Breaking the Body Shame Cycle: A practical and philosophical guide to feeling good in your skin

Full confession: I changed my clothes 12 times before work on Friday morning. Twelve. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to wear.

It was because I felt fat. Again.

You’d think after a lifetime of wrestling with this issue I’d be able to kick myself out of these fits of dysmorphia before they start and be happy with the body I have. But… it’s wet and muddy early spring. End of trimester and final exams are stressful. If you’re like me, times of stress often lure us back into our worst habits.

Feeling good about your body is a major step in creating an easy, effortless wardrobe. You will never feel comfortable in your clothes if you don’t feel comfortable in your skin. I have written about this in the past, (Love and Appreciate Your Body ) but if all you need is a later-winter body-confidence pick-me-up, read on for some practical and philosophical advice on loving yourself at winter’s end.

Set a fitness goal that has nothing to do with wearing a bikini

“Get your body bikini ready!” the media has been screaming from all angles, spraying us down with photo-shopped pictures of women who have somehow become tan in the dead of winter. I’m sorry, media, but how did wearing a bikini become a goal? Any one can put on a bikini. Even the president, were he so inclined.

Fitness, on the other hand, is a fantastic goal. When you decide to push your body, push it in the right direction. Maybe you want to try a half-marathon, or learn to play tennis, or ride the recumbent bike a little bit longer and faster. These are sound goals. Attempting to make your body into some media-fed myth by deprivation and exhaustion is insane.

My goal this year is to become a stronger lead-climber. In order to do this, I will need to lift weights, build up my core muscles, hang from my fingertips in the breezeway of our home, and spend a lot of time climbing. If I am successful, I will be more fit than I am now. But I won’t be any more tan or photo-shopped than normal. And I certainly won’t be wearing a bikini. Those things are ridiculous, they fall off if you so much as move! One jump into the river and you’re flashing the fish. No thank you.

I’ll just be here, getting my fingers bikini ready for the summer.

Use your body for something it’s good at

In the throes of self-hatred, flip the switch by doing something your body does well. Whether it’s yoga, going for a hike, riding a bike, or dancing in the kitchen. Allow your body to show off a little, and appreciate its ability.

I’ll never forget watching my friend Janet pull a weighted sled during a Tabata workout. A grandma, with a lot more fully-lived life behind her than anyone else in the room, Janet casually grabbed a hold of the rope and set her face in determination. While the rest of us were sweating and grunting as we attempted to make that thing budge, Janet just reeled it in hand over hand. Do something you’re good at, and if a room full of younger women happen to be watching, so much the better.

I’m pretty good at playing with my goat.

Find a better mirror

Basic mirror facts: The larger the mirror, the smaller you look. Overhead lighting makes you look larger, lighting on either side of the mirror makes you look smaller. Cheap mirrors can distort your image based on the weather.

Thus, the little sliver of a cheap mirror you picked up for $10 at Target and stashed in you overhead-lit closet makes you look your absolute worst.

Stores have figured this out, of course. So if you need a quick, body-confidence pick-me-up, stop by a clothing store known for having great mirrors. In Eugene, Talbots, WHBL, and TJ Maxx have great mirrors. Just don’t let them fool you into buying clothes you don’t need!

I have no intention of buying anything. I just want to enjoy the big, well-lit mirror.

Choose self-care over self –indulgence

When I am struck by an attack of dysmorphia, I start by taking a day to treat my body well. Then I do it again the next day. Healthy breakfast, endorphin producing work out, calm, leisurely lunch, time outside, ensure a good night sleep by avoiding screens, alcohol and caffeine in the evenings.

So often when we feel bad about ourselves, we dull our discomfort with food, alcohol and distraction. Honestly, when I don’t feel great, I don’t want to go outside. I want to go to Pinterest. But treating our bodies poorly to distract ourselves from the fact that we are unhappy with our bodies is a vicious cycle. If I just drink a glass of wine, I haven’t gotten to the root of the problem, which in my case is almost always school stress. On the other hand, if I take a walk, I can let my mind unravel the problems of the day, and soak in some feel-good vitamin D while I’m at it.*

I didn’t want to go for a walk, but after 10 minutes of fresh air I’ve revamped a failed lesson plan AND set off a few endorphins.

Don’t buy anything new**

Body-shame shopping will derail all your goals for an easy, effortless wardrobe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blown money in early spring on clothes that were completely inappropriate for my life, simply because they made me look a little thinner. Plan your wardrobe thoughtfully, and buy what you need, but don’t go shopping out of a sense of unhappiness with your body, or anything else for that matter.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Do not, under any circumstances, cut off all your hair

You are free to cut all your hair off at any other time of year, but not early spring. When you are feeling down on yourself for any reason, a major haircut will not cure your blues. If you feel like cutting all your hair off, message me and I will convince you to keep it until May. At that point feel free to go pixie at anytime.

My face, when you tell me you want to cut off all your hair in March.

To everything there is a season

In March, I am pasty-skinned, a few pounds heavier than normal, and pretty tired. By then end of August, I will be tan, rested and a few pounds lighter. That’s just being a human.

Weird outfit, covered in dust, bad hair and no bath for four days? There’s no end to my confidence in August.

As the sun comes out and the days lengthen, I will plant my garden. I’ll walk up and down the hill to grab the first leaves of lettuce, then be hauling armloads of veggies up to the house. I’ll walk up to the neighbor’s more often, and down to the river. And by mid-July I’ll find I feel pretty good about my body. Then fall will blow in, with the excitement of a new school year. I can wear my boots again! All the leaves will drop off the trees in one week. I’ll look forward to holidays and make a hundred delicious choices to eat rich, wonderful foods through December. The rain will come, there will be beef stew with lots of potatoes, and full Saturdays cozied up before the fire with good books to read. Suddenly it’s March, and students turn in late work with desperate pleas for mercy and I will feel frazzled and unable to keep up with my job. I’ll have gained a few pounds and gotten kinda pale, and probably have to deal with a few more dysmorphic episodes. Then I will plant another garden. All the time I will still be me, rocking the same denim jacket and the same size pants, and the only thing I have to change is my attitude.

 

Does this sport make my butt look big? And does anyone really care?

*OK, there’s actually no Vitamin D to be had this winter in Oregon, but there could be elsewhere in the country.

** Yes, you are sick of all your winter clothes by now, I understand. But it is still pretty cold out, and no amount of shopping is going to change that fact.

*** My face, when you tell me you’re cutting all your hair off in October

Spring Break 2017, Oregon Style

Spring break is upon us and the blogging world is full of women patiently explaining their resort choices for 2017. It seems that everyone is preparing her wardrobe for a week’s trip to a trendy resort in Florida or a cruise through the Caribbean. Retailers are crowding their rain-drenched front windows with paper-thin maxi dresses and crisp white shorts.

Is a noisy beach party really the only option for spring break? As a native Oregonian, I don’t understand a crowded beach, and please don’t make me take a cruise. I don’t think I could stand being packed like a sardine into a tiny room on a ship full of strange people with absolutely no hiking for a week.

To each her own, I suppose.

My son, standing on my idea of a beach.

While my spring plans do include the beach and the mountains, I’m not looking at fashionable resort towns. * Over break I will be climbing and hiking in central Oregon, and there are weekend trips to the Oregon coast on the horizon.

For years I was bamboozled by the Boden catalog’s insistence that I needed sun dresses and espadrilles at this time of year, despite the fact that I had planned a camping trip that would include 30-degree nights, muddy mountain biking and possibly clam digging.

This is no place for strappy sandals.

Blessedly, I got older and smarter. My “resort” capsule can take me from the blustery Oregon Coast to a cool and cloudless day at Smith Rock.

Here’s what I’m packing:

Base layer

Full confession, I have a hard time with layering. That’s because layering is really hard. Pieces get all tangled up over one another and pants that might look fantastic with a certain sweatshirt don’t work at all with my tank. Blech! I finally have a system, but it’s not nearly as simple as “just layer!”

For my upcoming trips, I’ll keep it simple. The base layer consists of a tank with a built-in bra, and leggings. I can climb, run or hike in this outfit, and it’s not likely to get so hot I’ll wish the leggings away. The muscle tank will be a light cover up when needed.

Mid-layer

You’ll notice a stack of t-shirts, two sweatshirts, and a mid-weight jacket. These are easy to pull on and off. They’ll take the brunt of the wear over the week, so I feel fine packing all three.

This Patagonia half-zip is incredible at keeping drizzle and wind at bay. It if weren’t so comfy I’d think it was made of steal.

This is pretty much what everyone looks like at the Oregon coast, all the time.

Pants

I’m bringing a pair of climbing pants, and one pair of stretchy jeans. I can climb in the jeans, and they’re great if I need to run into town for anything. The pants are from Title Nine (Thanks Julie!) They drape nicely but are still super tough.

Title Nine does a better job of photographing their pants than I do.

Campfire-cozy layer

The puffer vest and cable knit sweater won’t join me on a hike. They will remain back at the camp to snuggle up in as the evenings get cool.

If you can’t wear a fisherman knit sweater at the beach, where can you wear it?

Shoes

I’m always going to want to go for a run, so sneakers will be involved in my packing. These trail running shoes are fantastic. Great for a run on or off trails, perfectly adequate for hiking, easy to slip off if I want to put on my climbing shoes. I love them.

These boots add a little more warmth in the evenings and early mornings.

A really good raincoat

My husband bought me this jacket when we were dating. It, and he, have been a great defense to whatever the world throws my way.

Way better than flowers and chocolate.

Color pallet

Having an outdoor-clothing color pallet has cut down on the amount of clothing I feel the need to pack, and the amount of time I spend packing. The concept is pretty simple: I buy neutral pants (grey, black, etc.) then keep everything else neutral or in the color pallet. A few years ago I went with purple, orange and olive. Right now I am enjoying navy, deep red and orange** as the primary colors. When making the purchase of something that will get stuffed into a bag and hauled through in the dirt of central Oregon, I just make sure it works with those colors.

Since my climbing bag is orange, everything else might as well be, too.

Make your own resort collection

Whatever your spring break plans, having go-to pieces that feel great and can hold up to the weather makes everything easier. It took me a while to get my spring break/weekend get-away look locked down, and a lot of trial and error, but I’m glad I have it.

Step 1 – Think about the following questions: What do you want to do? What do you have to do? What does the weather look like where you want to do it? Then plan the ideal wardrobe for your activities. Don’t hold back here. What would you really like to be wearing?

Step 2 – Search your closet: Find clothes you have, and honestly like, that will fit the bill for your upcoming adventures. Be wary of packing something you don’t really love just because it fits a need. If you don’t like your rain jacket at home, you’re not going to like it any more once you’ve drug it half way across the state and gotten caught in a rain storm.

Step 3 – Fill the holes: While Mud and Grace is a huge proponent of using what you have and buying 2nd hand whenever possible, outdoor gear isn’t something that can be easily fudged. Water resistance, sweat-wicking, quick drying; these technologies can make the difference between a miserable or fabulous experience. For your outdoor gear, buy what you need, and keep it forever. Think about keeping it to neutrals and three main color choices.

Step 4 – Get out there and have fun.

My daughter includes every possible color in her climbing pants. It keeps things simple.

We live in a country where a crazy beach or boat full of people in full-price name-brand clothing is sold as the norm for a spring get-away, but my guess is many of us opt for something different. Invest in the clothing you need for your idea of relaxation, whether you are snowshoeing in the backcountry, or curling up with a book at a cabin by the lake. There will be plenty of time for sundresses and espadrilles come summer.

My favorite part about camping is the sunrise coffee.

* Sorry, Yachats. I love you, but there are simply too many utilikilts per capita for you to be considered fashionable.

**Orange? That’s not a color you see a lot of on Mud and Grace. But somehow it just keeps showing up in my outdoor stuff, so I’m going to roll with it.

The One and Done Challenge

I have a long, long history of jumping into things without looking. Give me five minutes and I’ll agree to travel across the world, adopt your goats, or, as happened on that fateful August day in 1994, agree to teach high school history with no experience or training.

Sometimes it works out. Most of the time I learn a lesson. Pretty much every time I wonder, “What was I thinking?!?”

Inspired by my friends Yana and Sarah, I challenged myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. Me, bike commuting, goat wrangling, chicken herding me, was going to wear a dress every day.

To be honest, it did not start off well.

Monday morning it was snowing. Not the sticking-on-the-ground-no-school sort of snow, but wet, slushy cold snowing. I put on a dress, and just kept going. Leggings, boots, jacket: By the time I was finished you could barely see the dress. My day went just fine, but I skipped the bike commute (did I mention it was snowing?) When I arrived at the rock climbing gym, as is my habit on Mondays, I found I’d forgotten by climbing kit. Ordinarily I could have borrowed a pair of shoes, but there is no way I could climb in a dress.

I found there is very little I couldn’t put on over this black, shirt-waist dress.

 

By Tuesday things were looking up. I wore an olive linen dress with my beloved denim jacket and old Spanish boots. I felt like I had stepped up my work ensemble, but was fantastically comfortable due to the jacket and boots which always give me confidence.

You make everything better, denim jacket.

 

Wednesday I paired a sleeveless, summer denim shift dress (My grandma would have loved this! Grandma’s lessons for effortless style) with a chartreuse sweater, and my Frye boots. This didn’t even feel like wearing a dress. Some hard-core rain gear got me to school warm and dry, and this time I did not forget my climbing kit and had a great time at the gym falling off all sorts of routes.

Photographs taken at 6:25 a.m. are not my favorite things.

Thursday was the fancy day. This dress does not photograph particularly well, but it is fantastically flattering. One student stopped me in the hall and said, “Ms Grace! I’ve never seen you wear a dress before!!!” Never mind the fact that’s I’d been wearing dresses all week…

I found this on Stylewe, a site I can waste hours and hour on…
This detail gives you a better sense of the dress.

Friday was sunny, the first time our valley had seen the sun in nearly 2 months. I fell back on an old favorite, a denim dress I wore regularly in the fall. By this point in the week I was feeling much more confident. Then I changed into jeans to go out with friends after work.

Again with the old Spanish boots! We had a fun week.

On Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t wear a dress, because I went rock climbing with my husband at Smith Rock, and even I know when to cut off my cock-eyed experiments before they go too far.

Not a dress.

What I learned in five days of dresses:

All my dresses look alike

Seriously. I own 7 casual, work-appropriate dresses. Five of them are blue, one is black and one is olive. Five are button down, shirt-waist dresses. All but two are denim or denim-like.

One is plenty.

This speaks to bad shopping habits. One casual, blue, button down denim dress, great. But I should not be buying every other casual, blue denim dress I come across. Wearing them all in one week drove home the point pretty clearly.

It really does help to have options.

Wearing a dress every day for five days meant I had to wear almost every dress I own. Both Yana and Sarah advocated dress wardrobes of abundance. By Friday I didn’t have much choice and I didn’t feel like some Zen minimalist freed from the weight of consumption. I felt like I needed a trip to Buffalo Exchange, stat.

Shall I wear the blue dress or the blue dress?

I am not a master

Sarah and Yana made adding sweaters and jackets and boots sound easy, and to them it is. But I have a lot to learn about how to style dresses. I’m excited to try again, but I’m going to wait until the heat of late July to try for a full seven days. I hope you will join me for a summer One and Done challenge.

OK, so I have gone rock climbing in a dress. But only once.

Did you try a week of daily dresses? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

One and Done: The Daily Dress Code

Could you wear a dress everyday? I often look at pictures of women from earlier times and envy them their simple wardrobe of dresses. * Dresses are flattering, and can be fantastically comfortable, but… an all-dress dress code? As it happens, I have two friends who manage to do just that.

And no, these women don’t spend their days in idle relaxation. Sarah Prater is a respected teacher of writing. She’s that English teacher who asked hard things of you and actually got you to do them. Yana Gorskaya is a film editor and writer in LA who has made scores of films including What We Do In the Shadows and Spellbound.** Both women have families, hobbies and sixty billion things to get done in a week. So they’re just like us.

It’s so simple

“I didn’t always just wear dresses, though I have always had a fondness for them.” Yana says, “But a few years ago I put one on and didn’t look back.”

Yana, with adorable dress, boots, daughter.

Discussing dresses with each woman I was struck by just how easy their mornings are. There is no matching, no balancing of proportion, no trying to get yourself to wear something other than the jeans you’ve been wearing all week. Ultimately, there is, “No thinking!” according to Yana. “Just pull one out of the closet and go.”

Sarah notes that dresses have also simplified packing for vacations. “Since a dress is a complete outfit, it takes up less room in a suitcase. As long as I’m traveling to warm places, which I always try to do, I can take dresses almost exclusively.”

Sarah, not worrying on vacation.

Could you do the same? Here is some wisdom that will set you on the right track.

Start with the right set of dresses

“I’m curvy and lots of things look pretty terrible on me, but I’ve worn dresses long enough now that I can recognize a silhouette or brand that will generally work for me,” Yana says. “Wrap dresses are a good bet. As is anything that ties in the middle. Or has an A-line, loose hanging cut. I’m also a sucker for bright patterns.”

How could you not be a sucker for this pattern?

Sarah says, “I am all about comfort…. I like thin straps in the summer and I can throw a cardigan over some of these for school. Most of my dresses are knee-length.”

Both women advocate a closet of abundance, “I wear dresses every day,” Yana says, “so it helps to have a lot of them.”

Below are a few styles that flatter most body types. These are worth a try.

Fit and flair, wrap, sheath, swing; looking good.

Accessories?

Styling dresses can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be, according to my friends.

Sarah says, “I can accessorize if I want to dress it up, jewelry or a scarf or nicer shoes, wild leggings, a sweater. Or I can go very simple: Just a dress and sandals.”

“I like a good pair of high heeled boots with my dresses,” Yana says, “brown goes with everything, but I also have a black pair. I also own a wide variety of comfy flats.”

Altering the accessories to face the weather is pretty straightforward. “I can throw on leggings if it is cold,” Sarah says, “Birkenstocks in the spring and summer, or boots in the fall.”

Sarah, on a simple style day.

Shopping secrets of the masters

The common theme of shopping between these two? The internet. Both women shop online, and Zulily is a favorite site. Apparently the site has interesting dresses and amazing sales.

Yana simply bypasses the annoyance of returning dresses that don’t work for her. “Because I can’t try them on beforehand, I limit myself to spending $35, often much less. Zulily, Modcloth, Nordstrom Rack all frequently have excellent sales. 4 out of 5 things I buy look good on me, the fifth I pass on to a friend. Everyone wins.”

Friends, did you hear that? This is an excellent plan.

According to Sarah “Since the dresses are not form fitting, online shopping works. I am also a sale shopper. I buy on discount sites like Hautelook, Zulily, two of my faves.”

Sarah, with her equally stylish family.

But all these sharp deals are fleshed out with an intermittent investment for Yana. “I will occasionally splurge and go to a local dressmakers in Silver Lake, called Matroshka. They make dresses custom fitted that are super adorable. But that’s a rare treat.”

That’s a new life goal. Thanks Yana!

It’s more than just a dress

As I am constantly uncovering on this blogging journey, clothing is never as simple as covering our bodies in a creative manner.

Sarah’s dresses have become legend among the girls at the high school where we teach. I’ve heard heated debates about favorite dresses, and philosophical speculation about just how many dresses Sarah owns. Given that Sarah’s job is to push kids past their comfortable limits in writing, she has to be down with being the hardline teacher most of the time. The dresses show a whimsical, relatable side of Sarah beyond deadlines and draft revisions.

A rare glimpse into the fabled closet of Ms. Prater.

Yana’s love of dresses, too, is about more than simplicity and flattery. “My mother never wore pants a day in her life. She grew up in a cosmopolitan Russian city and she always found pants on women kind of provincial. I think I saw her in a jumpsuit once. She wore it with high-heeled sneakers. She passed away when I was in my early twenties, and I think wearing dresses has made me feel connected to her, in some small, deeply comforting way.”

So for ease and comfort and human connection, I am challenging myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. No need to buy anything new, (unless you find a sweet deal on Zulily…) just pull out the dresses you own, boots or sandals depending on the weather and give it a try. I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. Yana and Sarah have had years to perfect this. You and I are gonna have to give up pants for seven days, cold turkey. But I suspect this will be fun. Next week I’ll post about my journey, and look forward to hearing about yours.

Can I do this for a full week?

* Meanwhile, those women are gazing back at me, envying my ability to earn a steady income, vote, enjoy central heating and access to quality dental care.

** Spellbound is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a documentary about kids in the national spelling bee competition, and it is riveting. It also won nearly every award known to humans, and was nominated for the rest.