Legal consultant, 60, from New Orleans
“For almost 25 years I lived in Norway, where women don’t care what the fashion world is doing. They don’t have designer shops. They are more comfortable in trousers and thick socks. In Norway, girls are told that they are the same as boys and you’ll see women being really aggressive, like men.
“Dubai seems a little bit more like the US. For me it’s easier to be in a society where women are more comfortable being feminine. I think the evolution of women happened so rapidly – we are still living in the 1940s in some ways... we wake up and put make-up on. It’s a status symbol that’s been put upon us.
“But I think women are more liberated today. You don’t feel as desperate when you are trying to win work and gain respect. Also, we have raised sons to be men who look for more equal wives, and who respect women rather than looking for a Barbie doll.
“I think women today can shine from within. In my day you had to put on a false persona. But today I think women can express themselves more honestly.
“For some women who get cancer, their cancer defines them. It doesn’t have to define you. I have learned to live one day at a time. I don’t wait until the end of the storm, I dance in the rain. If I could do anything differently, I would live every day to the fullest and not let the minor things stop me. And what I haven’t accomplished at the end of the day, forget it. Tomorrow is another day.”
Long-term expat, 42, from the UK
“I found a lump in my breast in November 2012. I was only 39. On January 7, 2013, I went into surgery and was very lucky to have a breast-saving lumpectomy. They immediately diagnosed me as having stage-two cancer and said I needed chemo and radiotherapy.
“I had very long auburn hair and it was my ‘femininity’. I don’t wear lots of make-up and I don’t wear lots of fancy clothes, so losing my hair was something I was really worried about.
“I was told I would start losing my hair on day 17 of the chemo. So to make the experience less dramatic, I had it cut into a bob. Six weeks after my first chemo session, all my hair was gone.
“My husband was so amazing and supportive and, whether it was long, or short, or bald, or growing back, he always said he loved me just as I was. He was amazing. I put on weight and felt bloated and he always made me feel great.
“But losing my hair was a huge deal. It really felt like losing my femininity. Despite that, now I choose to keep it short. I am more confident.
“I don’t want to be surrounded by people for whom image is really important. I don’t think you get to know the real person. I automatically feel more comfortable when I’m with people who are natural.
“Now I live a different life. I eat organically where possible, and live clean. How I feel is more important to me than how I look.”
Public speaker, 46, Sudanese American
“I’m totally against how media portrays beauty. It’s very twisted and for girls and women who don’t have much confidence, it only has a negative impact on them.
“I don’t appreciate women being used as a commodity. It’s so sad when you see a car, or a bike, advertised with a half-naked woman next to it! Girls are forced to play with dolls, while boys are given toys that build skills.
“I believe that media messages and social norms need to change. The media should emphasise a person’s qualities, such as honesty, integrity, intelligence, hard work, maturity, responsibility, accountability, family values and giving back to society to create a foundation for the concept of beauty being about one’s personality rather than looks.
“I’m not blessed with a daughter, but I have many nieces and I tell them all not to pay attention to the media. Photoshop goes a long way. And being skinny isn’t pretty. Sure, they can be supermodels on a runway, but without all that make-up, they’re not pretty at all.
“I appreciate strong, confident, secure women. I’m not really into those that look pretty physically and bore me with their mental capacity and lack of drive in life. Such women I don’t even keep as friends.
“Nothing beats beauty that radiates from within. A confident, honest and secure woman outshines even Miss Universe because she has substance and presence. And no money or make-up can replace that.”
Mother of three, 48, from the UK
“I always worked in a male-orientated environment. I’m the type of person who didn’t brush her hair, and just put on a hard hat.
“When I was treated for cancer, I didn’t lose my hair. I opted for the cold cap treatment. I did that mainly to protect my kids.
“What struck me most about cancer treatment was that I put on three stone (19kg). I’d always been the same weight but I have struggled with my weight ever since. I wake up every day not liking how I look because of the weight. I think most women wake up feeling like that about themselves, which is sad. But I guess it’s just social conditioning.
“It’s funny because I tell my daughter, who is 14, that she is great as she is – and I really believe that. But I don’t think it about myself.
“I worry about women’s perception of beauty... and about my daughter and the thigh-gap craze and other things like that. Real beauty to me comes from the inside. It’s not how you look. My mother-in-law died of cancer a year before I got it. She used to always make me feel special. She had a strength of character... empathy and a beautiful personality that made other people feel special. That’s real beauty to me.”
Mum of three and executive secretary, 45, from the UK
“My story is pretty recent - I was only diagnosed in May of last year. I had a lumpectomy, followed by preventative chemotherapy and radiotherapy due to the aggressive nature of the cancer. I did a lot of alternative therapies including homeopathy, acupuncture and reiki massage alongside the cancer treatments to keep feeling well. All my friends and family used to say, ‘You are so positive, Kate.’ But the hardest thing was losing my hair. I cried and cried in my husband’s arms. I felt so ugly. My friend shaved it off for me in the end, which was easier than having it fall out in clumps.
“I got a fabulous wig and loved wearing it. It gave me so much confidence and even made me look a few years younger. My sons hated seeing me without my wig on, they took it very badly. My daughter was different... She would say to me, ‘You are still beautiful, Mummy.’ It was such a hard time, but I am delighted that my hair has grown back so well, and even thicker than before!
“I hear women complaining about themselves now and I think, ‘What are you talking about? We’ve been through so much and we have had to change our image. Be happy with what you’ve got.’
“After all I have been through, for me real beauty is being natural. Everybody is beautiful in their own way. I don’t wear much make-up as I like to feel that my true personality and image comes from inside me, so I don’t need to paint on a false version of myself for people to see.”