Beauty is Pain

My mother took a gap year between high school and college to live as an exchange student in Sevilla, Spain where she stayed with a host family. This eventually grew to become a lifelong friendship, and because of this she has traveled back and forth to Spain many times throughout her life. She shared with me her favorite ‘folk saying’ from the Spanish culture.

“A common saying that was often tossed around and that my abuela often quipped goes:

Para presumir, hay que sufrir. Meaning: In order to show off, you have to suffer.

It basically means that in order to be beautiful, you have to spend long hours, or go to painful extremes.”



Because my mom kept up contact with the family throughout her life, I was lucky enough to spend every other summer in Spain since the age of twelve. Because of this, I was able to witness first hand exactly what was meant by this phrase. While I never heard that specific phrase uttered, immediately upon my first time traveling to Spain I noticed that the Spanish, particularly the women, are hyper-concerned with appearances – more so than Americans or any other nationality I have ever seen. They get their legs waxed weekly, their hair dyed at the first sign of exposed roots, and makeup is an art-form all girls are taught at a young age. It is considered improper to go out wearing anything but heels and staying on top of the latest fashion trends is a worthy investment. All this time spent on appearances seemed like wasted effort to me, yet to them, all this is worth it; the beauty necessary to ‘show off’ is worth the suffering. As I spent more time in the country I realized this obsession with maintaining a beautiful exterior went far beyond personal vanity. In the Spanish culture there is a deep appreciation for beauty that extends to all aspects of their lives, from architecture to Flamenco dance to how they present themselves.

I thought it was interesting that my mother sited this as her favorite Spanish saying because in general she is a woman who doesn’t worry herself much over how she looks. While to the Spanish, the phrase implies the meaning of “you can’t just look this good without putting in a little work,” I think for my mother, the phrase carries more the meaning of “if you care that much about what people think, you‘ll have to put yourself through hell” which, to her, is not worth it.