Monday, January 23, 2012

Of Dead Skin and Eraser Shavings...

I am lying on a facial table and my skin is getting scrubbed. Hard. Really hard. I’m at a salon trying out a Botanical Skin Resurfacing, a treatment that has promised, in four easy sessions, to give me the equivalent of microdermabrasion for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the pain. That means smoother skin, smaller pores, and fewer fine lines and wrinkles. That’s why I am laying there trying to relax while the aesthetician spreads a layer of the scrub over my face, waits for it to dry, and then rubs back and forth until the product (and my dead skin) rolls off like eraser shavings. Yummy.

I haven’t always had the best skin. As a teenager, my acne was so bad that I finally had to go on Accutane just to look like a normal human being and not, you know, a pustule with eyeballs. (Did I also mention that I had braces and glasses at the time?) Accutane was a last resort after years of over-the-counter and finally prescription creams and potions that never made the slightest dent in my skin problems. Not that is was easy. Accutane dried the crap out of my whole body. I had to slather myself in Crisco-like lotions to keep my skin from cracking and peeling. I went through stick upon stick of lip moisturizer in a futile effort to keep my lips from splitting and bleeding. In fact, the Accutane was so potent that blood tests showed my liver was leaking enzymes after three months and they made me stop taking it. Luckily, it had been in my system long enough to work and I was blessed with relatively clear skin.

And it was all worth it. All the horrible things it did to my body were worth it because the acne had been so damaging, not just to my skin but to how I viewed myself.

Years later, I was speaking to a holistic healer/yoga teacher/aesthetician who, not knowing that I had ever taken Accutane, explained to me how lazy people with acne must be. I wanted to punch her in her smug little face. She told me that people who took Accutane just wanted the easy way out. That if they were really serious about clearing up their skin, they would go on a green juice fast and detoxify their bodies. Et voila! They wouldn’t have to deal with the pustules they had clearly brought on themselves with their sloppiness and lack of hygiene.

I bit my tongue. I wanted to say, “Listen, people with acne aren’t lazy. I would have done anything, ANYTHING to have clear skin. I would have bathed in the blood of a thousand virgins by the light of a full moon if I thought it would have cleared things up! So don’t tell me I’m lazy!” And Accutane was not the easy way out! It sucked. It sucked HARD. It did terrible things to my body before it started working. But to me, I would have suffered through anything.

Whew! What?! Where was I again?!

Oh yes. Back to me on the facial table. The aesthetician finishes peeling all the gunk off my face and leaves me to change. I touch my face. It is smooth. I mean really smooth. I mean really, really smooth. Do I look microderabrasion-ed? I don’t know. I look a little pink. And kind of shiny. But in the best possible way. Huh. Maybe there is something to all this facial stuff. We shall see.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Toilet Sore and Other Overshares

I poke an exploratory finger into my pectoral muscle. Yep. Still sore.

It all started a few days ago. In a quest to achieve my admittedly too vague New Year’s resolution to “get healthy,” I decided that I would start exercising. I struggled into a couple of pairs of sports bras, stuffed my hooves into a twisted old pair of running shoes, and hit the treadmill. After a few minutes of walking, I started shuffling, then running, then sprinting. After a minute or two of this, I slowed back down and then started the whole process over again. I repeated the whole rhythmic sequence four or five times and hopped off the treadmill. Easy! Well, sort of. I was out of breath, but that’s good, right? I didn’t go flying off the back of the treadmill or throw up during the sprints, so I counted this workout as a resounding success. This “getting in shape” stuff is going to be a piece of cake! Why didn’t I do it sooner?!

The next morning, I wake up bright and early to start lifting weights. This will be a cinch! I walk on the treadmill for a mile to warm up, and then lunge, squat, and hamstring curl for a half hour. Ok, I’m breathing pretty heavy, but nothing I can’t handle. Simple!

The next morning, I roll out of bed, shuffle to the bathroom, and… realize that I am so sore that I can’t sit on the toilet. What the what?! Everything from my belly button down hurts. I poke myself in the butt cheek with my finger and wince at the waves of pain that radiate outward from my sore muscle. After a few minutes of experimenting, I figure out that I can grab the counter with one hand, the edge of the tub with the other, and gently lower myself down. I wince. Even the weight of my own body pressing down on my glutes is enough to make me cringe. But this is good, I assure myself. It means you really worked those muscles! Right?! They’re now filled with little micro tears that will heal up even stronger than before! I keep telling myself that as I struggle off of the toilet.

When my next weight lifting day rolls around, I am still sore. But it will be ok, I think to myself, because I’m just doing upper body stuff today. I warm up on the treadmill again and hit the weights. I start with some lat pull downs and progress to push-ups. Wham! I thud on to the floor after only three push-ups on my toes. Again, what the what?! I used to be able to bang out 60 of these babies at a time! Sigh… Needless to say, it’s been awhile. I finish with some bicep curls and tricep extensions, and then call it a day.

At this point, my arms are feeling a little funny. Jelly-like might be a good way of describing it. But I chalk it up to being an exceptionally good workout and head off to get cleaned up. The problem starts with my sports bra. Specifically that I can’t get out of it. It’s like my arms are refusing to work. At all. Half in and half out of my sports bra, arms akimbo, I look at myself in the mirror. Is this what it has come to? I am so out of shape that after one upper body workout, I can’t even get out of my sports bra? The answer of course is yes. And this fact is really driven home only a few minutes later when I try to lower myself into the tub. Let’s just say that my arms choose this moment, this exact moment, when I’m weak and naked and hovering over a pool of water to completely give out. And I go crashing into the tub at terminal velocity. Water goes everywhere.

I stare up at the ceiling and settle in. It’s going to be a long year.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


To illustrate a point to my boyfriend, Bear, I am standing in my closet with a bra on my head. Wait, it will make sense in a minute.

Let’s begin with my wardrobe, shall we?

My dream is to be sleek and elegant, and yet my wardrobe hardly reflects that. What my wardrobe screams is “compromise.” Jeans that fit in the thighs but not in the waist (and vice versa), things that I thought I’d wear when I was thin enough to get into them, random stabs at colors that don’t suit me, and neutrals everywhere. It is bursting at the seams and yet I have very little to wear.

I decide it is time for a clean out. Ummmm, right. Where to start?

I open up my underwear drawer and dump the contents on the floor. Good lord. How can I have so many pairs of holey and fraying knickers?! This is embarrassing. And the socks… Why have I saved so many socks with runs in the fabric and holes in the heels? Was I waiting for them to spontaneously heal themselves?! I make a pile of “keeps” and “not-to-keeps.” And I start to feel good.

On to my bras. I have, ahem, kind of big boobs. Just to illustrate this point, I have discovered (as mentioned above) that some of my bra cups are big enough to be worn as hats. And I don’t mean some puny little yarmulke. I mean HATS, people. Anyway, I begin sorting. All the bras that are falling apart go in a pile. That includes ones with exposed underwire poking through the edges and ones where the underwire has completely snapped. Yes, I said snapped. I have worn bras to the point that the underwire has snapped. I am hard on a bra, ok?

Finally comes my walk-in closet. Now I am really on a roll. I grab t-shirts that are too tight around my muffin top and stuff them into a shopping bag. Next are the jeans that don’t fit. Into the shopping bag they go. This is starting to feel really good. I’m starting to perspire and as I see more room cleared in the closet, I am energized even more. Neutrals that do nothing for me, hand-me-downs that don’t fit, and coats that make me look like a sack of potatoes tied up in the middle… gone.

I survey my bedroom and see seven (!) bags full of clothes that do not suit me strewn around the room. I drag them to my car and drive them down to Buffalo Exchange and let the hipster employees paw through my bags of potential trade-ins. I hate this part. I always feel like the girls at Buffalo Exchange are assessing just how cool (or in my case uncool) I am according to my clothes. I go hide among the racks of used clothes so I don’t have to watch them turn their noses up at my wardrobe.

When I finally come back to check on how my trade-ins are going, I am gobsmacked to find out that they are willing to give me $137 for my crap. I resist the urge to do a little happy dance right there in the store. I gather up the items that they didn’t want and haul them to my car. Then I collect my check and head to the Salvation Army to drop off the rest of my bags.

I give one final wistful look to all the crap that I’ve collected that doesn’t suit me. I vow then and there to never again compromise on the way I present myself to the world. If it doesn’t make me feel wonderful, it isn’t for me.

No more compromises.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Liar, Liar, Hair On Fire?

Holy crap. My head is about to light on fire. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. Let me explain.

I have frizzy/curly/kinky hair and I hate it. I long for straight/smooth/shiny perfection, but apparently it is not to be. Or is it?

After learning of my struggles with my wild do, an acquaintance who happens to be a hair stylist invited me to a local beauty school to be the model for a chemical hair straightening demo. Free hair straightening? Sign me up! The only drawback was that I was required to show up with my head in full puff ball mode so that the students could see the dramatic transformation from crazy bag lady hair to silky smooth perfection. This made me cringe because I normally never leave the house without painstakingly going over ever strand of my hair with a red hot straightening iron. But it was a free chemical straightening, so I was willing to bite the bullet and leave the house looking frazzled.

When I arrived at the school, the instructor performing the demo asked me a few questions. How long did I normally spend straightening my hair? About an hour. Did I have any open sores on my head? Dear god, I hope not. Were my highlights done at a salon, or were they homemade? Miraculously, they had actually been done at a salon. (Confession: when I was a teenager, I used to highlight my hair with that bleach that women use to lighten their mustaches. Good god, the damage I must have been doing.)

With my interview done, he plunked me in a chair, gathered the students around him, and started working. He and his assistant began applying the chemicals to my hair all the while explaining each step to the students as they went. He kept a running monologue about dos and don’ts, ideal clients, and contraindications. I was drifting in and out, staring into space (my glasses were off for the procedure so I couldn’t see anything), only vaguely listening to what he had to say.

“And never EVER use this on someone who has box color in their hair.”


“Even color that comes from Sally Beauty.”

What?!? I have box color on my hair! It came from Sally Beauty! He only asked about my highlights! Not my base color!

A girl in the front row raises her hand. “What will happen if you put this straightener on top of hair that has box color?”

Yeah, what will happen??

“Well, I’ve actually seen people’s heads start to smoke.”

The class gasps.

Holy crap!!! My head is about to catch on fire!

“Worst case scenario: your head will start smoking and all your hair will fall out.”

Oh god oh god oh god! My head is going to catch on fire AND my hair is going to fall out!

My heart is pounding and my eyes are wide. I’m hoping no one in the class can tell that I’m on the verge of panicking. It’s too late to confess and wash the stuff off my head. At this point, all I can do is grit my teeth and pray that the instructor is wrong and my head won’t start smoking. For the next twenty minutes, I sit there in the salon chair certain I can feel my scalp heating up, then trying to convince myself that it’s just my imagination.

Ok, ok. Don’t panic. So far, so good.

Finally, the time comes to rinse. As I lean back into the shampoo bowl, I have visions of clumps of my ravaged hair falling out and clogging the drain. But the instructor is silent as he washes. No gasps of horror, no shouts of dismay. He wraps my head in a towel and I blindly grope my way back to the salon chair. He dries and straightens my hair into a silky perfect bob. All the students come up to pet my head. They ooh and ah.

My heart rate finally starts to come down. I am shakey but at least I’m not bald. I touch my hair. Yep, it’s still there. I thank all that is holy that my follicles are still intact and reel out of the salon as fast as I can. I don’t think I’ll be chemically straightening my hair again any time soon.

Friday, January 6, 2012

It all started innocently enough...

It was December and a stack of unread women’s magazines had been piling up on the coffee table for months. I’d just been too busy to sit down and actually go through them with any regularity. But forces conspired one evening to give me enough time to put my feet up and go through the Allures, Marie Claires, and Luckys that had been piling up for months.

It was an old October 2010 issue of Lucky magazine that I found under the couch that started it all. It was a blurb that read simply, “Can a Sexy Haircut Actually Make Life Easier?” Once I stopped laughing hysterically, I read the postcard-sized paragraph underneath. Lucky’s marketing editor lopped eight inches of her hair off to create a shoulder length bob and… apparently changed her life for the better? The bob was cute, but nothing spectacular, in my opinion.

I thought that was the end of it. But that ridiculous question kept coming back to me: Can a haircut actually make life easier? Isn’t this the assertion that all women’s magazines make, in essence? With a new haircut, a new diet, or a new skin cream, we will all be transformed. We’ll be elegant and beautiful. And somehow, things will be easier. Or better. Or we’ll never get fat or old or die. Or something to that effect.

And that got me thinking… Is it true? Could you really make yourself happier by improving your outward appearance? Could you really make yourself more elegant and confident? Women’s magazines (and arguably society as a whole) would sure have us believe so. I seem to recall that Allure used to do a year long make-over to that effect. Participants worked out, lost weight, got new wardrobes, highlighted their hair, etc. for an entire twelve months with the implication being that they would emerge transformed at the end of the year, happier and more elegant than the supposed schlubs they started out as.

So what would happen? What exactly would happen if I got that haircut? And for that matter, if I did every other stupid make-over trick that these magazines push? Could someone like me be more confident? Would I really be happier? Would anyone even notice? And how does one achieve this end? If I bleached my teeth, started working out, cleaned out my closets, slapped a masque on my face, used the newest perfume, wore just the right shade of lipstick, and highlighted my hair? Would things really be that different? Would I drain my bank account? Would I get fed up with all of this self absorbed navel gazing? Would I be able to stand the superficiality of an experiment like this? Would I become a high maintenance nightmare? Wouldn’t I just be the same old person I always was but with an admittedly shinier veneer?

Maybe it was quarter-life malaise that was getting to me. Maybe it was the fact that I had just turned 30 and was staring down the next decade in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for bloggers that experiment on themselves. Whatever the reason, that night sitting on the couch curled up with my stack of fluffy magazines, I was in an experimental mood. Could a general round of self-improvement really make that much of an impact? What if I did yoga, took my vitamins, went to bed early, started working out, and colored my hair before there were two inches of roots showing? What if I flossed my teeth regularly, stopped biting my nails, and actually figured out how to wear more than just the same old shade of brown eye shadow? Would I be a better person? Would I really be more confident, elegant, happy, and fulfilled? I’m skeptical but maybe I should find out.