"Don't believe that the only way you can feel better about yourself is by losing weight or cosmetic surgery. You can change how you look today by learning how to show off your best assets and disguise the ones you don't like." - Trinny Woodall and Sysannah Constantine, What You Wear Can Change Your Life
I wish there was some less terrifying way to do this, ladies, but there isn't: the only way to identify those best assets and the ones you don't like is to stand naked in front of a full-length mirror. One advantage to this exercise is that if you have been hiding under baggy clothes, you will discover that not only do you have a shape but that you also have a size, and that size is not anywhere near that of the voluminous tents you've been swathing yourself in.
Another good thing is that you realize that you body has not, in fact, gone to hell, regardless of age and the number of children. Your boobs may have decided to head south, but your butt might still be perky. Your knees and elbows might not be in the best shape, but your wrists and ankles still look delicate and feminine. Be objective. Find every single feature you feel good about: be it beautiful hips or terrific cheekbones. Don't just say, "I was such a dish when I was young - what the hell happened!" You are still a dish - and with plenty of spice to it.
Two thirds of us wear a wrong bra - on a good day. On a bad day, it's more like ninety percent. I beg you, ladies, get yourself measured for a bra. I don't care how long you have been wearing the size you have on now - just do it. If the overly pink Victoria's Secret store with super-skinny shop assistants (who look almost exactly like the mannequins) scare you, go to someplace like Soma - they are a lot less intimidating. Bring a friend for moral support, if you have to. But do go in, get your measurements and allow yourself time to peruse. There is no law against looking. You are a customer - you are entitled.
Good quality undergarments can be expensive. If you can only afford one or two - get them in plain fabric without any ornamentation so that you could wear them with a lot of different things. Take good care of them by separating them into the ultra-delicate cycle on your washing machine or hand-washing if you don't have such a setting. That way, they'll last you longer. Get rid of all the old ones that are over-stretched, discolored and no longer hold their shape (or yours).
You'd be surprised to realize, that once you give the girls enough support and elevate them away from your waist band, you actually have a waist. Not only that, but you'll be able to roll your shoulders back, get a better posture and breathe easier. All that - just by getting a right bra. When was the last time you strutted down the street with your back straight and your chin up? Try it now - it's quite exhilarating, I assure you.
How long have you had the same hairstyle? Which one is it: the too-long mane with no layers and lots of split ends, the severe bob or the perpetual ponytail? Does it flatter your face? Or does it just drag everything down? Have you ever asked your hairstylist what he or she thinks about your hair, or do you just breeze in for a five-minute trim between a grocery run and your grandkids' soccer game?
Perhaps it's time to get out of the hair rut and find out what actually works for you. If you don't think your current hairstylist would be amendable to any changes, consider going elsewhere. Remember - you are the customer here, and you are entitled to get what you want. If a grocery store doesn't have your preferred brand of something you'd go to a different store. So, why not do the same with your hairstyle?
Before your next haircut, sit down and list what effect your current hairstyle has on your appearance: the good, the bad and the ugly ("My ponytail is practical and out of the way, but it makes me look as if I am bald from the front." "This short bob is low-maintenance and easy to brush out first thing in the morning. It also cuts my neck in half, and I want to show it off.") Then write down what you would like to see, what you would want your hair to do for you ("My eyebrows are great. Is there any way to emphasize them with my haircut?" "I want it to be practical and easy to take care of, but I don't want it to make me look like I am a hundred years old." "I like my hair because it's thick, but it gets too heavy when it's long. What can we do about it?") Instead of the usual rush-in / rush-out deal, schedule a couple of hours so that you could actually talk with your hairstylist, go over your list and figure out how you can get out of the rut you have both fallen into.
It doesn't matter how old you are - 18, 38 or 68. There is no statute of limitations on when one is allowed to revamp her image and look fabulous.
The skin is our biggest organ. So why the hell do we treat it so abominably so often? No, I am not suggesting that you run of and get a chemical peel / Botox combo. However, your skin might be dormant and in need of waking up. Besides, taking good care of your skin counts as pampering, and when was the last time you allowed yourself that?
This need not take a long time. If you are put off by cosmetics, because you don't like the sound of all the scary chemicals and because there is just too much of everything out there, and impossible to pick the right stuff, no problem. I am that way myself. You can make your own body- and face-revitalizing concoctions, using nothing more than the stuff you can get in the produce section of your local grocery store.
Recipe 1: Blend 1 peeled cored apple with 1 tablespoon of honey in a food processor, until smooth. Pat the mix onto your face and let it sit for 15 minutes (soaking in a bath while you wait is a good idea too). Rinse off gently with warm water and a washcloth.
Recipe 2: Combine 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of finely ground almonds, 2 tablespoons of dry oatmeal and a tiny bit of lemon juice just to moisten the mix. Massage gently onto your face (keep away from the eyes), neck and chest, the rinse off with warm water.
Body wake-up call
Recipe 1: Mix 4 tablespoons of white sugar, 4 tablespoons of glycerin, 1 teaspoon of aloe vera gel (look in the shampoo and bath products aisle), a few drops of lavender or orange oil. Scrub the mix all over and leave on for a few minutes before your shower.
Recipe 2: Actually, it's not really a recipe - it's more of a procedure. Get a long-handle soft bristle body brush and scrub yourself every time you take a shower. Also, just stand there for a few minutes, varying the water temperature from hot to cold back to hot. If you are tempted to squeal when the cold water hits you, do so. You'll realize that you actually do have circulation and a skin tone - a healthy one.
Off the beaten path...
It would be a shame to bring down your newly discovered shape, your great hair and glowing skin by dowdy clothes. First of all, do a closet clean-out. Get rid of anything that is faded, stretched, wrong size (too big or too small) or unflattering. Remember: black and white do not go with everything and tapered ankle-length pants do not flatter anyone.
Have you been shopping at the same place forever? Sears? JC Penney? Wal Mart? Consider going someplace entirely different - a range of smaller non-chain stores. If you are comfortable shopping on line, consider perusing sites you may have dismissed as too trendy or too "young" - you might be surprised by what you discover and by how many more options there are for finding clothes that fit. Again, there is no law against looking or trying stuff on. There is no obligation. You are just shopping around, thank you very much.
Take time to people watch. Take a walk in a park somewhere or go to a museum and just sit and watch. Observe other women your age - do some of them look better than others and why? What is it that makes them stand out from the crowd? Are they wearing a look you'd like to try? If you see someone at a store and you like her outfit, can you summon the courage to approach her and say, "Excuse me, but I love what you are wearing. Would you tell me where you shop?"
Make it happen
"How on earth," you will say, "am I supposed to find the time and money to do all this?!" Ah, but this is where the entire issue of balance comes back into play. When it comes to building your wardrobe, consider working with what you already have (or rather, what is left after the culling session) to create the foundation to build upon. By getting rid of the stuff that does you no favors and creating a capsule wardrobe, you are far less likely to just run out and buy the same thing over and over again.
When it comes to taking time for pampering and people-watching and money for haircuts and some new pieces to spruce up your clothing choices, think of it this way: considering all the time and effort you spent on your family to this point, haven't you earned the right to hand off the housekeeping duties for a day and do something for yourself for a change? Yes, the dishwasher might not get set up perfectly, and the laundry might not end up folded just so - leave it be. Tell your family you are taking a day off, and that's all there is to it. Sacrificing computer games and TV for a day won't kill them - I promise.
Set up a penalty bank for yourself (I've read about this in a book - this is a great idea!). It can be a box or a jar or an actual piggy bank - up to you. Any time you say or even think something down the lines of, "I am too old," or "I am not good enough," or "It will just have to wait until after
Below is a list of resources for all things fabulous and indulgent, in addition to the hyperlinks mentioned earlier in this article.
Lingerie and romantic nightwear
Old Durham Road
Hips and Curves
Home Bistro (and yes, they do have low-calorie and diabetic options)