Week 1: Motivation (Or How I Survived a Trip to the Fair)

Well, I’m one whole week into my reduced sugar challenge and I have to say it hasn’t been quite as bad as I expected. But that’s probably because it’s only been seven whole days and my motivation is still pretty high. I’m pretty sure that’s what got me through a couple of really big challenges this week, but as I near the end of a stressful week I am starting to crave sugar more and more. We’ll see how I feel around April 21!

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So, what challenges have I encountered, you ask? Let me tell you! First was a trip to the Arizona state fair with my parents while I was visiting them in Yuma. Now, before you say “Well, it’s just a fair, how bad can that be?” Let me remind you that THIS is a common sight (and smell!) at state fairs:

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Also, I should add that at this particular fair the claim to fame is the $5 jumbo cinnamon rolls, for which there was a line that wrapped around the huge warehouse hanger! A 20 minute wait! So….yea. I was a whole two days into the challenge so I was still pretty motivated. So while it was definitely a challenge, it wasn’t a true test-the-mettle challenge. But my experiences at the fair paved the way for me to distill my first lesson from the April challenge:

Lesson One: When you can’t have sugar, fat is your friend.

Yes, fat. Not too much fat, of course, but the right dose of the right fat can help me fend off those powerful sugar cravings. Fat, that precious substance that our bodies need to keep healthy but has been so demonized in our culture in the past few decades, triggers the same kind of satiety response in our brain as sugar. Our bodies crave fat in similar ways as sugar. On this challenge, I’ve learned that a moderate portion of some kind of fatty food is enough to stave sugar cravings for a while. Of course, since I’m trying to opt for whole and minimally processed foods that means that the fat I eat is not derived from potato chips or nachos. But a half avocado can do wonders for my sugar-starved brain.

Of course, there isn’t usually a fresh farm produce stand at most state fairs. So I coped with my time at the fair (and the excruciating time in the cinnamon roll line) by opting for choices that I figured would satisfy my urge without busting my sugar limit. While we were there, I opted for a couple of carne asada tacos, a dill pickle, a locally-made dried beef stick, and the most fabulous ear of roasted corn I’ve ever tasted.

tumblr_mcd171gnbs1rsfae9o1_400After my weekend to the Arizona was over, I came back and settled in for my daily routine sans sugar. Now, before the challenge my typical morning routine entailed making a (sweetened) cup of coffee and eating a (sweetened) cup of yogurt, which packed a whopping 22g of sugar. So this routine obviously had to change, and for the past week I’ve been opting for plain, no sugar added Greek yogurt and coffee with cream but no sweetener. And the result has not been that bad! I’m starting to taste the natural sugar in my yogurt as my tongue and brain get more sensitive. Also, this change in my morning meal has altered another fundamental part of my food habits, leading two the second lesson of the challenge.

Lesson Two: When coffee is not a liquid dessert, it becomes less appealing.

Before starting this challenge I would typically drink 3-4 mugs of coffee in a day. One when I woke up, another around 11am, another around 3pm, and sometimes another around 5pm. I have been under the impression that I’m just a caffeine addict who has built her life on caffeine stilts. But in the past few days I have only had a single morning cup of coffee, and nothing more, leading me to think that maybe my coffee addiction isn’t so much about coffee as it is about all the sweeteners I put into my coffee. Now that I’m not making my coffee into a dessert, I’m not only finding in slightly less satisfying, I’m also craving it less. I sometimes feel a need for a  pick-me-up in the 3pm slump, but I don’t feel beholden to coffee throughout the day as I usually do. But don’t get me wrong, I still love that morning cup of coffee. And I’m also starting to appreciate the taste of coffee as coffee even more.

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A weird development that I’ve noticed is that I am consistently staying under my 30g limit every day. In the past week I’ve clocked in anywhere from 10-15g of added sugar every day, so less than half of what I’m allowing myself. But, I don’t necessarily think this is cause for celebration. Because not only am I allowing myself natural sugar (in moderation) I’ve learned another sneaky lesson.

Lesson Three: What’s the difference between sugar and refined carbs?

I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is not a damn thing! After all, sugar is a simple carbohydrate. And I’m pretty sure that sugar and refined carbs are basically doing the same thing – giving us a big energy spike that sets us up for a big energy deficit. I discovered this lesson when I was having some strong sugar cravings and was stranded on campus without food. I needed to make a decision on what to eat, so I stood in the campus market and picked up an apple, a turkey sandwich, and some sparkling water. And while the sugar craving may have been defeated by just eating something, I noticed that the bread in the turkey sandwich was immensely satisfying. In fact, anytime that I have eaten bread in the past few days it sends little tingles to my brain and, sure enough, eventually I’ll crave bread AND sugar.

So, for me the answer is to just limit refined carbs too, because they make my sugar cravings much MUCH worse. And to be honest, bread just isn’t worth it.

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So, I’m seven days in and three lessons wiser. I’ve also noticed some positive changes too. First and foremost, I actually feel much more energized throughout the day (even without the extra coffee!). This is probably a combination of having stable blood sugar (which means I don’t crash) and opting for water or sparkling water as my go-to beverage. All this daytime energy is also helping me sleep better at night – I’m falling asleep faster and waking up feeling better. This creates a positive energy cycle: The stable blood sugar and water give me more energy, helping me to sleep better at night, helping me to feel more rested and have more energy the next day, and so on it goes.

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I also think I’m noticing positive differences in my skin, but it’s really too early to tell. I’ll know more next week. Also, the past two day have been R-O-U-G-H in the cravings department. I’ve never wanted a gummy bear more badly in my ENTIRE LIFE. So I have a feeling this next week is really going to kick my ass. But, I still have a pretty high level of motivation, so I think it will be okay. I hope!

Also coming up next week: an update on my challenge co-participants! I can’t wait to hear more about how they are coping with the challenge and share that information with you.

Till next week, friends!

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April Challenge: Reducing Sugar

I’m kicking off the second season with a challenge that I have decided for myself (rather than decided for me), and I think it’s going to among the most difficult challenges I’ve ever done! This month, I’ll be reducing the amount of added sugar in my diet down to the recommended level for adults.

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In this post, I’ll share the inspiration for the challenge, the goals and lessons I hope to learn from the challenge, what I anticipate to be the most difficult, and of course – the rules! But before I get to any of that, let me introduce my challenge co-participants! For this challenge I’ll be joined by my mom, Esta, and one of my closest friends, Melissann. They both live hundreds (or thousands) of miles away but will be participating nonetheless. I’m glad to have their support and, so far, they seem excited about joining in. I hope we all can share our challenges and triumphs together.

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Okay, on to the inspiration for this month’s challenge. I’ve been aware for the past few years that the food industry puts a lot of added sugar and salt into foods in order to keep them “low fat” and still palatable. Again, I’ve known this but, obviously, I just didn’t care. When I wanted something sweet – I’d just eat it. OR – I’d opt for the “sugar free” variety of the food, sweetened with sugar substitutes. For the past 2 years, I’ve known that I have been gradually increasing the amount of sugar I eat. But the increase was steady and came along with a more general decision to just stop obsessing over food. Women’s obsession with food and weight is not accidental, my friends (hint: that’s the patriarchy). And for a while I just decided enough was enough.I was going to eat what I wanted and love myself anyway. And I did! But now I’d like to try eating to support my body and its strength, not necessarily eating whatever I crave and definitely not eating in order to shame my body into submission. The first step in that process, for me, is dealing with sugar.

My go-to solution in the past has been to choose the low calorie but still sweet versions of food – the low fat yogurts and the carob chips and whatnot. These are foods that I can feel less “guilty” about (again, that’s the patriarchy) but are still sweet. But its time for me to just accept that artificial sugars are not the answer. When artificial sugars deliver sweetness on the tongue, it signals an oncoming sugar rush to the brain. But when the rush doesn’t come the brain craves sugar with a vengeance. For me, those powerful cravings can lead to sugar binges so derailing because my brain is going to get that sugar, dammit. The binges don’t happen right away, they might build up over the course of a day or a week. But when binges happen, they are often the result of a perfect storm: ongoing sugar craving + stress/feeling overwhelmed + opportunity = BINGE.

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That’s been my sugar formula for as long as I can remember, and my continued reliance on artificial sweeteners has only made the problem worse. So by the time I watched the awesome documentary, Fed Up, co-produced by the amazingly amazing Katie Couric, I wasn’t hearing anything I didn’t already know. But watching that documentary made me entertain a new possibility – maybe I am addicted to sugar?

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Now, I don’t make light of addiction nor do I throw that word around carelessly. Addiction is real and scary and an actual issue in our families, communities, and society. But, I think it is possible that sugar makes us behave in ways strikingly similar to addiction, but we as a society don’t see it as a problem because, well, it’s just sugar. But maybe it’s not just sugar? While there might not ever be conclusive evidence that sugar is the sole culprit in causing certain health problems, I think there is enough evidence to conclude that it’s probably a significant factor.

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So, when I watched Fed Up just a week after deciding to bring back the blog, I knew I had found a stellar premiere challenge for season two. Whether I’m addicted to sugar or not, I can’t say. But what I can say is that I’m tired of that binge-and-bust cycle of sugar, and I have been wanting to do something about it (and my overuse of artificial sweetener) for a while. Plus, I figure this challenge will be a good opportunity to be more aware of the kinds of foods I eat and how they make me feel, keeping in line with my general life goal of eating well for my body. So my goals for this challenge are:

  1. Maintain more stable levels of sugar day to day, rather than the peaks and valleys that come with binges and busts.
  2. Cut out artificial sweeteners and see if that makes a difference in my cravings and/or behavior.
  3. Keep myself from retreating to sugar when I feel stressed and/or overwhelmed. In other words, try not use sugar as a crutch for feeling better.
  4. Generally improve my awareness of my nutrition and food choices.

Now, here the rules. For the month of April, I will:

  1. Consume no more than 30 grams of added sugar daily
    • Sugar that occurs naturally in food is okay because that sugar is often accompanied by enough fiber and other nutrients to slow digestion and keep blood sugar from spiking too high
    • Therefore, fruits are allowed and won’t count toward the 30g ceiling
  2. Whole fruits are okay, but dried fruit and fruit juice are not
    • Again, the idea is to avoid high sugar spikes, so fruit needs to come along with fiber
  3. I don’t want to end up sugar-binging on fruit, so no more than 4 servings of fruit in a day.
  4. As much as possible, choose natural and minimally-processed foods, if only because food manufacturers don’t distinguish between natural and added sugars on food labels, making it difficult to track my 30g of added sugar.
  5. No “rolling over” of unused daily sugar grams into a weekly total. I can see myself starving for sugar all week so that I can have a “legitimate” binge on the weekend. Doing that is maintaining the binge and bust cycle, not challenging it.
  6. No artificial sweeteners. If I want a sugar substitute, I will use honey.

These are the rules I’ve decided for myself. I think they are doable. I hope they are doable.

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Over the past week, I’ve been paying attention to how much sugar I eat and where the biggest sources of sugar come from. For the past seven days, I’ve had an average of 50-60g of sugar a day, which doesn’t include the number of servings of artificial sweeteners I have in things like coffee and yogurt. So I’m going to be cutting sugar in half, and cutting sweets even more since I won’t have artificial sweeteners as a substitute.

And while I’m on the subject of coffee and yogurt, holy sugar batman! My typical yogurt choice (Dannon Light & Fit Greek and/or Greek Crunch yogurt) has anywhere from 7g to 12g (!) of sugar in one tiny cup! That’s almost half of my daily amount! And it gets WORSE! My typical coffee creamer (Coffee-mate Natural Bliss Vanilla) has 5g of sugar in every TABLESPOON! So that means that if I put two tablespoons of creamer in my coffee and couple it with a container of my usual yogurt – I’ve just downed up to 22g of sugar before noon. From my beloved coffee and yogurt! Noooooo!!!

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Well, the buck stops here. Everything I’ve read in preparation for this challenge has warned that when you cut sugar the first five days are the hardest. Especially if you’re used to having a lot of sugar, then in those first few days your brain will be going through withdrawal. The various sources I’ve read say to be patient with yourself as you’re likely to be more irritable and annoyed for the first few days. So, dearest friends, please be patient with me too.

I’ll check in next week to tell you all how it’s going. I’ll also try to get my co-participants to check in and maybe write a guest post. You’ll be hearing from us – wish us luck!

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Back At It Again: More Challenges Ahead!

Hi there! Welcome (back)! As many of you know, in 2014-2015, I started a series of monthly challenges and blogged about my experiences and lessons here. The challenges, given to me by my friends and family, varied from eating whole foods and meditating everyday to giving up make-up and disabling my iPhone. Each month posed a new challenge, both literally and metaphorically, but month by month I learned a little something more about myself and usually picked up some good habits along the way. It was pretty awesome.

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After taking a long break from the blog and the challenges, I’m ready to get back at it. I miss trying something new every month and reflecting upon/sharing my experiences. So I’m bringing back the blog and opening up my willingness to be a human guinea pig once again, taking your suggestions for a challenge and trying them out. I can’t wait to see what great ideas you all come up with. Bring it on!

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The rules this time will mostly remain the same. I’ll get a challenge and the issuer and I will sit down and decide the goals, rules, and purpose behind the challenge. I will then follow those rules for a month, sharing what I learn along the way, and conclude at the end of each challenge if the intended goal was met.

However, this time around I’d also like to share the love. With each new challenge, I will send out a message to my friends, family, and social network to see if anyone else wants to participate with me. If you’re up for it, you can participate at any level you want – from chatting/texting every so often, to writing a guest post on the blog if you’re so inclined! I think adding this social component is great because not only will it add to my own motivation, it can get others to experience new lessons and discoveries for themselves. I’ve always found that there’s strength in numbers.

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The second season of Thirty Day Endeavors will kick off in April.  I’ve decided the inaugural challenge will be one of the hardest yet – reducing SUGAR.

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In April, I’ll be joined by my mom as we both try to reduce our daily consumption of added sugar down to the recommended intake (about 30 grams per day). Over the next week, I am going to track how much sugar I eat normally and finalize the rules for April. I’m also probably going to have to avoid going on an anticipatory sugar rampage!

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So stay tuned, my friends! Start firing up your imaginations to come up with some challenges, and start reflecting on a challenge that you might like to join. 

Oh, and welcome to Season 2!

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What happened?!?! TV, Holidays, and Happiness

Hi there everyone! I know I haven’t posted since the beginning of November’s video blackout challenge. This is for two reasons:

  1. The November challenge is STILL happening (though, in a modified way)
  2. The December challenge made it very difficult to post updates

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Wait, wait, what do you mean the November challenge is still happening?!?!

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Let me explain. Remember way back in November, how I explained some of the ways I was preparing myself for the video blackout challenge (putting parental controls on the TV, blocking websites on my computers, and the like)? Well, I found some of those to be so helpful that I decided to keep them.

As you all know by now, I’ve struggled with my relationship with television for a long time. Part of that struggle, I’ve learned, are my own internalized beliefs about television that elicit feelings of guilt whenever I feel like I watch “too much” (though, admittedly, that threshold is fuzzy at best). But my own warped sense of television notwithstanding, I still feel like I watch(ed) more than was helpful for me or normal for most people. In November, I unplugged in a very serious way – no video media whatsoever all month.

I ended up listening to A LOT of podcasts and audio books. I also started and finished 4 books in November. I seriously stepped up my crafting game (more on this later) and spent more quality time with my friends. I realized that there were so many activities I enjoyed doing that had nothing to do with watching TV, in fact where TV actually got in the way of those things. Though there were plenty of times where I felt bored or lonely, there were also plenty of times when I felt perfectly happy and fulfilled.

This led me to a greater realization – watching TV (like all behaviors) meets many kinds of needs for me. It is an easy way to pass the time especially when I’m alone, hence why the two most common negative experiences of the challenge were feeling bored and lonely. However, TV isn’t the only thing that can meet those needs – so can going out with friends, talking on the phone, starting a project, getting lost in a good book, going to the gym, cooking an elaborate meal, learning a new craft, working, and the list goes on and on! By far the biggest challenge of November was not necessarily going without TV, but in identifying the needs that TV usually meets for me, and in confronting them during intense moments when I most wanted/needed TV as an immediate balm but couldn’t actually have it. In those moments, I really had to dig in and really think about what I needed rather than brainstorm ways to break through my own TV firewall.

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And that brings me to now. After November was over, I was sure that I wanted to keep giving the challenge a try, but to modify it so that I could watch some TV at certain times. What I ended up doing is relaxing the site blocking software on my computer so that I could watch online shows and movies during certain times of the day, but maintaining the parental controls on our television so that I wasn’t tempted to sit on the couch and veg out in front of the TV for hours. So far, I’m very happy with that choice. I think this will be more than a month-long challenge – but hopefully I’ll reach a point where I can meet my needs through other means so that the desire to watch television all but fades from my mind.

Now, on to December’s un-postable challenge!

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December’s challenge was given to me several (I mean it, SEVERAL) months ago by my long-time friend, Paul.

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Paul is one of those people who are just so cool, without even trying.

Back in the summer, I was chatting with Paul on the phone and telling him all about the blog and my latest challenge. His idea for a challenge was far away, but so very cool (as per usual, amirite?). He wanted December’s challenge to be about the holidays, more specifically, he wanted the challenge to be about simplifying the holidays and making them less commercially motivated. He recalled how, in prior eras, Christmas gifts were not about buying cheap things that someone didn’t really need. They were about showing care and gratitude. For most people, gifts were probably modest as well – just a couple carefully made or purchased items for loved ones.

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Paul wanted my holiday gift-giving to be motivated by the same spirit that came before the days of shopping malls and globalization – one or two home-crafted gifts worth only a modest amount of money (we settled on no more than $15 per gift) but worth much more in my time and effort. The idea behind the challenge was to make the act of gift-giving a slower, more careful and deliberate experience.  With this challenge, I couldn’t spend one afternoon at the mall and get a gift for everyone on my list. I needed to think ahead of time about what I would be able to make, what my loved ones would like to receive, and what supplies I would need. I needed to give myself plenty of time to make all the gifts (and re-make them in the event that I messed up). I had to invest more thought, care, and time into each individual gift than I otherwise would have. Since I was given this challenge in the summer, I had plenty of time to figure it out. By October, I began making all my gifts.

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Hence why I couldn’t post updates from the December challenge – I couldn’t post pictures of the gifts I was making because my family and friends would see what they were getting!

But the wait is over. Here are (most of) the gifts I made for December’s “Slow Down the Holidays” challenge, in no particular order:

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All in all, I am pretty proud of these gifts. I really tried to step up my crafting game for these, and not being distracted by TV in November was a powerful motivator. As I was working on each of the gifts, I thought about the person who was getting them. I thought about how much I hoped they would like them and silently feared that they wouldn’t appreciate them. It was so nice spending that time reflecting on my family members and friends, thinking about all the joy they bring to me, then trying to transfer that love into a homemade gift for them.

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So, as December winds down, I can’t help but think about what a great year it’s been, and how for the last 6 months these challenges have been the source of so much personal growth for me, even if only in the form of knowing that, no matter how ‘small’ the challenge is, I still learn something about myself and the world.

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In the new year, I’ll give you a re-cap of past challenges and what lessons/habits I’ve kept up as a result of those prior challenges. I’ll also tell you all about January’s challenge – daily acts of kindness.

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See you all in 2015!

Goodbye June, Hello July!

June has come and gone, which means that I will be finishing the No Makeup challenge and moving on to next month’s adventure! Before I tell you about next month’s challenge, I would like to wrap-up June with some final lessons and my makeup plan for the future.

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Overall, the no makeup challenge was much easier than I thought it would be. Going into the challenge, I really thought I would hate it. I felt so sure that there would be days that I didn’t even want to look in the mirror for fear of what I would see. But, delightfully, those dreaded days never came to pass. On any given day, my feelings towards my appearance might be happiness, pleasant acceptance, beaming confidence, general plainness, or indifference. My feelings never dipped below indifference – or if they did, it was for such a tiny flash of time that I didn’t register it consciously. I didn’t feel ugly. I didn’t feel flawed. I did feel imperfect, but blissfully so. Overwhelmingly, I felt gratitude. I felt closer to myself, and I repeatedly enjoyed showing that pure, unaltered side of myself to the world. And, dare I say it, I think I finally believe that though I’m not perfect, I really am beautiful.

I think this challenge has taught me some general lessons that I would like to share, because I think they really can apply to everyone. You don’t need to deprive yourself of makeup for a month to learn these lessons, but that’s what it took for me. I hope my experience can remind you of some general truths that you can use, even if only for a moment, to brighten your day.

You’re stronger than you think.

Throughout the challenge, I had people commenting that “they could never do that” or “wow, I would never make it a whole month.” People would also say things like, “you can get away with it, but I need makeup” (which is exactly what I would say before I started the challenge). To everyone who thinks they couldn’t do this challenge, or to anyone who has ever had a voice in the back of their head saying “You can’t,” I want to remind you that YOU CAN. You absolutely can. You are beautiful enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are disciplined enough. You are enough.

You are your own worst critic.

This one is pretty self explanatory. I can say, with certainty, that no one is scrutinizing you to the same degree that you are scrutinizing yourself. And if they are, ditch that pit of negative energy from your life. No one sees your flaws in the same way you do. That pimple on your forehead? It is not as big as you think it is. Those gray hairs? They are not as noticeable as you think they are. The wrinkles or brown spots? They do not age to as much as you think they do. This brings me to my next point…

No one else can take care of you like you can

You’re the best person to take care of yourself. You are with yourself all the time. You have spent your entire life getting to know yourself. You know how you think, what you want, what you’re afraid of, what you love, how you feel. You have the power to catch your own thoughts as they are happening. You have the power to challenge yourself. You have the power to validate yourself. Taking care of yourself starts with you. For a while now, I have been trying to get in the habit of taking care of myself. One of the habits I have been trying to practice is stopping negative thoughts. Whenever I have a negative thought about myself, I stop the thought and ask myself, “Would I say that to my best friend?” If the answer is no, and the answer almost always no, I do away with that thought and try to replace it with a friendlier version. Think about it – if you wouldn’t say something to someone you care about, why would you say it to yourself? During the no makeup challenge, this habit of self-care was invaluable.

Like most things, beauty is a feeling – and you can’t buy it.

I think we are often told that with the right product, we can become more beautiful. We buy makeup to highlight and cover up. But the make up itself is not the thing that makes us beautiful. We feel beautiful due to the feeling we get after we’ve put it on. We feel not beautiful because of the feelings we have when we go without it. But we’ve convinced ourselves of a reality that is confusing the cause and effect of makeup. Feelings (and habit) are what drive us to put on makeup in the first place. And in the process of putting on makeup (which is so much fun!), we transform those feelings. After our makeup is on, we feel beautiful. But makeup did not make us beautiful. It made us feel beautiful. In other words, make up is only a tool for transforming negative feelings into positive ones. You can buy makeup – but you’re not buying beauty. Beauty is a feeling. So you’re buying a tool, a way to access a feeling. And there are many ways to access a feeling; makeup is just one of them. Going without makeup forced me to find other tools, other ways to access the feeling of beauty. After a month, I didn’t need a tool, I just felt it.

The personal is political

Once again, the old feminist mantra rings true. In giving up makeup, I was giving up on a social practice that costs me hundreds of dollars, countless hours, and a ton of physical and mental energy every year. I also forewent participating in an industry that profits from cultivating then ‘solving’ women’s insecurities. I withdrew from a ritual that is taxing on the environment, unhealthy for my skin, and perpetuating of unattainable beauty standards. I disrupted the gendered, biased expectation that a woman needs makeup in order to look professional or competent. I rejected commonly held beliefs about what a woman needs or how a woman should feel. Our personal lives are entrenched within a web of social, political, cultural, and economic causes and consequences. This is something I’ve always known, but going without make up has strengthened my resolve.

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Sooo…….

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Going forward, I think my makeup routine will look a lot different. I’m not exactly sure about the details, but I’m fairly certain that my daily makeup will consist of a BB cream and some mascara. This will be a dramatic departure from the tinted moisturizer/concealer/foundation/tinted eye cream/pressed powder/bronzer/blush/eyeliner/mascara routine I had before. I’ll only go all out like that when I’m going somewhere nice for the evening. For one, I don’t want all that crap on my face for hours on end! And all that makeup starts looking cakey and gross after a few hours anyway. So no more!

In concluding June’s challenge, I just want to say thank you to all of you who have followed along and supported me this month. Your support means the world to me!

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Who’s ready for next month’s challenge?!?!

Next month’s challenge is going to disrupt my daily habits and technologically transport me back in time. For the month of July, I’ll have to go without something that has almost become biologically attached to my body. I use it for hours every day. I communicate with it. I procrastinate with it. I go to bed with it, and wake up with it. It is always with me, and I can’t imagine my life without it. You guessed it, next month I’ll be giving up my iPhone for Not-So-Smartphone July. Stay tuned for more details!!

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Day 7: Getting to Know Myself

It’s been a week of no makeup, and I’ve been through a ringer of emotions. Luckily they’ve been mostly positive.  So let’s break down the week.

Monday

I had to go to campus for a workshop and a couple meetings, which was then followed by dinner out with friends. Now, typically I would wear a full face of make-up for both occasions. The workshop was with other graduate students as well as visiting alumni of our program. I also had meetings with faculty and some of my students. I was a little nervous because none of the people I was interacting with had ever seen me without makeup. As I got to campus, I felt strangely naked. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve showed up to my department without makeup. I remember because on two of those occasions someone has said to me, “Are you okay? You look tired? Are you sick?” Which is really just a nicer way of saying “You look uglier than usual and I don’t know why.” So of all the (five) previous times I’ve gone to my department without makeup, it was because I was so rushed to get out of the house in the morning that I didn’t have time to put it on OR I was utterly exhausted from a late night of writing/reading/grading and, due to my delirium, simply didn’t give a shit.

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So when I showed up to my department on Monday, bare-faced and fully rested, things felt a little off. I was sure that I must have looked as if I was rushed or tired. I just tried to ignore it and get on with my day, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. After the workshop, I mentioned to one of the other grad students that I wasn’t wearing any makeup and that I felt weird about it. He leaned back a bit and looked me over, then said “Huh. I’ve never seen you without makeup.” I waited in dread to hear him utter that stupid candy-coated insult ‘you look tired’. But he didn’t. He just said, “Well I didn’t notice until you said something just now.” And with that simple, negligible sentence that he has probably forgotten all about, I was set. It made me remember that no one is actively scrutinizing my face as much as I am. For the most part, everyone is just kinda doing their own thing. And most of them are probably too worried about themselves to notice my lack of blush and mascara. And, for the record, if anyone out there is scrutinizing my face more than I am, I probably wouldn’t like them anyway.

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I eventually went to dinner with my friends and I felt slightly better about the whole thing. I still felt a little naked, like something was missing, but it didn’t feature as prominently in my thoughts. It was something to acknowledge and then move on, like realizing its cloudy outside or that your socks don’t match after you’ve left the house. What are you gonna do? Plus, on the way to and from dinner I put on some ABBA and rocked out to “Dancing Queen,” which shook off a fair amount of my negative thoughts. Seriously, if you’re ever feeling down just thrown on “Dancing Queen” and allow yourself to NERD OUT in awkward dancing.

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Tuesday – Thursday

With the initial difficulty of facing my students and colleagues without makeup over, it felt much more comfortable for me to go without makeup for the rest of the week. I absolutely relished in how much FREE TIME I had in the mornings. It normally takes me about an hour to get ready, and now it took me only 30 minutes. The only discernible departure from my ‘normal’ life was that I noticed that I was dressing and wearing my hair more casually during these days. Normally I wear my hair either down or in some kind of braided updo. I’ll wear dresses and long earrings too. But on these days I realized that I was dressing much more casually – wearing work-out pants  and throwing my hair into a bun or a simple braid. It wasn’t necessarily conscious at the time. However, once I noticed what was happening I started to reflect on it. I was feeling so proud of myself for getting over the challenge on Monday that I hadn’t realized that I was simply addressing the same issue in a different way. On Monday I kept feeling like something was missing, something was off. Once that feeling went away, I thought I had mastered it. But I soon realized that I simply adjusted my overall look to be consistent with a make-up free face. I normally like to look a little fancy, but something about having a bare face made me feel like being fancy just didn’t fit. This is, of course, ridiculous. You can dress as fancy as you want and still not have to wear makeup and, chances are, no one is even going to notice anyway. The idea that a woman needs make up to go along with the rest of her body is just silly.

All this is to say that, when I go out for dinner and drinks tonight, I’m gonna get fancy.

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Friday

Yesterday was full of revelations! My roommate and I were having a small party and, as I was getting ready, I desperately wanted to put on makeup. How do you have a party without putting any makeup on?!?!?! The idea was completely foreign. It just felt wrong. But of course, no makeup was the only way it was going to be. And, as you could probably guess…

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Eventually, in the company of friends and a few vodka sodas, I forgot that I had a bare face. A couple of people who knew about the blog asked me how it was going and how I was feeling. They were so encouraging. Eventually the strange feelings fell away and I found myself having pure, unadulterated fun while being makeup-free. And I never really felt ugly. I felt, oddly, free.

And that feeling continued as I went for a (very) late-night dinner with a friend. Maybe it was the encouragement from friends, maybe it was the vodka sodas, but I came to realize that, somehow, not wearing makeup had made me feel more confident.

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Now I know what you’re thinking – Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?? If you have ever seen any cosmetic commercial or watched any make-over show on television or basically existed in the American consumer society, you’ve heard the same message again and again – the right makeup can make a girl feel unstoppable. Well I’m here to say that the opposite is starting to occur for me. It’s puzzling to deconstruct, because I do have moments of feeling insecure. But in general, here’s what I think is happening – without makeup I am literally just putting myself out there. No mask, no enhancers, all (perceived) flaws on full display. It’s like I’m communicating to the world, ‘This is me’, and there’s something about that that makes me feel empowered. I don’t have to worry about if they’ll see my flaws or if I don’t look perfect, because I was never perfect nor flawless in the first place. And instead of covering them up and only exposing that side of me to people I trust, I’m letting everyone see that I am absolutely not perfect. And somehow, in that moment, it’s like I have nothing to lose. Suddenly I feel confident and capable. And those pesky ‘flaws’ start to lose their power. My blemishes seem less menacing. My oily skin seems more ‘glistening’. My uneven skin tone feels like it blurs. And as I realize this, I am also realizing that I am putting out into society an alternate narrative – ditching her makeup can make a girl feel unstoppable.

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Other Tid-bits Worth Sharing

1. People have come out of the woodwork to support me and send me articles about going make-up free. That is awesome!

2. Friends and family have confided that my challenge is making them reflect on their own relationship with makeup. I’m humbled by that. If my challenge can help others reflect and become self-aware, I’m ALL about it. I’m grateful for their support and I’m happy to support them too.

3. Ladies, if you’ve ever worn makeup while at the gym then you know the feeling of having to ‘pat’ or ‘blot’ your face with your towel when you get a little sweaty. If you wipe too hard you’ll smear that shit all over your face. Well with out makeup, I thoroughly wipe down my face with that towel and it feels GLORIOUS. Which is good because, without my makeup soaking up all that sweat and caking up, I’m sweating more and somehow still don’t feel gross about it.

4. No more being dainty about touching my face or my face touching other things. I watched The Normal Heart and bawled my eyes out without having to daintily wipe my tears so as to not mess up my mascara. I hugged a male friend wearing a black shirt without worrying that I would get foundation on his shoulder. I got something in my eye in the middle of the afternoon and could flush my eyes with water freely. I don’t have to worry about smearing or smudging.

5. I’m anxious to see what happens next week as I go even further into the challenge. I am excited but a little fearful that this positive momentum may die off a bit. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying myself and learning a lot!

Week 1 is down, bring on Week 2!

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Day 1: A Make-Up Memoir

Before I launch myself into June’s “No Make-Up” challenge, I think it’s a good idea to reflect on the role make-up has played in my life so far. Putting on make-up has been part of my daily routine for almost half of my life, so going without it will be quite a change. Let’s start from the beginning…

At some point in 1999, my grandmother decided it was high time for my sister and I to have some education on lady-like behavior. My sister, a year older than me, was in junior high and I was about to start the 7th grade. We were not a particularly rowdy pair of girls, so we didn’t need etiquette training to tame us in any way. Our grandmother has always been a woman who exudes beauty and confidence, probably from the day she was born. She is strong, opinionated, and loud, and she moves through the world with a most-certain grace and elegance. As my sister and I were beginning to come of age, she saw an opportunity to pass down the lessons of etiquette that she had used all her life. We went over to grandma’s every week for a new lesson. (If you’re picturing a scene from My Fair Lady in your head right now, you’re on the right track.)

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“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”

We learned all the basics: keeping good posture, how to cross your legs, walking elegantly (a tough one for me because I had the tendency to bumble awkwardly), table manners, curling and styling your hair, and (you guessed it) applying makeup. The makeup lessons were my favorite. I had been fascinated by makeup for all of my conscious young life. When I was very young I would watch my mom sit at her vanity in the morning and long for the day when I could put on my own makeup. In fact, when I was five or six, I was constantly getting in trouble for sneaking into my mom’s makeup drawer and putting on her makeup. In the afternoons after school, I’d try out her face powders and blush and make a mess of my eyelashes with her mascara. I always got caught, though. Like an idiot, I would leave it on after my mom got home thinking she wouldn’t notice. (Seriously, who does that?)

Fast forward to 1999, and I was more than prepared for a make-up tutorial. My mom had given us her blessing that we could start wearing makeup regularly, within reason, and I was totally on board. Wearing makeup signaled growing up into womanhood, but it was also more than that. Makeup, as I understood it, was how women became beautiful. I didn’t think that women without makeup were not beautiful, but something about the process of putting on makeup was transformative – a beautiful woman could become EVEN MORE beautiful. As a chubby, awkward girl with thick glasses and next-to-zero confidence in her face and body, I was grateful to finally have a tool to make myself beautiful.

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Me in 7th grade, the beginning of my new makeup-wearing reality

From that point forward, make up was part of my daily life. As I grew out of my awkward phase, I gained more self-confidence in myself with and without makeup. After I had started high-school, I was just another teenage girl going to school, dating boys, going to football games, etc. But because I had made makeup part of my daily routine early on, I was constantly wearing it. It became as normal to me as getting dressed or taking a shower. Makeup was a simple, taken-for-granted, part of my life.

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Yes, I was in a scholarship (read: beauty) pageant. NBD, moving on…

After high school came college, where I became more and more secure in myself and my identity. I had a strong sense of who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. I also had an amazing social support system. It was during this time that I started to wear less makeup – but I never did away with it entirely. I still had a hard time going to class or to study in the library without makeup on. While it had become a less prominent feature of my daily look and daily routine, it was still very much part of how I wanted to see myself.

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This is the face of a confident soon-to-be college grad

In the past five years since graduating college, a lot has happened in my life. I moved to China for a while, moved to San Diego, started grad school, started and ended relationships, made new friends, started teaching, and generally settled nicely into adulthood. I feel more secure and positive about myself now than at any other point I can remember. My life is not without its problems, pain, dilemmas, and anxieties. But I do feel like I have grown tremendously as a person in the last five years.

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Awesome!

Well, except for one thing: I still wear make-up, uncritically and with necessity, almost every day. Now, to be fair, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing make-up everyday. Makeup is a useful tool for feeling beautiful and enhancing your natural beauty. However, I think the way wear makeup everyday is problematic. I wear makeup everyday simply because I wear makeup everyday. It’s a habit. Something I do uncritically without thinking about why or what it does for me. But over the past few weeks, I’ve had to think about it…

Aside from the habit, I think I wear makeup for a number of reasons. I wear it to accentuate the features I am most confident in. For example, I like my eye color and eyelashes, so I’ll wear makeup that enhances those two things. I also wear makeup as an accessory, something to match with an outfit for a complete look. But I think the most prominent reason I wear makeup, and the most problematic, is because I don’t feel like one of those girls who can get away with not wearing makeup. I feel like I have too many flaws that need to be smoothed over if I am to be considered passably pretty. I have __________ (insert perceived flaw here): too many blemishes, uneven skin tone, under-eye circles, asymmetrical eye shape, pale lips, and the list goes on and on…

I can’t entirely blame myself for feeling like I have so many flaws etched onto my face. We live in a society that is constantly telling women to buy a product “specifically targeted” for _________ (insert perceived flaw here). A society with air-brushed models and celebrities so caked in makeup they look unreal. I know this is true, and yet I somehow feel that my flaws are real. They’re not figments of my imagination fed to me by a sexist society – they are real. Or so I tell myself, anyway.

So yesterday, as I put on make-up for the last time before June, I took a couple before and after pictures to see, with a camera that doesn’t lie, just how different I look with and without makeup. I pulled back my hair so not to have any other aesthetic distractions. I took the pictures without any filters and in the natural light of my apartment. And when I viewed them both side-by-side, I was amazed at the difference. Not the difference between how I actually look with and without makeup, but the difference between how different I felt with makeup and the reality that I didn’t actually look very different at all. I always feel so different, so much prettier, with make-up on. And while makeup certainly is enhancing, it is not transformative. After makeup, my face is still my face.

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So, as I begin to go into June, where I won’t be wearing any makeup, at all, for the entire month, I’m nervous and excited all at once. I’m excited to have the change of pace in my life, disrupting a habit that may or may not be helpful for me. I’m excited to learn to appreciate the natural beauty I have without makeup, and to stop looking at my face and seeing all the flaws that I believe (and have been told to believe) are real. But I’m nervous too. I’m not sure how many negative feelings are going to come up in this process, and I’m not looking forward to feeling insecure or ugly. I’m nervous about how I might be perceived by others, especially people who have never seen me without a full face of makeup. I’m a bundle of emotions. But overall, the emotion I feel most is hopeful.

This morning, I handed over my entire makeup collection to Elisa, as per the rules discussed here. Before handing it over, Elisa suggested I take a picture of all my makeup. I laid it all out on the table, and was surprised at how little makeup I owned. But when Elisa came in the room to see (as someone who doesn’t wear makeup), her reaction was “Whoa!”  I guess everything depends on your perspective.

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So here’s looking forward to June – a month without makeup.