You were a makeup artist before you were a model. How did that affect your perceptions of beauty?
Being involved in the business of fashion and beauty helped me be more objective about the difference between physical beauty and the beauty of the character. I also learned that our concern with appearance can have both positive and destructive potential.
When I was in high school, for example, I poured over fashion and beauty magazines looking for tricks and techniques that would change the way I looked. I wanted to hide what I judged as “flaws.” Makeup was my passion, primarily because I was trying to look more like the cover girls I saw in the magazines.
Then, living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s, I had a dramatic shift of perception. In 1969, my senior year of high school, I chose to throw out all my cosmetics in rebellion to what I thought was society’s dictate to superficial beauty. However, I found myself in conflict about my desire to look my best.
I discovered that when I was motivated to wear makeup for fun rather than fear, I had a very different experience with it. Beauty was not about looking a certain way to me anymore; it was about a whole way of being and enjoying myself.
Every stage of life has brought me new perspectives on beauty. Now, approaching 60, I find that what I feel inside shows more on the outside. Time has thinned the veil between my deeper feelings and my outward appearance, allowing my face to reveal my inner feelings more easily. I love looking at my peers. Their faces reveal more of their inner character. I see the map of their lives on their skin and the wisdom of their experiences in their eyes. That is the beauty I see in them.
Do you look at pictures differently now that you’ve been on both sides of the camera?
Having experienced both positions allowed me to understand what’s behind the scenes, and as a result, to be more objective about the resulting images. Most people have no idea how much production goes into editorial and advertising photography — all the lighting, retouching, specialized makeup and hair products. The use of Photoshop today means that much of what we see simply isn’t real. These are fantasy images. They represent archetypes we may aspire to, but for the most part, the images themselves can only be achieved through a great deal of effort and a certain amount of illusion.
Because these images are so unachievable by most, some find them more demoralizing than aspirational. What’s your reaction?
I have empathy for that reaction. At the same time, I believe that most of the demoralization we take away from such fantasy images is self-inflicted. These images can strike a nerve with us, possibly because some part of us already feels we’re not good enough or beautiful enough. That’s an important signal to observe in ourselves and to challenge.
I think it’s great that we’re starting to see a wider range of people represented as beautiful. If you want to see more of this, I encourage you to write to your favorite magazines and advertisers and let them know how you feel. And if what you are seeing in magazines or on TV leaves you feeling lousy, pay attention to how you are reacting, and then make a conscious decision about your self-image.
I look on the bright side: A woman of my age, with crow’s-feet and silver hair, would have never been modeling 20 years ago. So, clearly, attitudes are changing, and the fashion-and-beauty industry is responding. There is not only a wider cross-section of ages appearing in today’s images, there are more plus-size models and models representing every ethnic background. In my mind, that’s progress!
How much do you worry about your own appearance now, and how has that changed over time?
I was obsessed with the way I looked for way longer than I care to remember. Now I live my life from the inside out, rather than the outside in. Today, I like the way I look much better than I liked my appearance when I was younger, and more than that, I love the way I feel and the life that I’m living. I see that reflected in my appearance. The actress Rosalind Russell once said: ”Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.” And I agree with that completely. Do what brings you joy, and you’ll take on a natural radiance no commercial cosmetic can touch.
What role do you think health and happiness play in creating and maintaining beauty over time?
I believe health and happiness are important components of physical beauty. However, I have also seen beauty in the sick and dying. I have seen beauty in the expression of raw emotion. All aspects of life and death can be beautiful. My conclusion, based on my life experience to date, is that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Cindy Joseph is a model, actress, health-and-fitness enthusiast, and mother of two grown children. She has graced the cover of Experience Life twice. Read her blog at blogs.experiencelife.com/just-cindy.