In Celebration of Gritty Women

“Gritty Woman” Alexis is my daughter’s piano teacher and she runs 100K races, making her one of the coolest people on earth.

A strong woman hikes alone on a rocky plateau, a vast lake and mountains looming in the background. This woman’s image is powerful and determined, and so far in 2017 it is the most purchased picture for the search term “woman” in the Getty Image library.

Getty Images is where every company, blogger, brochure-maker and training-PowerPoint-assembler goes to buy the images they use. Popular stock photos represent the consciousness of mainstream culture in a way that nothing else is really able to. They are purchased by anyone and everyone wishing to use an image to persuade an audience. Ten years ago the most popular pictures of women were largely naked and completely docile. But not anymore. The popularity of photos featuring strong, active women outdoors is such that Getty Images has even given the phenomenon a name, Gritty Woman.

Mainstream culture is finally catching up with what so many of us have known all along: grit is beautiful.

Lydia, being her awesome self, having serious fun in the knee-deep snow.

 

There I go again, hiking alone like a woman.

Since childhood, we are saturated with images of digitally re-mastered, inactive women. We are told to buy clothing we can’t move in to go with shoes we can’t walk in. The lessons of the media seep in and shape us in ways we can never fully be aware of.

Dana, enjoying the mountain’s beauty, no re-mastering necessary.

But this year, this crazy, difficult, disaster-ridden year, the picture that meant “woman” to the most people was of a woman hiking alone. And that, my friends is cause for celebration.

It’s always a celebration when Lex is involved.

Criticism of the concept is rife, because if something’s different we should probably criticize it, right? Here are my responses to Gritty Woman’s naysayers:

It’s just another impossible body image, set outside

OK, Getty images isn’t getting swamped for pictures of 45-year-old hikers who use reading glasses to look at the trail map and have generous behinds. I’m sure they’ll call me when that happens. Women’s clothing company Title IX prides itself on using “real women” in their catalogs, rather than models. Still, the not-models always look exactly like actual models, only with extraordinary triceps. But at least the women are moving. I’ll take powerful, active female images over the alternative any day.

Sandy, just hanging out, looking gorgeous.

These images encourage women to go outside for the sole purpose of taking a great instagram photo

Fact: I do not care why anyone goes outside. If a woman goes outside just to take a picture of herself in a cute puffer jacket, this is none of my business. She’s outside, and inasmuch as outside is awesome, it’s likely she’ll be back for more. If her pictures roll across my social media feed, I will probably put hearts on them.

I think Danielle is actually outside more than she is inside.

Ten years of improvement is more of a trend, rather than true evolution

Yes, human civilization will continue to change. The popularity of gritty women will wax and wane over time but right now it’s here, and I am going to enjoy every dirt-filled, sweat-accepting image. With time I expect to see more cultural and size diversity in the media, and it will happen as we respond to every positive representation of women we come across.

Lina and Geoffrey, representing grit… and grime.

Ultimately, when my daughter opens up her social media feed, she is flooded with pictures of tough women doing awesome things outside. When I was her age, I was flooded with pictures of buxom women with big hair lying on sofas, beds and occasionally the floor. When I envisioned my future as a 7th grader, I imagined being wealthy and beautiful. My daughter imagines herself living in a van in Colorado, being a professional rock climber. For this I’d like to thank everyone who has ever searched “woman” on Getty Images and chosen the hiker.

Alexis and her dog: tough, beautiful, and having a really good time.
Angela: capable, confident and completely adorable.
Renee, being a total boss having a great time on the McKenzie River Trail 50K.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you like Mud and Grace, but want to save yourself the trouble of finding it on Facebook every Sunday evening, please consider subscribing.

What to read more about the Gritty Woman phenomenon? Check out this great New York Times article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/upshot/from-sex-object-to-gritty-woman-the-evolution-of-women-in-stock-photos.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_up_20170908&nl=upshot&nl_art=0&nlid=79147650&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

 

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

Choosing Beautiful

 

Humans want to look good. Through our 5,000 years of recorded history and before that, we have chased beauty. The corners of history are filled with recipes for beauty creams and makeup tips from every civilization. The covers of textbooks feature a bust of Queen Nefertiti or a tapestry of the beautiful young Medici brothers.

It’s OK to want to be pretty. It’s human.

But apparently it’s also human to make things as complicated as possible.

We shame ourselves for not being pretty enough, while shaming ourselves for wanting to be pretty in the first place.

That’s just messed up.

Choosing beauty doesn’t make you any less smart or capable. A low self-esteem is not the opposite of vanity. Deciding to be beautiful is no different than deciding to have a lovely rose bush next to your front door or a great painting hanging above your desk.

183454_10150398478410427_4142629_n
Bobbie Willis, proof that being beautiful and capable are not mutually exclusive.

Pretty has very little to do with how closely you align with society’s beauty standards. It has everything to do with how you treat yourself. Gorgeous women comfortably walk the fine line of enhancing their looks with just the right beauty routine and wardrobe. They don’t need a truck bed full of makeup and hairspray to leave the house. They don’t walk out the door in a wrinkled blouse and ratty hair. They practice self-care, rather than self-indulgence.

14102208_10208782137848391_8137591666182840883_n
Melissa Brown has always had fabulous hair and that look of mischief in her eyes.

My journey to beauty got off to a rocky start as a pudgy, awkward kid, adding on braces, acne and a short bushy haircut in the 7th grade. I was raised by great parents who wanted me to value creativity and intelligence over beauty, which I do. But as a child, that often translated into ill-fitting clothes handed down from my cousin Danny and complete bewilderment at my own desire to be pretty. I spent hours in my bedroom, drawing dresses, imagining what my beautiful, grown–up self would look like, and studying the end-all, be-all authority on style, Princess Diana.

I grew up and out of that most-awkward stage, but the uncomfortable 7th grader had lodged herself in my psyche. Throughout my teens and 20s I didn’t like my hair, my face, the shape of the line between my hair and face. My earlobes were weird. I hated the way my cheeks looked when I smiled. I was still me, and grumbling about it.

My first experience with a woman who chose to be beautiful was Lisa. Freshman year in college she came rolling into the costume shop where we worked. She wore cute, form fitting clothes with confidence. She wore just the right amount of makeup. I thought, “If only I had a body like hers. Then I would wear great clothes and walk around with that confidence.” After two years of working on and off stage with Lisa, sharing classes and heartbreaks and endless cups of coffee, I took the opportunity to steal a glimpse of her measurements card in the costume shop. Our body stats were nearly identical.

Her body, by this empirical evidence, wasn’t significantly different from mine.

The conclusion was obvious. Lisa had some crazy magic that I didn’t have access to. She was hot and I wasn’t, and that would be that.

221678_10150233381476180_652992_n
Lisa Weiland is still hot, 24 years after we met in the costume shop.

As time moved on I met more and more women like Lisa; women who weren’t waiting to lose 5 pounds or for their hair to grow another 2 inches before they decided to be beautiful. These women were rocking what they had.

They wore nice clothing, took a minute to put on lotion, ate well, expected to have time to themselves, not because they were vain of self-centered, but because they valued themselves. They enjoyed looking good.

It’s taken about 20 years of observation, but I finally feel able to harness a piece of that magic. Here is a path that can get you there.

Appreciate the beauty of others

Being beautiful is never about being more beautiful than other people. That would be like saying one tree is more beautiful than another. Trees are just beautiful. One tree’s beauty does not diminish another’s.

img_7487
This sunset was beautiful. Other sunsets will be beautiful, too. We’re not going to set them all up against some arbitrary sunset standard, we’ll just enjoy each one as it happens.

Appreciating beauty in others, rather than dreading it, helps us open our eyes to our own beauty. Take a walk through a crowded public area and keep an eye out for gorgeous. You will find it everywhere, in the old, the toddling, the in-between.

If you are feeling dwarfed by a friend’s beauty, look at her a little more carefully. Chances are she is no closer to society’s standards than you are; she has just chosen to consider herself gorgeous, and grooms herself accordingly.

12227817_10207663529495252_3323877043902474047_n
Yvonne Fareas, redefining “grandma.” Yes, you can spoil your grandchildren and be crazy-gorgeous.

You do you

Recently a friend of mine was picked up in a private jet and flown to LA for a party. (This never happens to me.) She was naturally apprehensive about dressing for a hip restaurant in downtown LA. She could have bought expensive, all new clothes and tried to pass as a southern Californian, feeling awkward and inadequate every step of the way. Instead, she packed her favorite black dress, and boarded that plane with the gorgeous skin and outdoor fitness of an Oregonian woman.

We don’t need to be, and in fact can’t be, anything other than what we are. How awkward is a 14-year-old dressing like a 25-year-old? A 70-year-old working overtime to pass for a 30-year-old? Both are sad, and neither works.

But a 70-year-old, comfortable in her skin, wearing a great outfit and showing off a fabulous silver mane? That’s beauty.

I’m a mom who gets mud on her boots and really loves clothes a lot. I am beautiful when I embrace that fact. When I try to dress like the ladies in the Nordstrom catalog I just look like a poser. And I’m cold.

549086_10151982628400613_787598633_n
Sarah Lloyd is down to earth, and she runs really fast. When you’re holding the first place ribbon and a hundred dollars cash you really don’t need anything else.

Refurbish, and maintain

When my husband and I first walked into our home, we could see its potential. Banks of windows and wood everywhere made the home feel like a well-appointed tree house. But it needed a lot of work, a ton of work, fully 2000 pounds of work. We replaced windows, repainted every wall that had paint on it, pulled up some nasty carpeting. We did this because we felt our family deserved an awesome home.

11031028_10155265850505534_1277801415081624097_n
Do I seriously live here? I am so lucky. Plus I work really hard to make it look nice.

Sometime we need to refurbish ourselves. Get rid of pilled sweaters, find a hairstyle that looks good without a lot of maintenance, sleep for 8 hours, go see an esthetician about your skin. This is an investment. It’s a message to yourself that you matter.

Of course a makeover or a remodel is exhilarating. But then there’s the maintenance…

As you get a handle on your beauty routine, you will find maintaining it takes time. Just like cleaning this big, awesome, refurbished house I live in. I’d love to skip the daily, weekly and monthly cycle of household chores. The same is true of my beauty routines. I am lazy, lazy, lazy when it comes to self-maintenance. But I do it, because I like me. I like feeling pretty.

IMG_6044
I dealt with my hair AND put on lip balm.

Harness the Power of Habit

Find every opportunity to engage in positivity about how you look. Thank your friend when she tells you your top is fantastic, rather than trying to dodge the compliment. Give your spouse a kiss when they say you look great, rather than asking, “Really?” Listen to you hairdresser when she tells you you’re gorgeous. Take these compliments as facts, and store them up in your heart.

Watch your words with yourself. I won’t tell you to look in the mirror and blandly yammer on about being beautiful. But when you catch yourself looking hot, acknowledge it. Thank your frontal lobe for deciding to take an extra 30 seconds to put on lip-gloss. Thank your past self for dragging you out of bed to workout, resulting in some sweet looking biceps. Compliment yourself for choosing to wear the bright blue scarf with your camel jacket.

All of this positivity will become a habit. You will begin to scan for the good in yourself, and others.

14805408_10100464052312704_1037102765_n
Celina and Eva Johnson-Hess. It’s hard not to feel beautiful when your gorgeous daughter looks exactly like you.

Be Content

Go find your favorite picture of yourself. Chances are, it was taken on a day you felt fantastic. If you want to be beautiful, you need to be content with your life and yourself.

You get to shape and control your destiny. If that means reevaluating your job, taking up a particular hobby that’s always spoken to you, working through a difficult relationship in your life, get on it.

My happiness is dependent on regularly spaced chunks of time where I can be alone, doing whatever I want. I guard these chunks fiercely, and it shows in my skin. Occasionally I’ll come across a horrible picture of myself and laugh. The worst pictures are taken when I’m not tending to any of my own needs, but running around like some deranged squirrel trying to take care of every other human on this earth. And looking like a deranged squirrel, too.

 

14370431_1089164707828342_7955457699034190195_n
Ann Hettick is beautiful. Put her next to her horse and she starts glowing.

It is your decision, and your opinion matters

Several years back, a seventeen year-old student was grinning as she said, in front of the entire AP History class, “I’ve decided my body is fabulous.”

That a student came to declare her body confidence in the classroom is a long story, but suffice it to say, we were impressed.

“How?” someone asked.

“I just decided it was,” she replied. And it was.

Choosing to be beautiful is about making that decision. When you decided your body is fabulous, you begin to treat it as such, feeding yourself good food, exercising and caring for your skin and hair.

There will always be crazy standards and people who think you don’t meet them. The good news is, you make the rules for your life. You can look at your jawline and decide it’s great. I can see my earlobes as unique, rather than weird.

Most people don’t look very closely at anyone, and certainly not closely enough to opine on your earlobes. They just have an overall impression of what you look like. “Pretty.” “Sloppy.” “Elegant.” “Over-done.” You have considerable control over that impression. You’re slouched over, tugging at an ill fitting, worn out coat? “Frumpy.” You’re happy, and wearing an outfit that fits, looks and feels good? “Put together.”

11653362_10207114056752984_2075791316_n
Lynette Williams always looks put together, even when it’s 100 degrees outside.

We all know people who don’t conform to traditional beauty standards yet walk around like they’re Cleopatra.* We can too. Choosing beautiful means caring for and appreciating yourself. Look for your beauty, care for it and don’t be afraid to let it surround you. Your inner 7th grader will be thrilled.

img_6683
Hi little 7th grade Anna! It all turned out OK. I do wear substantially less velvet than you had hoped, but guess what?! We have a goat! And I get to feed it and everything.

*Truth be told, even Cleopatra didn’t conform to the beauty standards of her own age. In all contemporary descriptions of her, no one ever comes out and says she’s particularly good looking. The very few likenesses we have show a fairly ordinary set of facial features. By the time she was enthralling Marc Anthony she’d had a few children and was pretty busy running the wealthiest country on earth. But she was the Queen of the Freakin’ Nile, baby, and that looks good on anybody.

 

 

Size means nothing. Literally.

 

“What size to you wear?” my boyfriend asks casually over the phone. He’s at a scratch and dent sale at Backcountry Gear and they have some good prices on rain jackets.

What size do I wear?

What kind of a loaded question is that for 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Are we talking physically or emotionally? What size do I wear today, or what size do I suspect I’ll be wearing next month?

All these years later I can still remember the long and awkward pause that followed his question. I am silent, holding my phone and trying to think of an answer. My boyfriend stands across town next to a rack of Patagonia rain jackets, wanting to buy me one. I can’t answer this simple question. In my closet there are dresses that range from size 8 to 2. I have extra small shirts that are bigger than some large shirts I own. Pants run the gamut. Rain jackets are anybody’s guess.

Because, as you are already well aware, women’s sizing means nothing. You can find clothes that fit and clothes that don’t fit with any number imaginable on it. We can, and do, allow our self-esteem to soar and plummet with each unimaginably inconsistent little digit dangling off the tag.

img_7677
The coat I wear to my son’s football games is two sizes larger than the one I wear to my daughter’s climbing comps. So am I thinner in a rock gym than I am on the sidelines?
img_7650
This is exactly what I look like when I’m watching my daughter climb. Freaked out but appropriately dressed.

Women of Mud and Grace, it’s time we put an end to the arbitrary tyranny of size.

According to Julia Felsenthal, the US attempt at standardized sizing began in the early 1940s with one of those wonderful depression era WPA projects. Mail order catalogs could be equipped with a sizing system that would increase customer satisfaction (and decrease returns.) Two statisticians, Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton and their team were sent out to measure 15,000 women. They took a whole mess of measurements in hopes that they could create one standardized system of women’s sizing for the United States.

The data, by their own admission, was inconclusive. Women’s bodies were too different to conform to any standard system.

Yes, it took two statisticians and all their operatives taking 59 distinct measurements of 15,000 women to discover that our bodies don’t fit a standard form.

Despite this failure, the government revisited the work in 1958. One can only assume the mail order catalog companies wanted an answer. That system, however bedraggled, still exists today. Based on a late 1950’s study, women’s clothing is sized according to bust, with the assumption that all the rest of a woman’s measurements will fall according to an hourglass figure, where the bust and hips are of equal size, and the waist is exactly 10 inches smaller.

I hope you are laughing hysterically by now.

In the 1960s, clothing manufacturers figured out that by making an article of clothing just a little bit bigger than the size on the tag, women were more likely to buy it. Crazy smart, those fashion execs. By the 1970s the US standardized sizing system was getting harder and harder to enforce. In 1983 any government standards were dropped completely. A manufacturer could size however they saw fit.

Enter vanity sizing. According to a 2011 NYT article, a size 8 waist can vary as much as 6 inches between manufacturers. This holds true even when the clothing is made by the same company, like the Gap/Athleta/Old Navy/ Banana Republic behemoth. I went on line to check the sizing guides and discovered that a size 8 waist at the Gap is 29.5 inches. At Old Navy it’s 28 inches and 29 inches at Banana Republic.

And you just thought your weight was fluctuating from one end of the mall to the other.

img_7631
The dress on the left is a large, the dress on the right is an extra small. Both are blue and enjoy basking in the sun on my window seat.

I’ve always hated vanity sizing because I don’t like being reminded of how vain I am. But dang, it works doesn’t it? How many of us bought have something simply because we were pleasantly surprised when we had to go down a size? How many of us have given up on a dress because the one that fit is bigger than the size we identify with?

img_0368
Amazing the horse can still hold my weight, given that the puffer I’ve got on is a size up from my normal.

We have to let go of any attachment to size numbers if we’re going to look good in this world. We must consider them mere suggestions of possible fit, and certainly not anything to hang our emotional self worth on.

Here are a few tips to help you move past size.

You choose the fit you want

Designers have an idea of how they want their clothing to fit your body. You may have other ideas. If you want an oversized cardigan, don’t wait until you find one that a manufacturer has made in your size, only oversized. Just go find the perfect cardigan and buy in the size and shape you want.

img_7627
I bought a large because I liked the large.
img_7630
I also really like the buffalo/mountain. It reminds me of the time I saw a herd of buffalo in the mountains…

Right now, people making jeans seem to assume that women have very small calves. I’ve never thought of my calves as particularly enormous, but apparently they are freaky big if I were to judge by the way so many pants fit. If I need to size up, then take a tuck in the waist so that my massive (really?) calves can fit into pants, so be it.

Don’t allow the numbers power over you

One school of thought is to buy the size that fits best, and then cut out the tag so you won’t be reminded of the number each time you look at it. I’ve tried that, and instead of being reminded of the size, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m so vain I can’t handle a tiny little flap of fabric with a number on it.

I think it’s best to leave the tags in tact, eat well, exercise reasonably and let my size be what it will be. Remember, the size has absolutely no meaning in this reality.

img_0390
Incredible I can hold my weight up considering the size of these pants. Then again I have those massive calf muscles.

Watch your language

“I wear a size 6,” as opposed to “I am a size 6.” Words matter.

Find a more worthy vessel for your self esteem

Feeling down after needing to size up for a better fit? Go do something meaningful. Call your grandma, take a bike ride, do your job, make some burritos and deliver them to the fellows who have set up camp under the bridge, try to get your daughter to clean her bedroom. You have plenty to do in this world without letting a randomly chosen number get you down.

Back on the phone with my attempting-to-buy-me-a-coat boyfriend, color choice enters the conversation and I wind up driving across town to pick out my own rain jacket. “Make sure it has plenty of room for layering under it,” he said with some concern. “This is about keeping warm and dry.” He doesn’t need to add that it’s not about looking slim, or feeling slim because I can zip up a coat with a smaller number on it.

And he’s right. I don’t wear a rain jacket to feel skinny; I wear it to feel dry. Years have passed, the boyfriend became my husband,* and continues to care about my outerwear. I’ve worn the coat for years now and can’t even remember the size as I write this. What size do I wear? The size that fits.

img_7623
Still keeping me dry. I love this coat and my husband.

P.S. Need more of a talking to on this issue? Please read my post on why you need to start loving your body Love and Appreciate Your Body

*P.P.S Never pass on a potential partner who tries to buy you a Patagonia jacket.

Shopping 101

As a culture, we’ve been sold the idea that shopping is fun. We see glossy advertisements featuring a beautiful, tall, engaging group of friends having so much fun as they hit the shops.

While I can see how being with friends in the mall could hold the potential for a good time, putting together a wardrobe isn’t a recipe for hilarity. It’s more like learning to play pinochle with my grandma as a child. Fun was tearing around in a pack of cousins catching fireflies. Holding an enormous mess of cards in my little hands and trying to remember all the rules wasn’t fun; it was a satisfying intellectual and emotional challenge.

 

20160827_191623
Duran Duran at the PBR music festival with Julie was hilarious fun.* Finding the right long-sleeve layering t-shirt was not.

There is an adrenaline rush that goes with making a purchase. We all know people who get addicted to this rush and become compulsive shoppers. That, again, is not fun. It’s sad. As a community, the Mud and Grace women tend to have enough going on that we don’t need shopping to keep us entertained. Quite the opposite, we need to make time in our lives to buy what we need.

As you are piecing together the puzzle of your wardrobe, approach it as such. Take the time, focus and mental space to do your best work in creating an easy wardrobe. These tips will help get you started.

Save more than you need, spend less than you have

When you are serious about creating a flexible, effortless wardrobe, start saving money. You know your economic situation, and where you are likely to shop. Save accordingly. To save more than you need if you are heading to Goodwill, save a couple of hundred dollars. If you are heading to Bridgeport Village, save a lot more. I keep my shopping money in a separate account and fund it with freelance writing projects. I like to have money in the bank beyond what is needed to cover my wardrobe basics. That way if I see something that I really want that would fill a space in my wardrobe, I can buy it without a second thought.

IMG_7349
This was not on sale.

On the other hand, don’t plan on spending everything. The problem with setting a budget is that people often spend everything they have given themselves permission to spend, whether or not they find the right pieces. “Do I need these pants? Not really, but I still have $80 left…”

Attempt (and I know this is hard) to take money out of the equation when shopping. Instead of thinking about how much something costs, or what a good deal it is, or whether or not you deserve it, think about where it fits in your wardrobe. Ultimately, you will begin to buy what you need, and leave behind what you don’t. The money you will save in not buying useless items will more than make up for the money you spend buying a full price pair of wool socks you wear for years.

img_7616
Not the time to be fussing about small change. Buy it because it works, not because it is cheap.

Obviously, you should never spend money you don’t have. Credit card debt wipes out any peace of mind an effortless wardrobe might give you.

Set aside time in multiples

If you have some major wardrobe goals, you won’t achieve them all while dropping by the mall one afternoon between work and picking up your kids. Look at your calendar and find at least three separate times when you can go out, on your own, and find the items you need for your effortless wardrobe.

I prefer to shop alone when I have specific needs. I enjoy hanging out with friends pretty much anywhere, and that can include shopping. But if I want to spend 20 minutes in the dressing room trying on 15 different plaid shirts, I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping anyone waiting. If you are shopping with others, make sure they are either incredibly patient, or that you don’t have any major goals you need to achieve.

Take your style notebook

Don’t have one yet? Read more here The one must-have item for creating a wardrobe you love

img_7474
Even better if your daughter drew hearts on the cover.

Create a comprehensive list

In that style notebook you should have a list of needs and wants before you go. If you don’t even know what you need or want, do a little research before you go on a major shopping trip.

As you are compiling your list, think about the following questions:

What do you reach for?

When standing at your closet in the morning, what do you wish would appear before you? Are you staring at your stiff button downs, wishing a floaty blouse would materialize? Are you rummaging through a drawer of 5K run t-shirts looking for a simple black layering T? Put these pieces on your list.

What do you wear all the time?

Do you have a favorite outfit? What are the elements that make it so easy and fun for you? Look at the proportions, colors and fabrics, then search for clothes that can replicate the feel of this great ensemble.

Who do you want to be?

Often we go shopping with an image in our head of what we “should” wear, rather than what we want to wear. We think about what makes us look slim, what is “sensible.” We shy away from stylish things, not wanting to appear too flashy. Is that what we want?

Think long and hard about who you want to be in this world. Then go get clothes that are worthy of that woman.

Do you need shoes with that?

Every time you try on anything, mentally run through your wardrobe and make sure you have something to go with it. Orphan clothing items produce frustration and guilt. If you are going out on a limb and trying something new, make sure you either have the supporting garments to wear it, or plan to round out the ensemble in the immediate future.

IMG_7330
This vest doesn’t have many friends in my closet. Yet.

Experiment wisely

Pushing yourself to try new things is great, and necessary. But don’t expect to go from a wardrobe full of yoga pants to a sequined mini skirt and go-go boots in one afternoon.

When trying a new style try to find it in a color and fabric that make you comfortable. Similarly, if experimenting with color, stick with a style you know.

Recently my neighbor texted me a picture of a woman wearing a salmon-colored leather bomber jacket. Wow! She looked amazing. But salmon colored, leather, and bomber jacket are all things I’d need to wrap my head around. By finding a denim bomber jacket, I don’t feel at all conspicuous when I wear it, but am still able to stretch my boundaries.

IMG_6999
Just enough of a challenge for now.

What you don’t buy is just as important as what you do buy

Think of your wardrobe like a packing list for a backpacking trip. You don’t want any extra weight. At any given time your closet and drawers should only hold clothing that you would be excited to wear today. Not buying an item that isn’t great is as much of a score as buying something wonderful.

10570416_10152562540184054_131786865216574503_n
We’re smiling because our packs are so light. Also, we’re really in love.

You are going to make mistakes

When piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, you don’t automatically reach for the perfect piece every time (unless you are my mother.) You are going to bring home some items of clothing that don’t work in the long term. It’s OK, now you know. Make note of the things that don’t work in your style notebook and move on.

IMG_7000
Honestly, I haven’t left the house in this yet. I like the idea of it, I just don’t actually put it on and wear it.

It’s not a race

Creating the perfect wardrobe takes time. It’s like gardening, a slow, rewarding process of cultivation. If you don’t find the perfect jeans this afternoon, there will be other opportunities. In allowing yourself the time and space to put together a great wardrobe, you are affirming your own self worth.

img_7613
I am so absurdly proud of this ribbon.

In the end, our shopping experiences should be far from the gregarious, adrenaline-and-espresso-fueled mall parties of the media. In future posts we will look more in depth at other types of shopping: on line, second hand, eco, dealing with sizing, and fun house mirrors in dressing rooms. But for now, take this synopsis with you on a quiet afternoon of finding a few pieces to for your perfect wardrobe.

Save more than you need

Spend less than you have

Buy what you need, leave what you don’t

Take your time.

*PS Am I seriously wearing pearls while drinking PBR on the dirt with a few thousand of the most tattooed Americans ever gathered in one place? I need to start working on appropriate accessories…

20160827_205043
The white pants you see center are Simon LeBon’s legs. John Taylor is on the far left.

We Are Photoshop Free on M&GS

IMG_4086
“You’re going to photoshop out my funky ear spots, right?”

Recently a friend jokingly asked if I was using my “skinny lens” to take photos for this blog. I laughed, then went home and googled “skinny lens” to find out what she was talking about.

Apparently I can spend hundreds of dollars to buy a lens that will make everyone look 5 pounds thinner, which is all we ever wanted, right?

Mud and Grace Style is about looking good in this world. I want to post pictures of real, stylish women. If a person wanted to roll through thousands of pictures of perfectly photoshopped women, there are plenty of places on the internet willing to oblige you. Start with Facebook.

Here, all pictures will be uploaded as they are taken. I sort through the photos to choose the ones that best express the beauty of the woman in question, but I’m not taking out anyone’s freckles, blackberry scratches or sunburn lines. Including my own. Mud and Grace is a place for real women, with lives, to find good advice about getting dressed everyday.

I will, however, photoshop the mess out of my house. This summer two owls have been living above my front door. I love them. They leave their droppings and the occasional owl pellet on the front doorstep. I can clean this up all day long and the next time someone comes to the door, there will be more owl mess. My friends understand. You, however, get the digital clean up. Enjoy!

IMG_5791
Cleaning is futile.

Love and Appreciate Your Body

Ladies, it’s time. We have to stop the madness.

Having felt acute shame surrounding my body from my earliest years, I know how difficult it is to love and appreciate your body. Unrealistic images, unhealthy habits, unimaginable time spent worrying about my body have shaped much of my life.

I’m done. There is too much going on in this world to fuss about my figure.

If there is one, truly important thing I want do with this blog, it is to help you love your body. (The second most important thing is to convince you to buy a pair of boots, Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece)

If you don’t love your body, you will never have effortless style. You will always look and feel a little uncomfortable. You will buy outfit after outfit, and nothing will ever feel right. You will never have a moment’s peace. It is my hope that this post will start you on the road to loving the body you have.

Step 1: Decide you want to stop hating your body.

“Well, obviously I want to stop, lady, or I wouldn’t be reading your post,” you may be thinking. But indulge me as we dig a little deeper. We focus negative energy on our bodies out of fear, anxiety and frustration. In this chaotic world we come up with elaborate food constructs and measure our bodies for results to impose some regimen of order over a life that we can’t control. We nurse our body-hatred in times of stress.

We fear that if we allow ourselves to love our bodies we will gain weight, even in the face of good scientific evidence to the contrary. If you’re going to feel good in your own skin, it will take a major shift in thinking and habits. Ready to commit? Then keep reading

Step 2: Exercise out of respect for your body, rather than punishment

We know healthy, daily activity is good for us six ways to Sunday. You’ll sleep, your mood will improve, dopamine will be released and small happy birds will flutter around as you go singing through the woods, etc.

We can express respect for our bodies by giving them the exercise they need. But so many of us take exercise to the level of punishment. We exercise on empty stomachs, leaving us light headed and cranky. We exercise out of anger at our own bodies. We exercise only with the goal of being thin.

Regular, enjoyable exercise is good for you, and it’s even better if you can do it outside. Grueling workouts done in shame and frustration are not.

Make your workouts cheap, easy and fun (walk somewhere, ride your bike, do yoga in your living room with a YouTube video) and do it regularly and selfishly. If you enjoy more activity, do more. If you want to, go ahead and join a gym, take up a sport, get a horse and train it. But do it on your terms, because you love it and love the way it makes you feel.

IMG_3688
Not the world’s hardest route, but seriously fun.

Step 3: Stop the crazy diets, step away from the internet weight loss advice

By all means, eat healthy food. Good food is essential to respecting and loving our bodies. But bypass the draconian and even goofy diet plans. There are a few straightforward, doable, steps to keeping your weight at a healthy set point. There are no “secrets of a flat belly,” there is no “one weird food” that will be the key to weight loss. Eat reasonably, exercise reasonably and your body will settle at a healthy weight. Then get on with your life.

IMG_6971
So, you mean I could eat this healthy meal, instead of a lump of coconut oil covered in turmeric with a side of cauliflower doused in hot sauce?

Step 4: Go on an image diet instead

When I first got serious about kicking my dysmorphia, I found my attempts were thwarted by the constant barrage of catalogs and magazines I received. They were full of pictures of emaciated women. Not just thin women, not women with great bodies, but literally emaciated. (Sundance, I’m calling you out here. You are the worst. You market to women over 40, and you use models who look unnaturally thin. Knock it off.) I wrote a scathing letter to Sundance catalog, then another to Garnet Hill and another to JCrew. I put my name on the national “no catalog lists” (This, as it turns out, is as good for the budget as it is for the environment.) I cancelled several magazine subscriptions.

Don’t allow an industry that makes money off of women’s dissatisfaction to profit by you. Take a week off from media images and see how differently you begin to view your own body.

Instead, seek out other images. Turn to classical art. Look at the wonderfully soft faces of the women pictured during the Song dynasty in China. Track Raphael’s Italian Renaissance attempt to paint the perfect woman, culminating with the rounded beauty in La Velata. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous faces portrayed of the women in Mughal Indian art. Enjoy the svelte ancient Egyptians and their attempts to make their bellies seem larger than they actually are. Mayan glyphs, beautiful Benin bronzes, Paleolithic stone carvings all show an ideal that differs from our modern one.

Step 5: Compliment your body, basic

I can’t stand it when someone tells me to engage in positive self-talk. It always seems so fake, and almost passive aggressive. “You’re just great, body! I don’t care what society says, I’m completely happy that you store fat every single place except my breasts. That’s fantastic!”

Right.

And besides, my body always knows that I’m just saying it for some ulterior motive, and that I don’t really mean it.

The trick is, you have to actually mean what you say. You have to give your body an honest compliment. Start small, like, “Cuticles, you’re quite nice.” Work your way up to larger body areas, “Forearms, you have a lovely shape.”

For parts of your body that you’re not quite comfortable with yet, you might try something like this, “Belly, I do get annoyed by your general floppiness, but I’m really grateful that you were willing to stretch way out, twice, to accommodate the babies. I love my children and if you have to be floppy for them to exist, that’s fine.”

Be honest, but find something truly nice to say. Do this until you are ready to move on to advanced body compliments.

IMG_6982
I like my collar bones.

Step 6: Compliment your body, advanced

You will respond to the habit of saying honestly nice things to your body. You’ll begin to look for the best, rather than focus in on the worst. As you start to recover from the negativity with which you have viewed your body, move to a more advanced appreciation. Every day, take a moment to admire your particular curves and edges. Look at yourself with an artist’s lens, rather than Hollywood’s lens. Wear clothes that show off the particular beauty of your body.

Step 7: Play what if

I was getting dressed one morning, bemoaning my high waist. If it were just lower, I thought, if my waist was just lower, then there wouldn’t be quite such a long space for my belly, all clothes would fit me, then everything in the world would be right.

And then I thought, what if? What if a high waist offering plenty of space for a softish belly were the cultural ideal? I pictured models padding their bellies and setting a belts on their ribcages. I thought of designers pushing reams of high- waisted clothing, despite the fact that only a lucky few genetic winners had this sought-after form.

Why not? When you think about it, nearly every shape has been idealized throughout human history and across the globe. At someplace, in some time, your shape was the unattainable ideal.

I walked out of my closet with this in mind, pretending as I went about my day that all my body’s little idiosyncrasies were what other women spent enormous sums of money and time and mental space trying desperately to emulate.

And suddenly the whole system seemed ridiculous. When I thought about other women trying to create my body through extreme exercise, (“You’ve got to build up those butt muscles so it really sticks out!”) diet (“I heard recently that if you consume at least two tablespoons of fish oil at every meal it will burn fat everywhere but your belly”) and silicon (“I’m thinking of getting inner-thigh implants…”) the whole enterprise is ridiculous.

Every time you start to measure yourself against our culture’s crazy beauty standards, replay them with your own particular beauty as the ideal.

IMG_7055

Step 8: Look at your family photos, listen to your daughter

When we look at family photos, there is never any talk of who had fat ankles or sloping shoulders. We talk about the people; what they accomplished, who they were, the funny stories they told.

Beauty is transitory, but our words and actions will outlast us. Do I want my great grandchildren to be told stories of how I kept slim all my life? Heck no! “Great-Grandma could climb 5.11 trad!” is more like it. (OK, I have a long way to go before I get to 5.11 trad, but I also have a long time to go before there will be any great grandchildren. I can do this.)

Similarly, do we want our children to be proud of how we declined bread in a restaurant, or do we want them to see achievement as a little bit deeper? Watching my daughter, and my friends’ daughters grow up with confidence in themselves and their bodies is beautiful. I love to hear them talk about delicious food, great clothes and the awesome activities they pursue. If we can learn to love our bodies, they will emulate us and love theirs.

Untitled
Sorry, but I’m probably going to re-post this picture of my grandma about a thousand times. It’s good for you.

Ultimately, my body is fine. I’m not a supermodel, and I’m not interested in putting in the time, energy and silicon it would take to get me there. My body may not fit the standards of beauty for any time period, but it has scaled cliffs, run thousands of miles, made countless rounds of a classroom to check that every student is on track with their current assignment. It has created two upstanding human beings, and been a willing canvas for some great ensembles. It deserves respect and care. All bodies do, no matter what standards people choose to measure them against.

P.S. Want to read more? Here’s an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly on teens and body image http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20150108/lead-story/let-them-eat