Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 94: Four Reasons Camping Will Rock Your Body Image (in a good way)

Greetings!  I just got back from a week-long camping trip with Michael.  We split our vacation between Northern California and Southern Oregon, and I'm psyched to report that spending so much time in the great outdoors was great for my body image.  In some ways, camping made me feel more beautiful and proud of my body, and in other ways it simply reduced how much I cared/worried about my looks.  Either way, it felt like progress.  So here's a short list:

No mirrors in campsite bathroom: Sweet!
No soap in campsite bathroom: Bitter.
1) NO MIRRORS = LESS THINKING ABOUT APPEARANCE.  First, while mirrors and other reflective surfaces are everywhere in the city, they are difficult-to-impossible to find in the woods, even in campground potty-shacks (see photo to the right, for example). This may seem like no big change, since I've been avoiding mirrors for the past 3 months.  Yet, it was gorgeously different because I didn't have to expend any energy to avoid them.  Although banning mirrors from my everyday life has helped me keep my appearance in a healthier (i.e., less all-important) perspective, having to constantly and consciously work to avoid mirrors has the unintended side-effect of keeping my forbidden reflection in the back of my mind throughout the day.  Not so while camping.  Sweet relief.  (NOTE: I did have to resist staring at myself in my car's side-view mirror whilst road-tripping but.... with scenery like this flashing by, my face paled in comparison - pun intended.)
Coastal "Yurok Loop Trail" in Redwoods National Park
2) LESS MAKEUP = FEELING LIKE CONFIDENT NATURE BABE!  Surrounded by a rustic community of campers (and often just Michael), I felt confident enough to experiment a bit with my makeup routine, which hadn't varied at all since "Day 22" of the project. Specifically, packing limitations + nature-girl ambitions led me to cut back on products (again), which further minimized application time.  I was down to 4 products (including 30 SPF face lotion), and 2 minutes, yet I felt like a total babe.  Never had I been more proud of my makeup-without-mirrors application skills!
USUALLY: SPF lotion, Foundation, powder blush + brush,
finishing powder + brush, cream eyeshadow,
mascara + eyelash curler.
CAMPING: SPF 30 tinted moisturizer, gel cheek/lip stain,
cream eyeshadow, mascara + eyelash curler.
3) TREE-HUGGING INSPIRES SELF-HUGGING.  Camping in the woods meant spending a lot of time with trees.  Hanging out with huge trees makes me feel much smaller than usual (in a philosophical rather than skinnier sense), yet somehow more majestic.  Trees have wrinkles, gnarls, warts, rough skin, and weird smells... and I love them anyway (kind of reminds me of Michael, actually).  Trees get really old, and I love them more for it because age shows strength.  Trees get really BIG.... HUGE.... ENORMOUS, really.... and I find them more beautiful for it.  No tree is alike, yet all are magnificent.  Can we gift our bodies with the same respect and admiration?

Eve Ensler (dynamic author of The Vagina Monologues) posed this exact question when interviewed for the body-positive documentary America The Beautiful.  Here's the clip (note: my favorite quote, aside from "Love your tree!!!" comes from a wise Nigerian woman who pridefully told Eve, "my legs, oooh my legs!  My legs can wrap around a man and hold him there!" Rock. On.)

4) Finally, WATCHING MICHAEL SET UP OUR TENT WHILE WEARING NEXT-TO-NOTHING MAKES ME FEEL LIKE CLEOPATRA  Yes, I said it.  Objectifying my fiance makes me feel like a sexy all-powerful queen.
Exhibit A: Michael unloading stuff from car.
To clarify, when it comes to housework we usually share a 50/50 split (i.e., Michael cleans the kitchen, I do the laundry, etc., etc.).  When our vacations involve hotels, we share 0/0.  BUT, when we camp, Michael does closer to 70% of the "tentwork," including: setting up of tent, building of fires, tending to said fires, fiddling with food cooking on said fires, and careful "leave-no-trace" undoing of all-of-the-above.  My main responsibilities: blowing up our air mattress (using a battery-powered air pump), chopping veggies, and helping to unload and re-load stuff from the car.

Exhibit B: Chopping wood in CK undies.
This division of labor might seem both (1) unfair, and (2) completely unrelated to body image, but here's the scoop.  Feminists-though-we-both-are, Michael and I do enjoy excelling at things we are good at, even if our talents fall along highly gendered lines.  Thus, Michael takes some manly pleasure in successfully chopping wood, building fires, and growing a lot of facial hair in a hurry (the "in your undies" part was at my request).  Similarly, I take some feminine (and feminIST) pleasure in watching him do so.... not only because these are (hetero)sexy-man "manly" activities that I find attractive (and which manage to subtly re-align housework inequalities on a macro scale), but also because having somebody else take care of so many of these burdening details makes me feel cared for.   Feeling cared for (while sitting back, eating a s'more, and watching a big furry man chopping wood in his Calvins) makes me feel sexy, no matter what I look like.  Priceless, and much appreciated.  Thanks babe!

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 91: Trust and Eyebrow Waxing

My (right) eyebrow, circa February 2011.
(A pro at Makeup and GO! in Brentwood, CA
did my eyeshadow/liner/faux lashes, which
explains why I'm looking so fly!)
Michael and I counted last night, and today is exactly 100 days until my wedding day.  Crazy, but cool!  Here's an update on my B.B.C.T.G. task list.

As a natural blonde, I'm pretty lucky in the eyebrow department.  In other words: I actually have eyebrows and they're just dark enough to show up on my face (so long as my complexion remains within the pallor-to-paler range). Yet, they aren't dark enough for it to be particularly noticeable if I haven't kept them perfectly groomed.  A bit of tweezing every few weeks and I'm in good shape.  As with my (recently) "good skin" - decent eyebrows are something I've taken for granted, and, therefore, don't think about very often.

And then I spent a few months without looking in the mirror... not "tweezing every few weeks" (ahem, AT ALL), and suddenly, running my fingers across my brow bone started to feel a bit like caressing Michael's stubbly jawline.  Yikes!  What used to feel like a beauty afterthought had started to become a source of paranoia!

Enter The Knot's Bridal Beauty Countdown to Gorgeous, which commands, "Ever consider having your eyebrows professionally shaped? Why not?  It's your wedding.  Now's the time to try it."  Indeed.  It is my wedding (or, at least, it will be in 100 days!).

And so I weighed my options with giddy-yet-nervous anticipation.  I was living in a new city.  I had never had my eyebrows waxed in this city.  This could be risky!  Oh!  Wait!  Aha!  YES YES YES!  6 years ago, when I lived in SF while working at GAP Corporate, I made at least one trip to the Benefit Brow Bar in Union Square.  I had no clear memory of how great or ungreat the experience had been, but I figured that I'd remember pretty vividly if it had been a disaster.  (Recall, my beautifying motto has recently become "good enough is good enough," and not-a-disaster-last-time counts as good enough!).

And so I traipsed to Union Square, future mother-in-law in tow.  I ventured into the Benefit Brow Bar at Macy's, which promised that I could "Get WOW Brows Now!" even though I had to wait 15 minutes before they could squeeze me in.  I settled into a high chair at the "bar" and awaited my fate.

A cute auburn haired and perfectly brow-groomed aesthetician introduced herself to me and started pulling a kit of goodies out from under the bar.  Tweezers, hot wax, tiny strips of fabric, makeup remover, some kind of soothing lotion, a few makeup compacts and.... A HANDHELD MIRROR!

I quickly blurted out, "Oh, sorry!  I can't look in the mirror.  It's the blog thing.  A project I'm doing... Sorry for the short notice!"  

She paused for a second, and then said "Wow!  That's cool!  You must really trust me, huh!"  

Huh.  Yeah.... Did I?  Could I?  Well, even if I didn't I wasn't about to tell her that!  So I responded by saying, "Yeah. Well, I know you guys usually do a great job.  Figured I would be in good hands!"  

She agreed with a vigorous nod, "Yeah, you CANNOT trust those dinky little no-name nail salons.  I would NEVER!  They don't even use different kinds of wax between your face and your hoo-ha!" 

(cue my nervous laughter and feigned horror).  "Oh really?  Wow.  That's, um, interesting.  Good to know!"  

And then I realized that she was done.  In the 2 minutes of this brief diatribe, my eyebrows had been cleansed, waxed, tweezed, soothed, and made-up with concealer ("to cover the redness") and brow pencil ("so they really POP!").  I imagined, hopefully, that the before vs. after difference was something like this:

 Running my fingers across my face, I saw the aesthetician flinch , perhaps frightened that I was smudging off the carefully applied concealer.  Whatever.  How else could I check? I could feel that (1) my brows were still there, and (2) that the skin below them was smooth and soft.   Sherry, my future-mother-in-law, glanced over and confirmed her approval.  Now vs. WOW, indeed!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 89: Camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Hi folks! I'm currently camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park w/ Michael, and w/out mirrors. Internet access = impossible (blogging via text, believe it or not!). Can't wait to update you all upon my return to city life (or at least a local Starbucks!).  Fun stuff!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 86: New and Improved Clothes Shopping Without Mirrors

The last time I wrote about shopping without mirrors it had been a lonely affair.  Just me, a fitting room, and a disinterested saleswoman who's descriptive vocabulary was limited to saying "sure" when I asked her if I looked okay.  I managed to snag some sweet shirts, but the experience lacked the zest I typically enjoy from shopping.

That zest came roaring back last week, when I went shopping with my future mother-in-law, Sherry, who was visiting us for a week to attend Michael's graduation ceremony.  With two days to ourselves while Michael wrapped up some work at Stanford, we decided to embark on some shopping adventures.  Actually, it wasn't so much a decision as it was a destiny! When Sherry arrived at the Powell Street BART station, we couldn't even manage to walk home before noticing this scintillating sign, posted outside of the Union Square Anthropologie:
Anthropologie + Sale = YESSSS!!!!!  
We charged in, dropping off Sherry's luggage at the front cash wrap without slowing down on our race to the racks!  In a moment of bliss-enduced generosity, my future-mother-in-law said those beautiful words every young woman wants to hear, "If you find a top that you like, I'd love to buy it for you!"  IF I could find a top I like?  Hahahaha!  JACKPOT!!!  WHOOP WHOOP!  And so we proceeded.

Skilled hunter/gatherers that we are, it didn't take long before both of us had accumulated heavy armloads of potential purchases.  We travelled to separate-but-accross-from-eachother fitting rooms (sharing would be a bit weird, no?), and proceeded to try things on.  And that's when things started to get a lot more fun than my experience at ROSS.  Not only does Sherry have excellent taste, but she's also comfortable sharing her opinion.  This is priceless companionship when shopping for clothes without mirrors.  

I was trying on my first top - an olive-colored sequin-embellished sleeveless blouse with an attached matching scarf.  It was beautiful, but I couldn't tell if it fit right.  This was my uninspiring view:
Yeah... not exactly a view that instills confidence!
I called to Sherry from across the fitting room, to let her know I needed her opinion.  She asked me to wait a second and then emerged from her own room, looking like this:

Sherry, lookin' good!
No, seriously: We were wearing THE EXACT SAME TOP.  (I told you she's got excellent taste!)  And it looked great on her, don't you think? We had a good laugh, and she told me the top was flattering on me as well.  Hooray!

Well, we both kind of hit the jackpot that day.  Sherry bought several tops and a pair of great Joe's Jeans capris.  I left with 5 new tops - Sherry treated me to 2 of them! She said that she couldn't bear to buy one of the shirts without including a coordinating sweater.  (Note: This was NOT the typical mother-in-law behavior that my married girlfriends had warned me about.)  So, THANKS SHERRY!, not just for the sweet gift from Anthro, but for being such a fun shopping partner.  I hope you'll let me treat you some day!

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 84: How to Buy a Bike Without Looking in the Mirror (it was tough!)

New Bike = FREEDOM!!!!
Who could have predicted that buying a bike would be one of the most challenging mirror temptations yet!  Here's the story:

Saabaru + Roadtrip = Love.
Saabaru + San Francisco = NotLove.
One of the hardest transitions from L.A. to San Francisco has been adjusting to rarely driving my car.  Even though I brought my trusty love-worn "Saabaru" with me, I rarely get use it because the parking situation is so horrific ($30/day in my current neighborhood, thanks to Giants game traffic, and up to $10/hour to park near the About-Face office where I volunteer a few times each week).  Because of this, once I manage to snag a "free" spot on my block, it takes a lot to convince me to drive away from it.  This is a big contrast to L.A., where I enjoyed the flexibility of driving wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, knowing that I could always find free-ish parking at my destination, and that a reserved garage space would be waiting for me at home when I returned.

For my first several weeks in San Francisco, I walked pretty much everywhere within 2 miles, and called a cab if paths seemed a bit dicey (or, more frequently, when I was running late!).  This worked out okay, but a few weeks ago I realized that walking 6 blocks to Trader Joes, and then back again with groceries, wasn't fun.  Sadly, the impossibility of driving + sweaty slowness of walking + high expense of cabbing was frequently preventing me from leaving the house at all some days! Public transportation would have been the obvious solution, but the hills and turns involved in long SF bus rides seemed like an invitation to throw up in public at least a few times each week.  (I am notoriously motion-sickness-sensitive)  And so, facing an impossible choice between isolation and inconvenience/expense, I decided it was time to buy a bike.

This is the worst picture taken of me,  EVER.
I'm in the ER, telling bicycles (and my sister) to
"!*&%! Off and leave me alone!".
Getting a bike was a pretty brave move on my part.  Adulthood has granted me really shitty luck when it comes to bicycles.  I stupidly "lost" my first bike to a thief 8 years ago when I told a moving company they could "just leave it on my porch" while I was at work.  It was gone before I got home.  5 years later, I borrowed a neighbor's bike to (overly-ambitiously, and with virtually zero training on wheels) participate in a 2-day road race with my dad and sister.  Fewer than 10 miles in, I took a major spill (my second accident of the morning!), and ended up being carted off via ambulance to the nearest hospital, with a cracked helmet and mild concussion (see photo).

So now you know: my decision to buy a bike could only have happened in the presence of a greater threat (in this case isolation/insanity/puking in public).

And so it was that I found myself perusing the sale options at my local (i.e., walking distance) Performance Bike shop. I was surprise to spy a HUGE mirror at the front of the sales floor. I figured that serious bikers probably wanted to check themselves out on their bikes before purchasing.  Whatever.  I could resist.  Piece of cake!

I flagged down a dreadlocked and enthusiastic salesperson, and explained the purpose of my visit. I warned him of both my constrained budget, and lack of coordination.  He promptly walked me down a looong row of bikes (organized with most expensive bikes near the front of the store, and cheapo options in the back where we budget customers can't bring down the ambiance).   We arrived at the very end of the grown-up bike section, where he pointed out a few suggestions and then rolled the best contender to the front of the store so I could fill out a "test ride" form.

And then, eyeballing me with squinting contemplation, he said it: "Yep, well, you're definitely over 5'2" and you've got long legs, so you'll be a size small in co-ed bikes."  I couldn't help myself.  "Long legs???" I asked, eyebrows raised.  (I've heard "strong legs" and even "great legs" in my day, but NEVER "long legs")  Without pausing, he clarified, much to my chagrin: "Well, yeah, I mean, in comparison to your torso.  You have a really short torso.  I want to make sure you'll be able to reach the handlebars..." Oh.  Short torso.  Right.  Of course.

And with that, I learned what felt like an infinitely important detail about my body, while standing about 7 feet away from a HUGE mirror.  I REALLY wanted to look.  Was it true?  Do I have a short torso with long(ish) legs?!!?  How could I not have known this about myself!  Argh!   Look-away-look-away-look-away-look-away-look-away!!  Somehow, I managed to get myself outside for a test ride.

On my breezy trip around the block, I was struck by two thoughts.  First: This bike feels great!  As promised, I could reach the handle bars without feeling off-kilter.  The brakes worked.  The wind whistled.  I was loving it!

Original image here.
Second: Wait - didn't somebody else tell me that I have short arms??! When was that? Who was that?!?  And then, just as I arrived back at the bike shop, I remembered: When I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch one of the designers measured me to see if I could substitute as a "size medium" fit model.  Turned out that even though my "boobs were in the right place" (which, by-the-way, isn't difficult to accomplish with itty-bitty-titties and a push-up bra, emphasis on the UP!), my arms were, unfortunately, "1/2 inch too short."  Seriously.  1/2 inch too short.  My life of (fit) modeling was.... ruined!

And so, walking back into the bike shop, I knew that it must be true.  I had been assessed by two distinct and unbiased experts, so it was official: I have a short torso, with arms to match.  I didn't know whether to laugh at the ridiculousness or cry in frustration.  I still wanted to look in the mirror, but instead I just bought the darn bike and got the heck out of there.

The good news is that I love my new bike and it was totally worth it!  No accidents so far, and (even better) I've come to terms with the weird news about my torso.  As annoying as it felt to be told about my body by people I didn't know very well, I take comfort in the fact that neither person acted as though I should be embarrassed by the news.  It wasn't like they said "You might want to sit down.  I don't know how else to say this, but ... you have a short torso!  Here, take a tissue."  Nope.  It was just matter-of-fact.  No biggie.  So that's how I'm trying to approach it.  :)

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 83: Announcing NEW url!

I'll send a full post tonight or tomorrow, but in the meantime I'm announcing that I have a NEW web address!  It's been running incognito for about a week, but I wanted to be sure the transfer was going seamlessly before making it official.  Soooo .... (drumroll) .... here it is:

The old one still works, but I think this is a lot easier to remember, no?  Enjoy!

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 80: The Curiously Entwined History of Mirrors and Zits

According to The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous" it's time for me to 
"Get serious about skin care: Start a good cleansing and moisturizing program, and consider consulting a dermatologist or making appointments for monthly facials."  
When reading this my first thought was, Nice! I already have a "good cleansing and moisturizing program!" Done!  Indeed, I'm fastidious in this arena, which has been the case since around 1992, when my face hit puberty. Seemingly overnight, I went from a peaches-and-cream complexion to something more closely resembling DiGiorno. Then it turned out that my mildly zitty adolescent years were only a warm-up for an inexplicable case of full-blown adult acne in my early twenties.  (cue horror film soundtrack)  

Cute cartoons and hilarious zit memoir found here.
During this time I endured the expensive frustration of failed rounds of Retin-A, Differin, topical Clindamycin, topical Benzomycin, oral Erythromycin, and oral Doxycycline (don't worry - not all at once!).  I spent inordinate amounts of time in front of the mirror, fighting urges to poke and prod, and carefully applying layers of makeup in futile attempts to hide both the acne and the flakey patches of irritated skin that emerged in reaction to harsh topical treatments.   I felt embarrassed by my skin.  I developed paranoid cleansing routines in (soon-dashed) hopes of preventative care.  (To this day I always wash my face as the final step before exiting the shower - even if this means washing it twice -, lest my hair conditioner pollute my pores.)  It was awful. 

Well, it took 2 rounds of Accutane, but things eventually came full circle and I now relish in having "good skin" - the kind I had before puberty (with the exception of some wee age spots).  Despite my newly "low-maintenance" face, I remain vigilant with skin care, as much out of habit as out of hope for clear-skinned stasis.  (FYI, the boring details of my routine can be found at the END of this post.)

Hence, the "get serious about skin care" advice from The Knot felt passe.  Yet it also got me thinking: Why do we care so much about having "perfect" skin in the first place?   These days we know that acne isn't caused by supposedly immoral behaviors, like eating a lot of chocolate or masturbating (or eating chocolate while masturbating, for that matter!).  Having acne doesn't mean you're a bad person, or even that you're dirty (indeed, no amount of cleansing will ever "cure" acne, and washing too frequently can just aggravate things).  So... what's up with all the hype about zits?  When did it start, and why?  

As a sociologist, I'm accustomed to critically analyzing our culture, questioning beliefs, habits and customs that we often take for granted as "natural."   We sociologists call this "making the familiar strange."  And so, when thinking about zits, I put on my sociologist-glasses and decided to hit the books.  What I found (with some guidance from Lisa Wade - fellow sociologist, friend,  and co-author of blog-extraordinaire Sociological Images) was this: our culture's obsession with blemish-free skin emerged as a result of increased access to.....(drum roll please!).... MIRRORS!  Yes.  MIRRORS. How perfect is that?

Check it out. In her book The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes:
When the mirror became a staple of the American middle-class home at the end of the nineteenth century, attention to adolescent acne escalated, as did sales of products for the face.  Until then, pimples were primary a tactile experience, at least for the girl who had them. But all that changed in the late 1880s with the widespread adoption in middle-class homes of a bathroom sink with running water and a mirror hung above it.  [...] Mirrors made pimples more accessible, but they also stimulated greater concern about the face.  
The chapter goes on to mention that, by the 1890s, "anxiety about blemishes on the face" actually led to the popularity of hairstyles with "bangs" among adolescent girls.  (And I thought I was the sneaky genius who figured that one out!)  

Well, folks... there you have it: MIRRORS CAUSE ACNE!  
Okay, okay, maybe not.   But they've certainly contributed to our culture's obsession with clear skin.  Knowing this, I'd love to say that life without mirrors has drastically decreased my concern with having clear skin, but I have no evidence supporting this.  Instead, it's probably the opposite: having dependably clear skin (finally!) made me more willing to banish mirrors from my life. I first realized this when learning to apply makeup without a mirror, but I didn't think to mention anything at the time.  So now I know: I entered this project from a position of privilege that I'd begun to take for granted.  I'll have to keep this in mind as I consider how this experience shapes - and is continually shaped by - my body image.

As promised, below is my skincare routine, for anybody fascinated by such details. 
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

(You'll notice that most everything I use can be found in drugstores, and a lot of it is fragrance free and/or for sensitive skin.  I'm including links to the products, in case I've somehow inspired you to purchase.  Just remember... my skin woes only went away after I tried a bajillion prescription products prescribed by a licensed dermatologist - not from over-the-counter face wash.)

1) Mild Cleanser w/ 2% Salysylic Acid, every AM and PM. 
These days I've been using St. Ives "Naturally Clear Green Tea Cleanser," not because I'm into "natural" products (in fact, a lot of them scare me!), but because I got a great 3/$10 deal at CVS a few months ago and ended up really liking it.  I also use Cetaphil "Gentle Skin Cleanser" if my face ever feels irritated.

2) SPF15+ Sunscreen, every AM
As a fair-skinned person with a history of traumatic sunburns in childhood, I've become religious about sunscreen.  My dermatologist says it's only a matter of time before I have a malignancy, which totally sucks.  These days, thanks to my mirror-less life, I mix my sunscreen with foundation, which helps a lot with mirror-free makeup application.  This undoubtedly dilutes the strength of UVA/UVB protection, so I add a layer of Bare Escentuals "SPF 25 Mineral Veil" face powder over everything. Every little bit helps!
3) Moisturizer/Serum Combo, every PM
Now that I'm approaching my 30s and in light of past sun-damage, I've added an anti-aging serum (specifically, Fragrance Free Olay Regenerist  Daily Regenerating Serum) to the mix.  After YEARS of acne-targeting products, I can't tell you how exciting this was for me.  I don't even know how this stuff works (something about amino-peptides), but it doesn't irritate my face at all.  To stretch out the bottle, I cut it (coke-dealer style) with CeraVe "Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM," which has additional unpronounceable-but-lovely ingredients.

Note: Despite recommendations from The Knot's BBCTG list, I see no need to visit the dermatologist.  Been there.  Done that.  NOT visiting a dermatologist feels like a luxury.  That said, monthly facials could be fun if I can find a way to do it at home and on the cheap!  I'll keep you posted.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 76: BBCTG Task 3 (Radical Hair Experimentation)

On Tuesday I tried Yoga without mirrors, finding the experience to be both lovely and funny.  On Wednesday I enjoyed an evening with zero wedding planning (one of many that I enjoy each week).  Today, I tackled my third task (out of 37) from The Knot's Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous.   Here were my instructions:
"Want to grow out your hair or try a new color or cut?  Talk to your stylist and start experimenting now."
This one proved to be a challenge.  First of all, I wasn't quite sure I wanted to do ANYTHING new with my hair.  This is what my hair looked like (on a good day) before I began my year with out mirrors.
FYI, I am the chic.  The dude is my fiancĂ©, Michael.
This is a typical length for me, though it's been much shorter and much longer at different times in my adult life.  You're looking at my natural color and texture, enhanced a bit from a professional blowdry + shot of hairspray.  And, you know what?  I like my hair!  Other than times when I've messed with it in a stupid way (home hair-coloring anybody?), I haven't had many reasons to complain.  So... why start "experimenting" just because The Knot say's it's time to try something new?

And then I thought about it a bit more, and realized that I've really missed the small ways I typically experiment with my hair on a weekly basis.  As a shower-at-night kind of gal, I've typically woken up in the morning, peered into my bathroom mirror, assessed the state of affairs, and decided at that time whether it would be a hair-up day, a hair-down day, a messy bed-head day, a sleek and smooth day, or some other variation in styling.

My hair-styling habits have been based on this pattern of visual assessment.  Now that I can't see myself I've become fairly impotent with brush, dryer, and my various hair-gooks.  And so, this is what my hair probably looks on 95% of days since the project started.
If you're wondering, YES.  I drink wine constantly.
It helps me cope with the anxiety of not knowing
whether my ponytail is smooth or bumpy.
There's nothing wrong with this look.  I like it.  Simple and fast.  Yet, I've missed the "who knows what it'll look like today!" spontaneity.   Hairstyling (or, more accurately, lack thereof) has been one of the more mood-dampening parts of this project.

And so today's assigned task became more intriguing.  How could I experiment with my hair in a way that actually gave me some creative pleasure, without doing anything stupid or expensive?  I was wary to make my hair-styling situation any more complicated or mysterious, so getting new haircut seemed foolhardy.  New hair color was also axed, since I like my natural color and am not interested in making a drastic change just to have something to write about.  Simply styling my hair differently (or at all!) seemed promising, but sadly lacked the potential of enjoying my creative expression.  I was stumped.  

And then a friend suggested that I "try one of those online makeover websites."  AHA!  A quick google search landed me on, and within minutes I had uploaded my plain ponytail photo and was experimenting away!  Risk: low.  Creativity: high!  Here are a few or my favorites, inspired by The Knot's suggestions.

1) "grow out your hair"
Okay, yeah.. you can't see how long it is, but trust me - it's LONG! 
Yeah, I could grow it out.  OR, I could just morph Ashley Tisdale's hair onto my face!  Oooh la la luscious!

2) "try a new color"
Ummm... I kind of love it!
I've always thought of myself as having a stereotypical fiesty redhead's personality.  Thanks to Tila Tequila (yes, you read that right), I got to see for myself!

3) "or cut"
Can I add the bangs, but keep my length?  Inspired...
Bangs!  Bob!  Platinum!  Anna Faris, you look good on me.

Yep, this was completely awesome.  Not only did I get a huge endorphin rush from all my creativity, but I surprised myself by developing a girl-crush on myself with Tila Tequila's coppery shade.  I decided to take her out on a date, so I added a dose of "tasteful yet sexy" makeup for a bit of pizazz.   What do you think??
In closing, this was incredibly fun, and also informative and inspiring!  I especially loved how this activity brought out my creativity and self expression without even a blip of negative body talk.  I'm pretty sure I'll come back to for a more serious stab when planning for bridal hair styles and makeup.   Fantastic!

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Thursday, June 9, 2011


Tonight I was thrilled to accomplish my second task from the The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous" list.  Here were my instructions:
Begin a stress-relief regimen.  Reserve at least one night a week for some non-wedding fun or quiet time to regroup.
So, tonight wasn't about weddings (or even mirrors, for that matter, though I managed to avoid them).  Tonight was about M.  (Oh, what the heck, his name is MICHAEL!)  We (Michael, his mom and I) celebrated Michael's graduation from the Stanford Biodesign program.

He's been at Stanford for almost 1 year, and he's accomplished SO much, both professionally, academically, and personally.  I'm incredibly proud of him, and it was wonderful to see him recognized (along with the other members of his class) in a beautiful graduation ceremony.  He really excelled at this program. So much so, that he's been asked to stick around for an extra year (woah!).

Tonight was more of a "non-wedding fun" kind of thing, and less of a "stress-relief regimen" or "quiet time to regroup" so I'll have to revisit this task again to refine it.  In the meantime.... CONGRATULATIONS MICHAEL!!  I love you and am so proud!

On a side note:
Dear writers at,
Does anybody actually spend EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF THE WEEK planning their wedding?  Really?  Are you sure?  Because I think that's kind of crazy.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 74: Yoga Without Mirrors (Reporting Back on the BBCTG Challenge, Task 1)

Last week, starting Thursday, commenced my following of The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous".  (As a refresher, I'm challenging myself to tackle this list of beauty-related tasks over the next 4 months, without mirrors.)  I had planned to report back on one task each week until my wedding (18 tasks total), but... several friends convinced me that I need to do this "all the way, or not at all."  So... I've decided to do (or at least attempt) all 37.  (yikes!)  My only constraints/concerns are: time, money, and stomach for the ridiculous.  No biggie, right?  Ha!

As far as my time concerns go, according to The Knot, I'm already 2 months behind!

To give myself a fighting chance to finish, I've decided to tackle all of the items on the "5-6 Months Before" list in 1 week.  It turns out that this is actually possible (thanks, mostly, to the fact that I'm already doing some of these things, like.... washing my face regularly!).  So here's my first report.  I'll write a new post each day this week, as I check things off of the list.

Commandment #1 from BBCTG:
"If you don't already, start exercising.  A few sessions with a trainer may help to jump-start your routine.  Try practicing yoga: the postures build strength and are great tension relievers as well.  You'll look great, feel better, and be less stressed out."
This seemed like an obvious place to start.  Not because it's first on The Knot's list (it's actually #5), but because I've had "start exercising again" on my own to-do list for a while.  Once upon a time I was an All-State track&field athlete.  More recently I've managed to get through a sporadic smattering of half-marathons over the past 5 years, emphasis on sporadic, but it's been YEARS since I've had a consistent routine.  The image to the left is my cat, Diesel, impersonating me in my current exercise regime.  I know it looks relaxing, but utter sloth is unhealthy.  Getting back in touch with my inner athlete would be like visiting an old friend - one who makes me feel energetic, confident, and strong.

The first bit, "start exercising." Great!

The second bit, "A few sessions with a trainer...."  Not so great.  M and I aren't really in the financial position to hire a trainer to "help jump-start" my routine (must be nice).

The last bit, "try practicing yoga." THAT I could do.

My sister, Hanna, recently purchased a 30-day yoga pass at the Purusha yoga studio in Outer Richmond.  She managed to score a great deal through groupon or livingsocial or yipit, which I missed out on.  However, the studio still offered a negligibly affordable 3 sessions for $20, for new clients.  $6.66/workout is (embarrassingly) unsustainable for me in the long term, but I figured this was well worth the experience of getting back into yoga in the company of a loved one.  And so, I showed up to class last Thursday, (3 minutes late, and already sweating, after having aggressively weaved through rush-hour traffic, cursing at pokey drivers like the totally un-zen yogi that I am).

Hanna (bless her) reserved a neighboring mat for me, and was waiting for me with mild embarrassment (she has always been the responsible one).  I plopped down ungracefully and cautiously looked around, prepared to avoid eye contact with myself in a room full of mirrors.  Much to my disappointment/delight, the room was completely mirrorless!  Turns out these folks think that yoga is more about the experience of feeling your body, and less about looking at it.  Well, shit.  I've practiced yoga on-and-off for the past 7 years, and this was a first!  I've gotta say - it was not only convenient for my project, but turned out to be really nice.

Deliciousness found here.
The class was called "Fusion," though I have no idea what the yoga was "fused" with.  (I figured, if L.A.'s Korean Taco Trucks were any prediction, fun was on the agenda!)  Indeed, the music was an indiscernible blending of pop, rap, and Enya.  At some point we did "tree pose" and several times we were all "downward facing dogs," but we were also instructed to dance around our mats, "like godesses," whatever that means.  This involved a lot of stomping, arm-waving and swooping.  We sweated.  We swooped.

Based on what I saw while watching my sister, I looked completely ridiculous.   We were instructed to "fold over" into Uttanasana ("intense standing forward fold" pose) and I realized, with dismay, that my stomach folds were preventing the act of folding.  And yet I didn't feel the least bit self-conscious.  If Hanna could flail around ungracefully, and still be loved by her sister, so could I.   At the end of the session we both conquered head-stands against the wall.  Namaste bitches!  Awesome.
Original image here.
Leaving the yoga studio, I caught a partial (forbidden) glimpse of my flushed face reflected in a mirror, tucked into a corner of the studio office.  I don't remember details of what I looked like, but I remember that I felt happy.

I'll close with a thoughtful invitation from the Purusha website:
We invite you to come as your true self.  That is the meaning of the word Purusha; "the true self".  This is not the self you seek to improve.  It is that part of your self that is alive regardless of your quest to improve.  It is the part of your self that seeks only to experience the magic of life.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 68: My 4-Month, Mirror-Free, "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous" Challenge

Tonight is the evening of June 1st. In exactly 4 months I'll be dancing at my wedding reception!  I can hardly wait. :)

To celebrate this notch in the to-be-wed countdown belt, and to really test my commitment to avoiding mirrors, I've decided to put myself up to a challenge-within-a-challenge: I'm going to (loosely, sanely, humorously, and without mirrors!) follow The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown To Gorgeous."  Check it out for yourself here.

So here's the deal: the BBCTG is a 6-month countdown "guide to looking fabulous by your big day."  It lists 37 separate tasks that brides should complete in the months leading up to her wedding day.  They range from simple (i.e. "Drink lots of water") to more involved (i.e. "If you don't plan on using your regular hairdresser, make consultation appointments with potential candidates.  Bring along pictures of hairstyles you like, even a picture of your veil and headpiece.  If you want to wear your hair in an updo, discuss with the hairdresser how long it will take to grow out your hair so it's the right length for your desired look.").

I know what you're thinking.  Isn't this no-mirrors project supposed to be about taking a step BACK from vanity??  This BBCTG list seems like just another lame, invented-by-the-bridal-industry justification for women to indulge in numerous vain and expensive practices??  This isn't adding up....

I hear you.  I'm thinking it too.   In fact, the BBCTG list immediately reminded me of my favorite passage in the book One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding:

"What the bridal magazines promote [...] is the idea that a bride deserves to be the center of attention for the entire period of her engagement [...].  She deserves to be the center of her own attention, at least.  [...] it is her privilege, her right - indeed, her obligation - to become preoccupied with herself, her appearance, her tastes, and her ability to showcase them to their best advantage.  Being a bride, according to the bridal media's prescription, amounts to a quest for self-perfection, or perfection of the outward self at least."

In light of these words, the BBCTG list just doesn't seem compatible with my project. Indeed, the very last task on the list, intended for the wedding day, commands the unthinkable: "Take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of the day before giving yourself one last once-over in the mirror," (emphasis added by me).

So what do I do?  I am a feminist bride-to-be equipped with the insider knowledge that The Knot's list - and all others like it - encourage vanity and self-absorption (and, of course, the spending of money).  These are all things I want desperately to decrease in my life.  My growing unease with these issues was the primary motivation for this project.  Yet, I am still a bride-to-be.  I am still a romantic.  I am still the little girl who looked at my parents' wedding photos and wondered, hopefully, if I would look as beautiful on my wedding day as my mother did on hers.  How can I merge these seemingly conflicting desires?    How do I stay true to my values without becoming a martyr for this cause?  I mulled on this for a while, and talked to M at length about the predicament.  Together, we arrived at an answer: I needed to just go on and moonwalk on this tightrope, with thoughtful determination, un-reckless abandon, creativity, and humor.

Image by Steph Baxter, found here.
This project is a quest for balance, not extremes (hence the dancing-on-tightrope metaphor, above).  And, to me, it's not enough to only replace wedding-related insecurities with a more holistic perspective (though this is a daunting task on it's own!).  I also need this project to bring with it a hefty dose of fun.  Yes, you read that: having more fun is a core goal of this project.  Despite shunning mirrors, I have no desire for an ascetic life.

So, I'm going to do this thing my own way.  No mirrors.  No going over budget.  Most importantly, no prioritizing of my looks over my relationships, job, or health.   But, within these constraints, I want to do some damn gorgeous-ifying!   I think it's going to be challenging but fun, enlightening, and (hopefully) entertaining.

So, bring on the gallons of water!  Send me pictures of cool wedding hairstyles!  I've got 4 months to tackle The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous" list (which recommends starting 6-months out!).  Don't worry about watching me fall off the deep end - I'll be customizing a bit, and commenting snarkily on the ridiculous/impossible recommendations (i.e., 2 weeks before your wedding: "Exfoliate and moisturize.  Soft and silky elbows, hands, and feet are marriage musts." Marriage musts? Oh please.)   I will report back on my completion of various tasks each week, until October 1st.

First up: According to The Knot, at 5-6 months pre-wedding: "If you don't already, start exercising.  A few sessions with a trainer may help to jump start your routine.  Try practicing yoga; the postures build strength and are great tension relievers as well.  You'll look great, feel better, and be less stressed out."  Yoga, sans-mirrors, here I come!  Bring it on.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 67 - Shopping for Clothes Without Mirrors - Check!

Image found on this great blog post.
(Sorry about the very-thin model...)

I was staring at the curtain covering my bathroom mirror, when something occurred to me: this curtain is really ugly!  It wasn't even a curtain, really.  M had (lovingly) MacGyvered a navy blue bed sheet into a quasi-curtain, and hung it from the light fixture above our sink.  We are currently sub-letting a place, and have felt too nervous to put up proper curtains, since they are typically accompanied by a curtain rod and (eek!) several holes in the wall.  Holes-the-wall be damned!, I thought, I'm going to go find me a nice-looking curtain.  McGyver can figure out what to do with it when he gets home from work tonight...

And so it started.  I headed out for what I thought would be a quick trip to ROSS - you know, of the "Dress for Less!" variety.  (The "dress for less" part should have been my first clue that the trip wouldn't end with curtains.)

Of course.... on my way to the home-goods section, I had to peruse (err... I mean walk) through 3 floors of clothes.  Even with my eyes pointed down to avoid mirrors, a sign advertising "New Arrivals!" caught my attention.  My gaze instinctively zeroed in on the rack full of tops, and - with eagle-eyed precision - I spied one of my personal retail homing beacons: Free People hangtags dangling off a scintillating display of shirts.  (FYI - I'm a bit of a brand name junkie when it comes to discount shopping.  I'm no $$$$$ designer-snob, but I'd rather a pay $20 for a high-quality shirt that typically costs $60, than $5 for a poorly-made throwaway piece.  I trust certain brands more than others to deliver on this.)

Anyhoo... I made a snap decision to amble (ahem, beeline) over to the "New Arrivals!" rack and started digging.  With clothing size so un-standardized (please read my unwritten dissertation for more on this topic, someday), I had to work my way through everything ranging from "S" to "L", all-the-while scoping styles, speculating on size, feeling fabrics, surveying silhouette, and computing costs. I emerged with a dozen "potentials". Other than not looking into mirrors on the shop floor, things weren't going much differently than my usual (mirror-full) shopping habits.  But what next?

I held potential purchases in my tiring arms, and pondered: Should I venture to the land of mirrors (i.e., the fitting rooms)?  Or, should I BUY IT ALL!!! (tempting), and try things on at home to get feedback from M or my sister?  Basic math answered the quandary: I couldn't afford to charge $400 on my debit card.  I had to filter out at least half of my options, if not more.  Off to the fitting rooms I went!  

I came up with a simple 3-part dressing room strategy on my way: (1) I wouldn't face the mirrors in my fitting room, (2) I would immediately disqualify anything that felt even remotely tight, (3) if too many garments still remained after step 2, I would ask for 2nd opinions from staff and/or other shoppers.

I proceeded.  After getting a number card from an apathetic teenaged sales associate, I ducked into the nearest fitting room.  I hung everything at the back of the room (to avoid facing the mirror) and started trying things on.

3 tops were too tight, and I eliminated 2 others using my well-honed instincts for style:price ratio.  Only one top - a tank from Free People, displaying the phrase "YOU ARE BEA-UTI-FUL" (see photo at top of post) - was a definite yes.  With 6 shirts remaining in the undecided category, I poked my head out of the curtain to assess my options for a 2nd opinion.  No other shoppers.  Bummer.

Wearing one of the remaining "maybes" - a bright yellow T-shirt made by Velvet - I shuffled out to see if I could drag an opinion out of Ms. Dispassionate in the front.  I was skeptical.  Sure enough, after catching the young woman's attention (distracting her from a listless stare into space), I asked "umm, does this look okay?"  She blinked, looked at me for a split second, and said "sure."  Sure?!?!  That's it??! Bummer again.

Sighing, I assessed the damage and decided to bring the remaining 7 shirts home.

I felt mostly pleased by my choices. Yet, not being able to see myself wearing them was REALLY UNSATISFYING.  It felt like reading a great book in which the pages narrating the climax had been torn out.  (The $250 bill on the last page of this particular book was further disheartening, particularly since only $15 of it went toward new curtains).

I thought to myself: Shit. is this how I'm going to feel on my wedding day???  Too depressing.  I decided to get the heck out of ROSS and deal with that fear another time.

Well.... fast forward to a few days later, and things have worked themselves out, as far as the ROSS shirts go.  My sister helped me weed through the offerings: 3 shirts returned, 4 kept. They include: #1 the uber-comfy yellow T-shirt from Velvet, #2 her purple twin, and #3 a second tank (again, from Free People, shown here).  I think I love all of them!  

Finally, even though my sister thinks it's hilarious that the letters "U T I" are positioned directly over my bladder (Ha. Ha. Ha.), my favorite "keep" is the "YOU ARE BEA-UTI-FUL" top.  Now, if only I could get everybody else to wear them so I can enjoy the compliment!

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