Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Self-Care Tips, From All of You (and the giveaway winner too!)

Check out tip #13. I want a favorite spoon too! (photo via)

Ask and she shall receive—thank you to everyone who shared their self-care techniques last week. I loved reading what everyone does as an act of self-care, and I realized that in some ways I wasn't as behind as I thought. For example, I'm good about drinking tons of water and getting the occasional nice coffee, and it's such a part of my routine that I hadn't realized it was, indeed, self-care—which, in some ways, is the goal. I want to find things that are small and daily, not big, expensive, and for special occasions only. I also picked up a few new things to try (hula-hooping!), and got some good reminders that things I'd written off as unacceptable luxuries aren't unacceptable after all (I don't remember the last time I read a book only for pleasure, for example).

Here's a roundup of the tips—and a congratulations to Rachael, who won the self-care kit (a signed copy of Beautiful You by Rosie Molinary and a Pacifica Island Glow Beautiful Body Kit), selected by a random number generator assigned by comment number. Rachael, send your mailing address to the.beheld.blog at gmail dot com so I can get the book and body package to you!

1) Drink up: Rachael drinks "tons of water"; Carolyn drinks nice coffees in cafes, and Kathryn gets all British with "endless cups of tea." Beth finds that having a glass of ice water near her when she goes to sleep is a comfort, even if she doesn't sip from it—a reminder that she deserves happiness, and that it is literally within reach.

2) Collective action: Try something in a group that can help you alleviate some of your daily pressures. Kristen had a perfect example: "I started backcountry snowboarding with a group of parents who shared babysitting." Love it!

3) Find out what messages you heard about self-care, and talk them down: Some grew up in homes that regarded self-care as selfish; others developed that feeling later. Either way, it's worth remembering the classic oxygen mask wisdom: You can't take care of anyone else until you've taken care of yourself. It's something Terri learned the hard way, when her physician told her plain and simple that if she didn't take action on her self-care, she wouldn't be able to take care of her daughters.

4) Brain breaks are okay:
Carolyn gives herself a break from everyday stresses by picking up fun books that allow the brain to sort of work in a different, non-work-mode.

5) Accept compliments...: Becky learned how to stop "shyly shrugging off compliments," and it's something we could all try. A smile and "thank you" is always appropriate (um, unless the compliment is "You're beautiful"); I've also seen a smile and slightly downcast eyes work as a way of being humble but gracious.

6) ....And give one to yourself too: Emma tries to find one or two things during each shower that stand out to her that day and gives herself a quiet compliment on them. (This reminds me of Eat the Damn Cake's "un-roast," which she includes at the end of each post.)

7) Try food:
This one is tricky for me, and for a lot of people, because taking care of myself with treat-like food slips very easily from something sensually indulgent to something unhealthy. But Talia's comment—"if I"m feeling frazzled, or if I'm just in the mood, out comes the ice cream"—is a reminder that there's nothing inherently wrong with using food as a coping mechanism. It's when it's the only coping mechanism that problems crop up.

8) Flossing and other health routines: Rebekah doesn't pretend that flossing is fun, but she knows its rewards will pay out in the long run.

9) Take care of your skin: The act of applying moisturizer works on a lot of levels—you're nourishing your body's largest organ, you're giving yourself a light massage, and it's a small act you can do daily to no ill effects. Beth applies lotion after her nightly shower, a way of being kind to herself through her newfound sobriety. GiaPet takes a moment in the morning to do a dry brush, which she finds both meditative and cleansing.

10) Oh, fine, take a bubble bath:
I guess I believed bubble baths were cliche because I haven't enjoyed once since age 8. My knees poke out! My neck gets sore! I get chilly! But it works for many of you, so while I'm not about to try one for myself again, it's clear that Calgon might have been onto something. (Maybe you all have bigger bathtubs? I envy Jones Family, who has a tub with jets!) It also presents the opportunity to smell nice, as with Andrea's Lush bath bombs.

11) Mani-pedi time: Like Natalie, "When my feet start looking raggedy and the paint is chipped, I usually know it's not just laziness but more a sense of malaise." It's a small act, but I too feel infinitely better when I've given my hands and feet a little love.

12) Activities: Sarahliz gardens; Olivia swing dances; Julia A meditates; CakeStripe shifted her studies from technical statistics to classes that invigorated her (like biology and yoga). Drumlore is a regular activity self-care machine, with library-hopping, hiking, and hula hooping (which I LOVE to do and appreciate the reminder of!). Also, opting out of activities can be self-care too, as Drumlore shares about cutting out of the social scene early to go home and watch a good movie.

13) Find a talisman:
ModernSauce and Rebekah both have favorite spoons, which I think is totally awesome. For a self-proclaimed "design junkie" like ModernSauce, having a small item that indulges her aesthetic sensibilities makes a difference.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ode to the Updo

Save for the ironic-T-shirts-and-pigtails era of my early 20s, I have a long, stubborn history of being unimaginative with my hair. If it wasn’t in a ponytail, it was pretty much always loose. I’d try a bun here or there but would usually wind up feeling matronly; I’d play with a side braid and unravel it by midday. In fact, one of the best perks of having short hair was that the option to do anything drastic with it was pretty much nil. (The magazines always say that short-haired women can “mix it up” by slicking their hair straight back with gel, which I have never, ever seen any woman do in real life, with the exception of some dazzling butch fatales...who were, after all, mimicking nattily dressed men. Anyway.)

So when I grew out my hair after several years of sporting short hair, I was pleased to discover the updo. It had eluded me in my younger days of long hair—I could never get the directions right and would always wind up with this weird nest at the back of my head that didn’t resemble anything on the Seventeen prom pages. And even when I did manage to get it right, I didn’t have the courage to wear it out of the house: It seemed conspicuous to me, this mass of pinned-up hair, and since I hadn’t yet discovered the glory of the “messy updo,” I also found it prim.

What I now recognize is that I also saw the updo as too adult.
I’ve seen plenty of young women pull off updos with aplomb, of course; like anything, confidence will make it work. That particular strain of confidence has always eluded me, though. I still don’t have it; instead, I have a little more age, a little more gravitas, that allows me to wear an updo without feeling like I’m putting on a costume.

It started as a practical style: On unbearably hot days, even the dusting of a ponytail on your shoulders can be an annoyance—enter the updo. It masks dirty hair; it was my saving grace during the transition period of my no-shampoo experiment, and even though I’m now shampooing about once a week, it still comes in handy if I don’t have dry shampoo handy and I’m looking greasy.

But soon, I found that wearing the updo made me feel just a little different. I liked that I could control my overall look more easily than when I wear my hair loose; my hair is hardly unruly, but it has that college-girl unstyled feel to it, which is fine when I’m just kicking around in my jeans, and a little more troublesome when I’m working at an office in which I’d like to project an image of efficiency. I work the hell out of those bobby slides, so I don’t fuss over or fidget with my hair when it’s up, whereas normally I’m a fusser and fidgeter, so it’s not just the look of professionalism—having it up allows me to actually be more professional.

Still, those concerns fall toward the practical. In truth, my love of the updo is about intimacy, sexuality, and modesty. The updo is modest, but modest in a way that implies an immediate threat of becoming immodest. At a moment’s notice, the updo—and, presumably, its wearer—might come undone.

The phrase “let your hair down” acknowledges that having one’s hair up means you’re not quite able to have fun, not quite ready to join the party. You’re literally not quite ready to let loose. With an updo, you can join the party the moment you wish, with the flick of a few hairpins—but maybe you just don’t feel like it yet. The party might be private; the tumble of sexuality that “letting your hair down” brings happens only when you wish for it to, not before.

Having your hair touched is always an intimate act, but when your hair is as long as mine, it’s something that just happens in the course of life: a friend will touch it when we’re talking about hair texture, a stranger on the subway might grab it accidentally if it’s draped over the back of their seat. With the updo, the lines of intimacy are starkly drawn: Your hair, and all that loose hair connotes—freedom, sexuality, youth, the sensation of being carefree—is drawn close to you, and becomes yours alone to handle as you please.

None of this is to say that by wearing your hair loose, you invite implications about sex and intimacy, any more than wearing a short skirt means you’re “asking for it.” At the same time, the very reason that older women with long hair and younger women with short hair is still seen as somewhat subversive is that we as a culture couple flowing locks with youth and sexuality; the sexually available woman, whether Botticelli’s Venus or the cover of Maxim, has hair that invites touching, the photo shoot’s wind machine acting as surrogate for the vibrancy we’d surely feel in her presence.

To be sure, even when my hair is at its flowiest it resembles neither Venus’s nor that of the cover of Maxim. It’s limp, a little stringy, and, as my grandmother once kindly told me, “not your best feature.” My hair is hardly a swirling vortex of sexuality. Still, I can’t deny that on days when I wear my hair up, when I let it down at the end of the day, I feel as though I’m signaling—if only to myself—that I’m now beginning the part of the day that is private, speaking intimately only to myself and the person I’m purposefully being intimate with. On days when I go out with my hair loose, I miss having that delineation. I have other signals that I’m home now, in a domestic groove; I take out my contact lenses, kick off my shoes, change out of my street clothes. But those are largely matters of my physical comfort and social appropriacy. Only one of my ritualistic acts carries the implication of intimacy: reaching around my head, unpinning my hair, and letting loose.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 8.25.11

Hurricane Irene has mandated that this week's links are essentially blogless and totally image-less, as I'd been saving up my blog reading for the tail end of my vacation reading—and then I went and gone done evacuated! I'm looking forward to catching up on blog reading and will include this week's bloggy goods—which I'm certain will be as high-quality as ever—next week when I'm not FLEEING THE JERSEY SHORE IN A MAD PANIC. (Okay, more like a gentle flow, but still.)

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head... 

Beauty entrepreneurs: One of the things I love about the beauty industry is that it's long been an opportunity for women to develop independent businesses—from Madame CJ Walker to Avon, there's a lot of ladypower in the industry. Excited to see the UK's Nadia Gani join the list with her own line of halal cosmetics, which use neither alcohol nor animal extracts to comply with Muslim guidelines.

...To Toe...

The real conservative debate: Gwen Stefani's son got a mani-pedi. (Freakout!) But it was a red, white, and blue mani-pedi to match his adoration of Captain America. (Patriotism!) What to do, what to do?

...And Everything In Between:
Estee Lauder CFO to step down: Richard Kunes, who has been with the company since 1986, been CFO since 2000, and has guided the company through considerable growth, will step down in 2012 to work on special projects for a year before presumably retiring.

Manumission: Maybe it's easier for me to laugh at slogans for men's skin care lines because they're relatively new and so they haven't had a chance to become normalized. Manumission is battling FaceLube for the worst men's skin care line, but ultimately wins because of its slogan: "Skin Care for Men Who Get It Done." It? Like, exfoliation? In any case, Manumission developer Dan Ostrower tested products on Ultimate Fighters, wrestlers, commercial fishers, military members in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Larry the Cable Guy. 

I don't think it's the model who's uncivilized here, Nivea: Brava to the blogger who called attention to this horrifying Nivea ad that basically calls black men savages. Nivea pulled the ad quickly, but I honestly can't figure out how it got greenlit in the first place. 

No Lush for oil: The group Ethical Oil is pointing fingers at Lush for its campaign against Canadian and Texan oil practices while maintaining stores in Saudi Arabia, which has a questionable human rights record and happens to own hella oil. Last week both Nivea and Lush were accused of anti-Semitic practices. What's going on, peeps? 

Desire and aging: The wonderful Alison Garwood-Jones, a Canadian writer, has a nice piece about desire and aging in this issue of Homemakers magazine. It's worth a read even if you're not yet Of a Certain Age, and also worth a read if you're an American reader of American women's magazines, because honestly? You would never see this sentence in a mainstream American ladymag: "The medicalization of female desire by drug companies hasn't been good for women's confidence in the bedroom." 

Style story: Fantastic essay on why style choices matter, weaving in the dismissal of "feminine values" in matters of Serious Import, breaking rules, and telling your own story. I could care less about fashion, but essays like this remind me why I care about style. (via Decoding Dress) 

How Anthony Bourdain Will Kick Your Eating Disorder's Ass: Eden Eats Everything makes an unlikely case with utter success. 

Mirror-free weekend: I can picture Kjerstin Gruys and myself chanting "One of us! One of us!" to Virginia Sole-Smith, who went mirrorless for a weekend and wrote it up over at Never Say Diet.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Hearing "You're Beautiful" Makes Me Freeze


My first kiss was unremarkable except for the fact that it was mine: 4-H camp, nighttime, crickets, slow motion, etc. I’ll remember it forever, of course, but I will also remember what came next. We managed to break from our starry-eyed hold to go back to the main camp for movie night. We rigged up a makeshift blanket-nest, then he then got us some popcorn. Upon his return, I thanked him, and in a dead-earnest manner that can only be successfully performed if you are a mild-mannered, tender-hearted son of a hog farmer—which he was—he looked me in the eye and quietly said, “I’d do anything for you.”

I froze. I recognized the winsome romanticism of it all, of course, and wasn’t untouched by it. But I remember feeling his eyes on me and thinking that now we were something out of a movie: My gallant hero would do “anything” for me (he’d even fetch popcorn!), which made me his heroine, and heroines were there to be looked at, and heroines were pretty, maybe even beautiful, and I froze and thought, He might be thinking I am pretty right now, at this very moment, and I didn’t know what to do.

I was 14, and in the following years I learned how to not freeze in the face of sweet nothings. But that frozen sensation—the sensation of having been caught in the act of playing someone who is there to be looked at—creeps up nearly every time a man I’m dating looks at me and says, You’re beautiful.

Please do not misunderstand me: It’s not that I don’t want to hear those words from a person I’m intimately involved with. In fact, I want to hear it very much; at times, the longing can be exquisite. Yet when I hear you’re beautiful, more often than not I feel as though I need to stop whatever I’m doing in order to continue being beautiful.

If observing ourselves in the mirror makes us aware of the potential of being looked at, hearing you’re beautiful seals the deal: You are being looked at. It’s with approval, to be sure, but that approval can be instantaneously overriden by the consciousness of being observed. In physics, the observer effect states that the very act of observation changes that which is being observed. In romance, I feel that change creep through my body the instant I recognize that I am being observed. Without having actually seen it, I'm guessing it's a variation of my mirror face: My eyes open wider, my smile arranges itself into an invitation, my belly sucks itself in. You are beautiful is my body’s cue to begin the performance of pretty, a role I fill in a last-minute cast shuffle, hoping the performance can be seen before whatever fleeting beauty the graces loaned me is spirited away.

And, of course, the act of observation not only changes that which is being observed; it can also kill it. For I know that while the companions who have uttered this have meant it, I also know they were speaking not of my God-given face—which is pleasant enough but is in no immediate danger of launching a thousand ships—but of whatever quality it was that drew them to me in the first place. I know You’re beautiful has been the way a fellow here and there over the years has let me know that I am beautiful to him—that I am special, that I am being seen under the incandescent glow brought only by infatuation, or, on occasion, love. I know that when spoken between people under that incandescence, You’re beautiful is not so much a comment on anyone’s looks as it is code for: You, at this moment, captivate me. And the minute the performance of beauty rides roughshod over the captivation that prompted those words, beauty dwindles. Depending on the fellow’s aesthetic tastes, he might find me pretty regardless, for prettiness is not as rapid a shape-shifter as beauty. But if a man tells me I am beautiful because I am being myself, and then I stop being myself, I smother my own glow in trying to hold onto it.

I’d like to start seeing You’re beautiful in terms not of theater but of alchemy, the creation of that golden
Venusian glow that doesn’t exist until two people look at one another and pronounce beauty. And, as it happens, I’m in a relationship that happily draws from the school of alchemy over theater. Perhaps my inability to see You’re beautiful in that light all along was immaturity, or a matter of the fellows’ intonation, or simply not being in the right relationships.

But I suspect my frozen reaction to You’re beautiful wasn’t about the words, or even about the men in question, but about the schismatic approach so many of us—including me—have to beauty. For as much as we wholly believe that beauty is about a spirit, a moment, the shape of a smile, a glint in an eye, a roll of a hip, a flip of one’s hair, a caress, a held gaze, a freedom of movement, a peace with one’s self, we also know that’s not the whole story. We know that on the other side of beauty lies the parts that alternately delight and trouble us: the taming of the hair, the whittling of the waist, the sandblasting of the skin, the pinching of a tweezer, and the constantly shifting ground we all occupy within the realm of this side of the schism. When I hear You’re beautiful, unless I know where the other person stands in the vast space beauty occupies, I can’t know what I'm actually hearing. Freezing at least fixes my own footing in that space.

Freezing, as it happens, is another concern of physics: It is a slowing of particles’ movement. When particles slow, they lose energy. When particles lose energy, they lose heat. Freezing is the opposite of incandescence, and while I know which state I’d choose given the option, I also know which one my body has chosen for me before.

This post is a part of the monthly Feminist Fashion Bloggers collection. This month's prompt: dating and relationships.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Beautiful You" and Pacifica Giveaway!

I am not good at sharing self-care tips—in part because I’m not yet particularly good at self-care myself, and in part because I fear that my inner skeptic will forever shine through. I imagine if I were to try to guide anyone through a self-care exercise they would wind up doing overcaffeinated Downward Dogs on a profane yoga mat before saying aw, screw it and sitting down to, like, live-Tweet Hoarders.

Luckily, there are other writers out there who are doing excellent work on self-care—writers who manage what seems to me an incredible feat, writing about self-care without lapsing into cliches about how we should all be taking bubble baths. Rosie Molinary is one of them. When I first ran across her book Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance, I practically inhaled it and immediately sent her an interview request (to which she graciously responded). Her work is direct yet gentle, and her concrete, hands-on stepping stones to self-acceptance spoke to me in a way that usual self-care advice never did. I read the book—and then promptly stashed it away on a shelf, because, as we've ascertained, I'm not yet great at engaging in self-care.

I’m taking it back off that shelf now to help guide me to make some better self-care choices in my life—and, as luck would have it, I have another copy signed by Rosie herself that is waiting to find a good home. And since taking care of one's skin with luxurious things like body butter is one of my favorite parts of self-care, the Pacifica Island Glow Beautiful Body Kit is a lovely complement to the book. Actually, over the years Pacifica has been a part of my self-care at its best: At one point I owned six of their wonderfully transporting candles (the Thai Lemongrass battles Mexican Cocoa for my favorite), as a solo candlelit evening is one of my favorite ways to unwind...when I can remember to do it.

Contains: Coconut Crushed Pearl Luminizing Body Butter, Coconut Crushed Pearl Bronzing Body Butter,
Kona Coffee and Sugar Detox Whole Body Scrub, and Coconut Pearls Luminizing Lip Quench

So! The Beheld's very first giveaway! Thanks to Rosie, who donated the signed book, and the team at Pacifica, which donated the body kit, one reader will win this self-care package. Leave a comment on this entry—any comment is welcome, but I’m particularly interested in one small thing you do to care for yourself—and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Beautiful You and the Pacifica Island Glow Beautiful Body Kit. Comments/entry open until midnight EST Monday, August 29. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What's In Your Bag, Revisited: The Sims, My Half-Eaten Box of Raisins, and Self-Care

My Sim-Called Life

Several years ago I spent embarrassingly large chunks of time playing The Sims. For those of you who don’t know, The Sims is a life-simulation video game in which you program your characters with certain characteristics, both physical and mental, then set them loose in life—education, work, family, etc. You chart their progress through a variety of means—income, assets, sickness, emotional health. Only Farmville rivals it as far as speaking to Americans’ need to turn play into work, but I digress.

Being just un peu d’narcissiste, I made a Sim of myself. I rated her above average in creativity but not off-the charts; I slanted her toward extroversion and away from commitment (I’m a freelancer, after all). I made her intelligent, absent-minded, a little lazy, emotional. I even made her a Gemini. I wanted her to do well, so I had her study a lot. Her money went toward education, not toward furniture that would upgrade her from the game’s starter apartment kit. She spent her time sleeping, studying, and working. She did not see her friends, nor did she clean her house or cook, nor did she have a love life. My plan worked: She did well. She raked in the money.

And then—she stopped. She refused to exercise, standing up and yelling “YO!” at me when I’d try to make her work out, because she didn’t have enough energy. Her boredom levels skyrocketed; her anger levels grew. At one point, I marched my Sim over to her desk, where she’d faithfully studied every night; instead of reading, she put her head in her lap and cried. She was unable to do anything: She was underfed, overworked, lonely, angry, and depressed.

At the time, I told the story to friends in a tone of amusement. For unlike my Sim, I did see my friends; I wasn’t lonely, I had a boyfriend; I wasn’t underfed—the problem, in fact, was quite the opposite. Forget that I saw my friends less than once a month because I was always too exhausted to put forth the effort of friendship. Forget that I was overeating because I had no other ways of relieving stress. As for the boyfriend who kept me un-lonely, his Sim committed arson, thus ending the game when the entire family went down in a blaze of glory. 
*   *   *   *   *

My life—both the simulated one and my real one—is far better now. But when I looked at my list from my flippant take on last week’s “What’s In Your Bag?” post, I remembered the uneasy mix of hilarity and alarm I felt when I saw my Sim sit down and weep. For even as ridiculous as it is that I drove my simulated self to tears—or that I’ve carried around a half-eaten box of raisins since February—I knew it spoke to the lack of genuine self-care in my life.

I wrote about what was in my bag because there was a part of me that was rolling my eyes at the picture-perfect purse interiors displayed on other posts for the meme. My instinct is to look at those lists of beautifully photographed goods with everything just-so and say to myself, Well, bully for you, then. I picture women who carry hand crème and designer lipsticks displayed alongside keys to their BMWs as being from some other planet of perfect-looking people where nobody has any pores. Me, of course, I’m a “real woman.” I pilfer paper towels from the office kitchen instead of carrying special wipes made for special people. I stash dirty granola bar wrappers and unwanted flyers in my bag because I’m too good of a citizen to litter and in too much of a damn hurry to wait for a trash can. I carry around makeup from 2007, because who am I to think I’m so privileged as to deserve new cosmetics when these work perfectly fine?

It is not me being “real”; it is me short-changing myself on self-care. I used to think that self-care was anything that was utterly nonproductive. Cleaning my purse doesn’t feel like self-care; it feels like work. Zoning out on the couch with a box of graham crackers and watching five consecutive episodes of Dexter, however, was “self-care” because it was my fucking time, goddammit, and I’m not going to pick up the phone and I’m not going to answer your e-mail and I’m not going to exercise or even do a fucking Sun Salutation because I am far too busy caring for myself, do you understand?

You will not be surprised to learn that this form of self-care rarely results in me actually feeling cared for. My version of “self-care” has long been to wait until I am at the very end of my gas tank, and then to do the only thing I have energy left to do—which is pretty much nothing. But it gives me enough of a break to get back on track, until I’m running on empty again, and again, and again. And again.

When I looked at the contents of my bag, as amused as I was by reporting my state of disarray, I also saw how little care I’d been allowing myself on a day-to-day basis. The wet-naps I’d carried around for more than five years? I was saving them for when I “really” needed them, as though they were some rare, precious jewel—paper towels would do for me. The pilfered notebook is too big, weighing down the purse and robbing me of the pleasure of the small, sleek, palm-sized notebooks I prefer. The caffeine pills spoke to my belief that stepping out of the office for five minutes to get a fresh cup of coffee wasn’t worth it.

I don’t think that consumption is the route to self-care—I don’t need to replace anything in my bag with some new, fancy, expensive item (I’ll let the Chanel sunglasses stand on their own, thanks). It’s more that nearly everything in my bag is broken, dirty, or a shabby fill-in for something that is hardly a break-the-bank proposition in the first place. I’m treating self-care as something that needs to be a splurge—the sunglasses! a day at Spa Castle!—instead of something that can be small, daily, and constant. And while I don’t believe that a woman’s state of mind can be deduced from the state of her bag, neither do I think that carrying around a unit in which nearly everything is in a state of disrepair can help me out of whatever state of disrepair I might be in.

*   *   *   *   *

This is not a treatise. I'm not a self-care blogger, or even a self-acceptance blogger. Much of the time I think the way to accept yourself is to stop thinking about it so damn much. But last week "what's in your bag?" made me realize I wasn't thinking about enough. I'm skeptical of "I deserve"s: I deserve a massage, I deserve a day off, I deserve a vacation. We all deserve massages and days off and vacations, but only the privileged among us get to ever have those. It can feel like a short road from I deserve to I am entitled, and it's a road I'm afraid to even look at. 

Not looking, though, means that I don't see that there are other roads stemming from I deserve. Roads like: You will do everything in your life better if you are not running on empty. Roads like: Bingeing on self-care is what makes you privileged, not small acts of self-care that are basic and low-cost, and unless you learn those small acts you'll be doomed to only exercise the very self-care privilege you say you're against. Roads like: Unless you do a reasonable amount of self-care, you will not be able to do your work in the world.  

And, at the side of one of those roads, I found something unexpected. I've mentioned before how I see my beauty work as utilitarian, not as a place of joy. It's more complex than that, of course, but at its root beauty work is not a source of joy for me. But it is one area that I've always kept up: No matter how hectic my morning, without fail I find time to "put on my face." And, bacteria-caked concealer aside (Beke Beau, I'm tossing it, I swear!), my makeup is one area of my bag in which everything is in reasonable shape. I may begrudge my beauty work, but at its heart it is self-care. It is small, daily, and constant. I didn't expect to find a model of self-care in an area of my life that's full of contradictions and complexities—but perhaps I "deserve" that small bit of salvation in my quest for an end to disrepair.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 8.19.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...
Au naturel: No More Dirty Looks is doing another hair challenge, and it's a good one. Send in a picture of yourself with your natural hair—no blow-drying, no product beyond shampoo and conditioner (no leave-ins!)—to the green beauty site, and you'll not only help show what the real story is behind "natural hair," you'll also be entered to win a hair-care gifting from NuboNau. Challenge ends Sunday, 8/21, so get a-snappin'!

Year without mirrors, days without makeup: Kjerstin Gruys of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall is upping the game with embarking on makeup-free Mondays. Check out her first post on the weekly event.

...To Toe...
Sarah Palin's polka-dotted tootsies: News or not news? You decide.

...And Everything In Between:
Beautiful Girls: The pilot episode of Beautiful Girls, a show about employees at a cosmetics company, was picked up by Fox. This has the potential to be interesting, as it's the work of Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, who collaborated with Joss Whedon on Dollhouse, which was a thoroughly engrossing look at appearance, identity, the idea of "perfection," and being looked at.

Birchbox biz: Interview with one of the founders of Birchbox, a subscription-based box of curated, personalized beauty product samples sent to you monthly; focuses on the business end of things but still interesting to those of us who aren't so inclined.

Tip of the...nevermind: The department of health in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal will start offering circumcision to 10% of the male babies born there, in a reversal of custom (currently circumcisions are only performed for medical or religious reasons). Why? Foreskins are commercially valuable, used in anti-aging treatments (in addition to more legitimate medical uses). As Reason notes: "2.3 million foreskins are at stake." (Okay, that phrasing is ridiculous, but I'm firmly against circumcision and it's upsetting to think that profit could be driving this.)

Natural cosmetics in the Middle East: Sales are expected to grow 20% this year, but that's only up from 0.01% of the cosmetics market (compared with 3% in North America and Europe). The theory is that the growth in awareness of natural foods trickled down to cosmetics, but since there's no similar drive in the Middle East, the market has to create itself.

Mean stinks: Secret deodorant, in an effort to up its profile à la Old Spice and Axe, launched an anti-bullying campaign with the "Mean Stinks" tagline. "Secret stands against things that stink, whether it's body odor or mean behavior like girl-to-girl bullying," says a Procter & Gamble spokesperson. It (hopefully!) goes without saying that I'm anti-bullying, and I'm glad to see smart minds like Rachel Simmons of Odd Girl Out pairing with star power like cast members of Glee. But...I dunno. The kids who were always teased the worst in my junior high/high school were ones whose home lives were clearly in such disarray that their personal hygiene wasn't a priority for either them or their caretakers. The Secret campaign is anti-bullying, girl-positive, and is not at all encouraging people to use deodorant to prevent their own bullying. Except...by virtue of it being a deodorant, that is also sort of an unspoken message. Am I reading too much into this? Yay for anti-bullying, though!?

Heidi Schatz on being "cute": "By golly, I will try on lingerie until I no longer laugh when I see myself in the mirror." (via Already Pretty)

Guerrilla complimenting: From Decoding Dress—"Why, of all the women she passed on her way to wherever she was going, did she choose to offer such an apparently non-violent but utterly confrontational compliment to me?" I'm generally in favor of complimenting other women, and I don't necessarily intend to stop. A friend of mine once astutely observed, "A well-placed and heartfelt compliment between women can sometimes feel subversive," and it's a point I stand by. Still, Decoding Dress's meditation on the self-indulgence and self-gratification of complimenting adds a new shade to the conversation here.

Woman in the mirror: Advertisers are placing their goods on mirrors, which seems like the missing link between "the commodity of the self" and personal branding that Marginal Utility laments.

How girls look good: Amusing piece at Vice on the various products we use to be pretty in "juuuust this other way." (And besides being amusing, it's one of the few places I've seen the socioeconomic dance of salons being discussed. Beauty Schooled, the conversation is happening!)

Questions for perfect-looking women:
I wrestle with the term "perfect," but I know exactly what Stephanie Georgopulos is getting at here. "Does perfection bore you? Do you look at people like me and wish your hair would frizz a little, that your bra would peek out? Do you ever want to let your nail polish chip? Or is this, the coiffed hair, the ironed shirts; is this your version of happiness?"

Poetry break: "The Beauty Myth," by blogger Shine.

Why don't you wear hi'jab?: Nahida at The Fatal Feminist is sort of tired of the ever-present question among Muslim feminists, but addresses it eloquently nonetheless. "There will most likely come a day when I will wear hi'jab. ... Maybe just that day, I needed an extra dosage of modesty, because I could feel myself becoming vain. ... Hi'jab means something to me—in relation to my spiritual self, to modesty, and to God.... It is only for me to evaluate. I will be the only one who knows what this means."

Flying while fat:
Regan Chastain at Dances With Fat offers much more reasonable options than, say, shame and humiliation for larger air passengers. (The usual "well THAT oughta solve it!" answer is to have fat flyers purchase two airline seats, but as Regan points out, that isn't as easy as it sounds.)

Blogosphere body love:
There's always a lot of great stuff going on in the self-acceptance sphere of the Internet, but this week seemed particularly awesome. Tori at Anytime Yoga puts it as plain and simple as you can, with "I don't want to change my body"; Courtney at Those Graces lets go of pretty; and Virginia at Beauty Schooled reminds us that "cleavage wrinkles" are not a thing.

"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

News flash, you don't shrivel past 55: Speaking of "a thing," I'm questioning the pulse over at Allure, which declares that "Granny Beauty" is "officially a thing." I know they're trying to acknowledge the superlative style age can bring, but making style awareness of senior citizens a "thing" seems a tad degrading to me. Auntie Mame, my fashion-plate 85-year-old grandmother, and any of the subjects on Advanced Style would probably be surprised to learn that the wisdom they've acquired over the years—plus the financial means, confidence, and fuck-it attitude that comes with age and that helps one become a style icon—is a "thing." Yay for recognizing the fashion sense of people of a certain age; boo for indicating that it's a trend as easily discarded as jeggings.

The health/beauty conundrum: Virginia gets to the heart of one of my major concerns: Is "health" sometimes a convenient cover-up for beauty concerns? "I’ve noticed that those who reject that plastic beauty ideal in favor of 'natural beauty' are often nevertheless still saying that health and beauty are one and the same. They just get their 'healthy glow' from vegetables and yoga instead of tanning booths. Of course I see why that’s better—but I’m still worried about making health and beauty synonymous."

Assume positive intent:
Sally asks what would happen if we assumed that those clunky comments we sometimes hear about our appearance came with positive intent. It's an interesting question, because appearance is both a way we connect with others in an immediate sense ("Cute shoes!" "Thanks, and I love your dress!"–that can be an entré, and a manner of appreciation), and a well of attachments we can use to undermine others and ourselves (as in Sally's example, when an acquaintance told her she'd look so much prettier if she'd "j
ust put on some makeup and a skirt once in a while"). Where do we draw the line between setting others straight on appropriacy of their comments and assuming positive intent? I don't think I've found an answer yet. You?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What's In Your Bag?: A Dispatch From the Land of Disarray

I've been reading the "What's In Your Bag?" posts from the recent Independent Fashion Bloggers meme, and thus seeing lots of super-cute tubes of hand crème—not cream, mind you, but crème—and compacts in mint condition, and adorable leopard-print makeup cases, and I'm all, Where are the crumpled straw wrappers, people? So in a peculiar combination of exhibitionism and self-defensive pride, I present to you: What's In My Bag? A Dispatch From the Land of the Woman in Disarray.

1) Paper towels: Because you never know. I used two of these during today's lunch in order to protect myself from a questionable discoloration on the stoop where I hunkered down to eat my salad. I used to carry around wet-naps but then kept "saving" them for when I "really" needed them, and then, at age 32, realized I had literally been carrying around the same three since college.
2) Multiple random flyers: I feel like standing on a street corner trying to give Manhattanites yet another piece of crap must be a pretty lousy job, and if I were doing it I'd just throw them all in the trash and lie about it. However, there are many people who are more conscientious than I am, so I'll do my part and take the flyer when they hand it to me, stick it in my purse, and not throw it out until I wonder why the hell my bag is so cluttered, which will probably be in November.

3) Small flip mirror: I got this as a free gift with purchase from Clinique in, like, 1996. It's dirty, probably because I never used my wet-naps to clean it.

4) Three Goody "bobby slides": Okay, listen up, people—bobby pins are stupid. They're good for pitting cherries, and terrible in your hair. They fall out! They make funny ridges! But not these. These will stay put all day, and they don't leave weird imprints on your hair, and you can buy them in different colors to better blend in with your hair color, and if you tell me where I can buy them in bulk I'll buy you a sandwich.

5) Tattered bag of cosmetics: Okay, so here's where the goodies are, I guess? Two lip pencils and two tubes of lipstick (I am a believer in the Lipstick Corollary), one eyeliner/eyebrow pencil, Wet 'n' Wild face powder, some magic gel blush I got in Amsterdam that is colorless until you put it on and then makes you look rosy, mascara, a concealer pen that Maybelline gave everyone on the CosmoGirl staff in 2007 and that I still have, tinted sunscreen moisturizer, and a box of spare contact lenses. Cloudy, battered bag by Ziploc.

6) Contact lens solution: Soon to be gone, thanks to most excellent reader comments!

7) Spin Pins: I never use these! Why are they in my bag? I don't know!

8) Relations in Public by Erving Goffman: I get a perverse thrill out of reading about "temporary stalls" of "personal space" when there's someone sitting on my lap on the Q train.

9) Steno pad pilfered from the office: It's like being on the high school newspaper all over again!

10) Caffeine pills: The offices at one of my clients started charging $1 for those K-cups to use in their coffee machine, which seems like a goddamned crime to me, right? I mean, the conquistadors gave indigenous workers in the silver mines free cocaine. Sure, it was the raw unrefined stuff, but if those Spanish overlords recognized the value of giving exploited workers tools to make them more productive, there's no reason every midtown office shouldn't do the same. This is why China will win, or maybe India. Anyway, caffeine pills! Terrible idea, really.

11) Chanel sunglasses: One of the few Truly Fabulous things I own, and in fact the only designer item I own. My eyes are light-sensitive, I have a big face that can carry a big pair of sunglasses with panache, and I admit I just feel amazing whenever I pull out the quilted case and put them on. I will wear these until I am 74, which brings their cost down to $8.12 per annum.

12) Snacks: Another quart-sized Ziploc bag, this time containing exactly 11 emergency almonds and a half-eaten box of raisins that I am assured by the source will be good until February 23, 2012, at which point I will throw them out and replace them with a new half-eaten box of raisins.

13) Four pantiliners (panty liners?): I'll take this opportunity to tell each and every one of you that the IUD is the best and most underused form of birth control ever made, except prayer. I'm baby-proofed until 2014, people! And I don't have to do a thing about it! It hurt like hell to get it in, but for seven years of freedom I'm willing to go through the discomfort, and will happily do it again when the time comes. But! Spotting. So, pantiliners.

14) Crumpled wrapper of Nature's Valley Oats & Honey granola bar: Totally the best on-the-go snack, and as far as the wrapper, no litterbug I! Now, you would think that I'm carrying 11 almonds and half a box of raisins so that I wouldn't have to buy granola bars from vendors in the subway, wouldn't you? I move in mysterious ways.

15) Crystal Light singles: See #10. They make a Crystal Light with caffeine now! It's called "Focus." The aspartame will kill me eventually, but I don't really need to be here for that long anyway, thanks to my IUD.

16) Wallet, phone, keys: Bo-ring! Though I will take a moment to pump Queen Bee Creations, which made my wallet and purse. I still get tons of compliments on my purse but will do Queen Bee the courtesy of sparing you a photograph of it, since I haven't yet replaced it despite its cracked straps. But Queen Bee makes adorable stuff! (And it's also a dead giveaway that I spent significant time in the Pacific Northwest.)


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Interview at Blossoming Badass

When I came across a reflective, artful entry on The F Bomb that began "I am not pretty"—and then went on to describe why that just might be okay—I knew I'd stumbled across a blogger to watch. Sure enough, Alexa, who maintains Blossoming Badass in addition to her guest posts at The F Bomb, has become someone I'm always excited to share thoughts and ideas with, whether she's writing about feminist grammar (obviously a girl after my own heart), her experiences with sex ed (she's currently in high school), or the frustrations of powerlessness in the face of other people's body image issues.

Lucky for me, she feels the same way! I was honored when she asked to interview me for Blossoming Badass. Please click on through to read a candid take on why I started this blog, my feminist initiation, a bit more on the mirror fast, and more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beauty and the Lazy Girl

My favorite beauty tips inevitably involve something that makes the beauty ritual go a little bit faster, or a little bit cheaper: toilet seat covers as facial-oil absorbers; baking soda as a face, body, AND hair scrub; tinted moisturizer, etc. I’d always thought I liked these sorts of tips because they were simple, as the majority of beauty tips out there involve more work than I’m willing to do. (I tried Jane Feltes’  cat-eye tutorial, but after a week of just making my eyes water and, sadly, not resembling Julianne Moore's YouTutelage, I gave up.)

Lo and behold: It turns out I’m not a simple woman, but a lazy girl. Before 2003, the “lazy girl” most often turned up in folklore (where the girl in question would either be redeemed through marriage/motherhood, or would be punished for her lackadaisical ways) or erotic literature (“Kolina is a very lazy girl and needs strict discipline”). Enter Anita Naik, a British writer who, in 2003, released a trio of guides for the lazy girl: The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Good Health, The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Good Sex (?!)—and, of course, the Lazy Girl’s Guide to Beauty. (Thanks to Ms. Naik, lazy girls now also have personalized guides to living green, becoming successful, living the high life on a budget, and having both a party and a blissful pregnancy, preferably not at the same time, because everyone knows it ain't a party til there's mai tais.)

The line wasn’t actually for women who were lazy, of course: It was just a down-to-earth catchphrase that neatly capitalized upon the spate of guides for Idiots and Dummies, seeming downright solicitous compared to those titles. The main effect the series had was that it made the terminology caught on: Everywhere from Cosmo to Seventeen to Refinery 29 to Prevention (which is geared toward women over 35, though lazy women just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?) has run guides for the lazy girl, usually focusing on fitness or beauty.

The term “lazy girl” reveals less about the low-effort shortcuts that are promised and more about what it implies about all the rest of the beauty advice we’re given. While we sometimes use lazy to mean leisurely (a lazy Sunday afternoon), most of the time when we use lazy—especially in work-obsessed America—we’re using it as a slur. When we giddily tout the guide for the lazy girl, it may seem liberating, but in actuality it’s an admonishment: We’ll let you get away with it this time, the lazy girl’s guide tells its readers. But don’t think you can get used to this.

Sometimes the advice really can be applied to the lazy—sleep with your hair in a bun so you wake up with no-labor waves; wear bright colors to distract from your less-made-up face. But much of the time the advice is downright industrious. At best, it’s about skipping beauty labor that, under other conditions, we’re assumed to perform. “I don’t curl my eyelashes,” confesses the Refinery 29 writer; “Use an illuminating cream-colored shadow on your eyelids, inner corner of the eye and under the brow to make your eyes look wide awake," writes Daily Makeover—the presumption being that this is a shortcut from our normal eyeshadow routine. At worst, it’s about encouraging us to buy more products, with an accompanying convoluted justification of how it actually saves us labor: We can spray our feet with callous softening spray for when we give ourselves pedicures; we can buy an ionic hair dryer; we can do at-home highlights (the idea being that we’re “too lazy to hit the salon,” as though laziness is what's preventing most women from getting professional hair color). 

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against a good beauty tip, and I’ve definitely got nothing against laziness, of which I have a long, mighty history. (ase in point: At age eight I announced to my family that I was dropping the first letter of parenthetical clauses that began with the letter “C” in order to save myself the effort. AND I STAND BY IT.) In fact, the very reason the spate of lazy girl tips jumped out at me is because it's the type of beauty story I'm most likely to read—in theory, it's geared specifically toward women like me, whose beauty routines are performed with a sort of no-nonsense attitude, not a mind-set of fantasy and play, and who thus are probably looking for a break here and there. And I actually appreciate the irreverence of the lazy girl’s guide over the sacrosanct attitude some beauty copy has.

I just don’t like the idea that by being minimal, I’m being lazy, as though not applying eyeshadow is in the same category as playing dumb when it comes time to tally up the restaurant bill (I’ll always pay my share, but please for the love of God don’t make me do the math, too many mai tais!) or calling a coworker to pick up a file instead of delivering it myself. I’m actively choosing “lazy” tips because I’m the opposite of lazy—I’m busy. My beauty labor is indeed labor, and I treat it as such—but the mere act of performing it is a sign I’m not lazy about it at all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beauty Blogosphere 8.12.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...
Tooth and nail: I'll be blatantly honest and say that I really, really don't understand Japan. Does that make me xeno...not phobic, I'm not scared of Japan. Xenobephuddled? Xenokonfused? In any case: People are getting all matchy-matchy with their nail polish and their teeth over there.

Rise and shine: It's one thing to read beauty routines magazines suggest we follow; it's quite another to read what women actually do in the morning. No More Dirty Looks is starting a new series that looks at women's routines, which I always find oddly hypnotic to read about.

...To Toe...
Lady financiers: Lo and behold, a pedicure story makes the Financial Times.

...And Everything In Between:
A legal wrinkle: In an industry about-face on false advertising, cosmetics company B&P is suing Kris Jenner (the mother of the Kardashian clan) for getting a face lift, after they'd hired her to be their rep for Beautiful Eyes in a Bag. To me this is actually a logical extension of the airbrushed-ad ban in Britain: WOW you mean I won't look like Kris Jenner, who has been a wealthy woman for a good long time now, just by using your product? Color me shocked. 

Bad week for beauty and Israel!: First Nivea seems to have left Israel off its main buying site (which the company says is because the Israeli page was under construction), and then Hudson New York questions why Lush won't open stores in Israel. The company reportedly has said, "We want everyone in the country where we are trading to be on an equal footing as far as basic human rights go." You know, like Saudi Arabia.

Nature's masseurs: Speaking of Israeli, a spa in the holy land is offering snake massage, in which a variety of large, heavy snakes (great for deep-tissue work!) and smaller, wrigglier types (for the fine "fluttering" effect) are dumped upon your back while you...relax. Fish pedicures are so 2010.


Ms. Toxic Beauty: Filipino activists hold a "toxic beauty parade" to call attention to the dangers of skin whiteners.

Feminista: Fascinating historical look at the links between fashion and feminism over at Final Fashion. (Thanks to Terri at Rags Against the Machine for the link!)

Peas in a pod: Fun piece about two friends with different attitudes toward cosmetics swapping beauty regimes for a day. 

Go, Glo!: Fantastic interview at, um, Interview with one of my personal heroes, Gloria Steinem: "I have to say that I was not considered beautiful before I was a feminist. I was a pretty girl before, but suddenly, after I was publicly identified as a feminist, I was beautiful. So, many people were really commenting on what they thought feminists looked like." (Also, she wants to live with the elephants, but I'm not telling you more because you really should read the whole thing.)

Pretty smart: Sally at Already Pretty takes on the case of smart vs. pretty in a way I haven't seen before—examining how we got to that point in the first place. I'm pretty much always game for any rant about how it's treated as an either/or question, but to see a reasoned consideration of the question is even more engaging.

Love it}: Jill at Feministe calls for a friendly punctuation mark that is decidedly not an exclamation point, given that they're disproportionately used by women to soften our meaning. I suggest that we colonize }. Also, I know this has nothing to do with beauty, but it's so rare that the punctuation geek in me gets to come out} (Original study here. Enjoy})

Hemlines and defiance: Decoding Dress's three-part series on hemlines is a must-read: She covers privilege, defiance, age, and triumph. I've only recently begun to worry that I'm getting too old to show as much leg as I used to, and this series came my way just in time.

Carry on: London salon chain co-opts, then gives the most hilarious apology ever for co-opting, the "Keep calm and carry on" slogan during the riots. "in all honesty, before today we hadn't done any historical research on the popular slogan that has been popping up on coffee shop posters. we simply thought it was a really cute phrase & worked well in describing that our rosewater calming gel helps calm the skin & that it is travel-friendly so you can even carry it on a plane." (Lower-case theirs.)

Talk about a bombshell: Chances are that the breast-implant bombs, which the TSA recently issued a warning about, will not actually ever happen. WHEW.

Black beauty: The Atlanta Post examines the current state of beauty companies targeting black women. Lots of issues raised here: The growing focus on serving the needs of multiethnic women, the ever-present and major gaps between many customers' needs and the products on the market, and how the industry can better serve its customers even when once-black-owned lines are being snapped up by cosmetics giants.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Invited Post: Beauty, Islamic Feminism, and Choice

Muslim feminism and beauty: "The timeless fight for choice." (image via)

"We are not reformists. We are revivalists," writes Nahida of The Fatal Feminist. The "we" she refers to are Muslim feminists, and Nahida's blog is a treasure chest of Islamic feminist thought. Whether she's writing about the concept of modesty, notable women in Islamic history, or giving wit to the question of whether mermaids are halal, the California-based blogger manages to be both provocative and welcoming, instructive but never pedantic. I was pleased she agreed to share her thoughts here about Islamic feminism and beauty. Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   * 
"Oh children of Humankind! Beautify yourselves for every act of worship, and eat and drink [freely], but do not waste: verily, God does not love the wasteful!"
—(Qur'an 7:31)

When Autumn invited me to guest post, I thought of two things: (1) whether it is possible to discuss beauty and self-presentation among Muslim feminists without resorting to the tired subject of hi'jab, and (2) overt ways in which modern Islamic feminists present their Islamic feminism. In fact, the rightful authority of woman over her own appearance is connected to the divergence of men who attempt to claim this authority for themselves.

The Qur'an says nothing about veiling: Men and women are both told to lower their gazes in (today, a shallow interpretation of) modesty and to cover their private areas. Feminism is built into Islam, but as patriarchy began to claim the religion over the next few centuries women were once again at the mercy of corrupted men deliberately twisting the words of God in a jealous attempt to seize undeserved power and turn the pursuit of women into degradation through sexual and political weaponry. This was accomplished with familiar methods: first, a deepened wage gap. With the expansion, men unlawfully took slaves, several of whom were women, and who then were unable to make demands concerning the protection and respect of their Islamic rights due to of lack of economic and social status. And then—forgetting their Islamic practice of modesty—men began to arrogantly police the bodies of women and forge their own laws over the word of God, enviously forbidding feminine beauty itself.

In the Muslim world today, feminine beauty is strictly defined as soft-spoken, patient, and obedient: characteristics that express themselves in a meek, humbled appearance. Any woman who confidently and forcefully challenges this, even with makeup and high heels and accessories that we correctly or incorrectly would define as distinctly feminine, is in fact not entirely viewed as "feminine" but is instead associated with unruliness—the opposite of femininity, according to patriarchy. She's already worth less than the value of a man simply for being a woman—and she doesn't even possess the worth of a woman, as she's rejected conformity. In the eyes of men, that is, not God.

In the past few years (or centuries) of Islamic feminism, most writings have focused on simply defying patriarchal standards of modesty. But there's an area that has yet to be explored: women dressing or beautifying solely to appeal to themselves. The closest we have is an example from centuries ago: A'isha bint Talha, a niece of the Prophet through her mother—and a woman of extravagant beauty—who famously proclaimed, "God the Almighty distinguished me by my beauty, and not to keep me hidden from sight! I want everyone to see this, and acknowledge my superiority over them. I will not veil. No one can force me to do anything." And in this it is clear that her only concerns were the will of God and her own desires—that of no one else.

She was a contemporary of Sakina bint al-Hussein, the Prophet's own granddaughter, of whom historian al-Zubairi writes, "She radiates like an ardent fire. Sakina was a delicate beauty, never veiled, who attended the Quraish Nobility Council. Poets gathered at her house. She was refined and playful." Her feminism did not only include refusing to veil: She decided where to live, demanded fidelity of her husband and that he never went against any of her desires, and promptly and publicly divorced men who betrayed her. Sakina was neither afraid of scandal, nor hesitant to let the world know of her wrath.

 Her influence was great: interestingly, not only did women imitate her hairstyles—but men as well! This demonstrates not only her position of incredible power, but power over both sexes, and an absence of the societal perspective that what is feminine must be undesirable for men.

But that was the 7th century. And these were wealthy women. The veil, in fact, was culturally expected amongst aristocratic women. Because the wives of the Prophet were advised against remarrying after his death, they veiled for the primary purpose of proclaiming that they were unavailable. Consequently, this became a societal expectation for their daughters and granddaughters, the first Islamic aristocrats, who promptly refused on the principle that it was their own choice, as God had not ordered them to veil and men could not pressure them.

Women today are told that perfume is a sin. That makeup is a sin. That they may not pray during their menses or show too much skin. That they may only wear nail polish while they are on their menses. That they may not show their faces at all. Women are literally reduced to material: fabric. These political laws and social pressures vary between countries. In reclaiming womanly beauty for women, Islamic feminists must now consider not only the intersections of class but also cultures, a delicate balance between denouncing burkas—and wearing them when they are banned.

It is the timeless fight for choice.

And so Muslim feminists wear lipstick and burkas. We paint our nails to proudly announce that we're menstruating and observe "traditional hi'jab." We wear miniskirts and high heels and jeans and headpieces and perfume. (My personal current favorite is Stella by Stella McCartney...a little thick for summer but a light spray is AMAZING.) We defy stereotypical expectations in every way possible, as fearless hijabis and scholarly femmes. We consider having Slutwalks in which the participants wear burkas. (Because, dammit, women are raped in burkas—in no matter what we wear.) Which naturally prompts the question: If everything about our appearances is symbolically a significant contextual rebellion—when will we be free?

We are choosing, at least, the ways in which we rebel. And despite the claims of evolutionary psychologists, global patriarchy, and a particular type of radfem, women are whole, complete agents in our own lives and can fully grant and deny consent as is our right. It is the rest of the world—men, society, other women—that judges what our actions mean.

In July, I wrote a piece titled "Reclaiming Femininity," which ends with the lines, "Satirists and the patriarchy scoff and say, nowadays everything is female empowerment. And I want to scream, And does that tell you nothing?" Indeed, it is true—for not only Muslim feminists but all feminists—that the very fact our movement involves so many seemingly contradictory angles is evidence of the infliction of enormous damage by patriarchy from every possible direction. Each angle is redemptive. It is a story that repeats for centuries, and yet over and over the point is missed: Let women choose.