown up during this revolution, I thought it would be interesting to ask my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother their opinions on this change and to see how their answers reflect the turn of the times. But first, some background:

My great-grandmother, Dolores, was born in 1928. My grandmother, Sandra, was born in 1949, and my mother, Sarah, was born in 1976. During the interviews, I asked my family members about when they were “young.” I’m referring to when they were in their early twenties, as I think that’s when people are first experiencing the rest of the world. Therefore, my great-grandmother was in her twenties around the late 40s/early 50s, my grandmother in the late 60s/70s, and my mother in the mid to late 90s.

What do you think was the beauty standard when you were young?

Sarah: I was very limited in my view at that age, but I know that it was about being very sexy. Nice skin, good body, and appealing to the opposite sex.

Sandra: Having bigger boobs.

Dolores: It was mostly hair. I always wanted my hair to look nice. I used to get a lot of perms, I liked having my hair curly.

What beauty standards do you think have changed throughout your lifetime?

Sarah: Things have become more and more open – now, what you think is beautiful is what you express. Beauty has become more individualized.

Sandra: People don’t dress up as much. Before, you didn’t leave the house without getting dressed up. You didn’t even go shopping without makeup.

Dolores: The hair. Everyone wears it short now.

What was your personal favorite beauty trend when you were young?

Sarah: I don’t know if I had one. I guess I liked the rebellious side of trends, I dressed very boyish.

Sandra: I can remember your grandfather telling me what he thought was pretty: “If you let your hair grow and do your nails.” I loved the short hair. To me, short hair was freedom. When it was long, I had to set it and wear curlers.

Dolores: I loved having curly hair.

Have you stopped trying to keep up with beauty trends? If so, when?

Sarah: I never really kept up with them in the first place. I think I keep up with it more now than I did when I was younger, now that things have become more holistic.

Sandra: Yes, around the mid-80s.

Dolores: I haven’t been doing it lately. In fact, I’m so mad because I’ve been breaking out.

Do you think your opinion of beauty has changed?

Sarah: I don’t really think it’s changed, it’s grown up a lot with me.

Sandra: Yes. I think it’s more about strength and diversity. Back in the 50s, everyone wanted to look the same. Today, the beauty is in the diversity.

Dolores: I notice people’s eyes a lot more, like on the TV.

yearbook style photos of young people
Photos by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

When you were a young adult, what did you do to express yourself?

Sarah: I went out dancing. I always kept my hair long.

Sandra: Keep my hair short. Women didn’t wear short hair, I used to have to go to the barber.

Dolores: I didn’t think I had to do anything. I tried to keep my hair blonde, mostly.

How much time do you think you invested in making yourself feel good?

Sarah: More than I do now, but not much time. If I had to give a number, 10 minutes, or if I was going out then it would be around 45 minutes.

Sandra: No time. Not more than 15 minutes.

Dolores: I used to buy everything that came out new.

When you look at younger generations and how they express themselves, what do you think?

Sarah: I’m glad that they are able to express themselves in the way that they want, rather than conform to a stereotype.

Sandra: I do like the diversity.

Dolores: I think clothes nowadays are a lot more revealing.

What’s one thing that you would tell younger generations about beauty and how they may perceive themselves?

Sarah: I would tell them they are beautiful no matter what and do what makes them happy. Don’t let others’ opinions dictate what you do.

Sandra: Just be yourself and do what makes you feel good, don’t worry about what others think.

Dolores: Just keep trying new things and the one you like the best, keep it.

By the end of this interview, I learned a lot of things and had some of my previous assumptions confirmed. There has been a major shift in the standards that women, and even men, are expected to conform to, as can be seen through my family’s answers. I’m glad that this country has progressed towards an era where people can be more comfortable being who they want, and I hope it only continues from here.

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Aili Byron

U Mass Amherst '26

Hi, everyone! My name is Aili. I am an English and Communication major at UMass Amherst, and a few of my favorite things include hiking, reading, and (as you can imagine) writing. If you are ever struggling to find me on campus, just listen for Taylor Swift, and I'm sure I'll be there ;)