A Month After TME

Actually... I'm kinda sick of doing my hair.

That probably has more to do with the fact that the dreds need a lot of maintenance, and my actual hair is showing-- my real hair is easier to deal with than the fake stuff. I need to go spend another couple hours in the chair to get them tightened, and I am NOT looking forward to how bad that shit hurts. Also, I don't really have four hours or whatever to watch TV or movies while Heather fixes my head-- I can't study in the chair, cause I have to keep my head up, which means holding my books etc. in front of my face. Lame. On the other hand, if I keep the dreds, I can grow out my hair without any crazy in-between phase.

With regards to makeup, I find that I have fun with it still, but that I often don't bother to wear it because I don't have time or whatever-- which I NEVER EVER would have done if I hadn't gone without makeup for nine months. Makeup is optional now, which is really nice.

All in all, I think I got the results I thought I would end up with: I don't put too much emphasis any more on how I look, but I appreciate the days when I have the time to get all dolled up. On the days when I don't, it doesn't really bug me any more.

The party was OK-- I switched the date at the last minute, so a lot of people were confused or unable to come. Still, there are a few pics to be posted, which I'll get to. Life has been NUUUTS lately: Less broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident, I tried to reconnect with someone who is hard for me to deal with (I sorta gave up on that-- it was taking way too much energy), my classes are BRUTALLY heavy homework-wise, and I'm still trying to recover all the damage from having my wallet stolen. I've sort of been hanging on by my fingernails to life in general... but, I'm relatively happy.

I still enjoy wearing headscarves. :)



You guys... I feel like a flower that has burst into bloom, or a tree that has borne big, juicy, happy fruit.

I'm unsure whether this is because TME is over, or because I'm turning thirty, but the combination of the two did something really remarkable for me. As a woman in America (and prolly as a man, too), we all know that there's this stigma around turning thirty. I felt it when I decided to start this project, that dread of facing the fact that I was no longer "in my twenties" which meant I was no longer young. I know, it's stupid and makes no sense, but let's be honest: that's how we think, way down deep in our animal midbrains. We think that somehow when you cross that threshold, you're fat and lame and no longer relevant, or are supposed to have it all figured out, or whatever. Thirty = old.

But combining my thirtieth with TME made me look forward to turning thirty, and even better, it helped me learn to accept myself as I was gradually and without having clothes or makeup to hide behind. It made the last year of my twenties one in which I learned to think I looked just fine without all the extra stuff, thank you very much. It reduced my Big Scary Thirtieth Birthday into what it really was: just another day. It forced me to face my fear of not always being young and beautiful and helped me focus on other aspects of myself over a long period of intentional work, instead of having thirty "thrust" upon me.

In short, TME made my thirtieth birthday a coming-to-fruition day, instead of a falling-off-the-tree day. Look at me, all glowy:

 Now remember, that's not my real hair. It was a gift from The Less-- which would have cost over $2000 if he had been paying full price. This is NOT sustainable for me. (Well, my bangs are real.) And yes, I acknowledge that this is another form of "fakery"-- it's not MY hair. But the way I see it is, I feel bloody gorgeous like this, so I'm gonna go with it. Tonight I'm going out in a short dress and some new boots Mom got me for my birthday, and Less will take pics, which will be posted. Oh yes.

The other thing is, I fully believe that the universe supports you when you have faith and go out on a limb in the service of bettering yourself or the world; if that's true, then the universe (God, as I call it) has met me more than halfway. I grew spiritually and emotionally, and now, on the other side of TME, I have a relationship where I get to have this incredible coming-out party and all this crazy-ass hair, two augmentations to this experience I never would have had otherwise-- and the experiment itself was part of what drew him to me in the first place.

You know what I was thinking? What if I wrote a book about this, and other women could choose to undertake TME before their thirtieth birthday? It made turning thirty a highly positive rite of passage for me-- which, sadly, is not the case for most women. Many of us deny that it ever happened, or try to ignore it when it does. It really is just another day, but for me, it's the day I get to emerge as a happier woman, inside and out, and I can't wait to celebrate. How great would it be if there were a movement towards making the unacknowledged milestone of turning thirty into something to look forward to, instead of dread all through one's twenties?

What if I could share this with other women? Would you read a book like that, one that walked you through and supported you in designing and undertaking your own Modesty Experiment?

The party is tomorrow, comments book and all. I can't believe how great I feel.


Is pain beauty? Or is beauty pain? I think it's the second one. Definitely the second one.

So my awesome boyfriend, Less, has badass multicolored dreds, courtesy of The Hair Police's Heather. Less had offered to pay for some nifty streaks in my hair from her as a b-day gift. I was thinking, "Sure! Lemme do something different!" My appointment was yesterday at 2:30. Here's what happened.

The Hair Police have this awesome way of threading REALLY brightly colored streaks into someone's hair-- so no dyeing and no resultant damage, and the colors are purer than pure. Cool, right? Unless you already have dreds, you get them woven into your hair on the lower layers so they blend, and they can't add too much length-- otherwise, they look totally stupid, like, you have your regular hair, and then BAM, there's this looooong streak of purple or something down to your butt. Dumb.

Well, I'm a white chick with no dreds, and my hair is about down to my earlobes in back and to my nose in front. I don't have much hair, so the streaks were going to be woven in in the back under my real hair. I was so excited to be done with TME, though, that I decided to let the stylist go a little crazy. Hair is supposed to be fun, right? (At least, is usually is for me.)

The stylist told me we'd go for an hour, which would be about 20 streaks, and then we'd see where we were. Well, an hour turned into 2. And then four. And then twelve. And then... 18.

Yeah. 18 hours. When the streaks were put in, they looked really really weird with my natural hair. So the stylist gave me more to make them blend... and more. And more. And then, before I knew it, I had class to go to-- at 8AM-- and an entire head full of dreds.

It's not done yet-- I had some stuff I needed to get done, so I'm going back on Saturday to get the length reduced and the last extensions dredded. But that stylist, man, she's DEDICATED. Here's what I have so far:

Is it wrong that I... actually... kinda like it?

In any case, I'm going back to get them trimmed so that they blend with my natural hair length a little better-- so, I'll have chin-length dreds. People may make fun of me for having this kind of hair (i.e., not mine), but whatevs. I'm just happy to be having fun with my hair again! Oh, and this kind of locking doesn't destroy your hair, so I get to keep growing it out!

I'll post more pics when it's done, and of course, there'll be pics of the party.

Now my biggest issue is, How in the hell am I supposed to catch up on all this work after losing 18 hours to this, and another whole day to sleeping? That's the rough part-- I hadn't planned on spending two whole days on my hair. Well, stuff won't get done with me sitting here blogging...


Two Days. TWO. DAYS.

So we had originally scheduled the party for Friday, but it's Saturday now-- which gives me more time to prepare. I already have my dress, of course, and my hair's got some WILD stuff going on. Wait til you see!

It's funny-- ending TME is all I've been thinking about for the last two weeks, but I apparently still suck at planning. I gotta get my clothes and makeup back from Noel still... on the other hand, I spent part of yesterday with a face mask on (like, the clay stuff) and tweezing my eyebrows.

I feel like a big release is on the way. I feel like I really have been waiting for this for nine months.


I Was Struck Dumb By Something Today:

I have to make a hair appointment if I want to reveal a decent haircut when I'm done with this.


Not sure how I feel about that. Hm.


Ten days. Ten days. ZMGZ, ten days.

So it's been forever since I posted; this has to do with my recent lovestruckness, and classes having started on 8/8 for me.

More than that, though, it's really just that I'm used to this now, and don't have much more to say-- except that I'm looking forward to it being over. Not just because I miss exposing my hair and arms and stuff, but because in my case, dressing modestly has become a real pain in the butt. Used to be, I just spritzed my hair with water, blow-dried it, and was done (this was when I had short hair, of course). NOW, I gotta find a hat/ scarf that matches (woe is ME!); plus, it's friggin hot down here, and when classes started I began having to walk to and from the bus/ class/ etc., and when you're dragging a backpack with you... it gets gross. Just sayin.

Also, in ATL heat, not being able to wear tank tops while covering my head... man. Not being able to wear tank tops, period, in ATL heat... miserable. Utterly miserable. I keep wanting to slip on a sundress, but noooooo. I had to be all counter-cultural! Pbbbbbt.

So once again, I seem to be finding that dressing modestly, while simpler sometimes, is in some ways more of a pain in the butt than dressing "normally." You still feel the need to match, and you still feel self-conscious when your hair pokes out from under your headscarf.

In ten days, though, I'm having a Labyrinth-themed masquerade to celebrate my finishing this thing out. I'm SO EXCITED, both about the party and being able to go back to dressing "normally," that it actually keeps me up at night. Wheeeee!


The End Is Near

I've been trying to think of new things to observe about modesty that I haven't before, and the truth is...

I think I've settled into this, and I'm fully used to living modestly.

Don't get me wrong: I still (yes, still) dream at night of having long, flowing hair. I still wish I could expose my arms (especially in the summer in Georgia... guuuuuh) and I'm officially tired of covering my head because it's a pain in the butt to tuck up all my hair. But at this point, I'm pretty used to it. The other day I did my hair and used some of the random makeup I had lying around for fun, and I was surprised by how much fun it was. Even after all this, getting pretty is still enjoyable for me.

Now I'm planning for the afterparty! WOOOOO! It'll be 9/17 (the day after I turn 30, but I'm going to drop the experiment the night of the party cause it'll be fun for me); contact me for details, if you'd like to attend. I'm going to set up an anonymous comments book for people to write in regarding how I look to them, any changes they've seen, and anything else they'd like to observe but might not be comfortable saying to my face. I'll reprint my results here. Some comments will be positive, and I anticipate some being negative (in fact, I hope a few are, because I want to know what people REALLY think of this whole thing, and the anonymous book will give them an opportunity to do that).

Any ideas for the afterparty? I have a party planning buddy and I'm sure she'll comment (NM, you know who you are!), but do YOU have any ideas?


Warning: This Blog Post Is Mooshy

I apologize for being gone for so long. I've been struggling with how to write this post, because there are a lot of factors involved. However, if there's one thing I've learned from endless analysis it's that endless analysis is actually pretty useless. So I decided to just siddown and do this thang.

I've fallen in love.

The reason I've been hesitant about writing this post is that the object of this experiment was NOT to meet someone and fall head over heels for them-- in fact, it was to stop worrying so much about what people (and after the breakup with MF, men) would think of me if I wasn't dressed up.

Not only was I NOT trying to meet anyone, but I had committed to focusing on myself and school for awhile-- not in a self-improvement way, but I had decided to stop apologizing for who I am and just put it all out there. Hence, the recent blog posts being all hardcore. I decided, "The hell with what people think. I'm gonna be me, and I can control that (but not who I meet and whether it works out), so that's what I'm going to do and we'll see where I go."

And of course, that's when he showed up.

When we met, I was (of course) dressed modestly. When we went out, I was dressed modestly, and I don't know if it was the company or my attitude or the way I was dressed or what, but I wasn't posing or tense or trying to look prettier or worrying about any of that, like I usually do. In fact, we initially tried NOT to date and just be friends, cause there's some drama around him right now.

He told me that to him, this bare-faced, covered "me" was just what I looked like-- no big deal, just me. He read all my blog posts (I think he actually did read all of them) and told me that my commitment to shedding unnecessary entrapments was powerfully attractive to him.

When I finally showed him my hair, he confessed that he could see why some men felt as though a woman's hair was something only a husband should see. He said he felt special because he was allowed to see it, and touch it, and was honored that with him, I went around with my hair all sticking up unabashedly.

I'm at ease with him. We have fun just walking around downtown, or driving to and from our respective places, or making grilled cheese at 4AM. I love him deeply and respect him as a person, and I know he feels the same way about me. He loves what I'm trying to do with my work and is endlessly supportive, and calls me on my b.s. when I'm deluding myself. We communicate, we disagree, and I feel even more strongly myself with him in my life.

He's also an objectively "good" man. He's honest and has a good job; he pays his car insurance on time and calls his mom on Sundays and has spent a lot of time trying to be the best version of himself that he can be. He's fiercely loyal and yet lets me have my space, which is vital to me. He's gentle and respectful, but he rides a motorcycle and plays in a band. He reads more than I do, and he's both brilliant and funny.

This is us at the Plaza Theatre on Saturday:

Yes, we are goofy. I know. As usual, no makeup, hair covered, blah blah blah. He actually bought me that hat earlier that day.

I can't foretell the future, of course, but I can say that there's something deeply significant about the fact that I met this man when I took off all the masks and stopped trying to be what I thought someone else wanted. (Remember how hurt I was about this nonsense?).

This is also proof positive that-- and pay attention here--

I didn't need makeup and flat abs to meet someone amazing... and you might not either. In fact, it might be getting in your way.

Cause see, the thing is, this isn't about how I feel about him (which is, as I'm sure you can tell, quite strongly). It's about the fact that I met him while I was walking around as "naked" as I can be without getting arrested. I found him when I was the simplest version of myself, the most "me" I can be-- and that made an incredible man fall in love with me.


Going Towards the Pain

When I was trying to decide whether to go into seminary, I took a course called CPE-- Clinical Pastoral Education. It's required for almost every single seminary student, but laypersons can take the first unit too, if they are interviewed and approved. The unit involves 8 hours a week of "clinic time," where you go and visit patients (and their families) and about 12 hours a week of "class"-ish time, which consisted of weekly group meetings, weekly one-on-ones, and an actual lecture (plus one-page "reflection papers" every week).

One of the first chaplaincy axioms I learned was, "Go towards the pain." Most of us instinctually avoid pain-- which is why, when someone brings up their dead husband, our reaction is often to say, "He's in a better place," or change the subject, or hastily utter my personal favorite*, "Everything happens for a reason."

It's a normal instinct, but as chaplains it was our job to get over our own discomfort with pain in order to help the person or people look their grief or anger or sadness in the face. You know how, when you pour your heart out to someone, they usually go, "Oh, yeah, that happened to me once...." You appreciate that they're relating, but have you ever had someone just say to you, "Wow, that must have been truly awful," or had them repeat back what you just said? That's going towards the pain. It means lending someone your strength so they can explore something that they, at that moment, might not have the strength to. It's believed, in the chaplaincy discipline, that this is the only way to heal someone (although it's not always easy to do, and we all struggle to do it).

I learned something during CPE about pain: it's absolutely precious, and vital to our physical and emotional health. Pain is a red flag that tells us something is terribly, terribly wrong, it's our body's (and our heart's) way of bringing our attention to a problem that needs to be dealt with, like, NOW. The other funny thing about pain is that it won't go away unless you address it somehow. With the pain of grief, a part of us is dying, and we need to give that pain special attention so that we will eventually heal-- otherwise, the pain goes on and on. With depression, we can ask ourselves what's hurting us in our lives (maybe we've just lost someone?), or how it is that we're living a life that we no longer want. The anger at hurt feelings is a red flag telling us we need to speak up or look inwards, or both.

OK, so, if pain is vital and instructive, and if sometimes going towards it and sitting with it is so good for us, what's the worst thing we can possibly do when confronted with pain?

Cover it up. Deny that it's there.

Sometimes I feel like our national credo is, "Deny, deny, deny." It causes many women pain to chase the beauty standard, so what do we do? We offer surgery to those who can afford it, moving the culprit not to an obsession with youth and beauty but to your saggy butt and developing wrinkles, all of which-- hooray!-- can be covered up. We wear makeup, we spend our days off shopping, putting us in more debt which keeps us working those jobs that force us to sit down for nine hours a day staring at a computer screen.

Our healthcare system is utterly failing, and while I won't pretend to know exactly why, I can't help but notice that about 75% of the patients I saw in the hospital were either slightly or very obese. Honestly. It's no secret that Americans are fat... but why? We're suffering, all of us, because of our food (fast food etc.) and our lack of activity (nine hours a day sitting at a desk), and it's costing us billions and billions of dollars. Have you ever noticed how much more expensive it is to eat healthfully than to go to WalMart and buy chips? The less money you have, the more overweight you are likely to be. How did that happen?

We watch TV to dull the pain of having no sense of community outside of work and where we shop. We drink too much so that we can touch our emotions. I feel like every time I turn around I hear someone saying, "I'm/ my mom/ my dad is bipolar II." Does it seem to you like EVERYONE is "bipolar" nowadays? Now, some people genuinely are and should get help for that (not that they would have an easy time of it), but with this rash of putting moody people on medication and stamping them with a stigma like that I have to ask: What's going on? It's gotta be one of three things: either normal mood swings that are occurring in response to the world are being pathologized; psychiatrists are diagnosis-happy; or, the world we've made is literally driving us crazy. Whether it's a result of bad parenting or weak children or lame clergy or whatever, most of us are on medication of some kind so that we can get through the day. How can we possibly keep ignoring the implications of that?

We managed, through collective ignorance and a misplaced sense of nationalism, to wound an area of the world so badly that they spent decades planning an attack on our soil to get our attention, and then we went over there and killed more of them. The economy collapsed, and we're all in an enormous amount of debt because of our collective cultural emphasis on the pursuit of more, and our worship of money (think about Wall Street-- people like that wouldn't exist in a culture that didn't reward avarice, and as long as we were comfortable in our own lives we didn't care what they did). We're losing two wars (some say three) and an enormous number of Americans are struggling to meet their basic needs. The rest of the world is summarily fed up with us. (Don't believe me? Try going overseas and see if you can ignore the latent hostility.)

I'm not saying that we deserved 9/11, or that we're somehow paying for our sins in the economic collapse. But we appear to be in an awful lot of pain, both from ourselves and others, and we seem to be devoting all our energy to denying that there's anything wrong-- with us, with our culture that worships money and beauty, with our foreign policy, with our general approach to life. In psychiatry, if someone persistently believes that the world is unfairly judgmental towards them, that everyone else just hates them because they're awesome, you know what that's a sign of? Sociopathy. Which is more likely: That we're doing it right and everyone else hates us for it, or we're doing it wrong and other countries, our bodies, our very selves, are trying to tell us so?

The wonderful thing about "touching the pain" in chaplaincy is that it's always possible, and it never (contrary to the patient's completely normal fear) destroys the patient. I can't tell you how many times I helped someone see that their pain was coming from a persistent habit of theirs, something they would never have known if they hadn't had the courage to sit with their pain instead of blaming or running or engaging in any number of other methods we use to avoid feeling anguish. They changed their lives because they went towards the pain.

Pain is an invaluable indicator that change needs to take place, and we all as individuals have the power to choose whether to cover it up, numb it, or sit with it fearlessly, knowing that it can't kill us. What can kill us (and is-- obesity, psychiatric issues, 9/11, etc.) is an unwillingness to admit that we're hurting. And while I'm saying that yes, we do need to change the culture in which we live, it's not The Man's responsibility to change it for us. It's our responsibility to ask ourselves what we're learning from the forces that surround us, and how we're contributing to a set of values and ideals that clearly isn't working any more.

And then we get to decide: What can I do differently? If you ask that question and take that responsibility, wonderful, amazing things are happening on the other side of your fear.

I promise.

*And by "favorite," of course, I mean, "I wish those words would never be allowed together in a sentence ever again, ESPECIALLY out of the mouths of religious leaders."


Shameless plug

I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but: I need a job. Do you know anyone who is hiring?

I have experience in customer service (3 yrs), hospitality (1 yr), professional cleaning (2 yrs), media (4 yrs), administrative support (2 yrs), copywriting/ editing (1 yr), and various and sundry temp jobs. I'm in seminary, so social justice/ church-related work is ideal. I also read Tarot cards and do dream interpretation, and I do parties with this skill for $30/ hr. (I'm not psychic, just perceptive-- I can't tell your future, but you'll be surprised by what I can tell you.)

Email me, please, if you know of anyone who is looking to hire someone like me. Lots of work experience and energy, and I know how to behave professionally (I even have suits. Oh yes.).


Pulling the Cork Out of the Bottle

I recently went out on a really great first date (ish-- I insisted on mostly paying my own way, since we were trying to go really slowly). As we were getting more comfortable with each other, we started talking about how hard it is to change. I can't remember how we got there, but at one point my date said to me admiringly, "Yeah, but with your experiment, you're changing who you are. I mean, who DOES that?" I felt genuinely complimented (which is rare-- usually I dismiss compliments), but it stopped me in my tracks because it has never occurred to me to think about this in terms of changing who I am.

That's because I haven't, really. I've just made the real me more apparent on the outside, and maybe I've changed my perspective on some things. But who I am at my core-- someone who tries to live authentically-- is what allowed me to do this in the first place.

It's like singing. I sang opera professionally for a few years in high school; I had an amazing voice teacher up in Chicago, a woman who really knew her stuff. She got me to a really polished place, and I was only 15, her youngest student. But when I moved down to Florida, I got a new voice teacher who was male, and he didn't quite know what to do with my voice. His slogan was, "Singing is thinking"-- placement (where you resonate your sound), breath support, posture, etc. The emphasis was on thinking about the "right" technique, and if you were thinking right when you sang you'd sound good.

He was a really great guy, but gradually my technique worsened; the more strained my voice became, the more he leaned on the "singing is thinking" precept (not in a mean way-- he just didn't know how to coach me except to try the same things, only harder). Soon I lost my comfort with my upper register (and I was most comfortable between E and A above the staff), and my voice was tired after almost every time I sang. The harder I tried, the worse I sounded. I stopped even trying for the high notes in chorus. Instead of feeling talented, I felt like every time I opened my mouth I was doing the wrong thing.

Additionally, as someone who grew up with the notion that who I was and what I felt wasn't good enough, I developed a habit of trying to sound like other people. My teacher didn't notice it, and between trying to imitate technique and trying to imitate sound, my singing became almost difficult to listen to. It was so inorganic, and part of the reason that I didn't take my singing career very seriously was that I didn't connect to the music. The whole endeavor had become another exercise in trying to be someone else-- a shame, because I had a lot of talent.

I remember the first time I really fell in love with my own voice. I was home alone, maybe 11 or 12. There's that line that Tuptim's  (The King and I) lover sings, "Alone in our secret/ Together we sigh/ For one smiling day, to be free..." I sang that line over and over again because I liked how it sounded in my voice, and gradually I felt something shift on the "free." My placement changed because of the way that vowel resonates, and as I repeated the line I was shocked by the way I sounded-- like a Disney princess (before they were Disney Princesses). I sounded the way I had always wanted to sound, and for a little girl to sound like Ariel to herself... well, that was a big deal.

I climbed the stairs, which served as my favorite resonating chamber, and sang it over and over again. "Alone in our secret... together we sigh, for one smiling day, to be freeeeeeee..." I couldn't stop. It was so beautiful, and so much fun.

Years later, as I watched The King and I last week, I thought to myself, "Where did I lose that love of my own voice? Where did my voice become something detached from me, a way of pretending to be someone else?"

It was this thought that occupied me on Tuesday, when I walked around my apartment, assumed no one coud hear (though I'm sure they could-- when I sing out, it's loud), and sang an entire song while reminding myself, "This is just like speaking, in your own voice. This is YOUR voice, that YOU'RE communicating with. Don't think, just sing, just for the love of singing."

I sounded better than I have since I was 16.

I wandered around the apartment singing "Taylor, the Latte Boy." I had thought my voice had been ruined forever. As it turns out, it was there under all the layers of disguise I had learned to pile over it. I sang all evening, and my voice was never tired. I repeated lines that sounded and felt particularly good, relieved beyond description that my original instrument was still intact, even after all those years of poor conditioning. When I felt myself begin to tense up (in my throat, for all you non-singers), I bent over and petted the cats, or looked at my email, still singing. I had thought my voice was gone forever. Turns out, I never lost it-- I just forgot how to love using it.

Singing isn't thinking. It's NOT thinking. My first voice teacher used to make her students do all kinds of crazy choreograpy if they were singing a difficult piece, and I never understood why. Now I do: if you're not thinking about singing, then you're free to actually sing. A Facebook friend called it, "Pulling the cork out of the bottle."

Isn't it funny that we need lessons to learn how to do what comes naturally?

That's all I'm doing here: pulling the cork out of the bottle. How I think about myself has changed because of this experiment, but it's just a process of learning how to do what comes naturally to me. I'm becoming more my original self, clearing away all the notions about who I should look like ("not me") and what will make me likeable ("if I become more like everyone else").

I hear this is what happens as one grows older. If so, thank God for aging!



I cannot WAIT until I can wear short skirts and tank tops again, because I swear I have never been so friggin hot in my life. The headscarves make it worse.

Covered women... you have my respect for somehow not smelling like a goat all the time, and not being famous for heat-induced rage, and... functioning. In all this covering.


Communal Identity and Acquisition

After five months of this, I still hang on to my clothes as though they're a part of me.

Remember the clothes I put in bags near the beginning of TME? (It Begins... Gradually.) I haven't missed those clothes, and when I have, I've gone through the bags and found whatever I was looking for. So in the recent move (from one part of Decatur, GA to another) I decided that no matter what, I was going to give those clothes away. I had originally planned to just deposit the bags at Goodwill or wherever, so I didn't have to see what I was giving away. I didn't trust myself not to keep pieces if I actually had to look at them.

I got to the drop box, and the damn bags wouldn't fit.

So I had to take out the clothes, a few pieces at a time, and cram them in the slot. I actually had to look away to stop myself from keeping stuff, even though I hadn't worn these clothes in over five months, and some items hadn't fit me since I was in undergrad. I was shocked by how sad I felt. I was afraid that at any moment, I was going to burst into tears.

Part of it is that I hang onto clothes that are too tight while telling myself that as soon as I lose weight, I'll wear them. Yeah, the only time in all my memory that I've lost weight was six months after I was laid off in NYC and was forced to move back to Tampa. Before I moved, I had to stretch all my food, so I ate a lot less. In fact, I didn't even realize I had lost weight until Mom commented. I didn't get to actually enjoy the weight loss either because to me, I looked the same-- and it had been achieved because I was in a really difficult place.

Gawd, I always made light of how sad and lonely it is when you realize that some clothes are never going to fit you again, to have to give up on the way you used to look. I didn't realize it would be this hard, and I feel terrible now for acting as though letting go of how easy it used to be to look... well... young... was a small thing that people should just get over. No wonder the weight loss industry makes so much money.

Giving stuff away is tremendously lonely. Shopping feels like building community, but stepping away from all that feels like I'm totally alone (even though I absolutely know I'm not, and I have the support of you all, too). I still need to give away a lot of items, because I don't actually want to have all this crap cluttering up my little apartment; I've tried to do it alone and I can't, so I'm going to call someone and have her come over to support me.

I don't think it's a coincidence that we find something we need-- community-- in acquisition. I'm not just talking about shopping, but about the way we identify with our possessions. I mean, we're conditioned day in and day out to equate our very souls and personalities with the things we buy and own (do you have an iPhone? Why? Is it because it works better than other phones, or because of how it makes you feel about yourself?). And sometimes making the decision to give these things away feels like seeing pieces of myself slide into a huge metal box, and I can barely watch. Again, Shane Claiborne:

"I know plenty of people, both rich and poor, who find themselves heavily burdened by the lifeless toil and consumption we put upon ourselves." - Irresistible Revolution

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It's also important to remember that these changes are not made in a spirit of, "Having stuff is evil because the world is a bad place," or "Wanting to look nice is selfish and wrong." The issue I have with the market economy is the ways in which true human needs are connected with things that are not only unnecessary, but actually hurt people, and the planet itself, in ways that just aren't worth the cost anymore.

In other words, I could go shopping with my girls to feel like I'm part of a cultural community (easy to spend money); I could go online and buy clothes that make me feel like I'm part of a trend (even easier); or, I could have my friends over for coffee, or make dinner with them. All of these fulfill a very real and irreducible need, but one costs me more, and the universe less. Do you know what I mean?

If after five months of self-denial in the service of letting go of my attachment to the way I look I still have trouble giving clothes away, what does that tell us about the strength of the forces I'm trying to free myself from?

Cause it really shouldn't have cost me that much just to give away a bunch of friggin clothing.


The Simple Way

Things are different on the interwebs. I knew that. I just didn't know HOW different.

I reactivated my profile on a free online dating site, and suddenly there are eligible bachelors left and right who are fascinated with my views, and this experiment... and suddenly, me. See, I've always thought that what makes me sexy is my personality, but I had no idea what a difference putting my personality out there in one big chunk (a profile) would make. I just talk about my views and what I want, and talk about the experiment, and of course there are a few pics...

And man, I have NEVER gotten so much exposure for this blog. I get at least one long, passionate message per day about someone's struggle with appearance and (more often) religion, how they have XYZ view but no one else sees it that way (except me, apparently). They're pleasantly intrigued by the (perceived) conflict between my rather liberal views and the fact that I'm going into ministry. It's been a relieved flood of, "TOTALLY! You're so unusual, let's talk about that!" And I would love to, but much to my utter delight, it turns out I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

In fact, there's a whole movement afoot. Oh yes. The Simple Way is one of these movements, and incredibly, not only does it align with my religious and ethical views, but it also aligns with the Experiment.

Shaine Claiborne in his book, Irresistible Revolution, has this to say about the changing landscape of religiosity in America:

"There are many false prophets (and false profits) out there, and all kinds of embarrassing things have been done in the name of God. Religious extremists of all faiths have perverted the best of our traditions. But there is another movement stirring, a little revolution of sorts. Many of us are refusing to allow distorted images of our faith to define us. There are those of us who, rather than simply reject pop evangelicalism, want to spread another kind of Christianity, a faith that has as much to say about this world as it does about the next.... There is a movement that is bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of." (Emphasis mine)

So what does this movement look like? In broad strokes, it looks like simply following Jesus, but not in the way we've come to think of it. Here, "Following Jesus," means actually leaving all your worldly things behind to live with and work for and help the poor. It means leaving megachurches that spend $200,000 on a stained-glass window of Jesus for their sanctuaries; it means spending time not in youth groups with velcro walls, but in taking those youth out to actually interact with kids their age who live on the streets and helping them with their homework.

Overall, Claiborne is advocating for voluntary poverty so that we cause no one to suffer from our materialism, and then living in community with our neighbors (yes, even and especially the drug addicts and single mothers) to get our needs met. For years now, I've been joking that I want to go live in a cave so I can get out of a way of living that just seems more and more ludicrous to me.

That said, I am NOT ready to take the steps Claiborne advocates.

However, I stopped eating meat years ago because of its impact on the environment and the rest of mankind. Then I started this experiment, and I somehow have a lot more money in my bank account because I no longer spend it on cosmetics, cosmetics that are basically just more crap we don't need. I'm supporting the beauty paradigm less, and suddenly I find that I'm so in love with life that I barely have time to date... which of course, drives guys wild. (Mwa ha ha.)

I've taken steps towards being a "new kind of Christian" as Claiborne puts it, without realizing that many of us are choosing to do the same. We are looking at the costs of our perfect lives and wondering, "Is my having access to fast food worth the cost to the ecosystem?" Is "The American Way" worth the dignity and lives of more than 75% of the world's population? More to the point, is this really Christian?

Um... NO. Sorry. Love of material wealth and oppression of the poor = bad. So sayeth the Big J (I'm paraphrasing), but we refuse to see that we're no longer the oppressed; we're the oppressors, and those who know Jesus' message are the ones who should most know better. Our problem is, we don't want to hear that message because we know that in order to live justly, we have to give up a lot. Kierkegaard said:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly... My God, you will say, If I do that my whole life will be ruined."

As I read this book, I'm thinking about TME, and how I plan to end it. At first I thought I would just go back to how I was before, but with better self-esteem; I thought I would be more conscious of my footprint on the world, but I'd still go back to thinking about my hair all the time and worrying about my makeup. But now... should I do that?

Knowing what I know after a year of Christian Ethics and Economics courses, and seeing my views reflected in a movement that I respect more than I can say; being a member of the kind of church I've always wanted to be a part of (Praxis United Church of Christ), would it be right of me to go back to a ton of makeup and hair styling and stuff? Feeling so strongly about this movement towards simplicity and responsibility, would I even enjoy the beauty rituals any more?

All this being said, I still drive a car which requires maintenance. I shop for food (because I don't know how to raise buffalo) and use electricity to run this big, shiny computer. I am not ready to go live on the streets, or quit school.

But I AM ready to claim my spot as a member of a movement that realizes that we don't have to live like this, under the tyranny of words like "pretty" and "wealthy" and "successful." All we have to do is make the choice to put it down; for some of us, that means leaning on God, or Jesus, to give us the strength to do it.

What a feeling! I'm just gonna say it: Praise God!

The Red Nose of Courage

I got tired of being mislabeled as "conservative" or "traditional." So I did what anyone would do:

I got a big honkin hole punched in my face.

OK, it's not big. In fact, most of my friends, who knew I was considering this, didn't notice it. When I asked them they said, "Oh my god. You did get your nose pierced! It looks like it's always been there." I take this as a compliment, like when I dyed my hair red and no one noticed, but when I went back to blonde they said, "Why not go with your natural hair color?" I would say, "This is my natural hair color." And some people actually said, "No, you're a redhead. Aren't you?" I thought that was hilarious.

So here's a pic:

I had to go with b/w because the camera keeps washing me out, which makes it impossible to see the stud.
It's on my right side. With apologies to Mom, I like it, and I'm glad I did it.

What's interesting, though, is why I did it. I was talking with a friend over coffee at a local coffee house I LOVE because it's kinda funky and eclectic without being totally hipstery. We were discussing how she had chosen the Div school we both go to because she is a lesbian, and she wanted to be challenged to grow out of her comfort zone-- so she chose a more traditional school. Ivy League schools (and northern ones) tend to be super progressive and gay-friendly, and she actually wanted to learn how to be surrounded by more conservative Christians, and talk to them openly about her differing views. (This girl is awesome, guys.)

Anyway, I was talking about how frustrated I was by people looking at my appearance and hearing about my life in seminary, how it always seems to amount to, "Oh, you're one of those. I gotta go." I said that I was considering piercing my nose as a way to combat those instant assumptions, and I phrased it so that it was clear that I thought it was silly of me to consider doing that just to influence what other people thought. She looked at me a second and said, "Well... I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to communicate on the outside who you really are, and the way you look right now, you fit right into a 'conservative' box. Piercing your nose would make a significant dent in that image."

We talked about her intentional choice to "look" like a lesbian, because it was how she felt and she is proud of who she is; she also realized that this choice would lead to others seeing her a certain way and that she wouldn't be able to pretend she was straight.

She told me that she, too, struggled with assumptions based on her faith, but she has something on her side (sorta): she's a gay Christian. Right away, people go, "Huh. WTF does THAT mean?" She's outside of boxes immediately, or at least confusing them. We discussed how all of us have a need to look like we feel, and she helped me let go of my guilt for spending $40 just to slow people down on the Assumption-Train.

So I went and got my nostril pierced. It barely hurt at all, but of course, I had had it done years ago, so I was ready. It was red for maybe an hour.

I. Feel. Great.


Dear Change: WTF? Love, Lauren

I hate to admit this, so don't tell anyone.

The Modesty Experiment is a LOT harder when you're single.

Since breaking up with MF, I haven't really cared much about meeting guys-- mostly because it was a difficult breakup, and I haven't felt ready to make myself vulnerable to a new relationship. But lately (like, in the last week) I've found myself wanting to meet guys that give me that fluttery feeling-- I'm not ready for a relationship, but for the first time since the breakup I'm thinking about what I want again.

I just wanted reassurance that I am attractive, assurance that I didn't need when I had a partner (not only because he told me I was gorgeous all the time, but because I didn't care if anyone but him thought I was gorgeous). I have felt guilty about this, but I think that as a woman, it's important that I feel beautiful, and maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

I grew up with my brother and I was raised by my dad, so in a houseful of men I was... well... a mess a lot of the time. I thought it was unfair that boys got to ride around shirtless: I understood that breasts were the issue but, I reasoned, I wouldn't have them for another few years. What was the difference between me and boys? So I rode around on my bike shirtless at, like, eight. I remember not brushing my hair so often that I had a knot at the nape of my neck that my mom had to cut out with a razor.

I was also chronically fashion-inept. I was not allowed to pierce my ears, and because it wasn't really OK to care about trends (my dad was overly counterculture), I was frequently painfully behind the times. I had a pretty terrible bowl cut in the fourth grade, and there appear to be pictures of an entire year in which I wore my hair slicked back with gel. As a girl. Yeah.

Dad didn't stop me because he didn't know any better. But then, when I was ten, he started dating a wonderful, wonderful woman named Jenny. She was a widow with two daughters who were well-liked and well-adjusted, and Jenny understood what it was like to be a girl. She took me to the mall to get my ears pierced, and dealt with the fallout from Dad later. She took that hit for me, and we weren't even related.

One day she was taking me somewhere in her blue van, and I was wearing those pants girls wore in the 90s with elastic that went around your feet-- they were like tights, almost. You were supposed to wear your socks over them.

The thing was, they had gone out years ago, and I was wearing my socks under them. Yikes.

As we pulled into the garage Jenny, in the most wonderful way possible, somehow explained to me that no one wore those anymore, and that I needed new pants. I must have said something like, "But why should I care how I look?", and she smiled warmly at me and said, "Because you're a girl, Lauren, and when you look good on the outside, you feel good on the inside."

That one statement has stuck with me forever. It has changed my life.

TME has taught me that balance is the key: it's OK to feel better when you're put-together, but at the same time, beauty can't be the only thing you love about yourself because then when you don't feel beautiful, you don't love yourself. By the same token, I have always felt that my personality is the most attractive thing about me, but many people won't get to know that personality unless they're attracted to the outside... and that's just how people work. Jenny helped me understand that being concerned with your appearance is not always frivolous or vain, that it has a deeper significance, and that if how you look effects how you feel, then it's OK to care about it.

Dad eventually broke up with Jenny. Years later, after I had moved to Florida, I got a check for $200 in the mail when I graduated high school, and it had her address on it. No note, just a check; I have no idea how she even got my address in Tampa, but it must have taken some detective work. She had remembered how old I was, even though I hadn't seen her in over six years. I went to her house that later that year, but no one was home.

I heard a few years ago that she died of pancreatic cancer, leaving her two girls, who were so instrumental in giving me balance in my male-dominated home life, without parents before they reached 25. To this day, I regret never telling Jenny how much she changed my life.

So, as of right now, I'm dedicating this blog to her. I don't know if they have internet access in the afterlife (who would their service provider be? NOT VERIZON), but still...

Jenny, after years of trying, I feel beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside, and I understand and accept my need to feel both of those. I hope you can feel my love from wherever you are.


New headscarf...

FINALLY, a headscarf that doesn't slide off my damn head! Short hair makes it hard to tuck it up under the scarf, but the wig caps from The Style Underground help a ton.

Can't wait to show this off! Many thanks to Julie at The Style Underground for this adorable addition to my headwear options.


So... What DO you believe, then?

"It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. It makes you wonder what else you can do that you've forgotten about.- Lester Burnham, American Beauty (Written by Alan Ball)

Most of us spend an enormous amount of time obeying rules we don't really think about. The less we examine them, the stronger they seem to become, and it could be argued that this is how cultures evolve.

More and more often, people ask me about my faith in ways that give me little to no time to give them an accurate idea of what I believe. They'll ask me, in uncomfortable tones, "Well if you don't believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and you're not going to be a priest or a nun... if you're here at the bar/ club/ party but you'll go home and read the Bible... what do you believe?" It's a getting-to-know you question, a version of the, "So what do you do?" part of the discussion.

Now, they mean well when they ask me this question, but what they don't realize is that just because I'm in seminary doesn't mean that I have The Answer. Yes, I am aware that the church has done terrible things, in many cases very very recently. (It's a shame that I share a label--"Christian"-- with these people.) No, I do not hate Muslims or Jews, and I agree that gendered language has no place in discussions of faith. I do not hate my body, nor do I believe that sex is shameful. In fact, I believe it is sacred, holy, part of our joy as human beings. (Why would God NOT want us to enjoy something so enjoyable? Makes no sense! I rest my case, somebody call Sweden and tell them I'd like my award in cash, NOT check.)

Yes, I agree that the word "Christian" has come to mean something that is the opposite of what Christ might have wanted. No, I am not closed-minded, celibate, gay-bashing or a teetotaler, nor did I love W. simply because he said he was a Christian. In fact, I disliked him all the more because of how he furthered the general public's dislike of us.

Most importantly, I am not the only one who is tired of surprising people.

If there was one thing that we can all agree on, it's that Jesus was telling people to think outside the box. To question the assumptions that we don't even realize we labor under. To resist the urge to sell our souls (I think this is what the story about Judas was really about: he sold something he believed in because he was desperate for money, something we're asked to do in one way or another almost daily), to question, to risk, to point out the bullshi*t when we see it and have the courage to live differently.

What is the nature of God to me? I believe God is unending growth. A constant challenge, the opposite of complacency. That's all. There are aspects of the Jewish tradition which equate God with creativity, and I sure wish I could find the paper I wrote about that because I could sound so cool but I can't, so you'll have to take my word for it that greater minds than mine have defined the Divine as the force that makes new things.

I believe that God is made manifest in the urge to push the boundaries and challenge our fears, and so in this sense TME is evidence of God's hand in my life without my ever thinking of it that way. I've surprised myself, and I did it by paying attention to what scares me and then pushing myself to cross the lines that formed much of the structure of who I believed myself to be.

I've surprised myself, and it is indeed a great thing. It's made me wonder what else I can do that I've forgotten about. It's given me faith in myself, something that's been a long time coming. It's made me finally, after years of trying, find the discipline to start working out regularly; it's made me manage my finances more responsibly because I'm no longer coming from a place of fear that I can't keep up somehow. I borrowed my roommate's mandolin and finally, after years of training in music so that others might notice me, I'm finally just making sounds that I want to hear.

A new friend said something to me on Wednesday that stuck with me. He peered at me over the soy sauce and said, "Lauren, do you know what the difference between conceit and confidence is? Conceit comes from a place of not believing you can do a lot; confidence comes from a place of knowing you can."

In my life, I've been guilty of a lot of conceit without knowing how to turn it into confidence-- but TME has surprised me. It's been a manifestation of God in my life that has nothing to do with saving souls, or equating my OK-ness with the blood of an impossibly holy person, or restricting myself based on cultural ideas of how a "religious" person conducts herself. It's given me self-respect, something that is taken away from us all too often, especially as women in a beauty-obsessed culture.

It is my statement of faith.

Unfortunately, there usually isn't time to say all that when someone asks me, "So, what do you believe?"... so I give them this blog address, and just have to hope that they read it.


Oh, the Places I Can't Go!

While I haven't been actively kept out of any physical place since I started dressing modestly, I've noticed that it's prohibitive in several ways, most of which have to do with... well... partying. Or having fun. Or meeting boys. Let me explain.

This past Friday was "Candler Prom," an end-of-the-year student banquet. Everyone dressed up a la the red carpet. I couldn't wait to go, both because I love to get dressed up and I LOVE LOVE LOVE to dance... until I looked at all my formal wear and realized that none of it, not a single piece, was modest.

The long dresses all had spaghetti straps, and the dresses with covered shoulders were all too short. They were all fitted, and all very sexy. There seems to be a sort of mandatory connection between looking "formal" and looking "sexy." I could have worn one of my dresses with something on top, but I looked like an old lady. That's ok, I thought. I'll just go shopping.

But I couldn't do that either. I would have had to buy an entirely new formal outfit (maybe something from the Indian boutique, I thought) and a new headwrap (preferably from this site). These two things together would have cost me over $100, and I sure as hell don't have that just lying around, especially not right now.

So I couldn't go to prom. Sigh.

Instead, I went to the after-prom party at a bar, and that's when things got really weird. This is the same bar I went to when I was first starting the Experiment (see In Da Club, Wit Da Peeps) where I wouldn't look at the waiter. I noticed, perhaps because of a recent draught of Boy, that there sure were a loooot of hot guys at this place. Awesome, I thought. I'll work it.

Now, I've never had a problem meeting guys (mostly because I'm a woman with a pulse who can carry on an intelligent conversation. It don't take much, ladies and gentlemen). But this evening, I watched them look right through me again and again. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt with lacy stuff at the collar, a knee-length skirt, heels, and my cute grey hat. I looked put-together and pretty, but not conventionally "sexy," and it made a huge difference.

I met some cool people, though, and they invited me out to an underground dance party the next night. SWEET! I thought. I get to get mah dance on! I wore a skirt with a long slit up the side (ok, I cheated), a fitted but elbow-length shirt, and a really cute hat with a brim.

I had a much easier time here. The crowd were mostly in their thirties and the DJs were world-renowned. The venue, an enormous warehouse with a wicked sound system and lots of crazy lights, reminded me of some of the parties in NYC. It was awesome, and I danced solo (which I can't do at most clubs. People look at you funny.) All in all, the crowd was unconventional, really into the music, and mostly black. Some women were hanging out of their dresses, but come to think of it those women were all white girls with not much going on other than their flesh. Really.

I think this calls for a comparison in the service of coming up with a thesis. 

1) Bar: Lots of white, somewhat middle of the road-looking people. The girls were on display, and I was the only girl there in a hat. The boys had much, much less interest in me than I'm used to, and I'm pretty sure I haven't acquired some deformity that makes me hideous in the last four months. No dancing, nothing to do but play bar games and talk to people. No cover.

2) Dance Club/ Party: Very few white people; mostly very polished, professional-looking black people and a few hispanic women thrown in. Thinking about it now, I did not see one head of long blond hair. People were expressing themselves on the dance floor (as opposed to trying to put themselves on display) and the people I met were from all over the world; I was looked at by guys. Maybe it was because I was one of about three white women, but I don't think so because they only stared when I danced. Cover: $20.

Now let's look at the messages implicit in the scenes.

1) Bar: If you want to be considered attractive in this world, you have to show skin. Even if you're pretty (as I believe I am), if you're not on display the men won't see you at all. Meat-market feel. Not much fun for me.

2) Dance Club/ Party: If you want to be considered attractive in this world, be an individual. Dance like no one is watching. Get into the music, and don't get sloppy drunk. All about ME having fun, not looking like I was having fun so people would talk to me.

The thing is, demographically I align with the first place; but being outside the "mainstream," as in the second place, buys one more latitude in what is considered attractive. Ideologically, I am way more at home in the second place.

So what does all this mean? Well, whether it "should" be the case or not, most males in my demographic want to see skin first, and then they'll take a chance on getting to know me. If I want to reap the benefits of having access to these men, then I have to play the game.

I can choose not to as a way to take a stand against the beauty myth or consumer culture or whatever, but the bottom line is, I pay the price. I can't look "conservative" and expect people to still see me as "normal"; to people who look like me, from a distance I seem a little scary. (Please don't ask me how I know this. Suffice it to say, someone was so freaked out by my liberal views coupled with my conservative dress that I thought his head would explode, and the whole thing turned out so weirdly it was almost comical.)

I have a choice to make. What am I willing to live with: talking a big game about how consumerist culture makes women into slaves but then dressing like one -- paying with my sense of integrity -- or walking the talk but narrowing my appeal?

I am ashamed to say, I have trouble choosing.

There are rewards and sacrifices to "playing the beauty game," and there are rewards and sacrifices for standing up against it. I think that most women, because laziness and apathy have become virtues in American culture, just accept the messages forced down our collective throats about what gives us worth and give up our sense of value as whole human beings, not just beings whose worth is determined by who finds us "suitably f*ckable" (see Will I Be Pretty?). We do this without realizing what we're really giving away. This works out fabulously for the consumerism that defines us, because it keeps us spending billions each year.

So my thesis is this:

There is always a price to pay, however I choose to present myself. What am I willing to sacrifice?

What are you willing to sacrifice?


This is an OUTRAGE. Seriously.

I was getting ready for school this morning and heard this on Morning Edition. As I have said before, I am not in favor of enforced covering. If a woman chooses -- truly chooses -- to cover, that is her right.

Shouldn't it also be her right to decide whether to uncover?

France's Anti-Burqa Law

The two women interviewed covered voluntarily and will now be forced to conform to what Sarkozy and those who support this law are more comfortable seeing. They'll be legally obligated to expose parts of their bodies that they have chosen, for spiritual reasons and of their own human volition, to cover.

One woman, speaking of her niqab, said, "You are sheltered from all onlookers and completely cut off from society."Again, these are women who have chosen to cover, have opted to protect themselves from the eyes of others. Who, among women, has never gotten sick of being stared at and appraised all the damn time? What is so wrong with wanting to be "sheltered from all onlookers?" 

The second part of her statement is a little less comfortable for us to relate to, but is a desire to be "cut off from society" so different from those days when you say to yourself, "I wish I just didn't have to deal with... the world"? I realize that this is not a perfect comparison, but even so, shouldn't an individual be able to choose whether or not she wants to participate in the goals and ideals of the society she lives in?

In my opinion, this is a human rights violation equivalent to mandatoryenforced hijabThe government (with a male at the helm) is telling women what they can and cannot wear, and if a government official asks a covered woman to show her face and I.D., she must do so or face a fine and take "a civics class," as though women who were educated would never choose to cover. How is that different from telling a woman that she must wear hijab, or be penalized?

"Sarkozy says the niqab and burqa isolate women and take away their humanity. The French immigration minister called the burqa a 'walking coffin,'" says NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, but I don't think this is really about liberating women. These women's preferences for how they choose to expose or cover themselves have not been taken into account. This is about what those who look at covered women want to be able to see. These women's modest choices are being forcibly ripped from them like a woman's t-shirt at an out-of-control frat party, and it's just as violative.


Powerlessness and Physical Beauty

Well folks... sometimes things don't go the way you want them to. You can try and try, but sometimes, sh*t just don't line up, and you have to make a choice: do I keep trying to change this? Or do I let it go and go on with my life? Sometimes, you gotta take the second one.

Have you ever had to watch a friend self-destruct, or stood by while a parent married someone awful and then let them destroy him or her, or watched a relative drink themselves past the point of salvation? Yeah. It's a nightmare, and it's one we all, at one time or another, have to live through. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, and maybe you know what it's like, during the weeks or months or years leading up to that realization that you'll never be able to save someone from themselves, or be able to contain the damage a mistake you made wrought, or change someone so that relating to them is easier for you. During that time, when stuff is falling apart but you can't stop it, sometimes you feel helpless and guilty, and that's a terrible combination. Think Atreyu trying to pull Artax out of the Swamp of Eternal Sadness: "Don't give up!" And the damn horse gives up, and you're left to grieve your loss, the one you both are and are not responsible for. You led Artax into the Swamp, but once Artax had given up there was nothing you could do or say to save him. You're forced to watch as something you love dearly sinks slowly out of sight while you cry and plead and haul on the reins until it's gone.

Where's a luck dragon when you need one?

I noticed, as I've said before, a correlation between feeling angry and wanting to break the experiment. But in the tumult of the last few weeks, I noticed something else: the more helpless I felt, the stronger the urge to go buy stuff became.


As I've gotten older, I've become more and more comfortable with claiming my power in the world. I apologize less, put up with less b.s. in the name of keeping the peace, and feel far less inclined to buy clothes that I feel are trendy but uncomfortable. Basically, I feel more comfortable in my skin, more capable, as the years go by. But I felt small and powerless as Artax sank into the mud, and I reeeaaaally wanted to go out and buy a bunch of new clothes and makeup. I even found myself looking for makeup to buy at CVS, just to feel better. I gave myself permission to break the experiment, because this, I reasoned, was an emergency.

But then, while looking at shelves and shelves of reds, mauves, greens, browns and whatever else, the darndest thing happened. I suddenly thought to myself: "I only want to buy this because I feel bad. But if I spend this money, all I'm doing is changing my physical appearance in a way that no one will notice in order to make me feel more in-control of my life-- and I'll be out $12."

Suddenly, I had absolutely no desire to buy anything. Once I'd named the monster, all its power was gone. I walked out of CVS with not a damn thing I didn't need.

Is there a correlation between women being in an inferior position in Western culture, and our desire to be "beautiful?" I may not be able to make that guy quit creeping me out, or avoid the sense that I need to overcompensate in the board room because men just don't take me seriously (don't fight me on this, I know because I worked at a corporate law company in NYC), but by golly I can do my makeup really well, and I can dress so that I'm using my beauty to get what I want anyway.

Is this true for you? I think it might be for me.


Support and Self-Image

Things have calmed down finally, personally and with school, and I find myself feeling much better.

Another reason occurred to me regarding why I wanted to retreat into makeup and "hotness" while my personal life was in such an uproar: MF has been my biggest supporter in the experiment. If nothing else, I know the most important person in my life thinks I'm beautiful, and that gives me the guts to explore. Having that support backing me up made me so much more secure, and when it was shaking a little I got scared again.

Fortunately, now that things are calmer I can venture out onto that limb again with less fear. This evening some peeps are coming over to hang out in the hot tub at our complex, and I was all ready to relax with them... and then I realized that I couldn't let them see me in a bathing suit, and I'd have to cover my head. Hmm. I could have worn a shirt and skirt with a bathing suit underneath and a ball cap, but... seriously? This saves me from comparing myself to... whomever. Saves me sucking in my tummy, as if anyone cares whether I have tummy fat. So I'm missing out on hot tubbage, but I'm also missing out on an opportunity to tell myself I'm not thin enough.

In unrelated news, I worked out reeeaaaaally hard today, in large part because I think it's helping! I haven't lost weight, but my arms look better and so do my abs (or, they look better underneath the extra flesh). It feels good to exercise control over how I look in ways that are also good for me, vs. spending money I don't have on cosmetics.


Anger and Self-Image

This week, MF and I have been fighting, and it's effected the experiment in very unexpected ways.

It's been the kind of fighting where you're so upset that you just keep making it worse every time you talk, so we've been talking less. No fun. I started sleeping alternately fifteen hours at a time, and then not at all for three days. I couldn't focus on anything that didn't involve distracting sounds and images, and I craved human contact but found myself on the edge of rage and tears alternately every time someone asked me how I was doing. In short, I was so angry and sad that I couldn't do anything but be sad and angry.

I wanted to put on something that made me feel sexy, make myself up, and do my hair so badly that I thought about it almost as much as I thought about throttling MF. I mean, I felt like I needed to get all hottified and be looked at (or feel like I was being looked at). It was during this period that I finally caved. I used concealer and lip/ cheek stain when I went to class, and no one noticed but I felt so much better. I also did my nails, which was comforting too. I alternately dreamed about miscarrying a child, and having hair down to my elbows. I bought a dieting journal for the first time in my life, and have pretty consistently used it.

I think this is interesting. Does it mean that spending a bunch of time on how I look is a valid coping mechanism, or that I bury my anger in hotness? And the dieting thing-- I've never done that before, but I felt a powerful urge to exercise (no pun intended) my anger somewhere, and I channelled that into control over my body. Are anger and the self-punishment of adhering to impossibly high standards of beauty related? I ended up coping by working out really hard and drowning my pain in dancing as well as bending the experiment (and there may have been some alcohol in there... bad, I know), but I got through it without reverting to other, less healthy coping mechanisms which I continually felt the desire to engage in. I won't tell you what that coping mechanism is, but some people stop eating, some overeat. Some get totally wasted and get hurt, and some sleep around. Some get high on whatever, others hit people and get arrested. These are all ways of dealing with the kind of rage that it physically hurts you to contain it, and they're all ways of hurting oneself. I wanted to self-destruct... and every time I had that urge I went back to the gym.

Was this a healthy way of dealing with my anger? I felt great about what I'd accomplished, but is it ever a good idea to "punish" yourself?

I haven't been updating lately because my resolve, in the midst of all this conflict, is faltering and I didn't want anyone to see it. In New York, I caved when I was going out to a bar to see a friend who is pretty into image, and I couldn't stomach seeing him again for the first time in two years looking all washed-out and stuff. (See, in NYC you don't "not wear makeup" when you go out at night. You just don't, and I didn't know any of these people except my friend and one other guy.) So I used concealer, blush, eyeshadow and mascara. I felt a million times better, and I think I was trying to make myself more comfortable, not impress anyone. Once again, I don't think it's possible to separate out my motives exactly.

So I'm struggling, and I want to deal by concentrating more on my physical appearance than my emotional pain. It is what it is, I guess. At least MF and I are edging towards peace, and I suddenly feel like taking off the nail polish again.


I am going to polish my nails.

I've had a really hard week-- lots of stuff going on emotionally, and I'm totally stressed out about YET ANOTHER midterm. I feel like I JUST FINISHED the midterm for this class! I have a migraine that just won't quit, so tonight, while I study frantically, I'm going to paint my nails to make myself feel better.

I don't particularly care about whther or not this upsets the experiment, because I'm totally bummed, dammit, and I want to paint my nails! Also, I've found something out recently (I feel like I say that a lot): there's a lot of pressure to conform to the popular ideal of "beauty," but you know what? It's more myself looking outside myself for validation than it is a knee-jerk reaction to external pressure. It's just as much me as it is The Man.

Blue or deeeep red? Hmmm....


Twitter ate my integrity

OK, not really. But I haven't been on Twitter yet because I don't want to encourage myself to externalize every single thing I think, say and do... but writing a big, long post each week requires a lot of background every time I want to tell my readers about something I experienced. I think Twitter is appropriate here.

SO. See the link at the side, or find me: ModestyExp is my username. Happy reading!


I Still Miss Makeup

I went to CVS over the weekend, and much to my chagrin, I found myself walking up and down the makeup aisles, actually considering whether I could make myself up just once and not tell anyone. I'm also still consistently dreaming about having long hair again, and the dreams usually consist of me styling said hair and playing with it in various boring ways. I'm tired of TME. I want my old life back, even though TME been a good thing for me to do.

WTF is going on here? Well, I can think of a few possibilities.

  1. Fun: God forgive me, getting dressed up is fun for me. Using styling products, busting out the flatiron or big giant round brush, trying on a ridiculous shade of eyeshadow... I love all that crap. I know that for some women it's not fun at all, but for me, I like it-- so there may not be anything insidious or wrong about my missing it.
  2. Solitary practice: Without a group of friends to hang out with who are also covering their hair, arms and legs and eschewing makeup (like, if I belonged to a faith community where this was the case), it may be harder to resist temptation. I don't know what "beauty" looks like in any context other than Western popular culture, and I wonder if the cumulative, constant exposure to the dominant definition of "beauty" is starting to wear me down. In other words, as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to deal with standing out because I don't have a group of women who use the same standards I do. (This isn't to say that there aren't individuals who don't wear makeup or have super-trendy haircuts outside of faith or other social groups, but that they're coming from a place of not liking makeup or hair stuff for their own reasons-- which is different from enjoying all that, but making a choice to stay away from it, like I am.)
  3. "Like a man": Part of the framework for this project has been a desire to see, if only a little bit, what it's like for men, who don't have to do all the crap women often put themselves through just to look "polished." The thing is, I don't identify with images of men that I see-- I identify strongly with straight women. I am not a man, I see myself as a very feminine sort of lady, and no amount of hair covering or barefacedness is going to change that. If I felt like a man in a woman's body, that would be different... but I'm a woman, in a woman's body, and I've always identified that way. 
  4. Culture vs. Nature: I hate to sound so cliched, but at this point I'm pretty sure that it's impossible for me to separate the "me" that exists without social pressure and the "me" that I've crafted in response to it. I can't find the "me" that would exist if I had never watched TV or movies, or seen the women around me all gussied up all the time, because I can't divorce myself from my environment. If it had been possible, I wouldn't like makeup etc. at all, because when I was growing up I had no access to any of that. I was raised by my dad, and he was militantly anti-pop culture. This meant that I wasn't allowed to pierce my ears until I was 16, couldn't ask for styling products or even a decent blow dryer, I couldn't even wear nylons or shave my legs unless I was going to be onstage singing or something... dad raised me, as much as he could, to resist the popular definition of femininity. I wasn't even allowed to watch TV other than Animaniacs and Star Trek: TNG. If anyone were to hate "girliness," it would be me. And yet, I don't. In fact, I love it. All of it.
Could it be that makeup and hair and cute clothes are something between an artificial crutch and a part of my personality? I can't say what role the beauty industry plays in the lives of other women, but this project has always been about exploring my own insecurities and assumptions, not finding some overarching thesis statement about why popular images of feminine perfection are evil. How I dress now, how I don't do my hair... this isn't me, either. That's not to say that there's no merit to it-- it's just not quite me.

I just don't want to be 50 and still holding myself up to the beauty standards of 20-year-olds. I don't want to look in the mirror and beat the crap out of myself because I've gained weight, like all women do unless they really kill themselves, as I get older. I don't want to be running on the treadmill of rich, white beauty until I die, or go blind.

I want to be able to accept myself, while living in a culture that is built on dissatisfaction.

This week I will be in New York City, the epicenter of Western culture, beauty standards and all. This should be interesting. I lived there for 2 years and change back in 2007-2009, and I wonder if I'll feel different being there without all the makeup and trendy clothes... while surrounded by makeup and trendy clothes. I dunno. We'll see, and you'll hear about it!


    My Decidedly UnSexy Makeup for the Monologues

    The good news: I'm on the cover of the Emory Wheel! I'm the one in red and black, onstage.

    The Emory Wheel 2/21

    This is how it looked up close:

    In the bathroom, putting on ageifying makeup with Angelle Tanner.
    Yeeeeaaaah. Oo, sexy.

    I'm front and center with a large part of the cast. Aren't they lovely?
    The bad news: I was on the cover of the Emory Wheel... looking like that.

    But it's OK. It would have been a whole other story if I had been trying to look cute, but sure enough, my wearing the "mask" of being someone else gave me the leeway not to care about how "beautiful" Lauren looked.

    I spend a lot of my time, day to day, talking about "the problem." Sometimes it's heresy (that's in Christian History class) or divine wrath (in Old Testament class); other times, it's homelessness, or homophobia, or lack of funding to pay social workers, teachers and cops a decent salary and what that says about our values as a country. I think about the issues associated with the market economy (in Markets, Justice and Christian Ethics class) or with the impossibility of personal actualization in a system which keeps us from defining ourselves independent of what the advertising industry inundates us with (in Morality in American Life). I consider steps towards solving problems that are part of modern life, so ingrained in our collective souls that we don't even see them until we're in pain. For example, I didn't think about just how much I relied on my youth and "beauty" to define myself until I perceived myself losing it.

    As you might expect, I also spend a lot of time fighting the hopeless feeling that the problems are too huge, and I am too small and powerless, to ever solve or even ameliorate them. No one listens to some grad student living in Atlanta with no money or powerful friends, and do I shape public policy? Pff. Please. I can't change "the problem." So what's the point?

    I have little to no control over the world... but I have control over myself.

    I have daily conversations about this with lots of women, and at least as many with men, and all of them, down to the last one, have been affected in some way by this project. No one hears about it and is totally bored-- at worst, they tilt their heads and go, "Huh. That's interesting." Women love to talk about what a pain in the ass it is to have to look cute all the time, or how they stopped caring through some life-changing event, or how they could never, ever, leave the house without foundation, and why that is. Men tell me how much more they like women who don't wear makeup (I mean, like, a lot of men), and how sexy it is when a woman walks around with nothing but confidence on her face. Some women have even begun to question their own habits, and one of two have joined me for a day or so at a time to see what it feels like. My choice to change has made other people think about their assumptions, and I can't tell you how gratefully I feel about that.

    There's a huge, stupid, oppressive beauty standard and attendant industry in Western culture that insists that youth, long hair, white teeth, and a tiny waist are the ultimate goals in life, and I can't change what the masses think. But what I've done in TME has been like a billboard advertising an alternative way of moving through the world as a woman... and I can certainly see why many women, religious and otherwise, choose to do so.


    The Oppression of Sexual Violence

    As you may have guessed by now, my interest in TME is really about awareness of oppression of women, in whatever form it comes. Tonight, I'll be onstage in an all-proceeds-go-to-charity event designed to raise awareness and money for the support of groups committed to the protection of women:

    The Vagina Monologues at Emory

    Contrary to popular belief, this show is not just a bunch of random women getting up and talking about their individual vaginas, nor is it a bunch of man-hating rhetoric or self-indulgent whining. It's the culmination of years of interviews, writing and work by Eve Ensler, who compiled this play in order to address the oppression of women as it appears in the guise of fear of the vagina. "Vagina," in this context, is analogous to a woman's sense of self, safety, and sexuality. In The Vagina Monologues the audience (and the actors, really) learn things they never knew while laughing hysterically, and in the cases of many women I've seen the show with, will be cheering at least once during the show. (Unless you have no soul.)

    Fun+Learning+All Proceeds to Charity = YOU NEED TO BE THERE.

    Trust me, you'll have a great time. Really. If you don't, you can comment on this blog and slam me until your fingers fall off.


    "How do you feel?"

    Ahhhh. Sermon is done, and I survived this past week (more or less, if you don't count the short paper I totally spaced on). So now I have some more time to spend catching up on TME, and I can tell you how I really feel about all this.

    This coming week, I have rehearsals every night for The Vagina Monologues. I'm performing, "The Flood," a story about an old lady (75-ish) who is so alienated by her first sexual experience that when it's over, she "closes the whole store." It's sad and funny, and because I'll be onstage I've had to consider whether or not to wear makeup-- stage makeup, of course. The purpose is to make my features visible, and in this case the point will be to make me look much older. This made the decision to wear makeup easier: I'm not trying to look beautiful. I'll be wearing a thick layer of foundation and contouring my cheeks so that they look saggier, and making my lips look smaller. Also, it won't be "me" onstage, it's not "Lauren." It's an old lady who's never told anyone about the most humiliating experience of her life-- so this will have nothing to do with my identity.

    The Vagina Monologues on Creative Loafing!

    Speaking of which, I would like to say for the record: this project has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself. When I had to preach my sermon on the 4th I wore makeup:

    This picture is courtesy of Candler Theological Seminary. All rights reserved. In other words, don't re-use it, or get ready to receive a lot of letters from a troupe of lawyers.
    You know what? I felt less beautiful with makeup on. Really. I looked in the mirror before the sermon and saw what was wrong with my face, how my blemishes weren't covered. I constantly worried about whether I was wearing enough lip color; I was back, in one fell swoop, to wondering what I didn't have as opposed to accepting what I did. The chapel is naturally lit with windows in the ceiling, and somehow, I felt self-conscious about peely skin and clumpy mascara showing up in the bright sunlight.

    I think that I felt this way not because makeup makes me less beautiful, but because when I go natural I don't feel like I'm communicating that I want to look different than I already do. When I'm wearing makeup, in a way I'm inviting people to appraise my appearance. When I'm not, I feel like I'm saying, "This is how I look, and I'm cool with that." I move far more freely through the world because I'm not putting on a costume. I walk into coffee shops and no longer worry about what the strangers I'm walking past think, and when I walk into class in one of the larger rooms I no longer consider how to walk from the door up the stairs and to my seat in ways that give some overall impression of... something or other, an impression that, when all is said and done, I can't really control at all. I feel feminine, powerful, and beautiful.

    Also, I can now say with absolute confidence that I have more mental space to devote to other things. I say "space" because that's what it feels like, as though I have more breathing room in my head. I'm not guilt-tripping myself over makeup that I bought that I didn't need, or looking at my hair and wondering if I should schedule an appointment to get a trim, and where (because a bad haircut, for me, is the end of the bloody world). I'm not looking at lipstick and convincing myself it'll make me beautiful finally. There's a sense of relief, like I've put down a weight that I had agreed to carry because I thought I had to. I put on clothes in the morning, don a headscarf, and go about my day, never to worry about my appearance again until the next morning, apart from tucking in my hair or adjusting a shirt. I still get lots of compliments on how I look.

    I've heard a few really inspiring stories about women's transformative experiences: one woman told me about shaving her head in India. She described it as "a baptism." Another woman I know told me about the freedom of pregnancy, how you no longer care about what people think about your hair or whatever cause you're tired, dammit, and how that led her to let go of her attachment to her appearance. Packing for trips is ridiculously easy-- no more bringing along 47 makeup options, hair dryer, hair stuff, and brushes to tote around. Several people have told me that they didn't notice that I'm not wearing makeup any more-- they notice the headscarf, but that's it.

    And so I say to you, my lovely ladies (and of course, the gentlemen who love happy women): I had once thought that beauty products were what made me beautiful. Now I know, without a doubt, that I don't need any of that crap, and I can't recommend highly enough that at some point, you try something like this. I know, it seems scary. Remember how terrified and miserable I was at the beginning of all this? I couldn't even conceive of a life where I didn't define a large part of myself by my appearance. Now, I just don't think about it much any more, and I'm a million times happier. I work out and take care of myself, but beyond that, you know what? I just don't need all the crap they're trying to sell me, and where before I was just saying that, I finally feel like it's true. Nail polish commercials, hair commercials, jeans, anti-aging treatments, eye shadow that supposedly makes your eyes look "more" blue or brown or green or hazel... it's endless, and it's just a bag of bricks I no longer want to carry around.

    I do miss the fun parts-- getting made up is fun. But I feel a million times more secure because I know now that how I look is not nearly as big a deal as I thought it was.

    People ask me if I'll "carry any part of the experiment with me," meaning, Will I wear as much makeup? What about my hair? My answer is, I'm actually trying to think of excuses to keep doing it after I turn 30. I don't ever want to go back to how I felt about myself before. My mind may change, but right now... it's just a relief.