I’ve Always Loved Two Things: The Written Word and Beauty

As a teenager I would look through the magazine section at our local grocery store on a regular basis – I’d hold the glossy pages in my hands and take it all in. Her outfits, her makeup, her hairstyles, the ads. As I thumbed through Vogue and Vanity Fair I realized I was less interested in the words, something that was unusual for me, but the beauty was something to sit in awe of. Looking back on it now, I’m sometimes surprised to think that the poor, small, rural town I’m from even had these little creative windows available for us to buy. Sometimes I’d even spend the five dollars to own one – an escape from reality, 1,000 suggestions on how you (a woman) should look, props to collect dust in the salon, someone telling you what to buy to be her. For some reason, I didn’t care about any of that. It was just art to me. That lifestyle was so inaccessible in my world that I couldn’t even focus on what I didn’t have – the thought never even crossed my mind to want what they had. Because creating art is free.

As a young adult, getting a degree in news / editorial journalism, waiting to graduate to start my career in beauty, I thought I might “grow up” to get that job everyone in movies seems to want: beauty editor of some major magazine. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist, so logically the simplest choice of career path would be to become the makeup artist version of Carrie Bradshaw. No problem. Grow up to be The Devil Wears Prada version of Meryl Streep; again no problem.

Step one: go to journalism school. As a journalism student I was required to pick up three newspapers a day before classes began to review them for major news. The two local daily papers (yes this is unusual, and since then one has folded) and the San Francisco Chronicle. We’d have to show up to class ready to talk about anything and everything that was in those three papers – we’d almost always be quizzed on something too. This is before smart phones. Last minute googling of who died this morning or what weather event was printed above the fold on the Chronicle wasn’t an option. You had to know it. You had the physical copy in your backpack. You spent at least thirty minutes prior to that first class skimming and picking out anything that seemed to be important news, just in case. Then we’d write about it, and we’d be timed. I loved it.

In my “free time” I’d see my less serious woman on the side: magazines. I worked in the mall, and on my breaks I’d walk over to Borders, a now defunct bookstore chain, to spend an entire hour’s wages on a caramel latte and a Vogue. Back then I never subscribed to anything – I loved going in person, drinking my coffee and touching the pages. It’s amazing how nostalgic that feels writing this now, in a world where we can’t touch anything, where bookstores are a dying breed. You’d open it and smell the perfume samples; ads would fall out; back then Keira Knightley would be staring back at you wearing something that engulfed her, her giant smokey eyes vacant but beautiful. That signature pouty lip, her boney shoulders. And all I could think about was going home to recreate that makeup look with whatever products I could scrape together.

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in that type of art because reality set in and it became harder and harder for me to see those photos as isolated innocent projects. They became small pieces of a bigger system. A beauty politic problem. A body politic problem. A capitalist, racist problem.

However, I was a resourceful person – I worked at Victoria’s Secret so I could “afford” the glamorous fashion, and I got myself my first makeup job at an Estee Lauder counter where I made decent enough commissions to earn almost all the makeup I could ever want or use. Step two: become a beauty professional. I’ve worked in beauty ever since. Up the chain. Practicing. Now for myself. Now more clearly understanding the framework we all participate in to maintain these systems of power. Understanding it’s evils while participating in them to survive. The reality of needing to work selling makeup for several hours to buy one mascara from the brand I worked for wasn’t lost on me. Now I work one hour and can buy at least ten mascaras. The reality that if I were to graduate and actually become a writer at our local newspaper I would be paying off my student loans into my forties, was also not lost on me. Instead, I could become a makeup artist and pay them off a decade sooner. I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to play the system, positioning myself in a world I was priced out of, until someday I could afford it. Sometimes I feel like that’s business, sometimes I feel like there’s more to it than that.

So I graduated from journalism school, and beauty school and took a decade-long detour away from magazines and newspapers, toward entrepreneurship and learning. But I miss it. The art part. The simplicity. The ease and joy of turning the pages and just looking.

A year ago I started a “digital declutter” experiment and as part of my efforts to minimize online time, I subscribed to print publications. Beauty magazines weren’t even on my list of options. The stories about “how to please your man” are just as disappointing as the half-hearted articles on “how to please yourself.” The “You go girl!” and “Girl power!” undertones are just different sides of the same misogynistic, patriarchal coin. Sometimes a decent story is thrown in but mostly, it’s all just what you should buy, simple content, abysmal representation. Perpetuation of stereotypes, norms and capitalist “culture.” So instead I decided to subscribe to The New York Times, Veg News Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Esquire. I feel like the stories and interviews in Esquire are extremely well written and the ads are almost entirely for men, so I can enjoy them without thinking too much about it. The others are obviously for news, some pop culture, and food. But I still missed makeup, and hairstyling, fashion and stories about women. Where women are the center.

Then I found CRWNMAG on instagram, and their feed was everything I love about beauty without the over simplification and lack of representation. I ordered every issue they have available on their website and could not be more thrilled to finally be bringing editorial-style print beauty back into my life and regular rotation. The about section on their website explains that CRWNMAG

“exists to create a progressive dialogue around natural hair and the women who wear it. We’re reaching beyond trendy clickbait and #BlackGirlMagic to address the whole Black woman; a woman who is more educated, well-traveled and sophisticated than ever before – largely because generations before her have fought to ensure her seat at the table. Through beautiful content, thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration and resources; we’re telling the world the truth about Black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty – and documenting our story in tangible, premium print form.”

The magazines themselves are amazing quality, thick and durable like a book. The pages are matte and have that library book smell – that good paper smell. But inside, the content is more than I expected. Because I respect the creators, writers, and artists featured, I will not share specific examples of articles or projects but I will say that although I am not a Black woman, I have an appreciation for a print magazine that centers women and issues that mainstream beauty magazines ignore or barely include. The ads are different, the art is different, and the stories and interviews take a more analytical and intersectional approach to reporting. I feel like I can actually enjoy the magazine because it isn’t ignoring the things mainstream beauty ignores, if that makes sense. It’s like opening my VegNews and realizing every ad is for vegan food. I don’t have to look at ads for meat or dairy, I can just enjoy the content and it actually applies to me. Not that every article or editorial piece in CRWNMAG applies to me, but I appreciate the beauty and the perspectives and feel like I can actually learn something. It’s time to bring that beauty magazine ritual back.

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@crwnmag

https://shop.crwnmag.com

The First Monthly Resource Collection! July 2020

Hello Readers!

As promised, my plan moving forward is to dedicate the last Saturday of every month to rounding up many of the useful resources I consumed each month. I will include a brief description of what to expect from each, a photo, and a link when applicable, but my intention is not to summarize them for you. Rather, I hope these posts can be a spring board that sends you on your own unlearning journey and encourages you to do your own research.

Enjoy! I can’t wait to hear your feedback.

PS: I read A LOT of articles. If something you’re interested in is pictured but not listed, please comment below and I’ll send you a link.

-Liz, The Real Life Vegan Wife

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Books:

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law explains how the United States federal government, and individual state governments used (and continue to use) housing policy to create racial segregation. Many of us assume that the racial makeup of neighborhoods and cities are a product of “de facto” segregation when in fact it is a result of “de jure” or direct and lawful housing policy.

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow argues that since its founding, America has gone through several institutional forms of racial control, one simply evolving into the next to reflect society in that present moment. Beginning with chattel slavery, evolving into Jim Crow segregation, and currently resulting in mass incarceration, Alexander explains that each institution accomplishes the same end: the disenfranchisement and criminalization of Black people and Non-Black People of Color, resulting in a racial “underclass.”

  • Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is an excellent and accessible analysis of systems of privilege and oppression through the lens of intersectional feminism. Kendall explains that issues such as housing access, food security, and gun violence (among many others) disproportionately affect Black Women and Women of Color and have therefore been ignored by mainstream white feminism. She argues that these issues are feminist issues and that without addressing them collectively, patriarchy will continue to subjugate all women.

Bookstores to Support:

https://keybookstore.com

https://www.semicolonchi.com

https://eurekabookshop.com

https://bookshop.org/shop/Elizabeths

Notable Podcast Episodes:

  • Code Switch, “Why Now White People?” 6/16/20

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/878963732/why-now-white-people

This episode talks about the sudden surge of support from white people for the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd.

  • The Rich Roll Podcast, Episode 529, “John Lewis & John Salley Are Black In America.” 6/29/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?i=1000480111209

In this podcast episode, Rich Roll interviews John Salley, a long-time vegan and the first basketball player in history to win four NBA championships with three different teams, and John Lewis, aka The Badass Vegan, a vegan activist, athlete, and co-director of the new documentary They’re Trying to Kill Us.

  • American History Tellers, Season 13, Episodes 1-5, “Tulsa Race Massacre.”

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tulsa-race-massacre-the-promised-land/id1313596069?i=1000440022243

In this five-episode series, learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and the destruction of the Greenwood neighborhood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” by a racist white mob and a complicit police force.

Movies:

  • 13th

This documentary is available on Netflix and focuses on the meaning of the 13th Amendment, racial inequality in the United States, and why Black and Non Black People of Color make up a disproportionately high number of incarcerated individuals in this country.

  • The Hate U Give

This film tells the story of Starr Carter, a Black teenage girl learning to find her voice while constantly switching worlds and personalities between the Black community she calls home and the predominantly wealthy white prep school she attends.

Based on the novel by Angie Thomas

  • Dark Waters

Dark Waters tells the true story of how the DuPont corporation knowingly poisoned waterways, soil, animals and people in West Virginia with PFOA, a chemical commonly found in Teflon products.

Based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.

Digital Declutter Diaries Part 2: I Can Feel

Being underwater dulls everything down. Light and sound. You try to laugh but it’s hard. You try to see but that’s hard too. You try to listen but nothing sticks. The details are all lost anyway.

All you know is that for some reason it feels as close to good and familiar as you can get with your head dunked slightly below the surface. Everything’s fuzzy. Slower. After a while it becomes normal to feel that way. Watching your life through a blurry lens of indifference and numbness.

You try to believe you’re happy. But deep down you understand that knowing you should feel happiness, and actually experiencing it are two different things. You think you’re sad, but at the end of the day you could take or leave whatever made you feel that way. Disappointment isn’t real, anger is just a response to another thing that isn’t real. Love feels real, but comes with a handful of emotions that are fuzzy now too.

So back underwater you go. Lukewarm.

Sometimes you can’t help it and you get upset – you don’t even know why. But you enjoy being angry, because at least it’s something. The few things you do care about, you distance by a few degrees just in case.

That was me. That is me still, sometimes.

Compartmentalized.

I had accepted this as my normal. It’s like being outside where everything feels bad for so long that you put a protection around yourself that makes everything feel about half (or less) of what it should. It’s okay at first. But then time went by and I started to worry that I’d completely forget how to really be happy, or sad. Or anything. I just wanted to feel a genuine emotion that I wasn’t capable of putting inside a box and neatly stacking on a shelf of 10,000 never-again-opened boxes. It had become SO easy to do that.

What’s it like to feel real joy? Or gratitude? Or disappointment? Without immediately putting it in check with the opposite emotion.

Neutralize it.

During this process of decluttering my mind I realized that my emotional shutting down happened in two stages.

The first began as a defense mechanism-type response to an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship I was in for about four years in my early twenties. Until I conducted this experiment, I hadn’t even realized, let alone accepted that what I had gone through was actual abuse.

Yet for years I lived in a constant state of isolation, uneasiness, fear, and defensiveness. I lost myself navigating the complexities of loving someone with mental illness, depression, and sometimes uncontrollable, unpredictable anger. I developed resulting post traumatic stress, and have often found myself exhibiting those same destructive behaviors – learned out of necessity to protect myself, then. Now I’m finally realizing that I can stop living a defensive life. Everything isn’t an argument; constantly worrying about my plans going off track is unproductive. I don’t need to always be on the highest alert.

Back then I retreated inside. Put up protective barriers. And apologized. A lot. I numbed myself to my reality because after years of mental manipulation it becomes extremely difficult to separate what’s real from what someone tells you are just your own “unreliable” emotions. It’s even harder to accept what you know is true when the good times are good, and when everyone around you seems to think everything is mostly fine.

And then there is the shame and the fear. I chose to be there, so obviously something must be wrong with me because I stayed. I’m not a “victim.” I’m smart and capable. So it must be my own fault for not leaving. It’s my own fault for not bringing it up until now. It’s my own fault.

I spent years worrying about his mental health and everything I was doing “wrong,” while my mental state and self worth deteriorated. But I couldn’t see what was happening.

That lightbulb didn’t even begin to flicker until about a month ago when I read Gavin DeBecker’s book The Gift of Fear. I thought long and hard about all the behaviors that he argues are precursors to violence, and how our intuition knows before our minds do that something is wrong. Back then I had gotten very good at ignoring my intuition and rationalizing behaviors that I now see as completely dangerous and unacceptable. I never once worried about my own safety, focusing primarily on getting him help for his mental illness. Only now that seven years has passed do I realize that I should’ve been extremely concerned about my own mental and physical well being.

The second stage of my emotional shutting down happened after he died, about three months after our final breakup. For more information about this please reference my first ever post, Context.

A huge part of my identity and self worth was caught up in a person who made me feel disempowered and small. Overnight, I lost everything I thought stabilized me, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible. I feel guilt now, as I write these words. But staying silent hasn’t helped me to heal. And protecting his memory and family should’ve never taken precedent over my own mental health.

The tragic reality of what happened to him, coupled with the awkwardness people feel discussing death and trauma had effectively rendered my experience within that relationship invisible. Somehow petty and unimportant. So I threw myself into a full fledged effort to convince myself it was petty and unimportant. And I simply cannot live that way anymore. In sharing my experience, it becomes visible, and there is freedom there. For me, and others like me.

I think that ever since I was a little kid I’ve known that I feel very deeply. That I can absorb energy from those around me, and that I can sometimes tap into the pain and sadness and love and happiness of animals and other people that I may not even know. Until I got into that relationship, I felt confident to exude that passion is everything I did. In my learning, in my work, in my friends and family. I felt deeply and unapologetically about everything. And I wasn’t even the slightest bit ashamed or afraid to show it to the world- thanks parents.

In a nutshell, I loved being me and I was not afraid to show it, and tell everyone about it.

And then all that passion and self confidence evaporated and I accepted it.

My therapist has asked me on multiple occasions if I minded being alone. My answer has always been a hard no – ask my husband; he knows. I love spending time alone. What I believe she should’ve been asking me (now that it’s 2020) is if I like being truly alone. Without all the things that make it so easy to never actually be by yourself. No phone, no internet, no TV. Because my answer would’ve likely been something like: I don’t know. Because I’ve never tried that. Solitude wasn’t something I had prioritized.

I thought I’d been healing myself the best ways I knew how. And I suppose to a degree, I have been. But I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall, beyond the healthy eating, and exercise, meaningful work, therapy, and positive, supportive, loving people in my life, something still eluded me. Something still felt like a hole in my heart. A missing piece.

After a month of solitude, and A LOT of thinking, I realized that the missing piece was partially realization and acceptance. Moving through my past. The other part was remembering the confidence in my own spirit and abilities that used to come so easily, and the permission to feel everything and anything again.

I condensed about five years of therapy into one month, just by allowing myself to really think. I’ve already started to see glimpses of my “old self,” but in a new way, still trepidatiously approaching emotion. I can finally begin to heal the parts of me that have developed as coping mechanisms, shields, and responses to trauma. I can forgive him and let him go – he was hurt too.

I’m not sure if my mind had guarded me from my full reality on purpose, or if I was in denial. I’m not sure if I was being protected from recognizing my past as what it truly was until I was strong enough and stable enough to handle it. Or if I was consciously shoving it aside because it was too difficult to look at.

All that matters now is that I am beginning to see love in little things again and am so overwhelmed with gratitude on a daily basis for every wonderful and painful part of this life.

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Artwork by: TanyaZCdesign https://www.etsy.com/shop/TanyaZCdesign