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There is a Light that Never Goes Out

26 Mar
Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

The first time I’d seen him, he was bundled in a camel overcoat, fast asleep.

I thought I was extremely lucky when I hopped on the almost empty El car at the Chicago stop and grabbed a seat during rush hour, but once the doors closed, I quickly realized why the car was deserted.  The stench coming from the corner made my eyes water and I followed the lead of the man next to me and pulled my scarf up over my nose and mouth to filter the air enough to be able to make it to the Clark/Division stop where I quickly changed cars.

I didn’t really think much about it after that.  Over the past year, I’ve become acclimated to riding public transport and have learned to adjust to the inevitable clash of cultures, and this brutal Chicago winter has made me even more aware of the challenges faced by the city’s poor and homeless residents.   The CTA became a refuge from the subzero temperatures, and to their credit, the CTA employees who run the trains did their best to shepherd the all-day riders onto one car in order to keep an eye on people and make sure no one froze to death.

Last week, I saw him again.

I recognized the tattered camel overcoat, and the smell.  As he walked the platform the crowd of people parted and gave him a wide berth.  When he found a bench to settle down on, the man sitting there got up and moved ten feet away.  Everyone on the platform turned their backs and looked away as if not looking would make the man – and the smell – disappear.  I wanted to look away, too, but I’d just written my last blog entry about how I was going to smile at strangers and help when I could, so I looked.

The man sat on the bench fiddling with a pair of ripped gloves that barely covered his fingers, a tattered black plastic bag at his feet.  He stared at the ground as he tugged his coat, pulling it more tightly around his body, as I debated about what I should do.  And then in an instant, I knew.

I walked over and leaned down close enough to say, “Good morning, sir.”  Startled, the man looked up and then looked away quickly.

Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Have you had breakfast?”

He looked back up, confused for a moment, and asked, “What?”

I repeated, “Have you had breakfast yet?”

He ducked his head and gestured toward the black bag, “Not yet, but I’m going to have a bite soon.”

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out the PBJ sandwich that I’d packed before I left the apartment that morning and offered it to him, saying, “It’s just PBJ, but you’re more than welcome to it.”

He smiled a little and replied, “Oh no, ma’am, I’m fine.  I’ve got breakfast in this here bag. But thank you.”

My first impulse was to press further and make him take the sandwich, but I quickly understood what he was saying and backed off, tucking the sandwich back into my bag.

Sometimes preserving one’s dignity trumps hunger.

I smiled at him, and asked a question that I would spend the next few days kicking myself for asking, “Do you need anything else, sir?”

What kind of idiot question was that?  Of course he needing something else.  He needed a lot of things, but since he’d refused the sandwich I didn’t know what else to offer and I didn’t want to insult him by assuming I did.

He smiled back at me, and replied, “Oh no, I’m fine, ma’am.  Thank you.”

As I looked at him and nodded, he lifted his head and looked right into my eyes as he smiled in a way that could only be described as serene and said, “And God bless you, ma’am.  God bless you.”

I returned his smile and his blessing, and then stepped on the train leaving him sitting on the bench.

As the car sped down the tracks I felt sad for a moment because I hadn’t been able to do anything for the man.  I hadn’t been able to give him anything or help in any measurable way.

And then I thought about the way he’d looked me in the eye, raising his head and smiling as he blessed me.

Maybe the greatest gift we can offer another person is the dignity of being seen.

Pompeii

21 Mar
Chicago Night. Photo by MAG

Chicago Night. Photo by MAG

I can’t stop thinking about L’Wren Scott.

I didn’t exactly run in her social circle. I never met her, wore her fashion designs or even followed her career, other than to take note of her name in fashion magazines.  I didn’t even know that she was Mick Jagger’s partner.

What haunts me is that at 49, for reasons unclear to those closest to her, she chose to end her life, and, according to news reports, she did it in a way that reflected her well-mannered reputation – by asking her assistant to drop by in the morning rather than “bothering” or “inconveniencing” anyone.

By all accounts, Ms. Scott had a happy relationship with Mr. Jagger, and her business, though going through the normal ups and downs of all burgeoning businesses, seemed to be heading for success with the signing of a $250,000 contract to collaborate with Banana Republic.  This week her friend, reporter Cathryn Horyn, wrote in a New York Times tribute entitled “Memories of a Friend, a Teacher, and a Fighter” that Scott was under a great deal of pressure to make her clothing line successful, and that in a tense conversation Horyn told Scott she needed to “give herself a time limit to resolve matters or get out. Putting her health in jeopardy because of stress was not worth it…” Scott did not like – or heed – the advice, and continued to strive for success.

It’s this – and more – that makes me grieve for a woman I don’t know.

There’s no way of knowing what was going through her mind at the moment she decided to end her life, but I understand why she might have felt like it was the only solution, and that deeply disturbs me.

It’s scary to be a strong, intelligent, ambitious, aging woman in this society.  So many people depend on you, and if you are successful, it’s usually because your over-achieving perfectionist tendencies have pushed you past your fears to the point where you jump in and make it work – at all costs.  Whether it’s being successful in your education, your career, your health, your marriage, your child rearing, your athletic achievements, or your hobbies and interests, the drive toward excellence can leave even the strongest of women questioning their abilities.

Age makes it even more difficult because at a certain point you start to question all of your choices – past and present.

I say this because at 47, I find myself very far away from what I was educated to do and facing a number of health issues that never even crossed my mind at 27 or even 37.  My salary is far below the level of what I should be making, given my education level (and student loan debt) and abilities, and I’m paying off debts that I accrued for living expenses and health insurance in my past life.  I’ve managed to put my massive student loans in forbearance as I have tried to land jobs with pay that would allow me to afford to pay the $958.00 a month that the loan company is asking for, but those days are soon coming to an end – even if I haven’t landed a job with an adequate salary.  These new health challenges add a whole new level of stress to the money mix, but there’s no way to avoid them because right now they’re not terribly serious but if I ignore them, they’ll cost me much more in the long run, both financially and physically.

And it all reminds me that I’m not getting any younger

Only my family and a few close friends know what’s weighing on me – until now.

I say this, not because I am looking for sympathy or a handout or an excuse, I say this because even though her life is none of my business, I think I understand what might have been going through L’Wren Scott’s mind that night, and I have to wonder if maybe we should be making these thoughts other people’s business.

I understand how wonderful and scary it feels to be someone who other people look to for support and stability.  It’s a lot of responsibility.  I understand the weight of trying to be a cheerful role model and avoid showing how scared and alone you feel because other people are relying on you to be the strong one.  I understand how humiliating and shameful it feels to wonder how your finances, health, [or fill in the blank] have gotten so out of your control, and to be afraid to ask for help because then everyone will definitely know what a failure you really are.  They’ll know you’re a fraud and that everything you’ve accomplished has been nothing but accidental luck.  And I know many, many other women feel like this, as well.

But here’s where Ms. Scott and I differ.

I hear this message, but I don’t buy into it because I’m fortunate that I have people in my life who I can let down my guard with and show all the ugly unlovable parts of myself to.  I’m fortunate that they love me and offer help even when I’m at my absolute most stubborn (because I’m positive that I am a total failure, that everyone else is doing it “right,” and that if I would stop being so damn lazy and just work a little harder I could overcome all the obstacles and manage everything my own big self),  and I’m so very, very fortunate that they step forward and offer it despite my incredibly high walls and fierce defenses.

It makes me deeply sad and unbelievably angry that the world lost yet another generous, loving, kind, intelligent, creative woman this week because in that one brief moment, she didn’t believe she could ask for help, and because no one was able to reach out and offer in time.

In their recent Top 40 pop hit, Pompeii, the British group Bastille asks, “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

Here’s how…

I’m going to use this as an opportunity to reach out to others and let them know I’m available.  I’m going to pay attention to the people close to me, and I’m going to let them know how much they mean to me on a more regular basis.  I’m going to smile at strangers and offer to help when I can.  In other words, I’m going to try harder to be the change I want to see in the world.

And maybe by helping others, I’ll remind myself that I’m worthy of being helped, too.

Beautiful

21 May
20120520-042659.jpg

Me and the Saginaw soccer girls; Photo by John and/or Robert

A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of meeting a group of young women who reminded me that it’s never to early – or too late – jump in and live life to the fullest.  These young soccer players had traveled south from Saginaw to play in a tournament over Mother’s Day weekend, and on the Friday night before the games began, they showed up at my department store cosmetics counter enthusiastically asking to be made over.

From the moment they arrived, I was fascinated by their energy and bright spirits.  Their words tumbled out of their mouths and over each others sentences as they begged me to give them smokey eyes and glossy lips, and before I could respond, aided by the tag on my apron, they were calling me by my first name.  “Mary, please?” “Mary, can you make me look glamourous?”  “What do you think of this color, Mary?”

How could I resist?

The first question I asked was whether their mothers would allow them to wear makeup.  I learned this one the hard way, when, one afternoon, a group of pre-teen girls showed up and begged to try the new mascara our line had just launched.  Since I have no children of my own, it never occurred to me that some mothers might not want their daughters to wear makeup at home, let alone test it out in a department store.  So, I meticulously applied a layer of lengthening mascara to the lashes of a young woman who, it turned out, was not even supposed to be wearing lip gloss. 

When her mother showed up, all hell broke loose at the counter.  I apologized profusely, soaked a cotton ball with makeup remover, handed it to the girl, and swore to myself that I’d never again forget to ask, yet knowing full well that the answer I’d get would most likely be questionable.

Hey, I was twelve once, too.

The girls all assured me that their mothers would not mind a bit, and because they had such open and honest little faces, I decided to trust them.

I’m so glad I did.

Since being hired at this counter, I’ve made peace with the giant cosmetics industry by deciding that I would never sell a product based on what a woman was lacking, but rather as a means of enhancing the beauty she already possessed. It’s the only way I can look at myself in the mirror as I apply my own makeup every morning.

The Saginaw girls were already gorgeous – to me – and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the excitement I felt when, at twelve, I pulled out the shoe box (hidden under my bed) that contained a compact, a lipstick (Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Watermelon), and a pallet of very blue eye shadow that I’d dug out of the discount bin at Walgreens, and applied them all – libreally.

Not wanting to repeat the debacle that defines my seventh grade picture (read: orange hair courtesy of Sun-In and blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows), I gave them each the option of a “natural on the go glow” or a “Saturday night party girl” look.  As I worked, I listened to them talk about everything – music, soccer, boys, school, and each other.  They were hilariously honest and asked a million questions, which they quickly answered themselves as I concentrated on applying colors that complemented their skin tones.

I answered their questions, and only interjected when they began to talk about how someone was worried about what boys thought of her fat thighs.  I was shocked because not one of them was remotely close to being overweight, and because they were expressing the exact same fears that I had at twelve – and, if I’m honest, still have at forty-five.

Ugh.

I told them that all of the cool guys I know do not judge a women based on the size of her thighs, stomach or any other part of her body, to which they smartly shot back, “Her boobs!  Boys look a a girl’s boobs and judge her!”  I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I replied, “Yes, they do.  And they will for the rest of your lives, but as long as they are not rude about it, just pretend not to notice because they simply can’t help it.”  This caused them to laugh loudly and talk about the boys in their favorite band (which they told me the name of, numerous times, and I still can’t remember).

When I was done with each girl, I held up a mirror and asked them what they thought.  I watched as a look of awe spread across their faces giving way to excitement, and I knew I was watching each one of them see themselves as beautiful and grown-up. The funny thing is that I hadn’t applied a lot of makeup – a little blush, a little light eyeshadow, a coat of mascara and some lip gloss – so they were simply looking at slightly enhanced versions of their own natural beauty.

When they were done, one of the mothers came to pick them up and take them back to the hotel.  She approved of the job I’d done as she gathered up her little ducklings so they could hit the pool before bed. Both the mother and I were openly envious of the fact that they still had energy to burn.

The next night, my soccer friends returned with three new teammates, and we went through the routine again, except this time they talked with me like I was an old friend. Again, asking questions, telling me about school, soccer, boys, and all of the wonderful things that twelve-year old girls will talk about when an adult treats them like they’re grown up.  When I was done, they handed me a stack of notes they’d written on the back of sheets we use to outline the products we’ve used during a makeover.

Later, after they’d left, I unfolded the notes and found that they’d written “Mary, from your favorite person you’ll ever meet.  Mary, your the best person I ever met. Love, M.” and “A.A. is soooo cool and loves Mary” and “M.C. is the most amazing person ever and she LOVES Mary!”

As I read the notes, I teared up, and thought, “We should all be so lucky have a group of adoring twelve-year olds in our lives.”

What will stick with me forever, though, is the moment when, on the second night, one of the girls began talking about not being pretty enough, I cut in and said, “You’re beautiful.  With or without makeup, you are absolutely stunning and gorgeous because you are *you*!”  All at once, five girls began singing the lyrics to “Beautiful” – loud and proud, ignoring all of the looks that other shoppers and cosmetics sales people shot at them. They sang, in unison, through the chorus, and all I could do was stand back and smile as I watched them.

I hope I never forget how empowering it felt to watch a group of young women be that bold and beautiful.

Fortunately, I know that if I ever do, I’ll have a team of intelligent, hilarious, and fiercely strong young friends around to remind me.

Empire State Building

22 Jan

March 2007 - photo by JMW

This picture used to make me shudder, and if I’m honest, it still does, a little bit.

For a long time, I buried this photo in an attempt to try and forget what the image represented – a woman who was pretty miserable because she was certain she was a failure. At the time this picture was taken, I had stopped working on my Ph.D. (an endeavor that had occupied nearly fifteen years of my life), was working as a low-wage receptionist at a veterinary clinic, and was in a relationship that was well on its way to failing.

I was depressed, demoralized, and disconnected from both family and friends, and I couldn’t see how I was ever going to turn things around and find joy in life again.

I thought there was something terribly wrong with me, and that if I just “tried harder” I could make it all work. After all, “other people” didn’t seem to be having the problems I was having. “Other people” coped with challenges and overcame obstacles so much better than I did. If I was unhappy, then it must be my fault because “other people” were making it work.

The problem was that I didn’t have any concrete evidence of who these “other people” were or exactly what they were doing. All I could see was what was on the outside, and since I couldn’t see inside “other people’s” situations (and I didn’t dare ask questions since that would have exposed my weaknesses), I couldn’t figure out how “they” were doing it so much better than I was.

That winter, J. suggested that perhaps we should travel to New York in celebration of my 40th birthday. I was enthusiastic about the trip, but a part of me didn’t want to go because I felt so ashamed of who I was – of who I’d become.

I knew I’d gained a lot of weight over the years, and I didn’t want to embarrass J. (who is one of the most fashionable women I know) by showing up in New York City looking like a frumpy (and decidedly un-cosmopolitan) tourist. J. calmly reassured me that she didn’t care what I looked like, the trip was about her and I spending time together in a place that offered us the chance to explore and discover new things.

I don’t know if she knew it then, but she threw me the lifeline that pulled me back from the edge of the abyss.

The four days we spent in New York City rekindled my spirit, and reignited my desire to live a life of purpose; to learn; to grow; to change! I came back from the trip inspired by all that we’d done and seen, and I immediately began to make changes. Not all of the changes were well received, nor were they done the “right” way, but the point was that I could now see that there was more to life than what I’d been living – and I wanted something more.

This did not bode well for my relationship, and a year and a half later, I called it quits and moved out. It was scary to be on my own after ten years of living with my ex-partner, and a part of me wondered if I’d be able to actually make it on my own.

October 2008 - photo by JMW

The support of family and friends pulled me through the roughest patches, and I soon found myself loving life in a way that I hadn’t for a very long time.

I’d begun losing weight during the breakup, but I soon found myself plateauing and unable to get past the first 35 pounds. Frustrated by my lack of progress, I retreated into some bad habits that I’d developed as a means of trying to control situations that felt completely out of my control (going long periods of time without eating anything), and was frustrated as I backslid.

It was at that point that D., ever the pragmatic realist, served up a whopping dose of honesty and sparked a change in my direction. As I complained about my inability to make myself eat on a regular basis and spun out theory after theory about why I simply couldn’t do this, he matter-of-factly said, “I don’t get it. It’s simple. Put food in your mouth. Chew. Swallow. Problem solved.”

At first I was pissed at his unemotional response to what felt like a deeply emotional issue. How could he possibly understand the difficulty of eating on a regular basis? I stubbornly refused to believe that the solution was that simple, so D. let it go and left me to my theorizing.

It wasn’t until the personal trainer I hired (to help me organize workouts and re-evaluate my diet) went through my food diaries and commented that I was undoing all of the work I’d done by denying my body the proper nutrition it needed to run efficiently, that I began to understand that there was merit in what D. had said months before. However, I stubbornly resisted the trainer’s advice until he finally said, “Look, either you get on board with the program or you quit. But I’ll tell you this, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you can expect the exact same results you’ve been getting – nothing.”

I got the message – and changed my approach.

Once I did, I found that implementing his suggestions was a matter of doing what D. had suggested months before: Put food in mouth. Chew. Swallow. Problem solved.

And I lost another 85 pounds over the next year.

What this experience taught me was invaluable as I worked to change other aspects of my life, and realized that in order to change I was going to have to employ the knowledge of those who had experience in the areas I wanted to improve.

January 2010 - photo by MAG

Over the past five years I’ve worked with medical professionals, a life coach, and countless individuals who have skills that I’d like to develop. I’ve listened to them, employed their advice, and adjusted it when the fit wasn’t quite right.

I’ve started asking questions, talking about things openly and honestly, and stopped thinking that “other people” somehow have it all figured out.

They don’t.

It was when I started listening to that inner voice that lets me know when something is working (and when it isn’t) that I realized my life is simply that – my life.

And while I can look at the choices others are making and the results they’re getting, there’s no way for me to know all of the factors that have gone into their decisions. The outcome of their choices is uniquely their own, and measuring myself against “other people” doesn’t do me – or them – any favors.

Five years after my first trip to New York City, I am a decidedly happier and healthier version of myself. I feel more confident, more secure in my decisions, and more self-assured about the direction my life is taking. I don’t know where the next five years will lead, but if the last five are any indication, I’m going to wind up someplace absolutely amazing.

And I’m looking forward to the adventure!

August 2011 - photo by MAG

Brooklyn

2 Dec

Brooklyn Heights from Lower Manhattan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

All signs point to Brooklyn.

I’ve been researching where I want to live when I move to New York, and while I’ve tried to envision myself in many of the different neighborhoods, I seem to be getting a signal from the universe that Brooklyn is where I belong.

The first sign was the Battle of Brooklyn. Fought in 1776 after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was the longest and largest battle of the entire American Revolutionary War.  Brooklyn is stubborn, resistant and has a history of doing things its own way – I can relate.

The idea that I should live in Brooklyn started to germinate about a year and a half ago, when I begged D. to take pictures of “all those Brooklyn girls” mentioned in Rod Stewart’s song “Downtown Train.”  D. promised he’d try, but I think he’s been wary about invading other people’s privacy – even on a subway platform – either that or Brooklyn girls scare him [Don’t judge! I’ve heard those girls are kind of tough].  In any case, my imagination ran wild and “Brooklyn girls” became the mythical representation of all that is mysteriously exciting about New York City.  I want to be one.  I think.

The second sign occurred during a shopping trip with J. We visited Sephora in search of the perfect shade of pink-but-not-too-pink lipstick.  After an hour of trying on every brand and shade we could locate [and assuring the nice sales people who work that, yes, we we were finding everything okay] we finally found the perfect shade – Buxom’s “Brooklyn” [which we now both own!].

A few weeks later, J. sent me an email in which she had attached a link to a line of address change cards from Lucky Duck Letter Press.  The cards are called “Brooklyn Brownstone” and they’re perfect!

Last month, Daily Candy offered up creations from the Butter Queen of Brooklyn! Four flavors of homemade butter named after former US First Ladies: Martha Washington: Roasted Garlic, Chives, and Tarragon; Eleanor Roosevelt: Pecan Praline; Jackie O.: Bing Cherry, Bourbon Vanilla, and Pink Sea Salt; Lady Bird: Hibiscus Lime.  Yummy!

Photo by Butter Queen of Brooklyn.

I’ve also been digging through the real estate ads again.  I’ve fallen in love with curved nooks, large windows and the personality of each Brooklyn brownstone, but I’ve also realized that falling in love is probably going to cost me upwards of $2000.00 a month. This is probably the minimum I’ll need to rent an apartment that is in a safe neighborhood and has enough space to allow me to maintain a bedroom rather than mount a sleeping bunk over the stove in the kitchen.  I’m either going to need a bigger savings account or a better paying job – or both.

There is something very appealing about being able to live in a part of the city that feels like a community.  Brooklyn is the largest of the five bouroughs in New York with a population of more than 2.5 million.  Its residents are incredibly diverse in race, class, gender, sexuality, and country of origin making it an intersection of interesting experiences!  Brooklyn offers a lively residential experience, proximity to the city, and a chance to escape the urban jungle for a little greenery and the hope of being able to afford an apartment that is bigger than the size of the average high school gym locker.

Photo by the New York Observer

The ethnic makeup of Brooklyn lends itself to a wide variety of restaurants and shops – Italian in Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge; West Indian in Crown Heights and Flatbush; Polish in Greenpoint; and Chinese in Sunset Park.  The city has also provided the backdrop for books such as William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown Stones [three books I have loved!], and for the 1970s cult classic, Saturday Night Fever.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want to live in the city where John Travolta strutted down the street in white polyester bell bottoms as the Bee Gees blared from a boom box?

The sign that made me finally admit that Brooklyn is where I belong, appeared last weekend when a woman came into the store where I work and asked for a small  part.  While we were waiting to see if it was available, we got to talking about what she did for a living.  She told me that she was a grad student at NYU, and when I asked where she lived in the city her answer was – yep – Brooklyn.

Brooklyn seems like the right choice for me.  It’s close enough for me to be able to work and play in Manhattan, but far enough away to give the hope of being affordable and to provide a respite from the hustle and bustle.  The architecture is beautiful, and so far, the apartments I’ve perused on the New York Times Real Estate section seem cozy, but full of light.

I think I could feel very much at home in the city where all those Brooklyn girls live!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

People Get Ready

14 Aug

 

Photo by DMT

 

During the past several years, I’ve often wondered what’s taken me so long to make the decision and begin to work toward moving to New York City. The answer to this question is one that simultaneously makes me ashamed and proud.

My initial trip to New York, while opening my eyes to a whole new world, also left me feeling insecure and out of place. As J. and I walked the streets of New York, I felt like a country bumpkin.  New Yorkers, even the scruffiest of them, are stylish people, and as I looked around and observed the crowds, I felt old, fat and out of place.  Returning to Michigan only served to exacerbate the feeling.  I’m loathe to admit it, but two years ago I didn’t think I was “good enough” for New York City.

I was overweight, out of shape, and lacking style and pizazz in my wardrobe, makeup and hair. I was Eliza Dolittle before Henry Higgins.  Cinderella before her Fairy Godmother showed up and waved her wand. The proverbial Ugly Duckling before that whole swan thing.  Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of other things going for me – I am a kind, intelligent person who is an excellent teacher and is funny as hell – I just didn’t have the outward appearance that reflected these qualities in a way that would fit into a New York City lifestyle.

Once I’d broken up with my ex-partner, I started to make some big changes. I moved into an apartment complex that offered a gym membership as part of my lease, and started working out regularly.  I quit eating fast food, at first, because I could no longer afford the expense, but as I watched my body begin to change, I realized that eliminating it from my diet had also meant I’d eliminated the calories.  I switched over to more healthy foods, and even began cooking, which “shocked and awed” many people who know me.  Slowly, the pounds came off and I began to feel more energetic and attractive.  When I hit a plateau in the spring of 2009, I hired a personal trainer to advise me about how to get better results from my workouts and counsel me about my nutrition issues, and with his help I lost another 60 pounds.

The weight loss meant that I also needed to replace my clothing, for this I turned to the Fashion Design students at the college where I teach general education classes.  My students were more than happy to advise me, and recommended that I wear shorter skirts and higher heels.  At first, this felt ridiculous.  A 43-year old teacher wearing above-the-knee skirts and 3″ heels?  Unacceptable!  Impossible!  Outrageous!  Well…maybe just one short skirt.  And those high heels are kind of cute.

My students were unflaggingly kind and enthusiastic despite my resistance.  They encouraged and applauded every small change I made, and continued to make suggestions and offer advice.  Every couple of months, J. would travel to Michigan from Chicago to shop with me and slowly but surely I acquired a wardrobe that reflected the more fashionable woman I wanted to be.  As I lost more weight, it became easier to find stylish bargains, and I was excited as I moved from the world of Plus Size Xs to the world of S/M/L.  The moment of triumph came last spring when J. (who is a size 6, and can wear anything) and I were perusing the sale racks at the Gap, and I wondered out loud if a t-shirt would fit me.  J. encouraged me to try it on, and lo and behold, I found that I could fit into shirts from the Gap!

A year before my Gap shopping experience, D. did me a favor for which I will never truly be able to thank him.  For years I’d been a bottle blond, I don’t remember when or why I’d started dying my hair blond, but it had become a habit and I wasn’t sure I liked it anymore.  I mentioned this to D. during a conversation, and he said that he’d always had a personal preference for brunettes, but that was just him.  Since I respect him as a friend and an artist, his casual comment caused me to start wondering if perhaps brunettes were the ones who have more fun, and as usual, I read too much into what he’d said, and heard him daring me to take a chance and try something different (and as usual, his response was “What the hell are you talking about?”).

By the next day I was at the store buying hair dye and making the switch.  It was unsettling, but once I’d gotten used the dramatic change, I began to feel like I’d come home to myself.  As a blond, I had worn more dramatic makeup, but as a brunette, I didn’t need as much since my hair color complimented my skin tone instead of detracting from it.  I ditched my red lipstick and dramatic eye makeup, trading it in for more natural shades of eyeshadow and lip gloss.  The results were dramatic, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  I felt more confident and….did I dare to admit it?  I began to feel sexy enough to flirt with New York.

As the months rolled on, I learned new tricks for improving my hair and makeup, and I bought more skirts and heels.  I was amassing a New York-worthy wardrobe, and I finally felt like I had style.

These days, I wear a combination of clothes from Vive La Femme, the Avenue, Lane Bryant, the Gap, and Ralph Lauren, and my shoes are mostly from Nine West.  No matter whether I am at work or play, I feel fashionable and that makes me feel confident.

It’s been a long, challenging road, and I’m nowhere near the end, but now I feel like I’ve got enough confidence and style to say “Yes!” to a date with New York City.

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