Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 341: Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 2

This week (February 26th - March 3rd) is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  According to NEDA, "The aim of NEDAwareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment."  As someone who recovered from an eating disorder, and who is friends with numerous women who have also struggled with body image disturbances, I try to align myself with these goals, both on my blog and in my research and teaching.  (For more info, get thee to NEDAwareness, stat!)

Amazing essays by other Body Image Warriors can be found here.
A group of us body-image bloggers have decided to participate in a blog roundup, called "Body Image Warrior Week," organized by Sally McGraw of the inspiring blog, Already Pretty.   I chose this week's "Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 2" as my contribution.  These are things I've learned in my own path of recovery (and staying recovered).  Recall, my "Truths" are things I knew before I went for 365 days without mirrors (even if I didn't always live in line with these truths!), and my "BIG Truths" are things I've learned along the way.  You can read my first set of "Two Truths and a BIG Truth" on my post from Day 334.

Truth 3: Nourishment + Activity + Rest = Health At Every Size = Happy and Healthy.
The Health At Every Size movement fights to disentangle body size from health.  It argues (with a TON of supportive scientific evidence) that all bodies are naturally different, and that behaviors are more indicative of health than being a certain size or shape.  It also points out that being stigmatized, or being self-hating, are bad for health (not to mention miserable!). The tenets of HAES (according to the official website) are:
1) accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes,
2) eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, and
3) finding the joy in moving one's body and becoming more physically vital.  
When I follow these HAES principles, I am healthier and happier.  That (finally) matters more to me than being "skinnier."

When I finally decided to enter a recovery program to "deal with" my eating disorder I was in poor health.  My bones were slowly disintegrating (I was diagnosed with osteopenia and am thisclose to full-blown osteoporosis), and my kidneys were showing signs of irreparable damage (in addition to getting 5 kidney stones in 4 years, my blood tests for kidney function were about 85% of where they should have been.  I was told that this would be permanent.)  Yet, my BMI was in the "normal" category.  I remember thinking "Okay, well I'll go to treatment so I'm not so obsessed and miserable, but I won't gain weight.  I'm at a healthy weight!"  My body disagreed.

While in treatment, and in the still-recovering years after, I slowly learned to eat a variety of nourishing foods in response to feeling hungry, and to stop when I felt full.  I learned to exercise for the joy of being active, or for the pride of finishing a race, rather than as punishment for "eating too much" (or as a get-out-of-jail-free card for a planned binge).  I discovered that sleep is medicine, and that sleep deprivation makes me feel really negative and bitchy.  I gained a little weight when I stopped restricting food, and then I gained a little more when I finally found an anti-depressant that helps me feel like myself.   I learned that there's no such thing as "perfect" eating, and that I still need to be more mindful about food than most people, both to insure that I don't fall back into old habits, and also because my meds make me ravenously hungry for foods that aren't particularly healthy.  Today my BMI is a smidge over the official line between "normal" and "overweight,"which is a fuzzy way of saying that, at 159 pounds, I'm technically overweight.  Yet I am in much better health.

I am just one story of HAES.  Everybody - ahem every body - is different.  But that's the whole point, isn't it? :)

Truth 4: "My body is perfect, my mind could use improvement."
Even though I've been happier and healthier at my HAES size, I've still struggled with body image.  (That's why I started this blog project, remember?)  I remember, several years ago, feeling incredibly proud of my hard-earned health and balanced life, but sobbing in my therapist's office because I was scared I'd never find a loving life-partner if I wasn't very thin.  (Living in L.A. didn't really help - that town does NOT celebrate chub!).  Anyway, I KNEW I was objectively lovable (indeed, probably more lovable without my rigid obsessions), and I also KNEW I was in good health, but I still wasn't comfortable in my body.  I wished for my exact life, but thinner.  And that's where Truth #4 showed up.  It became my survival mantra. I still repeat it to myself during moments of weakness and frustration, (i.e., if I ever feel tempted to go on a crash diet, or want to spend 3 hours at the gym).  And, slowly but surely, my mind IS improving.

BIG Truth 2: Feeling beautiful is more important than looking "beautiful." If you feel beautiful, you are.
It's been 11 months without mirrors.  I've had an ongoing and vague idea of what I look like this whole time, but I've developed an increasingly acute sense of how I feel.  Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes sad.  Sometimes full, sometimes hungry.  Sometimes hot, sometimes cold.  Sometimes healthy, sometimes (like now) less-than-healthy (cough, cough!).  But what does beautiful feel like?  I've felt it, so I can tell you.  Feeling beautiful, for me, involves calmness, confidence, pride, happiness, and peacefulness, with a side of creativity.  Beautiful isn't a hyper or frantic feeling, though can be energizing.  It's more likely to be tied to an accomplishment at work, or a belly-laugh with a friend, or a snuggle with a cat or puppy, than to extra time spent in front of my mirror curtain.  Feeling beautiful isn't completely disconnected from my outer appearance, but when they are tied together it's usually because I've creatively thrown together a new colorful outfit, or because someone has told me that I look like my mom or my sister.  I've been thinking about this beautiful feeling thing for several days, and it's definitely not the same as simply feeling happy or joyous.  I mean, those are beautiful feelings, don't get me wrong, but not the same as feeling beautiful.  The difference: happiness and joy can be about almost anything, but to feel beautiful I must feel special and unique (that's where the confidence and pride come in!), and also content (hence, calm and peaceful).  I suppose there's a bit of vanity in feeling beautiful, but it's a generous vanity - the kind that leaves space for every other person I meet to also be and feel beautiful.

Why is this better than looking "beautiful"? (I put this version in "scare quotes" to signal that it's a different matter entirely!)?  In it's most obvious sense, looking beautiful is on the outside, and feeling beautiful is on the inside.   Looking beautiful is something most people want, but it doesn't actually guarantee happiness (indeed, research suggests that - despite the many perks that beauty bestows upon those who have it - there is ZERO correlation between attractiveness and overall happiness!).   Besides, striving to look beautiful can actually cause a lot of misery.   Even if we reach a point where we are, somehow, objectively beautiful, it can't possibly last.  (How many of us have one or two old photographs we hang on to because we're convinced that at that moment - and perhaps never since - we were stunningly beautiful?  I do.  I was 14.)  But we age.  We go out of style.  We burp and fart and catch hacking coughs that make us pee ourselves just a little.  

Before I gave up mirrors, I'd never imagined I could feel beautiful without knowing what I looked like. I assumed that the hyper confidence I sometimes felt during special occasions (especially after a glass of wine!) was me, feeling beautiful.  But that was just what it feels like when you conflate your looks with your self-esteem, on a good day.  On a bad day, conflating looks with self-esteem is disastrous.  I've probably been less "beautiful" since starting this project, but in doing so I've managed to better separate my looks from my self-esteem.   THIS is probably the most powerful  secret to feeling beautiful.

Most of us are never "beautiful" by movie-star standards, anyway.  Yet, we live rich and full lives.  We find love.  We give love.  We make friends.  We make things.  We make babies.  We burp and fart and catch hacking coughs that make us pee ourselves just a little, and yet we still get to feel beautiful.  Because if we feel beautiful, we are.

I just HAVE to share additional news on my HAES life!  Yesterday, after 3 weeks of horrible coughing (okay, I'm obviously not in perfect health!) I finally went to see my doctor.  In addition to a grumpy list of cold/cough symptoms, I brought along the 6-page print-out of my complete results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I participated in last November (I received the full NHANES results over the weekend).  If you recall, I wrote posts on Day 241 and Day 257 about my reaction to being labeled "overweight" by the "initial report of findings."  Anyhoo, my doctor looked over the myriad report findings, which included:
- body measurements of my height, weight, BMI, and body fat %- blood pressure and heart rate- oral health- hearing- muscle strength- lung function testing- urine tests- STD tests, and - a complete blood count, and - blood tests for measuring over 50 substances/enzymes/whatever.  
Guess what?  Other than the measures of my body size (and an oddly high level of mercury in my blood - damn that sushi habit!), EVERY SINGLE TEST CAME BACK NORMAL OR EXCELLENT.  Even my kidney function was decent (just a teeny smidge below normal, but better than it was years ago!). My doctor complimented me on my excellent health.  I asked her about my BMI, waist circumference, and body fat %, since these were identified as issues to talk to my doctor about.  She responded that I was obviously healthy, and that I shouldn't worry about this stuff as long as I continue to eat well and exercise regularly.  Will do!

***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 336: Fun Fact Friday - This Mirror is a FACT

In lieu of a rambling bit of trivia, I'm posting this photo and pulling out a quote from the image as today's "Fun Fact".  

Many thanks to Lisa K. for emailing me this very cool image! :)
Have a great weekend everyone!
***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 334: 2 Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 1

With five weeks to go before the end of my year without mirrors, I've started to think seriously about what I've learned and gained from this experience.  I've still got 31 days to reach my final conclusions (and a lifetime after that to see if they stick!), but, for once, I'm not going leave things until the last minute.  To avoid scrambling for wisdom on Day 364, I've done a lot of journaling over the few several weeks, searching my soul for things I know to be "true.  I gave myself the freedom to ramble in my thoughts, and I looked over old journal entries as well, so the list I came up with was long and kind of random.  My "truths" ranged in content from "Good enough is good enough," to "Reducing your anti-depressant dosage without consulting your doctor is a really stupid way to save money," and one of my mom's favorites: "Stand up straight, suck in your gut, and don't let your mouth gape open!" (that last one is advice passed down from my late Great-Grandma!).  Needless to say, some editing was necessary.

So, I cut out everything "off-topic," and then divided the remaining 15 "truths" into two categories: (1) "Truths" - stuff I knew before I started my no-mirrors project (even if I haven't always lived in accordance with these truths), and (2)"BIG Truths" -  the important, possibly life-changing, stuff I've learned along the way.  My list ended up with 10 "Truths" and 5 "BIG Truths," so I've decided to dole out "2 Truths and a BIG Truth" on the Wednesday of each week I have left, starting with today.  Here goes:

Truth 1: Good Enough is Good Enough
The statement is true by default of logic alone.  It reminds me of that Gertrude Stein poem claiming that "a rose is a rose is a rose," but more practical.  As a chronic perfectionist, I've struggled with knowing when to stop working, when to stop editing, when to stop losing weight, when to stop putting on makeup, (when to stop listing things), etc. etc.  I adopted the mantra "good enough is good enough" while recovering from anorexia, and have since revitalized the phrase time and time again, to apply it to almost every aspect of my life. It's closely tied to the idea of not letting "perfect be the enemy of good (enough)," which is something my academic advisor reminds me of whenever I start a new writing project.  This Truth is incredibly freeing.  Without mirrors in my life, I'm pretty sure my standards for "good enough" have gone down a bit in the categories of hair, makeup, fashion, and poppy-seed-free teeth.  Thankfully, it's turned out that my new version of "good enough" seems to still  be good enough!  Yay!

Truth 2: Challenge Assumptions and Do What Scares You!
A core tenet of Cognitive Behavioral Psychology (the most popular and effective form of talk-therapy out there these days) is the importance of challenging unproductive thoughts.  I've had plenty of those in my day, including "I suck at writing and I hate it" and "I'll never find love if I'm not really really skinny."  I really did think these things, and I held on to these beliefs until a very wise and patient therapist forced me to defend my assumptions using logic (which failed), and then I was gently encouraged to prove myself wrong in practice.  Turns out that I write "good enough" and I never would have found the love of my life if I'd been scary-skinny when we met (he's not into washboard abs on girls).  I had to do some things that scared me (like start a blog!), but the process of challenging my assumptions has always left me braver.  At it's core, my no-mirrors project challenges a lot of my assumptions about the importance of appearance.  I knew that I'd never convince myself to be less looks-obsessed if I didn't give up my obsessiveness and see what happened.  This process of challenging my assumptions led me directly to my first BIG Truth.

BIG Truth 1: When it comes to bodies and beauty and fashion (and almost everything), people who matter don't mind, and people who mind don't matter. (But it's still important to treat everybody as though they matter!)
It's true, and it's so freeing.  The people who love you for who you are on the inside, for the uniqueness you bring to the world... well, they really don't care if your eyeliner is smudged, if you're chubbier than a supermodel, or if you're wearing last-season's styles, or even yesterday's t-shirt and PJ-pants (I've been there folks).  Your dear friends, family, pets, and kind strangers (ahem, future friends) really don't mind, and they really do matter.  On the other hand, there are some major haters out there.  When my blog got some media attention in August, hundreds of Yahoo commenters went out of their way to talk about how ugly, fat, and stupid I am.  It really hurt my feelings.  I thought, "geez.... these strangers are telling me the truth that my friends are too nice to say."  But then I got really pissed off, and realized that those anonymous haters were just bullying misogynistic cowards.  They didn't matter.  

What's changed for me because of this project is a fundamental shift in how I decide whether or not somebody's opinion of me "matters."  I used to want to please everybody.  In fact, I'd work harder to impress the snobbiest folks, and practically dismiss compliments from my loved ones.  I resembled that Woody Allen line from Annie Hall: "I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member." How awful.  Now I've turned the tables.  Now, when people "mind," it's a sign that their opinion shouldn't matter so much.  I'm good enough, and that ought to be good enough.  

An addendum to this BIG Truth, however, is the importance of treating everybody as though they matter.  This is about politeness, kindness, and respect (and I believe it ultimately begets politeness, kindness and respect).  It took a while for me to wrap my head around this, but I've decided that part of treating people as though they matter CAN include dressing a little bit different or doing your hair or makeup a bit differently, for different occasions.  You aren't crushing your "true authentic self" by wearing black to a funeral, or by polishing your shoes for a job interview.  Likewise, showering and brushing your teeth are nice things to do before you grab lunch with your best friend.  Saying "those who matter won't mind" isn't an excuse to be knowingly disrespectful.  Rather, if you feel like you can't be yourself without offending people or being judged... you're hanging out with the wrong people!  Go make some new friends, or replace your biological family with an adopted one.  And brush your teeth!

What assumptions have you challenged in your life?  Who "matters" the most to you, and why? Tell me a story of a time that you've decided that somebody's opinion of you "doesn't matter." Go ahead and hate on haters! 

***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 332: Mantra Monday - Get Healthy (Seeking Home Remedies for Cough!)

Happy President's Day!  
I hope you're all reading this post from the comfort of your own home.  I'm not sure how many workplaces observe President's Day these days, but I'm rooting for 3-day weekends wherever we can find them.  In fact, a dream of mine is to someday work a 4-day workweek every week.  I'd gladly work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.  Who's with me?!

Alas, this week I needed a long weekend more than usual.  I picked up an aggressive head-cold a few weeks ago and am still fighting off a lingering cough that just won't quit.  Between sleepless nights and coughing fits that leave me sweaty, breathless and mildly incontinent (egads did I just admit that to the public-at-large??), well... I'm desperate.  I've tried most OTC options, tea with honey, and cough drops, which keeps things tolerable during the day.  By 7pm, however, the cough takes over.

Any cough-suppressing tips out there?  I'm under-insured at the moment, so trying to avoid a doctor's trip if at all possible...

OOOH!  I do have one interesting mirror-related observation to share: Since losing my sense of smell from the cold, I've felt really sad and numb every time I shower, put on makeup, style my hair, or spritz perfume.  I've clearly been over-enjoying in the scents of my various getting-clean-and-ready products in the absence of seeing their effects.  I hope this scent-sensitivity continues after I go back to using mirrors again (assuming I regain my sense of smell!).  Life is richer when you experience it with all of your senses, no?

Speaking of which: how cute is this H.B. Plumb print of five kittens experiencing the five senses?  Note that the kitty representing "sight" is in front of her mirror!  Meow!
More info on this print can be found here.
***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Day 328: 3 BIG Announcements!

I have three MAJOR announcements to share today.  I'm bubbling over with excitement and pride!  Here goes:

1) I am no longer unemployed.... because I've been offered the best job in the world!  I finalized a BOOK DEAL with Penguinbased on Mirror Mirror OFF the Wall.  
I've been working to make this deal happen since a few weeks before my wedding (and I know a few of you have already caught word of the news), but nothing felt final until I deposited my first (modest) advance check in the bank.  That happened last week, and I've been a little dazed ever since.  I feel like I can finally call myself a writer.  Authoring a book has been a lifelong dream of mine, so I am incredibly grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If anybody wants to buy me this coffee mug, I'll
gratefully guzzle from it every day for motivation!
Much like my blog, the book will be a humorous and quirky memoir of my year without mirrors, chock-full of nerdy insights from the latest research on body image along with historical and cultural "stuff" about mirrors and beauty.  It will go further than the blog, by delving into my life in greater detail and by incorporating a much more substantive amount of research and "fun facts."   I couldn't have made this happen without my phenomenal book agent, Mollie Glick, of Foundry Media.  Mollie pushed me to produce a book proposal (the week before my wedding!!) when I didn't know if I had it in me, and then held my hand through the nerve-wracking experience of the "auction."  I'm also psyched that I'll soon be working with Marisa Vigilante, my editor over at Penguin!  Hopefully she'll help polish gems out of the pebbles I'll be sending her in a few months... :)  Right now the book is slated to come out in Summer of 2013, so I have lots and lots (and lots and lots) of work to do!

2) ABC's 20/20 has signed on to produce a segment on my year without mirrors.
Robin Roberts is amazing.  I will be speechless.
Holy crap!  Yep.  It's true.  The lovely publicity folks at Penguin helped to negotiate terms for filming that I am comfortable with (i.e., they have promised to cover the important issues I care about, and NOT just focus on the scintillating mystery of how I apply eyeliner without a mirror...).  In a few weekends Michael and I are headed to New York City to be interviewed in the ABC studio by Robin Roberts (gah! feeling faint...).  I'm particularly thrilled that a 20/20 film crew has agreed to accompany me to the UCSF Young Women's Health Leadership Summit on March 7th, where I'll be giving two About-Face media-literacy workshops and basking in the amazingness of girl power.  The 20/20 episode will likely air sometime in April, after my year-without-mirrors is officially over.  I'll keep you posted on how things progress, and you'll definitely get a note to "tune in" on the air-date.  (BTW - Is it horrible that I'm kind of freaking out about what I should wear for the interview?  Any publicists out there have advice??)

3) Finally - THE PARTY IS ON!!  (And you are ALL invited!) 
Clearly, there is much to celebrate.  So... on the evening of Saturday, March 24th, I'm throwing a "First Look" party in the "Audre Lorde Room" of the stunning San Francisco Women's Building, to celebrate the end of my year without mirrors.  I'm partnering with About-Face to make this an ALL-OUT BODY-POSITIVE BONANZA.  We've invited other Bay Area organizations to the event, so there will be lots of fun, playful, body-positive activities and exhibits.  I'm springing for booze and munchies, so fun will be had by all.  At midnight we'll toast to my adventurous year, and I'll go check my badass-self out in a mirror for the first time in ages.  I couldn't have gotten through this year without the support and encouragement from this blog community, so please join me if you're able!  If you're interested in attending, shoot me an email at kjerstingruys@gmail.com and I'll add you to the official evite so you can get all the details.  

Again, THANK YOU, ALL OF YOU, for reading this blog and supporting me in this journey.  It's not over yet!

***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 320: Planning for Day 365

Well, in 45 days it will be!
Okay, I admit it.  I'm excited to look at myself in the mirror again.   Don't get me wrong - I'm still reaping in the benefits of mirror-fee life in spades.  For example, I just calculated that by the end of these 365 days I'll have gained over 90 hours of time to do... whatever.... just by cutting 15 minutes out of my morning makeup routine!  Oh, and I feel better about myself, and more in tune with who I am, and what my body feels like and needs, instead of just what it looks like.  But I still look forward to seeing what it looks like again!  Only 45 days left....  

And how will I commemorate the day?  Well, I've decided I want to throw a


On the night of Day 364  I want to gather together all of my closest friends and family, and all of the Bay Area body-image activists I can wrangle in.  I'm thinking: the fabulous team at About-Face, Marilyn Wann, of FatSo?, the crew at The Body Positive, the creative geniuses behind VolluptuArt, and more (am I forgetting anyone?!).

I'm envisioning cool music, delicious beverages, yummy munchies, and body-positive decorations all over the place.  We'll schmooze and booze, mingle to fun tunes, and take lots of pictures. Then, when the clock strikes midnight, we'll all toast to my crazy year and I'll go check myself out in a mirror.  (Note to self: purchase a very large mirror for this purpose.)

About the first look: I'm weirded out by the idea of a "sudden" reveal in the mirror.  It adds too much pressure to that one moment, and I don't want to feel like a makeover reality show!  I mean, what if my first reaction isn't so great?   I've brainstormed with friends, and here's what we came up with:  We'll cover the mirror with a collage of images and positive messages that remind me of who I am on the INSIDE.  I'll take the collage down, bit-by-bit, to see myself gradually while keeping in mind what really counts.  I'm psyched!
Any other ideas or suggestions?  What, specifically, should I use to decorate the "first look" mirror?  Post-it notes, operationbeautiful.com style?? Magazine clippings? Notes written by  friends and family? By me?  And how should I attach things without messing up the mirror? (I really  want this to go we'll...)

***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 315: Fun Fact Friday - Myths of Medusa, a Feminist Inspiration?

Caravaggio's Medusa.  1595
Speaking of bad hair days (see yesterday's post for more on this topic!)... this week's "Fun Fact" draws on the classic myth of Medusa.  What most of us remember is that Medusa was a reportedly a horrifyingly ugly monster: a morph of serpent and woman, with fighting snakes for hair and a horrifying gaze that turned men to stone.  Legends holds that the hero Perseus killed Medusa by using a mirrored shield (a gift from the goddess Athena) to approach Medusa without having to look directly at her deadly face.  He sliced her head off with his sword, and then takes it with him, and turned his enemies into stone by forcing them to look upon Medusa's dead-but-still-deadly gaze.

Versace reportedly picked the image of Medusa for its logo,
because "she is the epitome of fatal attraction." 
This story, alone, qualifies Medusa as an excellent "fun fact" for those interested in the (mythical) history of mirrors.  More interesting to me, however, was learning that Medusa's horrifying ugliness was not gifted at birth, but due to a curse put upon her by Athena.  In Ovid's Metamorphosis (yes, the same source for Day 301's Fun Fact), Medusa began as a ravishingly beautiful maiden.  She was a priestess in Athena's temple, and "the jealous aspiration of many suitors."  Medusa's stunning beauty and vanity angered the jealous goddess Athena.  When Medusa was caught "hooking up" (my term) with Poseidon, Athena punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful hair into serpents, and her lovely face into a site terrible to behold.

Thanks to my googling skills, I've learned that Medusa has earned a special place in the hearts of some feminist scholars, who believe her story (and face) to be an apt symbol for female rage.  In these accounts, it is Medusa's anger, not her ugliness, that becomes the focus.  Her rage is seen as righteous and powerful, as something women should use "as a map to guide us through our terrors, through the depths of our anger into the sources of our power as women," (as published in the 1978 issue of Women: A Journal of Liberation, which also featured an image of Medusa on its cover).

After all this, I'm left wondering:
*Was Medusa a monster or a victim?  
*So many classic tales are rooted in violence between a jealous women and a beautiful one.   (Snow White, Cinderella, The "I'll get you my pretty!!!" Wizard of Oz, and many more, I'm sure)  What does this teach young girls about what it means to be a woman?
*Finally, in our modern culture, what is treated as the greatest evil: ugliness, vanity, or rage?  

What do YOU think??
***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 314: How I Ruined My Hair, Then Fixed It, Then Ruined It Again (Maybe)

I am so sorry.  I've kept you all in the dark about an emotionally-wrenching saga that has been at play for over a month.  It's my hair.

Obviously an at-home dye-job, right?
The saga started with boredom.  A few weeks before Christmas I felt that itch to mess with my hair, to do SOMETHING different.  All my adult life I've been looking for that perfect haircut+color combo that perfectly expresses who I am.  Alas, some days I feel retro punk and androgynous, while other days I like to channel classic (über)femininity.  I am alternatively a student and a teacher, a reader and a writer, a fashionista and a stays-in-her-PJs-all-day slouch, a glamazon bombshell and a no-makeup-Mondays all-natural kinda gal  These multiple personae are easy enough to accomplish with a varied wardrobe, but not so much with hair.  On the day in question I felt too natural, too slouchy, and not sufficiently glamorous or edgy.  The solution?: put Gwenyth Paltro's hair on my head. Duh.
The "root" of my (hair's) destruction...

It didn't even seem that risky: my hair is naturally light-ish blonde and pin-straight, so it just needed to be lighter.  On a tight budget?  No worries, that's what Walgreens is for, right?  (I mean, Gwenyth obviously colors her own hair from a $7 box dye too... ugh, I am so dumb).  I left the store with two boxes of "Very Light Beige Blonde" by Féria.  Once home, I followed the directions exactly, sans-mirrors.  Once the timer went off, I washed the dye out, dried my hair, and then eagerly peered at the ends (which I could see without mirrors).  It looked fantastic!  Pale blonde, just like the hair I had when I was a kid.  Yes!!  Then I showed Michael.   Well, to be more specific, I accosted him in our TV room, flipping my (supposedly) Gwenyth Paltro hair and posing for imaginary paparazzi.
"Ta-da!  Surprise!  What do you think?!"  
"Woah!  Wow... it looks... cool!" (he paused) "I mean, it's what you meant to do, right?  It's kind of... bright..."
"Yeah, well I wanted to lighten it."
"Huh. Okay, yeah...it's definitely lighter..."
My heart sank.  Michael is color-blind.  If he was seeing a problem, there was a problem. "Okay... what's the deal?  What aren't you telling me?"
"Well... it's not awful, but it's kind of different colors. It looks weird near your face.  It's really yellow near your face."  Of all the colors, Michael can see yellow.  Gulp.
After more quizzing, I learned that the hair near my scalp was bright yellow, "Like, neon."  This wasn't predictable, but it was explainable: before my wedding I'd gotten highlights.  My hair had grown since then.  The highlighted parts were perfect, but my roots were... neon yellow.  I thought, Hrmmm... maybe I just didn't leave the dye on long enough to lighten my roots!   So I did what any sensible woman would do: I took out the second box of hair dye, and colored my hair again.  (I cringe while writing this)  Unsurprisingly, per Michael, my hair looked even worse after round 2.  Shit.  

Nikki's profile image from the Dekko site.
She is actually a lot smilier in person.  They
also forgot to draw her "hair angel" halo!
I waved a neon yellow flag of defeat, and decided it was time to seek help from a pro.  Since money has been tight, Michael decided that having my hair fixed at a salon would be his Christmas gift to me.  I made an appointment for a 15-minute consultation with a "color specialist" at Dekko Salon (fantastic yelp reviews + only 1 block from our apartment!), for the next day.  I arrived wearing a fuzzy pink beret which I hoped looked casually chic and not at all like I was hiding a bad dye job.  Minutes later I met Nikki, an energetic brunette who immediately put me at ease.  Apparently she'd seen worse (whew!), and I was lucky: since my hair was so light, she wouldn't have to bleach out any dye before darkening it back to my natural color.  Before I left the consultation, Nikki took pity on me and applied a "toner" to take things down a notch before the full repair, scheduled for two days later.

Confession: at this point I hadn't told Nikki about my no-mirrors project!  I know, I know.  I should have.  But I already felt like a huge moron for ruining my hair, and I didn't want to seem like a crazy moron. So all this time, I sat in Nikki's chair, directly facing a mirror, attempting to hold a conversation with her while avoiding eye-contact with myself.  It was terribly awkward, and I'm not sure I didn't seem like a crazy moron anyway.  Even though I didn't allow myself to stare, it was impossible to avoid catching glimpses in the mirror.  (By "glimpses" I actually mean flashes of my neon hair.  It was like trying to not read the highlighted portions of somebody else's textbook.)

Two days later, I returned for the full "corrective color" appointment, which involved 2+ hours of Nikki sectioning off highlights, bleaching just-the-highlights to take away the yellow pigment at my roots, and then dying the rest of my hair back to its natural color.  This time - facing multiple hours in the salon chair - I fessed-up to Nikki about not being able to look in the mirror.  I felt sheepish for not explaining things earlier, but Nikki was cool with it, and maybe even a little bit impressed.  She kindly spun the chair away from the mirror, and we spent the rest of the time chatting about our lives while she worked her magic.  While washing dye out of my hair (my 4th color application in 5 days!), Nikki assured me that everything looked good. I believed her.  After a luxurious 20-minute blow-dry Nikki snapped 2 photos for her Facebook page, and I was on my way.  I walked home with an intentional bounce in my step (I wanted to feel my locks swingin' with my sway)!  Michael confirmed that my hair was, indeed, fixed. I felt beautiful.  Hooray!

This is what my hair (probably) looks like now.
Okay, it probably doesn't look quite this good,
but you get the idea!
Sadly, after all I had put it through, my hair was fragile.  It tangled easily, and started looking frayed at the ends.  Nikki had warned me about this, suggesting that a trim was in my near future.  Assuming the worst, I bid my long hair goodbye.  While visiting my parents over Christmas, I went to see Cinthia (my beloved hairstylist, since high-school) and we decided to take of seven - yes, SEVEN - inches.  I still feel iffy about it (I miss my pony tail!!!), but Michael says I look hot.  My hair was short when we first met, so maybe it's a dé-ja-vu thing...

I "friended" Nikki on Facebook.    In one of her photo albums (titled "3-D Blondes") I found the two pictures she snapped on the day she "corrected"(i.e., saved) my hair.  Unlike that day in the salon, I let myself stare.  Yes, this breaks one of my rules, but I've forgiven myself.  I can't see my face (I had to email Nikki to be sure it was even me!), and my hair doesn't look like that anymore, anyway.  These pictures prove that I looked as beautiful as I felt that day.  It makes me sad that I cut off so much length. Did I do the right thing?  I don't know.  Alas, hair grows back and life goes on...

* What's the stupidest thing you've ever done to your hair?  I'd love stories of mullets, 80s perms, bad dye-jobs, and anything else I haven't thought of.  Make me feel better about this saga!
* Also, Long vs. Short Hair: Discuss!
***Like this post?  Subscribe to Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall via RSS feed or Email or it!***