The Essential Element of Beauty

While we most often learn to think of beauty as an outward condition, at its core beauty is a condition of the heart. When you have a beautiful heart, your outward appearance becomes inconsequential. Your beauty doesn't rely on how good your hair looks that day, or how much you weigh, or how "flawless" your skin is.

I was leading a women's group last year and we were all discussing this idea of beauty, trying to figure out what qualities really make a woman beautiful. Most of us came to the conclusion that feeling comfortable with oneself and having confidence were big factors in beauty, and then one of the girls in the group who rarely spoke up shared that she felt like kindness was a true indicator of beauty. We all had one of those dumbfounded moments of, "why hadn't I thought of that?" She gave the example of a girl who is physically pretty, but treats her waiter like crap. You don't really think of her as being beautiful, right? We all immediately recognized the truth in what she had shared. Kindness is an essential element of true and lasting beauty.

Kindness has a lot to do with sensitivity for what other people are going through. Empathy, if you will. It's hard to be kind if you don't empathize with what other people are going through. It makes me think of this quote:
Recognizing that other people are struggling is an important part of kindness, and one that I personally have a difficult time remembering sometimes. I'm not a natural empath, so I have more of a tendency towards being judgemental. I'm working at it though. For example, if someone is driving like an idiot (my first reaction), I stop to think that maybe they are tailgating me because they're super late for work, or need to get to the airport, instead of thinking that they're just a jerk. Or if your barista isn't super friendly, instead of thinking he or she is rude or mean, maybe they're having a bad day, or their boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with them the night before, or they could just be shy! We can't read minds and know what people are going through, so it's best to err on the side of sensitivity. We'd want people to treat us with sensitivity when we're going through rough times, so we should do our best to give people that same benefit of the doubt.

And speaking of going through rough times, I can think of many women who are actually more beautiful for having gone through hardships. This is probably why the beauty of older women seems to be of a different caliber than the beauty of young women. Younger women may be beautiful and kindhearted, but there's a lack of enduring strength that comes with age and experience. It's a shame that our culture tells us that wrinkles and scars are ugly and must be covered up or staved off for as long as possible. I've always viewed wrinkles and scars as evidence of life having been lived. Yet, we're taught that as soon as a wrinkle shows up, we must do everything within our power to eliminate it. Just one look at the blog Advanced Style immediately shows that beauty and age are not mutually exclusive, and that wrinkles aren't the end of the world. When I see people using cosmetic surgery to erase wrinkles and lines, it almost seems to me like their erasing their lives. Our bodies are a sort of book with our lives and experiences written in our skin. I have a scar on my face from when a dog bit me at the age of 18 months. I don't remember any of that actually happening, but I actually enjoy the fact that I have that scar. If I had a twin or clone with the exact same genetic material as myself, we'd still have different stories told on our bodies through our scars, bruises, and wrinkles. I think that is beautiful.

I once heard my grandmother, who is 90 years old, say that mentally she feels the same as she did when she was 25. While our bodies may age, our spirits remain youthful and bright, so how can we say that beauty is only something which exists in our appearance? If we take that to be a truth, that beauty is something that is tied to our spirits or souls or hearts (however you see it), beauty must be evidenced by kindness. A spirit which is unkind simply cannot be beautiful. Unkindness is always ugly. If kindness was something every person strove after every day, the world would be fundamentally transformed.

Journal: Beautiful People

For today's journal I want you to think of the most beautiful people in your life. These have to be people you actually interact with (so, not you're favorite actress or musician), because beauty is about so much more than just looks. What is it about them that you find beautiful? Talk about the qualities they possess that make them truly beautiful. I've found that true beauty is almost always inspiring. What is it about them that you find inspires you to be a better person? Are they kind, selfless, joyful? Do they exude self-confidence and a comfortability with who they are? Do they light up a room with their personality?

You can also talk about someone who you maybe thought was beautiful based on outward appearance, but upon getting to know them you realized they were unkind or rude. Or maybe they just were striving so hard to appear a certain way that they didn't have that ease about them which comes from feeling comfortable with who you are. Either way, it's beneficial to recognize true beauty when you see it, and to also recognize when beauty is being emulated in a superficial way. Training yourself to see beauty more holistically, rather than just a matter of appearance, will help you to see true beauty in others.

The Beautiful Variety of Femininity

I read this post by Julie Klausner after it was brought to my attention by one of my followers that she had used one of my photos (the photo above) without my permission in the post and also neglected to credit it or link it back to the source. This kind of thing doesn't really bother me that much because we live in the age of google image search, tumblr, and weheartit where people regurgitate images without any regard for original sources. I read the post that Julie wrote, though, and it really made me think, since so much of what her post refers to is stuff that I run across on a daily basis in the blogosphere. The main point in her post is that women these days infantilize themselves by liking "girly" things like cupcakes and wearing things like miniskirts and converse sneakers. "Women with master’s degrees who are searching for life partners, list “rainbows, Girl Scout cookies, and laughing a lot” under “interests, on their profiles," she notes. Her main point is that, by creating this image of girliness and frou-frou sparkly-eyed femininity, what we're really aiming for is making ourselves less intimidating to men. That ultimately, our main goal is to not scare men away by reminding them of those little girls they picked on in 2nd grade.

While I think that she does have a point, she makes an over generalization. And maybe I'm taking it personally (since my picture was used as what I'm assuming is an example of how I embody this infantilized girly girl who is un-intimidating to men), but picking out one type of girl and saying that she is the kind of girl we shouldn't aspire to be, is at best non-productive. When I looked at the photos she used and examples she gave of dead giveaways of this type of repulsive girl-woman, I thought of Elsie Larson, who of course loves cute cupcakes, dresses with vintage (maybe girly-girl?) shapes & cuts, etsy shops and so on. But Elsie is one of the most intensely driven, strong minded and impressive women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And I would guess that she's very intimidating to men, simply because she's not this wilting flower of a girl that Julie would make her out to be based on her criteria.

Why I have to fit into someone else's criteria for what a woman "should be" to be acceptable to men is the same as men telling me what I should be to have them like me. I won't let anyone tell me who I should be, and I certainly won't let them tell me I should be this or that so that men will like me. If I like wearing rompers and eating FroYo instead of drinking wine and reading Ayn Rand, so what? And what if I like doing both? Are dressing the way I do and being a strong, independent, smart and driven woman mutually exclusive? I say that's bullshit.

Granted, I do get her point. And she has some valid takes on things. Ladies, we should never EVER dumb ourselves down to be more attractive to a man. Don't ever make yourself seem more stupid, a worse driver, not as good at sports, not as business savvy, etc. just so that the man you're with or want to be with will accept you. He should accept you as you are because otherwise your relationship is a lie because you have become a lie. Having dated boys in the past who have wanted me to be that weak, wilting flower of a girl so that they would feel more secure in their "manhood", I know first hand how demeaning and frustrating, even infuriating, that is. Whether they want you to look a certain way, act a certain way, be in a certain career (or none at all), or so on, what they're really saying is, "I'm not secure enough to bask in the incredible power that you exude as a woman." And that, my friends, is a weak man. I believe that we as women have this incredible strength and power built in to us. I mean, lets be real, we have the ability to create and birth another life. How much more bad ass can you get? That power was given to women. But even beyond that, we are resilient, nurturing, clever, loving, protective, and so much more.

I am not going to change who I am, how I dress, what color my hair is, what books I read, what food I like to eat, or anything else because of what a man or a woman says I should be to make a man like me (or anyone else for that matter, gender aside). Who I am as a person should have nothing to do with making men like me. A man should like me because I am working on being the best me that I can be. What that looks like should and will be intensely individual. I feel like it behooves every one of us to take a step back and look at ourselves and ask why we are who we are. Are we being who we are for others, or for ourselves? Are you changing yourself to better fit someone else's idea of what they think you should be?

I want women to feel like they can be contradictory. You can wear feminine dresses and drive a '73 winnebago across the country alone. You can love etsy shops and cupcakes and be a med student in the middle of her residency. You can be a style blogger, run a successful local business, and be a published author. You can graduate at the top of your class with a double major and like baking too. I am going to be the fullness of myself. I'm not going to hide myself. This means not hiding my smart, athletic, fearless side as well as not hiding my feminine, soft side.

If Julie really believed, like she says, that "you can make your own modern womanhood," she wouldn't tell you that you can't be a real woman and like rompers, birds, cupcakes, rainbows, etc. I believe that we are indeed making our own modern womanhood, especially here in the blogosphere, by rejecting the image we're fed over and over again in the mainstream media of what society tells us a woman should be and putting our own voices and images out there and saying, "Look! I am woman. I don't fit in any box and that's okay! In fact it's more than okay, that's how it should be."

Unconventional Sexiness

Sexiness is such a nuanced concept. It's so unique to each individual person that it seems difficult to even discuss on a level that's not deeply personal. Granted, there are certain things that seem pretty universal when it comes to people who have an understanding of their own sexiness, like possessing confidence or feeling comfortable in one's skin, for instance.

I like to feel sexy. It's not something I think about all the time, and it's not really even something I think about very frequently when I get dressed, but I do like to feel sexy. Most days it's not a major part of my thoughts, but some days I just feel a big desire to look and feel sexy. Of course looking and feeling sexy is different for everyone. We perceive sexiness in such a personal way that it's impossible to say that this or that is always sexy (though pop culture would like us to believe otherwise, it seems).

Most of the things I wear, I don't perceive to be sexy. Even on days when I want to look more sexy, I don't really end up looking like a sex pot. For me, feeling sexy is totally independent of male attention. If I wanted to look sexy according to what my husband sees as sexy, I might be wearing something completely different than if I put on something that made me feel sexy. I think that's so interesting! We're taught that sexiness and male attention are interlinked, but really sexiness and feeling sexy are such personal experiences, and sometimes independent of male attentino.

So many of the actresses and celebrities these days seem to take themselves and their sexiness so seriously. They go in Maxim magazine and have these sultry photos in fancy lingerie in order appear conventionally sexy- and by now we all know that "sex sells." It proliferates the idea that we have to be sex goddesses in order for men (and even for ourselves) to think we're sexy. Cosmo tells us all the time how to please men, and what bras and panties to buy to turn our man on, and how to have the best orgasm of our lives. I just wish sexiness wasn't so overt and watered down. We all have unconventional sexiness because we're all completely unique and individual.

It's hard for people these days to find their own brand of sexy, since the entire world (or so it seems) is telling all us girls to show cleavage, shop at Victoria's Secret, take pole dancing classes, and buy KY intense in order to feel sexy. While those things can probably help to some degree, for some women, I think it's a whole lot more simple than all that, and certainly more inexpensive:

Smile more -
Feeling good about yourself is kind of a feedback loop, if you will. The more you smile, the more you feel happy; the more you feel happy, the more you smile! And if you're happy, you're more likely to feel good about yourself and your life. Sexy people always seem to be happy and content with their lives. We all have our problem but if we just try to smile more and be more content with our lives in general, those problems will seem like far less of a big deal.

Look pretty -
Looking pretty is different for everyone. It has certainly evolved for me over the years. If I wore something that made me feel pretty in high school today I probably wouldn't feel pretty at all. Looking pretty is just about putting that little extra effort into your appearance that can give you a pep in your step and make you feel like a bombshell. I know that everyone needs a scrub day once in a while, but pulling yourself together can make you feel more confident- and feeling confident is a huge part of being sexy.

Do something you love -
When you pour yourself into something you are passionate about, your whole life is enhanced. Whether you are lucky enough to get to do what you love as a career, or you give yourself time on the side to do something, make sure you are devoting yourself to a passion. Write and play music, paint, draw, write poetry, run, blog, take photos, do whatever it is that feeds your soul. If you have a job that takes the life out of you and you don't give yourself time to bask in your passions, it will show on your face and your demeanor. A passionate person is a sexy person and that passion will infiltrate every area of your life.

Wear sexy underwear -
This is fun because it's your little secret. Don't let yourself fall into a lull of wearing granny panties. Wearing something really fun and sexy that no one can see can help you feel great without needing a super sexy outfit. Set aside some of your budget to head down to a lingerie shop and buy some cute bras and panties. I remember when I was a little girl helping my mom fold laundry I asked her why she had pretty underwear if no one saw it. She told me that it was so she felt pretty. She'll probably be embarrassed that I shared that, but I remember it very distinctly. Basic underwear is important, but let yourself indulge in a little secret sexiness.

Laugh at yourself -
Don't be so easily embarrassed- it will paralyze you. Let yourself laugh at your own mistakes, and you will be less afraid to make them. The more you allow yourself to take risks the more carefree you will feel. Laughing makes you smile, and remember the first thing I said about smiling! Mistakes are inevitable, embarrassing situations are inevitable (no matter how hard you try to avoid them), so stop trying so hard to avoid the mistakes and dive into life, being prepared to laugh at yourself when you screw up. Screw up, laugh at yourself, and move on with life. The confidence you feel from not being paralyzed by fear is remarkably sexy.

Of course all this is just starters, being sexy is all about your individual personality. Don't buy into the fashion industry, celebrities, and magazines telling you how to be sexy as if sexiness is a one-size-fits-all teddy that you can just slip into. Live your life to the fullest and sexiness will follow you.

Don't let beauty be about others

Beauty is about you. Not what others want to project on you, or what you try to project on yourself. What makes another girl beautiful might not be what makes you beautiful! Because the truth is, you can only be you. How silly would it be for an arm cell to sit around all morose and think to itself how much more awesome it would be if it was a leg cell. And then think of the horror if that arm cell actually took action and decided it was going to take measures to try and be a leg cell! Does anyone know what that's called? It's cancer.

We need to stop looking around at everyone else and wishing we were more like her, or as funny as so-and-so, or had hair like that girl. If we all spent more time cultivating our own beauty instead of trying to be more like other people, I bet there would actually be more beauty in the world. How much more energy would we have to devote to things we love if we stopped trying to be things we're not? I reckon quite a bit.

I've always disliked the idea that you should alter your personal style to please or get attention from someone else. At the same time, though, I think everyone should know that appearances do matter, even if we say we don't judge a book by it's cover. We have eyes for a reason, and no matter how well intentioned people want to seem, we all instantly make assessments based on what we see. Maturity is what allows us to evaluate whether that initial visual judgement is accurate, but it's still true that we make visual judgements almost immediately.

My stance has always been that you should dress for yourself, and if a guy or anyone else doesn't like it, then they clearly aren't meant for you! They way you dress expresses yourself, so why should you change yourself to get someone to like you? Ultimately, you'll just end up unhappy. This doesn't mean that I won't dress up to go on a date, but when I do dress up it is in my own style and in a way that first and foremost makes me happy. When I look in the mirror I want what I see to reflect who I am. I'm not always completely successful, but at least try to I put some effort into it.

10 Fun Beauty DIY's!

Faux Flower Crown via Delightfully Tacky

Zig Zag Nails via The Dainty Squid

Makeup for Glasses via The Beauty Department

Red Lips Tutorial via Keiko Lynn

Homemade Hair Mask via De Lune

Activity: Treat Yourself

We've been doing a lot of introspection and thinking and writing during this course, so today just take a day to do something special for yourself. It's Saturday and hopefully you don't have work or school, so get out and do something special for just you. Do something that makes you feel beautiful. Sometimes we don't value ourselves enough to feel like we're worthy of being treated. Of course, doing something that makes you feel beautiful will be different for each of us. Going to the spa might do it for some, while being out in nature or being active will do it for others. Think about what activity makes you feel special, and go do it for yourself! We oftentimes wait for others to make us feel special or beautiful, but that's not always available. It's important that you can feel special and beautiful on your own! Here's some ideas for some fun stuff to do today (or some time this week, if you can't do it today!).

  • Go on a hike
  • Get a mani pedi
  • Get a tasty treat! (macaroons, brownies, froyo, etc)
  • Buy yourself flowers
  • Take yourself out to a fancy dinner (or order pizza and watch your favorite show at home!)
  • Buy that dress you've been eyeing for a while
  • Go to the beach (for those of you in warmer climates)
  • Take yourself out to coffee and read your favorite book.
  • Sit in the park and soak in the sounds of birds and kids running around
  • Go on a run or something that gets your blood and endorphins flowing
  • Take a candle lit bubble bath (I haven't done this in so long!)
  • Go dancing, or take a dance class!
  • Get some fancy, sexy new underwear
  • Go for a drive and see where you end up
For more ideas, you can check out this awesome list by Gala Darling, or you could also pick one of the DIY's posted earlier today!
If you want to share what you did to treat yourself, or what you plan to do, share it on the forum! I also added a topic where you can share your personal beauty story, so if you feel comfortable sharing some of your beauty story from the journal activity a few days ago, please do!

Video: Jessi Arrington on Personal Style

"Confidence is key. If you think you look good in something, you almost certainly do. And if you don't think you look good in something, you're also probably right. I grew up with a mom who taught me this day-in and day-out. But it wasn't until I turned 30 that I really got what this meant. And I'm going to break it down for you for just a second. If you believe you're a beautiful person inside and out, there is no look that you can't pull off." - Jessi Arrington

Personal Style: Catalyst for Confidence

As I was driving the other day I started contemplating how I came about being who I am right this moment- why I feel so confident in who I am and why I, according to many of my blog readers, am brave and such. I realized that a lot of it started with clothes, as silly as that sounds! I mean there were a lot of other factors, and I've always been pretty unfazed by doing things like my Winnebago trip, but there are other areas in my life that I was definitely not as confident in and that has certainly changed over the past few years. I figured out that most of my confidence stemmed from ceasing to care about what other people thought about me, which started when I began to explore my personal style.

Back in high school I pretty much wore the same kind of thing everyday: boot cut/flare jeans, a little boys t-shirt, and skater shoes. I always had a desire to wear other things, and I loved dressing up for halloween and stuff like that, but I never wanted any stares or attention in regards to what I wore. Plus, it was high school, so I'm sure there was some sort of desire to fit in for the most part (though my high school class was awesome and there weren't really the popular/unpopular groups like a lot of kids have to deal with). And back in high school I wasn't super comfortable with my body. I didn't hate it, but had the typical desires to be less awkward, or look more like the girls who had boyfriends, etc. But anyway, I digress...

So when I went to college, I dressed sort of the same for my freshman year, and then just started becoming friends with these amazing, beautiful, creative people and started really getting into my art department. Plus, I was living "on my own," if you count living in dorms, which I did at the time. I think maybe that gave me that jolt of confidence that I needed to branch out and try new things. Sophomore year I started wearing some different things. I remember thrifting two pairs of old men's pants that were awesome. I wore them a lot- I wish I had a picture of me in them. I don't know if they looked ridiculous or not, but I stopped caring. It didn't matter! Then I dyed a streak of my hair rainbow colors at the end of Sophomore year, and by the beginning of my Junior year I was wearing huge winged eyeliner and beehiving my hair like Amy Winehouse. At some point I also went through a phase where I dressed like David Lee Roth and teased my hair all huge like 80s hair bands. Hahah. It was awesome and crazy. That's around when I started my blog and I just began documenting my style and its evolution. I still have all those parts of my style- the rainbow hair, the Amy Winehouse/pinup girl, the 80's hair metal. They come out from time to time.

But all of that was to say that I think a lot of my confidence is rooted in not being afraid to wear whatever I want to and not caring about what other people will think of me. I mean, that's a daily thing and daily things are often the hardest to conquer. And once you stop caring, it just gets easier and easier to do and be who you want to be, rather than what other people want or expect you to be.

Someone emailed me a while ago asking about what kind of clothes boys respond to and how to dress flirty-- but not overly so, and my initial reaction to that question was almost confusion. Like, why would you even want to dress a certain way to make boys respond to you? Thinking back, though, while I was never one of those girls who had boyfriends, I did use to wish I had more attention from boys, especially since my friends got a lot more attention than I ever did. Looking back from where I am now, I realize that I'm just not one of those girls who will ever be a boy magnet, nor do I want to be. I've come to discover that my quiet self confidence actually kind of intimidates men, and I rather prefer it that way. But the question still makes me think about how much differently people can think about clothes and the role they play in life

For myself, clothing and personal style are more of a description of my inward self, rather than something I use as a way to get a certain reaction out of other people. I realize that clothing certainly can function as a reaction-inducer (if it didn't, there wouldn't be a club-wear industry, I suspect), but I just have no interest in wearing clothes for other people, and I feel like that is what gives me a lot of confidence. The clothes I wear and how I present myself visually to the world are a reflection of who I am and how I feel that day. It makes me excited to get dressed in the morning and choosing my clothes becomes a creative aspect of my day!

For more on this subject, read this article:

Dressing your shape

If one thing is true, it's that women come in pretty much every shape and size under the sun, and that's a GOOD thing. If we were all the same, how boring would that be? Learning how to dress for your shape is important simply to be able to feel comfortable and confident in your own clothes.  Unlike many articles about "dressing your shape" this isn't about figuring out how to find clothes for your body type that society deems sexy or fashionable.  This is about understanding the shape of your body and learning to shop in a way that makes it easier to find items in your own personal style.  I'm not going to tell you that because you have a small top and big hips that you have to wear a-line dresses, or that if you have a flat booty that you need to find jeans that make your butt look bigger.  In my opinion "dressing your shape" doesn't mean "dress your shape to look like another, more socially acceptable shape."

1. Don't pay attention to the size on the tag.
I think this is where a lot of us get in trouble. We have this idea in our heads of what our size is, and this can come in handy when we're browsing through the racks, but when it comes to actually figuring out what size is going to fit us best, much more scrutiny needs to go into the matter. One thing that helped me realize this was thrifting. When you're thrifting, you're often dealing with clothing from hundreds of different brands (all with differing sizing standards) and a variety of different decades. For example, if you try on a medium item that is vintage it's likely it's more like a small or extra small. This taught me to ignore the size on the tag and instead look at it objectively to see if it would fit. And then, trying something on is always the best method to figure out the fit of an item. I've pulled many a piece from the racks thinking it would be perfect only to discover it fits totally wonky!

When it comes to shopping online, this also applies, though you don't have the luxury of trying something on (though if the shop has a good return policy, you can always return the item if it doesn't fit well, or exchange it for a size up/down if it's just too big or small). One thing I've really gotten into the habit of is checking the size guide. This will usually give you measurements for bust, waist and hips typical to their sizing. Make sure you know what your current measurements are!


Something that ModCloth does is that they have an area with each product where people who have purchased the item can review it. They can include their measurements, what size they bought, and then comment on the quality or how it fit. I always check these reviews before I buy something, simply because it is so helpful to figure out what size I need to get, or if the item is even going to look right on me. People can even upload photos of themselves wearing the item so you can see visually how it fit them. I love this feature and have found it so helpful that I've gone back and reviewed the items I've bought so I can help others figure out if they'll work well on them.  Features like that are on a few shopping sites I've found online, and I always think they're helpful!  When shopping online, try to see if the shop you're looking at has a similar feature.

2. Realize that your top and bottom may be different sizes
This is especially important for those with a more "pear" or "inverted triangle" type body shapes, like myself. My body shape is more wide at my hips than my shoulders/bust, so I always need to make sure that things I buy have enough room in the hips. If I buy a dress that is fitted to my bust, it might be too tight around my hips. Because of this, I'll usually look for items that have a free-hip, or a fabric which stretches so that it'll fit up top, but have enough room for my hips. Figure out what your body shape is and make sure you choose pieces that fit you!

3. Utilize tailors
I am short. Because of this, almost anything full length, like pants, dresses or skirts, will usually drag along the ground. There are many times you'll try something on and it will be perfect except for one small fit issue, and for those decide if it's worth the time and money to take it to a tailor. Sometimes it can be less of a hassle to just get something tailored to fit you, rather than spend hours and hours trying to find an item which fits you just right. The truth is, there may not be a brand out there which designs for your shape, and you'll have to take things into your own hands.  Find something that fits great everywhere else, and then take the garment to a tailor and have them fix the spots that aren't fitting well.  Or, if you're a super awesome seamstress, you can try tailoring stuff at home!

4. Wear what makes you feel confident
In high school, I didn't have the confidence to wear things that were too far out of my typical daily style (flare jeans, thrifted little boys' tees, skater shoes). In retrospect, it would've been great to have been able to explore more of my style back then, but because I didn't have the confidence, wearing new and different things would have just made me felt uncomfortable and self-conscious. In the end, what really pulls off an outfit is the confidence of the person wearing it. You may be wearing a fabulous outfit, but if you don't feel confident in it, you probably won't look as fabulous as you'd hope.

5. Invest in good undergarments
First off, I think this is mainly for comfort's sake. If I'm wearing an itchy bra or undies which ride up all day... I'm not a happy camper and it's constantly distracting. Who wants to be picking a wedgie all day? Not me.
Another thing that a good foundation does, is make your clothing fit well! You want undergarments that don't show or bunch or pinch, so that your awesome outfit isn't upstaged by weird panty lines or bra straps. Plus, apparently according to Mandy, a bra fitting can change your life.

Activity: Don't look in the mirror

Tomorrow, I want you guys to try not to look in a mirror all day. It's so crazy how much of a habitual thing it is to just, you know, glance in the mirror now and then, or catch your reflection in a window, just to make sure everything is in it's right place, or to make sure nothing's in your teeth. But we often don't realize how hard it is to not look in the mirror. To not care about our appearances. I'm not saying that caring about your appearance is a bad thing, what we look like and how we care for ourselves does communicate a lot to other people, but we also tend to put too much importance on those things. We obsess over wrinkles or "flaws" which are probably only noticeable to us as their so minute. If we could train ourselves to avoid spending that time looking in the mirror, obsessing over things that don't actually matter, I bet we'd be a lot happier. I don't know if I could advocate cutting mirrors out of your life for good (hi, I'd like to know when my hair is doing crazy things. Okay, that's like every day...), but bringing mirror time down to the minimum time necessary can only be a healthy thing. Think of it like one of those technology-fasts where you unplug from the digital world and reconnect with reality. Technology isn't always a bad thing, but it can definitely start to take over your life and give you a false sense of what's important and what's not. Same thing goes for mirrors. So today, or sometime this week if today is not an ideal mirrorless day, take a day and fast from your mirror (and your car mirror, and bathroom mirrors, and tinted windows...).

The Many Facets of Beauty

Beauty is a convoluted and confusing term.  For almost everyone, it conjures up individual biases, past pain, personal preferences, and so on and so forth.  Everyone has their own experience with the word "beauty," and it's not always a good experience.  For some, it feels unattainable, for others, it feels like a curse.  In this section, I don't want to focus on beauty as something exterior (though it is, to a certain extent, and we will talk about that), as much as we focus on beauty as a condition of our hearts and souls. One can certainly poke and prod and primp to attain something that will be visually accepted as "beautiful" according to the current social, economic and geographical standards of beauty, but beauty is something much deeper.  Beauty is something that we exude from the inside out.  You can feel someone truly beautiful from a mile away, and it isn't about how good their hair looks that day.

I believe that true beauty has character, strength and kindness as it's main elements.  We all know women who have amazing character, who are strong, and who have kind spirits and they are so beautiful.  That kind of beauty can't be put on with makeup brushes or faked with a curling iron.  Even though we all know this to be true, the emphasis we place on appearance vs. character is often very disproportionate, especially in modern western culture.

While beauty can be a quality that people possess, it's also something that we experience all around us in the world.  We are mesmerized by the beauty of an incredible sunset.  We're soothed by the melodies of our favorite song.  We sit for hours in front of beautiful paintings in a gallery.  We fill our homes with beautiful textiles, paint the walls our favorite colors, and arrange things in a way that's pleasing to our eyes, all because we want to live in a calming environment.  We have pinterest boards filled with beautiful pictures and inspiration!  Beauty is certainly a part of our lives at the most basic levels, even if we don't realize it.  Throughout our schooling, we come to understand nature as a primarily functional thing, but if you just stop for a second and look around at our natural world, you realize that it's primarily beautiful!    The flowers, the colors, the shapes, the textures!  Beauty feed our souls in a way that nothing else can.  We bring flowers to comfort a grieving widow, or someone in the hospital for a reason.

Like the old saying goes, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there's more to it than that.  Just because you don't think something is beautiful, doesn't mean it absolutely is not beautiful whatsoever.  Beauty exists beyond our own personal opinions.  I may think a piece of artwork is beautiful, and you may think it's crazy and bizarre, even ugly!  Someone may love tattoos and someone else may think they're odd.  Some men love big butts, and some men are attracted to small breasts.  I know that I've always found myself drawn to men with a smaller build, rather than men with big muscles or a thick stature.  That doesn't mean men who are bigger are ugly, but I'm not attracted to their appearance.  It also doesn't mean that men who are muscle-y aren't beautiful, kindhearted men of strong character.  Similarly I don't expect all men (or women) to like my body type, or my personality.  I know that I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and that's perfectly fine.

What's so odd about any social standard of beauty is that it doesn't take into account this vast array of taste and opinion!  Look at flowers, for example.  There are thousands of kinds of flowers in different colors, arrangements, shapes.  They bloom at different times and grow in different conditions.  Rarely do we ever look at a bed full of various flowers and pick out which ones are more beautiful than the others.  We don't make fun of flowers because they're too small or too big.  We might prefer some flowers over others (my favorite is Daffodils), but we don't say that ones we don't like aren't beautiful.  We let flowers be beautiful without judging them or telling them they should bloom one way or another.  We simply let them be what they are and enjoy them for that!  Corny comparison, I know, but I think if we viewed our fellow people more like flowers, we'd be much less critical, and enjoy their individual beauty so much more.

Journal: Write Your Beauty story

Today I want you to think back on your own beauty story. You can start at any point in your life, but I think it would be most useful to start when you were first exposed to the concept of "beauty" and go from there. Did your father make an offhand comment about your looks when you were a child? Did a friend in high school or junior high suddenly go through puberty and have all the boys chasing after her while you were left in the dust? Did you have someone call you the "pretty one" and your sibling the "personality"? Did you get the message that beauty was equivalent to a certain body shape or size? Maybe your mom was constantly talking about how she needed to go on a diet, or told you that you needed to lose weight or boys wouldn't notice you.

We all have our own personal ideas, biases, and stories which show how we've come to where we are currently in our relationship to the concept of beauty. Going back through your childhood and younger years and looking back on those moments you learned something about beauty can tell you a lot about how you view beauty now. For many women, beauty is a word that brings up a lot of emotions. Since a third of this e-course is focused on beauty, it will be useful to be able to evaluate where your current thoughts and feelings about beauty have originated. If you don't know where to start, here's a good article about beauty from the perspective of someone in her 60's! There are more articles from women in various decades too (20's, 30's, etc), which you can find at the bottom of the article.

Go For It!

At a car show a couple years ago I met this older woman (probably in her 40's) who was very spunky and ditzy. She was wearing a great little dress and boots and kind of acted like she was in college or high school, but she was very nice to befriend me as I knew no one in town. Anyway, she was talking about how when she was younger she used to be very shy and how nowadays she is taking life into her hands; now, she says, when she wants something, she goes after it.

It's a shame to me that it takes us so long to come to this realization in life. We spend far too many years worrying what others think and being timid and shy. That is all just time wasted for us. Some people are naturally take-charge kinds of people, but for the rest of us it seems to take years to figure out, if we ever figure it out at all.


After I lost my job a couple years ago, my mom thought I should figure out what my strengths were and build on those, instead of wallowing in the whole "what could I have done differently" cycle of living in the past. We got this book called "Strengths Finder" which gives you access to a website where you can take a quiz to find out your biggest strengths. The main idea behind the book is that we should spend less time focusing on trying to fix our weaknesses and more time developing our strengths. This way you aren't constantly thinking about how you are inadequate in an area, rather, you are in a constant state of building yourself up. This is key in being a more confident person. As girls, we are often told that we have this or that problem area that needs to be fixed. Instead, we should look at our biggest assets and accentuate them. Both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We have our talents and abilities for a reason. I think it's a much better use of your time to focus on what you have instead of what you don't.


The other day I heard someone say "90% of what you worry about never happens." What a waste of time, right? We worry about the silliest things sometimes. Most of what we worry about, we don't even have control over anyway- so why worry about it? Worrying won't change the outcome, it will just make you more miserable in the meantime. Instead of worrying, think about what you can do to effect a positive outcome, and if you can't do anything, just stop thinking about it. Do something constructive with your time to keep your mind off of it. Go out with friends, be with family, watch a movie, draw- do something, but don't worry.


Don't get caught up making excuses or blaming other people for what happens to you in life. As long as you continue to feel like a victim you will never move forward. You'll always be looking into the past to see who wronged you to keep you from being who you want to be and doing what you want to do. Don't feel sorry for yourself that you have obstacles to overcome. Every person has their own different obstacles in life. Successful people look beyond obstacles and don't let hardships get in the way of their lives. In fact, they often use the strengths they gained from those hardships to help them through life. Never let someone keep you down because of your family, your money situation, your gender, your race, your looks, etc. And if they want to stand in your way, don't think that they owe you something because they tried to make you into a victim. The greatest victory you can gain is by proving them wrong with your success. Like Ayn Rand said, "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."


If you want something, go for it! If you know you want a job, apply. Want to be a politician? Run for office! If you want your art to be shown at a local coffee shop, ask the owner. If you want to dress a certain way, do it. Don't let fear of failure or fear of what others will think or say keep you from your own happiness. This is your life, no one else's. Don't let anyone else dictate what you can and can't do in your life. I love the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, "Well behaved women rarely make history." And don't dumb yourself down or make yourself more shy because you're afraid men (or women) will be intimidated and won't like you. Dumbing yourself down will make both of you unhappy in the long run. Take hold of your life and be who you want to be and do what you want to do.


You will make mistakes. Trying to live life to avoid mistakes will make your life so much less fulfilling than it could be. Don't be foolish, of course, but take risks. Put yourself out there. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them and your life will be richer for it. Keep trying. The most successful people in the world became successful by making mistakes. Your favorite photographer probably took hundreds of photos just to get your favorite photo just right. Actors and actresses endured hundreds of turned down auditions just to get their famous role. Your favorite author probably sent his or her manuscript to many publishers before one of them would publish the book. Mistakes aren't the end of the road, they're just part of it.

So don't let anyone else tell you what you can or can't do. You are the only person in charge of your life. Make it what you want to be.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon on Women entrepreneurs, Example not Exception

The women in my family are not exceptions. The women in this room and watching in L.A. and all around the world are not exceptions. We are not a special interest group. We are the majority. And for far too long, we have underestimated ourselves and been undervalued by others. It is time for us to aim higher when it comes to women, to invest more and to deploy our dollars to benefit women all around the world. -Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Video: Isabel Allende on Passion

" It is a fact that giving women education, work, the ability to control their own income, inherit and own property, benefits the society. If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off. If families prosper, the village prospers, and eventually so does the whole country... Women are 51 percent of humankind. Empowering them will change everything -- more than technology and design and entertainment. I can promise you that women working together -- linked, informed and educated -- can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet." -Isabel Allende

How can others support you?


One of the big things we ignore, which could radically change our lives, is other people's support. It's extremely important to surround yourself with people who are dedicated to supporting you. It's also extremely important for you to know how you feel supported and for you to communicate that to those people.

We're all different. Some of us feel supported when others give us hugs, while others of us would feel even more stressed out if someone started hugging us. Some of us need to be alone, while others of us need the company of people. When you're stressed, what is it that you need to feel supported by others? Sometimes it's something we don't even know about ourselves!

Think about how you react in stressful situations. Do you need to be alone?  Do you seek out other people? Do you need to accomplish something (like cleaning your room, or finishing a project)? Do you need people to give you verbal affirmations and encouragement? For some people some of those things will sound like the exact opposite of what they need in times of stress. For instance, I would hate if people tried to give me hugs while I was stressed, but other people would absolutely love and feel totally supported by that action.

This is why it's important to communicate to others in your life what you need. Otherwise they're basically just guessing what you need. Or their thinking about what they would like and giving you the support that they would need, not you. The people you're close to want to be able to support you and help you through your tough times, so be sure to examine yourself and let them know what you need most!  My natural reaction to people who need support is to just leave them alone, because that's what I would want.  But not everyone feels supported the way I do, and maybe my leaving them alone makes them feel less supported, not more!  It goes along with that old adage, "If you assume, you make an ass out of u and me."  Assuming that someone will feel supported in the same way you feel supported will probably be ineffective, unless the person you're trying to support is exactly like you.  

This is why you have to be responsible for letting other people know how you feel supported, and for you to ask people how they would best feel supported.  It might even be a good idea to write it down or have a little chart so you can refer to it.  When I worked at a summer camp one summer, during staff training we had each person share how they felt supported and then wrote it down  in the lounge of the staff building so we could help support each other effectively during the summer.  It was a great idea and I wish more employers and group leaders would take the time to understand how to better support their staff!

Journal: What are you afraid of...

Today I want you to write down what those things are that keep you from doing the things you want to do. What are those fears that you have which stop you from just going for it? What are the excuses and obstacles you have in your life which keep you from reaching for your dreams and goals? Have you manufactured some of these excuses and/or fears to keep yourself in your comfort zone?

I've found that often some of my biggest excuses are just things that I've told myself are limitations, when really they aren't at all! Sometimes (well, actually pretty frequently) going after goals or dreams will involve risk, which can definitely be scary. If we never take any risks, though, we'll never stretch out of our comfort zones and do the things we dream of doing-- those awesome things that are written on your heart. As children we have this sense of being able to do anything, sometimes even jump off the roof thinking we can fly. As we get older and gain an understanding of how the world works, we loose a bit of that adventuresome, risk taking nature. We start using the words "can't" and "never." What are the things in your life which cause you to believe that you "can't" do something, or that you could "never" go for? Identifying those things which we place in our lives as limitations is a great step to overcoming them! Where there's a will, there's a way!

Video: Eve Ensler on Happiness

"When we give in the world what we want the most, we heal the broken part inside each of us. And I feel, in the last eight years, that this journey, this miraculous vagina journey, has taught me this really simple thing, which is that happiness exists in action; it exists in telling the truth and saying what your truth is; and it exists in giving away what you want the most." -Eve Ensler

Tapping into your FM frequency

I recently read this article and it reminded me of something my friend Jason taught me about the power of positive thinking. He believes that there are two main "frequencies" we mentally tap into: AM and FM, which stand for Against-Me thoughts and For-Me thoughts. He was a physical education major in college and found a lot of studies where thinking positive "for-me" thoughts, as opposed to negative AM thoughts, would actually result in better performance for athletes. So if the athlete was in a can-do mindset, they would actually do better than if they had a defeatist attitude. Pretty amazing, huh?

This doesn't just apply to physical performance though. The idea of tapping into your FM mental frequency can affect pretty much every area of your life. I've definitely experienced this. In the past, I've found some pretty awful online forums devoted to saying rude, nasty, and untrue things about me and my blog. After reading those threads, I found myself internalizing what they said and starting to believe it! When I was feeling down I would be stuck in a mire of those AM thoughts.
I would be constantly second guessing myself. I would feel unproductive and uninspired, and wouldn't produce as high quality work as I knew I could. It can be hard to get out of an AM-thought tailspin, but realizing that you're caught in it is the first step to getting out!

One thing that can help you keep AM thoughts out of your mind, is to surround yourself with people who encourage you and help you to think FM thoughts. We all know that person who has a toxic personality– always negative, always a downer. Try not to surround yourself with people like that, as we start to feel the effects of having those negative words and thoughts constantly being spoken around us. It's kind of a silly example, but think about in the movie "Mean Girls," how Cady started becoming negative and unkind because she was put herself around negative and mean people and started taking on that affect herself. I find that having positive, encouraging people around me is a huge way that I can keep AM thoughts away from my mind!

This goes hand in hand with not believing lies that you're told by others and yourself. If we focus on the truths and FM thoughts, we actually will perform better and consequently will feel better about ourselves! Keeping a reminder of the truth around can help you avoid getting stuck in an AM thought tailspin.