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21 September 2017Last updated
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Real Women

What is real beauty?

In a world where beauty standards are increasingly unrealistic, we asked eight women, ranging in age from 13 to 66, about the lessons and truths they have learnt through the years

Aiza Castillo-Domigo
6 Oct 2016 | 04:40 pm
  • Sadia Blakesley

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

Sadia Blakesley, 29, from Panama, mother of three

“I believe true beauty is really an inward thing. It comes from a woman who chooses joy. I can compare my body to others, or find joy in being who I was designed to be. A woman who lives this way can be in jeans and a T-shirt and there is still a glow and beauty about her. I say ‘Let’s take care of ourselves and dress in a way that makes us feel beautiful.’ But, really, these outward things are not where true beauty is found. When a woman chooses joy, there is a peace that comes and a quiet confidence. That is truly attractive. That is truly beautiful – a life filled with joy and a person at peace.”

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“I think it’s true that beauty is only skin deep because while your outer beauty may fade, a kind heart never will.” – Grace Neal, 13, from the US, a student

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“Over the past decade, I’ve learnt to shed the desire to fit into the mould of ‘flawless’ – whatever that means – to realise that nothing can beat the feeling of being free. No amount of great hair, long legs and curves can make me alluring. A quick wit, compassion and a healthy dose of strong will, on the other hand...” – Sangeetha Sagar, 28, Indian, is single and works in media

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“I belong to a generation that believes women should be elegant and well presented. But I do believe that a smile is the best accessory you can wear, not to mention the fact that it’s free!” – Virginia Demetillo, 66, from the Philippines, mother of five daughters

Tasha Allen, 38, from South Africa, co-owner of Lou Harvey UAE

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“As I am getting older, I am getting wiser. I am learning more about myself and those around me. I understand now that no one cares if I don’t fit into a size 12, it’s the size of my heart and what kind of person I am that really matters most.

“I try to take care of how I look, but that is not the be all and end all. I’m learning to embrace my body and trying not to be too hard on myself. We are faced with such unrealistic goals of what the perfect woman should look like. With age, I am finding myself being able to accept that this is just not me.

“I am a real woman, and real women are allowed to be imperfect. We are allowed to have curves. We are allowed to have hair that is not always coiffed and nails that are not always perfectly manicured. We are allowed to have days where we feel more comfortable wearing jeans and an old T-shirt and we are allowed to wear Bridget Jones undies if we want.

“As I ‘gracefully’ age, I am learning how to enhance my natural look, camouflage the bits I don’t like and highlight the bits I love. Being beautiful is about accepting that which you cannot change and not letting it get you down. Getting older is a privilege and I look forward to rocking around the old people’s home when I am 80, wearing a bright lippy and a big smile!”


Jonna Mjelstad, 44, from Sweden, mother of four

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“My perception of beauty has changed over time. Now I would say that beauty is more about what a person is like on the inside, rather than the outside. Beauty shines out from a person – it does not work the other way. A negative attitude can poison a person’s beauty in a second. But a person who looks healthy, has glowing skin and thick hair has attributes that I admire.”

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“I like the saying, ‘A smile is the most beautiful curve on a woman’s body’. Human nature is such that adults are attracted to good-looking people, but babies and children are attracted to a confident smile. We can learn from that!” – Ana Paula de Castro, 58, from Portugal, mother, grandmother and head teacher at Home Grown Children’s Eco Nursery Dubai

Imogen Lemon, 19, from the UK, student

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“While I was growing up, my mum always pressed on me the importance of being kind and forgiving, and how internal beauty is what counts in the long run. When I left home to go to university I expected that being surrounded by people I didn’t know would come with pressures to look a certain way if I wanted to fit in and be accepted. But it turned out that separating myself from the place where I grew up, and all the lingering pressures that young teenagers put on each other, was really liberating. I was suddenly in a position where I could start from zero and I feel as though, by my age, people are a lot more willing to judge each other based on who you are rather than what you look like. I know that once I leave university, I’ll be entering a world where people seem to place a high value on physical beauty, but for now, I’m enjoying being free from those pressures.”

Aiza Castillo-Domigo

Aiza Castillo-Domigo

Photographer