I debated and debated on what I should write about for my very first post. The first post! I’m feeling a little pressure here to start off on the right foot and also I’m super giddy to get things underway. It’s so exciting to finally get this little blog rolling! I thought I might talk a little bit about how my personal definition of beauty has evolved over the years, what inspired me to start a blog, and what I hope to accomplish here on this site.
If you were anything like me as a teenager, you spent a lot of time poring over Seventeen magazine, mentally stockpiling hair and makeup advice, dog-earring the pages with the latest eyeshadow colors, and comparing yourself to the fresh-faced models splashed all over each glossy page. I loved scrutinizing all of the makeup tips and tricks, and seeing before and after photos. Before and after’s, I loved ’em! I will admit, I spent a lot of time looking at noses. Yes, noses. As a teen, I was terribly fixated on my nose, and the fact that I thought it was much too large and nothing like the cute button noses I saw in magazines and on tv. If you had asked me when I was thirteen years old what it meant to be beautiful, I probably would’ve said “to have a small, perfectly shaped nose.”
Luckily, I got over my schnoz preoccupation, or at least I got past it, but only just in time to begin my years long battle with my skin. Starting my senior year in high school, my skin became irritable, ready to blow up at the littlest thing, or nothing at all. The stress and fears that came with starting college only exacerbated the acne, and pretty soon I became obsessed with the skin on my face. My perfectionist tendencies did not help the situation. I tried every cleanser, toner, treatment cream, and mask I could find. Visits to the dermatologist were unfruitful. I became skilled in using concealer and makeup to hide my blemishes. Although I could cover the redness, the bumpy reflection I saw staring back at me every morning sans foundation was a serious blow to my self-esteem. It affected everything in my life – relationships, school, work, and social situations. I read everything I could in every magazine, in books, and online about how to clear up my skin. It was around this time that I, a dietetics student, became intrigued by the idea that certain foods could improve your complexion.
There wasn’t a lot of information at the time about nutrition and skin health. Most books I read stated that dermatologists had determined that what you eat has no effect whatsoever on acne. This was mostly in response to the myth that chocolate or greasy food can cause pimples (which may have some truth to it after all). The attitude that the food we eat doesn’t affect the condition of our skin has changed in recent years thanks to anecdotal evidence in association with popular books, celebrity diets, and new research like this. You now hear celebrities gush over how their complexion went from dull to vibrant after trying the latest detox plan or “clean” diet. I was working in a bookstore while I went to school, and I remember being enthralled with the hottest new beauty best-seller, The Perricone Prescription. Once again, those before and after shots caught my eye! If you’re at all familiar with the diet, you’ll know it recommends eating boatloads of salmon, spinach, and olive oil. For a while I tried eating salmon at least once a day (usually canned, because that’s what I could afford) and making plain spinach salads drizzled with olive oil, but eventually I got real tired of these foods. It was just not something I could do forever.
In my late 20’s my skin got better, but it was never the glowing, healthy skin I wanted it to be. I was always walking on eggshells, afraid at any moment it would flare up and the angry, painful, bumps would be back. I had to be extra diligent with my skin care routine to keep the blemishes controlled. This meant that my skin was often dry and flaky, and I almost always had a few bumps I was worrying about. I spent a lot of time and money on acne treatments. It’s pretty safe to say that in my 20’s, my definition of beauty would’ve included something about “perfect, clear skin.”
While I was pregnant with my daughter, I became more aware of the products I was putting on my face. More specifically, I started paying attention to the ingredients in my cleansers, lotions, shampoos, conditioners. The thought occurred to me that if certain chemicals were questionable to use because they might harm a growing fetus, maybe I shouldn’t be using them, period. Also, I started looking into which products were tested on animals. It was something that I cared about, but sometimes I got lazy and just grabbed the eye cream off the shelf that had the most impressive claims or trendy new ingredient. I ended up cleaning out my bathroom cabinets, giving away a lot of stuff I no longer wanted to use. I realized as I looked down at my big bag of cast-offs, that I really was using way too much stuff. I had creams for fine lines, gels for puffy eye bags, serum to even out dark spots, five different kinds of pimple creams, oil free moisturizer, antioxidant moisturizer, foaming cleansers, cream cleansers, exfoliating cleansers…. I could go on and on! And that was just the skin care products. I had two square baskets full of makeup, and a shower overflowing with shampoos, conditioners, pre-shampoo treatments, and moisture masks. My husband had installed an impressive four-tiered shower caddy, and I still didn’t have enough room. Can anyone else relate? With women spending a collective $426 billion a year on beauty products, I can’t be alone! Anyway, I’d had enough. I was tired of spending money on products that didn’t work, and I committed myself to buying only products that weren’t tested on animals, and not chock full of potentially harmful ingredients. Also, I wanted to pare down. I went back to basics with a simple cleanser and jojoba oil to moisturize.
Then, I began to focus on my diet. As a health-minded vegetarian, I thought I was eating pretty well already. I had to admit, though, that my husband and I relied on packaged foods a lot. We were so tired and stressed out from work, that cooking dinner when we got home was an afterthought. I also thought nothing of eating a candy bar every day. Twix was my candy drug of choice. In fact, I was eating a lot of processed sweets. So, much like my bathroom closet clean-out, I went through my kitchen cabinets. I packed up and gave away the white sugar, packaged sweet treats, and anything that had a novel of ingredients listed on the label. Faux meat products were out. It was time to get back to basics with my food choices. Nothing crazy. Just slowly swapping out the white-flour packaged pizza mix with homemade wheat pizza crust, adding more vegetables to everything, cooking up a big batch of soup and freezing it, and learning to make my own veggie burgers. I got hooked on reading several great food blogs, and was inspired to make healthy treats instead of buying them. We started branching out from making the same five meals every week, and started adding in some new favorites. I had always loved cooking, but it had been a long time since I had felt inspired in the kitchen. I realized how much I love creating new dishes and trying new foods. One of the side effects of getting rid of the sugar and processed foods: my skin looked better and I wasn’t even trying.
In my thirties now, my skin is no longer something I obsess over. In fact, I think it looks better than it did in my 20’s. Mind you, it isn’t perfect. I still get a stray zit on my chin, especially when I’m stressed or sleep-deprived, and I’m starting to see those first forehead lines and crow’s feet, but I feel much more comfortable with that reflection staring back at me. My priorities have shifted. I’m no longer striving for “perfect”, nor am I scouring the beauty mags to find out what I should look like. Instead, I’m aiming for health, happiness, and what I like to call whole beauty. To me, whole beauty is about feeling beautiful – radiating confidence, peace, gratitude, and balance. It’s having glowing, healthy skin, shiny hair, bright eyes, and a beaming smile…without using a closetful of products. In the same way that whole foods are better than processed and packaged, whole beauty, in my opinion is better than beauty from a package (i.e. glowing skin because you’re happy and healthy vs. glowing skin from that Nars blush!) Not that I would never eat processed foods or use cosmetics, I just prefer to use only a little of both. It might sound vain talking about appearance, but I think these are things important to most of us. Our looks can have a great impact on how we see ourselves, and how others see us. I think feeling great can make us perceive our outer appearance more positively. The reverse is also true, looking in the mirror and liking what you see can improve your mood, attitude, and how we interact with others. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
“Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic” – Rosalind Russell
What I hope for with this blog is to inspire you. I’m not here to tell you what to eat. Or not to eat. There are so many different views and opinions on diet. Everyone has to find what is right for them. I’m not here to give cooking lessons, I’m sure there are many of you who are far better cooks than I! However, if I can give you an idea, and inspire you to try it out, put your spin on it, and thus include more nutrient-rich foods in your day, then mission accomplished! I love learning about and sharing the benefits of eating certain foods, for improving our health, mood, and our looks. Going beyond food, I’m also intrigued by exploring how each facet of wellness – our spiritual, emotional, physical, environmental, social, and intellectual health- affects how we look and feel. I look forward to sharing my findings. I believe everyone has the potential to look and feel amazing. It’s time to start feeding our beauty; with nutritious foods that nurture our skin and hair, and make us feel strong and centered; and with a lifestyle that supports our inherent need for balance and well-being. Join me on this beautiful journey!
What is your personal definition of beauty? Has it changed over the years? When do you feel the most beautiful? I’d love your feedback!