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3 Generations of European Women Share Their Beauty Secrets

By HERWriter
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Maria D. and great-grandchildren Photo courtesy of Maria D. Maria with her great-grandchildren.

European women have a certain je ne sais quoi, an elegance and simplicity, a self-possessed confidence. This article explores the European culture of beauty and wellness from the perspective of three women, representing different generations and countries.

Emilie is from France. Thirty-four years old, with a Masters in Human Resources, Emilie is an avid field hockey player, and wife and mother of two young children, currently living in Germany.

Emilie playing field hockey

Photo courtesy of Emilie: Emilie playing field hockey

Maria Y. is 52, a former massage therapist, from Austria. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two teens. Fresh, organic food and healthy home-cooking in a well-equipped kitchen are her passion.

Maria Y.
Photo courtesy of Maria Y.: Maria Y. is originally from Austria, now living in Arizona

Maria D. is a retired executive secretary. A widow who lives in the coastal town of Cascais, Portugal, she makes frequent trips around the world to see her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Last summer, the stylish octogenarian got her first tattoo.

Maria D. with her first tattoo
Photo courtesy of Maria D.: Maria D. showing us her first tattoo

1) How would you describe your country’s standard of beauty?

I would say that in France, beauty is a mix between natural and sophisticated. Someone who is considered beautiful is well dressed but more with taste than with expensive clothes. Beauty is not perfection in France. Someone with charms can be considered as a beauty, because of a beautiful smile, gaze, or just what comes from that person.
- Emilie, 34, France

Natural, hardly any make-up, healthy looking face you get from hiking.
- Maria Y., 52, Austria

The standard beauty in Portugal is tall, lean, brown hair and big dark eyes. In the country, a plump, rosie-cheeked girl is a beauty, and is considered beautiful at all ages.
- Maria D., 82, Portugal

2) What were you taught by your mother about appearance, beauty or fitness?

My mother taught me that a woman should always take care of herself, but not spending too much time in front of a mirror, that just a little bit of makeup is enough to glamorize a woman as long as it is judiciously used. She taught me to be careful about my weight and to always look good in front of other people.
- Emilie

Never leave the house untidy, dirty, uncombed, missing buttons, etc. Beauty was never mentioned.
- Maria Y.

My mother taught me to always wear new underwear in case I had an emergency and go to the hospital. Wash my teeth, use a variety of outfits when not in Catholic school uniform.
- Maria D.

3) By your father?

My father taught me that sport/fitness is important in order to feel good in your body and in your mind. He taught me that women with long hair are more feminine so he didn’t want me to cut them when I was younger. But well, that is his personal opinion! He also taught me to look good in front of other people. To be dressed properly. Always.
- Emilie

Photo courtesy of Emilie:  Emilie is originally from France, now living in Germany

My father encouraged us to be fit, through walking and isometrics and lots of physical, outdoor work in the garden.
- Maria Y.

My father was adamant that I had a way to have a living, so I was sent to England two years to secretarial school. That was quite heavy to pay since the sterling was much higher than the escudo in Portugal.
- Maria D.

4) Is there a standard beauty routine in your culture that is passed down from generation to generation? Or a product?

Moving your body and breathing deeply outside in fresh air was as important as our daily bread. We constantly had to "toughen up" like walking barefoot in the snow, sleeping with the windows open even during the cold winter months. Always.
- Maria Y.

My mother passed down to me to wash my hair with the old blue soap (bought in a long stick and cut in small portions), and then to rinse with vinegar and water. She had beautiful, shiny black hair.
- Maria D.

5) Are there myths/old wives tales about beauty in your country?

I have always heard about cucumber recipes for masks, with avocado and “clay powder” too.
- Emilie

A woman should not whistle, otherwise she will become a spinster. Do not take a shower or a bath after eating, during the whole digestion process. In many places they don’t cut hair or nails after eating.
- Maria D.

6) What is the ideal of health in your country?

The ideal of health in France would be not being overweight, no smoking, no drinking too much, practicing a sport or at least physical activities, biking or walking, on regular basis, and above all, eating healthy. In France we say to eat “balanced”. Cholesterol is the enemy.
- Emilie

A person who can hike and dance while holding their beer glass.
- Maria Y.

The bulk of the population does nothing. Only the wealthy and actors use the gyms and spas for beauty. The minute there are some reports on television about a variety of good foods to eat, those products start being sold in supermarkets and in health stores. Definitely there is a growing awareness of health, as diabetes, liver, colon and pancreatic cancers are on the rise.
- Maria D.

7) What is absolutely essential to you for feeling your best?

I would say that sleep is essential for me for feeling at my best! I used to need nine to 10 hours to feel good but now, after having two kids, seven to eight hours of sleep is enough — and a luxury. And also a good breakfast is always important to start my day well.
- Emilie

Food that is not too far removed from growing in the ground, lots of water, chocolate and being able to go for long walks.
- Maria Y.

Maria Y.
Photo courtesy of Maria Y.: Maria Y. at lunch

I feel my best when I am happy in every thing I do. I like to greet the street cleaners (they look up amazed and they respond), the old ladies on their walks, the mothers with children, the people walking their dogs, the foreigners — they get lost a lot — and it ends in a big conversation.
- Maria D.

8) What is essential to you for looking your best?

To feel like I’m looking my best, I need a little time in the morning to put on face cream, makeup, do my hair and choose my clothes. I don’t need more than 30 minutes and I usually use less time, or there may be interruptions, because I have the kids to prepare too.
- Emilie

Good night's sleep, shower, chocolate, eyeliner, mascara, coconut or olive oil for my skin.
- Maria Y.

I try to look younger and dress younger. I have blue jeans for daily wear, and good winter slacks from Eileen Fisher, and silk for summer — all from the U.S. either bought on sale, or handed down from friends and family. I do not use makeup.

I like to use Nivea since my skin is very dry in summer. I also wash my face and body with the old-fashioned blue soap. I use red lipstick all the time, otherwise I look dead.
- Maria D.

9) Are there any eating habits you learned in childhood that you continue today?

I eat bread every morning at breakfast like I used to with my family. I cook almost all the meals like my parents did (lunch and dinner) No frozen meals, no take away or rarely. I often eat cheese after the main course during lunch, and I always finish with a dairy product like I used to when I was young, usually yogurt.
- Emilie

The main meal is a COOKED lunch. We have a saying: "In the morning eat like an earl, at noon like a king, in the evening like a pauper.” Don't drink (water and such) with a meal.
- Maria Y.

We had to sit straight at table, use the fork with the left hand, and the knife on the right hand. It was difficult when we were young to cut food, but the fork on the left helped hold the food while cutting (English style). We had to eat all on our plate. We had to be excused from the table by the elders.
- Maria D.

10) Are there any eating habits you learned in childhood that you changed as an adult?

I stopped eating bread and cheese at dinner and I cook with olive oil most of the time. A lot of French people eat a starter + meal + cheese + dessert for a typical meal. Now I keep this schedule only when we have guests. Except for my kids, I often give them raw vegetables before the main course.
- Emilie

“Clean your plate.” But I still mostly clean it — I didn’t change 100 percent. We talk during meals. I didn't do that growing up.
- Maria Y.

Nowadays I cheat since I forget to sit straight.
- Maria D.

11) What is a typical dish from your country that you love?

I will choose one by season because seasons are important when it comes to food in France.
Spring - quiche Lorraine with a dressed salad
Summer - salade Périgourdine: crunchy salad with duck giblets, lardons, slices of smoked duck breast and goat cheese
Fall - boeuf Bourguignon
Winter - fondue savoyarde
- Emilie

Schweine Braten mit Knoedelen (Pork with Dumplings). Rotkraut (Red Cabbage) and homemade pudding for dessert.
- Maria Y.

My favorites are Polvo a Lagareiro (Octopus and Potatoes) and Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (Salt Cod Onions and Potatoes). For dessert, Farofias (Poached Meringues).
- Maria D.

Maria D. with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren
Photo courtesy of Maria D.: Maria D. with her granddaughters and a great-granddaughter

12) What is your approach to aging?

I’m terrified and confident at the same time! Terrified because like every woman I guess I don’t want to get old and I wish that I was blocked at the age of 30 years old. But I’m also confident because age is just a number. As long as I am able to do sports and things that I like then I won’t complain.
- Emilie

Be happy. Be honest with yourself and others. Love yourself.
- Maria Y.

I love aging. I get a seat on trains. I get a gentleman to load my bag in the airplane since I am very short. I have two skirts to show of my two tattoos made last year.
- Maria D.

13) Describe your idea of a perfect day.

A perfect day would start after a good night sleep followed by a good breakfast with a fresh French baguette, maybe a pain au chocolat and fresh orange juice. Then to have time to go for a run or play field hockey, time to take care of myself in the bathroom (alone and with no interruptions, please!) putting lotion on my body, a mask, a peeling.

Then good food and wine (I’m French after all!) some quality time with my kids, and alone with the man I love at a nice restaurant. A drink — wine of course, and white obviously! — on a terrace with some sun on my face.
- Emilie

Wake up naturally (no alarm clock), open a window and feel cool air in my face. Drink something warm, coffee or tea, go for a long walk. Then hang out with my family talking, doing nothing. Eating leftovers and chocolate, telling stories, looking at old pictures and laughing a lot.
- Maria Y.

To wake up happy, to have the chance of meeting people outside and greet them with a smile. Since Portuguese walk with a terrible look, as if they hate everyone, I startle them when I greet them. Old people might not see anyone for that day.

Foreigners always smile at people with dogs, with children. Many are lost and one should help when they are looking at maps to find out their way. They get happy when I can help in a foreign language.
- Maria D.

Intelligence is beautiful.

All three women are multilingual. In addition to her native tongue, Emilie speaks English, Spanish and German. Maria Y. also speaks English and French. Maria D. speaks English, French, and Spanish as well.

The three combined have lived in 12 different countries: their native countries of France, Austria and Portugal, plus Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Nicaragua, Italy, Canada, the United States, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What roles do language learning, international travel, chocolate and the outdoors play in your beauty routine?

Reviewed July 30, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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