Self Care Guide for Women Who Aren’t Particularly Good at Self Care

Self care is an extremely difficult topic for me. Like so many Mud and Grace readers, I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I can’t just drop any old iron and go take a bubble bath. “Sorry kids! Mom needs a break tonight. You can just hitchhike home from practice, right?”

We cannot care for others and achieve our own dreams if we are suffocating under unrealistic workloads and are unable find any time for ourselves. But when people tell me “Take care of yourself!” I don’t even really know what that means. Am I supposed to… what, take a nap? When?

So naturally, I turned to the internet for help.

An extensive* Google search came up with several ideas for self care. For our purposes, self care is not self indulgence. While eating a cookie is nearly always a good idea, as cookies bring color and light into the world, “eating a cookie” is not self care. It’s just enjoying a cookie. For something to qualify as self care for me it has to make me feel more at ease in the world.

Beautiful and delicious, but not self care.

It goes without saying that self care is not punitive, and must be sustainable. Would drinking more green tea be healthy for me? Sure. But I don’t like green tea. It hurts my stomach and makes me gag. Therefore, we’re not filing that under Anna Grace’s plan for self care. Same goes for crazy grueling workouts done in the spirit of body hatred. Self care should make you feel good.

Also beautiful, also delicious, but in all honesty any more than a half-a-pound of green beans in one serving can only be considered punitive.

Here are a few options for self care I came up with. Please add any more self-care ideas in the comments below.

Health –plan and pack your lunches, plan and pre-prepare your breakfasts, sleep more, cut out or cut back on a substance that is limiting you, meditate, limit social media, take a daily walk, create and execute a work out schedule, pick one healthy food to add to your diet three times a week, read a book for pleasure**

Beauty – exfoliate regularly, maintain nice looking fingernails, learn to apply natural-looking make up and do so every day for a month, take better care of your skin, drink enough water, apply a good salve to your dry and peeling cuticles***

Style – Plan and wear a great outfit everyday for a month, wear every piece of jewelry you own at least once this month, tackle an area of your wardrobe (like outerwear or active wear) and plan and shop for the missing pieces you need to make this corner of your wardrobe function, don’t leave the house wearing dog hair and/or pilled clothing for a full month, try a clothing challenge. (Color Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color ChallengeThe One and Done ChallengeShop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1)

Clinging to the walls at Elevation makes me feel fantastic. Message me if you want to meet up.

Armed with my self care definition and list of options, I am starting 2018 with a self-care challenge, and I hope you’ll join me. For the month of January I am going to choose two self care practices and stick to them, with the hopes that they will become year-long, then life-long practices. As always, I made up some rules for the challenge. Here they are:

Pick one or two things

Once I’d compiled the big ol’ list of ideas above, I started making grand plans to do all of it. Because I can make 21 changes in my daily routine as I start back to work, get my kids back on the school schedule and it’s 35 degrees and raining out, right?

Basically, I’d just given myself more chores. So I took a good long look and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do, not just for the month of January, but forever. I landed on meditation and regular use of lip gloss.****

Set yourself up for success

Plan the when, where and how of your self care. If you are doing a style challenge, schedule time to plan outfits and go shopping if you need to. If you are doing a beauty challenge, figure out what time of day you will execute your new practice and drop something else from that time to make room for it. If your mornings are already crazy, committing to 10 minutes of hairstyling isn’t practical unless you can move something else to the night before. If you are planning on cutting back on your coffee consumption, be sure to have another treat in place for the times you normally reach for the coffee, and plan for the uncomfortable reality of caffeine withdrawal. To make time for meditation, I am going to have to move some of my workouts to the evening. To wear lip gloss regularly, I need to actually buy lip gloss and have it at the ready.

Track the first ten days

While there is no definitive number of days it takes to make or break a habit, ten is a good number. Mark each successful day on the calendar, or keep a list of achievements in a journal, but put it in ink. A visible tally of your progress will feel fantastic, and inspire you to keep going. By all means, keep tallying past the fist ten days if you like, but be a zealot about it early on. Pick a time each day to record your accomplishments and look forward to it.

Yes, I took time to sit in a chair reading a romance novel with a fantastically trashy cover. Points for me!

These hours and minutes moving past us as we go about our busy days make up our lives. Time is all we have. When taking on self care, we want to incorporate practices that are good for us, enjoyable and sustainable, even it’s just lip gloss. These practices will bring us peace, joy and energy that we can then share with the world around us.

If you choose to take on self care in 2018, let me know how it goes. Do you have trouble with self-care? Do you have a self-care practice you’d like to share with other Mud and Grace readers? Respond in the comments below.

Have a beautiful 2018 readers!

Rosie jumped the fence and came up to join me on the deck. You have to admire her tenacity for self care.

* Over 20 minutes

** I just finished Kieran Kramer’s Regency romance Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. It was awesome. Message me if you want to borrow it.

*** Climbers, I’m talking to you.

**** That is not a weird combination at all.

Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?

With little fan fare and no social media postings, Jessie decided, starting February 1st, 2017, not to buy any clothes for one year. To be clear, for Jessie this is not a moral crusade. She’s not a crazy stoic, and she is the last person on earth to pass judgment on another. She just wanted to see if she could do it.

At 32-years-old, Jessie has plenty of clothes; a beautifully curated wardrobe of high quality pieces, some classic, some fun. But she found herself trapped in a cycle of always looking for something new. “Because of my size, buying clothes is a quest,” Jessie says, relating a never-ending cycle of buying on-line, returns, justification of spending, and constant searching.

Then there was the Canada Goose Jacket. If you’re not familiar with Canada Goose, it’s crazy high quality outerwear that costs about as much as triple bypass surgery. “What if I bought nothing for a year, then could I buy that coat?” she wondered. And that was the thought that changed everything. Could she buy nothing for a year, even without the lure of a purchase that could significantly impact the GDP?

“I realized I needed to break the cycle of constant shopping,” she says.

Jessie, warm and adorable despite lack of Canada Goose label.

8th months in, Jessie says, “It’s been quite a journey. I will not pretend this has been easy.” Here are a few of the realizations she’s had over the last few months.

There is a huge element of fantasy in clothes shopping

Early on Jessie learned just how much she used clothes shopping as a form of escapism. “We’re not just buying clothes,” Jessie says, “we’re buying a fantasy.”

How many of us have been there? I want to be the sort of woman who walks home to her chic loft in the city after a Zen-like yoga experience… so I buy a sweater? I’m still me, only now I’m trying to get my goats off the barn roof in a sweater that catches on everything, no yoga, no Zen, no city loft.

“We have to focus on what we want in our lives, rather than what we want to wear,” Jessie says. “Bring yourself back to what you’re actually trying to achieve by buying.” So rather than shop for a cute, warm plaid shirt, Jessie finds herself planning the camping trip that she imagined herself going on in the cute, warm plaid shirt.

You can have a really good time at a party, even if you’ve worn the dress a few times previously.

You can always find something to wear

Life goes on, as it is inclined to do whether you are buying clothes or not. Starting in the spring, Jessie’s partner Michael broke ground on a bouldering gym that had been years in the planning. Everyone has been pitching in. While Jessie’s wardrobe is full of pencil skirts and fun t-shirts, she never really invested in heavy work wear.

“I wanted to pressure wash, and despite the fact that I was born and raised in Oregon, apparently I own no rain pants. So I just took a couple of garbage bags and wrapped one around each leg,” she said of her rain bloomers. Jessie’s been wearing a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinnies as work pants, and despite the fact that they are not Carharts and have no abundance of pockets, she’s managed to sand, drill, spray and climb in them.

When you don’t have the option of buying, Jessie says, “You really see what you reach for again and again.”

Balloon pants rule.

There will always be something new to want

The most profound realization of this year for Jessie is that if you indulge in wanting, it’s an endless cycle. You can find the perfect t-shirt, or suede bootie, but then there will always be something else to want. “It’s difficult to recognize how we are being manipulated by the media,” she says. Jessie, like so many of us, really likes looking at clothes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s a fine line between enjoying a flip through the new Patagonia catalog, and deciding you must have another cozy beanie. Part of Jessie’s journey has been recognizing that buying anything, even a Canada Goose jacket, isn’t going to stop the wanting. “We are never going to have the perfect wardrobe, because we’re never going to stop changing,” she says.

Not shopping allows you to love the clothes you have.

There is relief in choosing not to buy

“I’ve been surprised to find that the overwhelming sensation… isn’t disappointment or deprivation: it’s relief. I don’t have to play the game. And I had no idea how much energy the game was draining from me until I stopped playing,” Jessie says of taking to option to buy off the table.

“It’s like I have an emotional buffer in place, and suddenly I can analyze more objectively,” she says. “And when I feel my heart start to speed up and the cycle of craving rear its ugly head, I can shrug it off and think “Nope, not an option! Now what else do I want to put my energy into?”

In not shopping for clothing, Jessie has learned to focus on other things. “I’d never realized how shopping for and buying clothes was emotional for me,” she says. To go a year without shopping, “you have to be ready to take a good long look at the negative sides of yourself.”

So what’s next for Jessie? She’s not sure. “I don’t know what my relationship with clothes will look like after this,” she admits. But one thing is for sure, Jessie is no longer on a quest for the perfect selection of 37, color-coordinated pieces of clothing. “I’m not trying to make a flat lay, I’m trying to make a life,” she says.

“I hope to find a balance,” Jessie says of the happy place between a love of clothing and a full and rich life.

Here’s to the ongoing adventure!

Inspired by Jessie? I am. I’m planning on starting small with a two-month no-buy, dates TBA. Are you in? Let me know in the comments below, or by email, if you want to accept the No Buy Challenge, mudandgrace@gmail.com

I hope you enjoyed Jessie’s story. Please consider subscribing to Mud and Grace for more on what we wear and how it effects our lives. Next week I’ll examine the lessons learned in a year of no buying limits at all.

Perfect 10-Item Loungewear Capsule

 

There’s something about looking good when no one else is looking that makes me feel like I’ve pulled one over on the beauty industry. It’s like, “Ha! I’m not out being the perfect mom/giving a major presentation at work/meeting my well-groomed friend-set for drinks. I’m on my sofa, making grading essays look good.”

For the first 40 years of my life nice loungewear was not on my radar. I wore ratty old pajamas around the house. I did not own sweatpants or slippers. I did own five or six cocktail dresses for cocktail parties I rarely managed to stay up late enough to attend, but no comfortable, around-the-house-clothes.

What I really want to be doing on any given evening…

Dressing nicely for yourself feels satisfying on a level that dressing for others simply can’t match. When your loungewear can take you from a good book to the goat pen in comfort and style, you will feel downright smug. Here are my thoughts on the matter –

The basics

My loungewear capsule consists of two pairs of leggings, three sweatshirts, one pair of joggers, one stretchy black skirt, a stack of t-shirts in varying sleeve length, slippers and boots. Like the outfit formulas mentioned last week, all of this can be mixed and matched easily, creating 12+ outfits and keeping me easily ahead of a laundry bomb.

Loungewear should spend as much time as possible basking in the late afternoon sun, or if that’s not possible, hanging on the bedroom wall.

Invest

My loungewear is the most expensive clothing in my wardrobe, by a long shot. It seems counterintuitive to spend more on clothing that fewer people see, but none of these purchases were frivolous, and everything is earning its keep when considering cost per wear. Every piece with the exception of one t-shirt* was bought new, and in my closet that is rare. Second hand loungewear is rarely in good condition. These high quality pieces are soft, they last forever, and for the most part are largely responsibly made. Because no one else will see them, styles and trends don’t matter. You can wear a good sweatshirt for 20 years if you like it. Just ask my husband.

This simple wool skirt is one of only two legit designer pieces I own, and I have never worn it for a night out. Isabel Marant.

Keep it flexible

Grey and black, with a couple of colorful sweatshirts, is an easy color pallet to maintain. Pick two neutral colors for your bottoms and t-shirts, then buy sweatshirts or sweaters in colors that make you happy. The stretchy skirt and boots make it easy to step out to run a few errands if need be.

These shirts go with everything, even the peeling paint on  my deck railing. Top: used Banana Republic. Bottom two, Alternative Apparel.

Keep it simple

Nothing is less relaxing than getting mired down in a jumbled mess of leggings, t-shirts and sweatshirts.** You don’t need much loungewear. I have 10 pieces of clothing total, and it all fits neatly into one drawer. Except for the boots, because that would be weird.

Skirt, leggings, sweatshirt, easy-peasy.

Don’t forget your feet

I used to wear socks around the house. Ratty, hole-in-the-sole, old socks. Then I slipped on our slate-covered staircase while carrying the vacuum cleaner down on Christmas Eve and got a nasty bump that is still visible. Quite coincidentally, and owing nothing to the unpleasant “stair incident,” I received three pair of slippers within the next 24 hours. The universe, it seems, wanted to me move past the socks. The universe had a good point.

Negotiate your stairs with ease! Ugg slippers from Dad and Lynn.

I’m also including this pair of boots as part of my capsule, which I put on if I have to run down to the barn, across the street to get the mail or out for an errand.

Merrell boots, because I can’t consider any segment of my wardrobe complete unless there’s at least one pair of boots…

Don’t forget to actually lounge

Every year it seems my co-workers, friends and students are busier and busier. We get so caught up in “busy” that even when we do have downtime we don’t know what to do with it. Investing in loungewear helps me remember to slow down. By blocking out time, and an ensemble, for reading, writing, or just staring off at the river, I find myself taking the time to relax.

What teachers really do after school…

Internet wisdom would have us believe that we should always dress nicely because we might run into someone we know, or a neighbor might come to the door. Out where I live, I can easily go all day without seeing anyone with fewer than four feet and/or a pair of wings. Wearing high quality, comfortable, beautiful clothing when you are alone is one sign of self-respect. It’s like making your bed, or flossing. No one will ever know if you skip it, but in the action of these things you are caring for yourself. Creating a simple, flexible loungewear capsule make this self-care reflexive and easy.

Umm… lady, shouldn’t you be reading a book right now?

* I bought this black, short-sleeve Banana Republic t-shirt from a neighbor at her garage sale over 12 years ago for $10. At the time $10 struck me as an exorbitant price for a used t-shirt, but I really liked the way it fit. I have gone on to wear the shirt once or twice a week for 12 years, making it possibly the best clothing investment of my life.

** This might be an overstatement.

Meet the rest of the capsule:

Leggings from left to right, Lululemon, Eddie Bauer.They are good friends.
US Blanks. Super cozy.
Under Armor joggers. Love.
I adore this Lululemon sweatshirt. If I were to ever put the hood up, I would look exactly like a sporty Jawa.
If my thoughts get any deeper I will NOT be able to get up out of this chair…

Why Reading Makes You Gorgeous: Truly Natural Practices for Timeless Beauty

“How long have you been using Botox?” the L.A. society lady asked my friend Ann.

Botox? Right. Ann barely wears make up on a regular basis.

I can understand the mistake. A few months shy of 50, Ann has great skin, a ready smile, and is in excellent shape. As I look around, I see a number of women with similar, simple, healthy beauty. Rather than the propped up and patched together appearance of a woman desperately trying to maintain her youth, these women make being gorgeous look easy.

And easy is always better.

As mentioned previously, I’m super lazy about beauty routines. If I’m in the middle of a good book there’s no way I’m going to get up out of bed to go put on eye cream, much less make an appointment to go get my skin peeled off. That said, I’m not interested in judging women who engage medical beauty processes. Women should do what they want to do. But if there are way cheap, painless ways to glean beauty out of our daily routines, I’m assuming Mud and Grace women want to know about them.

I’ve come to understand there are certain lifestyle investments in beauty that do far more than any expensive cream or treatment. Some digging has led me to identify the habits of the naturally beautiful. Some research has helped me to understand why these habits profoundly influence the way we look. Here are my findings.

Ann and Lynette, my health and beauty role models.

Beautiful habits

A quick study of the lifestyle choices that lead to beauty are as follows, in no particular order; sleep, read, go outside, eat well, enjoy what you eat, exercise, see your friends, be content.

That’s all doable, but why? What is going on in the pages of that book you’re reading that the most expensive skin creams just can’t deliver?

My research suggests that it all comes down to activities that manage our natural hormones and neurotransmitters. Bring on the oxytocin, the HGH and the endorphins, keep the cortisol at bay.

Natural maintenance

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is the stuff our body produces to build muscle, burn fat, keep our skin elastic, generally grow and repair our bodies. It’s not big shock to anyone to learn that this decreases as we age. You could roll down to California, have synthetic HGH injected illegally, and enjoy the resulting side effects like growing extra long toes.

Or, you can increase the amount of HGH your own body releases regularly. Your pituitary gland (a little pea-sized thing, nestled deep in the back of your brain) secrets it throughout the day. Here are the conditions it needs:

Sleep

The release of HGH peaks while you are sleeping. Getting your nightly 7-9 hours is essential for optimum HGH production. It’s called beauty sleep for a very real reason. The release of insulin can interfere with the production of HGH, so avoiding foods with a high glycemic index (i.e. a whole lot of sugar) right before bedtime can be helpful.

Exercise

Weight training and regular, short, intense workouts promote HGH release. Long walks in the woods are great (more on them later) but to release HGH you need to feel the burn. I like to run sprints a couple of times a week, or just run up our hill really fast. A HIIT or a true Tabata workout on the exercise bike can do the trick nicely. Go on your long runs if you are so inclined, but a couple of short, fast workouts will help release your HGH.

This climbing trip was more exciting than a spa, and significantly cheaper…

Managing stress

You know how you look when you are stressed out? The exhausted, pinched expression on you face, that fabulous little grimace you carry around with you, the way you clench your fists and slouch without even realizing it? Such a good look, right?

When we experience stress, our body pumps out cortisol to prepare us for fight or flight. This would be awesome if we were actually face to face with a bear, but more often than not we’re stuck in traffic, or sitting in a long meeting as someone describes the grueling amount of work that will be added to your already unmanageable job. Long term elevated levels of cortisol lead to a whole host of ugly: weakened immune system, weight gain around the middle, deterioration of muscles, the list goes on. Basically, when your body is dealing with stress, it shuts down everything else: skin repair, hair growth, muscle building, reproductive systems, everything. So how can we deal with this stress?

Go outside

Being outside in nature boosts your mood. Researchers have yet to discover exactly why or how a walk among the trees, sagebrush, or prairie grass affects us, but there is conclusive evidence that time outdoors reduces anxiety and depression. Anything that reduces anxiety and depression is something all of us should be doing. You don’t need to go all Cheryl Strayed and hike the PCT on your own, just ten minutes makes a difference. Go get yourself a season appropriate coat and mud boots, then go take a walk.

Maybe it’s just nature’s beauty, rubbing off on us?

Read

Reading is one of the most relaxing activities humans can do. For many women, reading lowers your heart rate and relaxes your muscles faster than yoga or even meditation. That’s because reading is relatively easy, and twisting your body all up like a pretzel and concentrating on nothingness is really hard. Relaxation is key for health and beauty.

The best news about beauty reading? Any reading material works! A good novel, a nice dense history textbook, an exhaustive Vanity Fair article, even this blog! You’re welcome.

I’m getting in a beauty read AND developing a better understanding on the influence of Mongol occupation on the trajectory of Russian history.

Be content

Psychology has placed a lot of emphasis on happiness recently, but happy is a specific mood. Contentment is a lifestyle. Accepting the life you have built for yourself as positive, the people in your life for who they are, and yourself as you are is a mindset that takes practice. But honestly, it’s got to be easier than applying liquid eyeliner. That stuff is ridiculous.

Happy afternoon with husband? Check. Eyeliner? Not on this date.

See your friends

One late December night amidst frenzied holiday preparations, my friend Julie stopped by. Her life was also crazy, celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah with various sides of her family and heading in for knee surgery right in the middle of all of it. But for the 45 minutes we sat together, time pooled around us. We laughed and talked, other family members joined in and we discussed everything from Rouge One to the best peanut butter cookies available.

The calm I felt during her visit and for hours afterwards wasn’t due to the glass of wine I consumed. Being with friends lowers our cortisol levels. Humans are hard-wired to connect with others. Our oxytocin begins to flow with a hug hello, and endorphins follow as we laugh and talk. You know how beautiful you look in the pictures taken of you and your friends? It’s because literally make you glow, and all that cortisol is cut short by a good laugh and the comfort of companionship.

Hiking with friends? Way better than a bee-venom facial.

The key to it all – Eating well

Eating a healthy, whole food diet is good for your mood, your body, and the planet. Eating slowly, and enjoying a good meal with family, friends or the pleasure of your own company lowers stress and feeds the soul. We’ve got to drop the American, puritanical approach to eating, and enjoy good food.

But these days, with 60 million food gurus sending us conflicting messages about what to eat, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some simple guidelines:

Eat food as close to whole as possible

Avoid ingesting any human-manipulated chemicals*

Eat plants, any plants**

Enjoy your food, and eat slowly

Don’t be weird about restricting food; just eat in moderation

For more on how crazy nutritionism has made us, check out Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food( http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/)

Blackberries, butter, whole grain flour? Sounds like chemical-free, mostly plant, whole food to me.

True natural beauty can be summed up in the French phrase bien dans sa peau, to feel good in ones skin. This is deep state of satisfaction and comfort in ones’ self. A woman who feels good in her own skin is confident in the life she has chosen. She has accepted her own, particular beauty and does not long to be someone she isn’t. It’s a state of contentment that allows her to be generous with others, and with herself.

When I think about the women whose beauty I most admire, Lauren Hutton, Michelle Obama, Cameron Diaz, my sister-in-law Erika, my grandma, they all have this sense of comfort and confidence in their own particular bodies and with their individual, lovely faces. Can I suffer through reading a good book, enjoying a nice meal and taking a walk in the woods to get there? I’ll try.

My goat, feeling good in his own fur. Me, trying to learn from his example.

*A quick note on human-manipulated chemicals: we don’t know what they do. When transfat and high fructose corn syrup first came out, the food industry celebrated these modern miracles, cramming them into every corner of our diet. Fast forward a few years and they are the pariah of the grocery store. Who knows what miracle chemicals we will discover are harming us next? Recent studies suggest that artificial sweeteners are causing weight gain. http://time.com/3746047/diet-soda-weight-gain/ I figure, until we know more, I’m just going to skip as many human-manipulated chemicals as I can.

** OK, not poisonous plants or hallucinogenic plants, but all those other plants. Don’t be weird about carbs or nutrients or rainbows, just eat your veggies.

 

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.

 

 

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