The Beauty Experiment

Phoebe Baker Hyde, the author of The Beauty Experiment: how I skipped lipstick, ditched fashion, faced the world without concealer and learned to love the real me,  is a courageous woman.  

When TLC Book tours gifted me with the opportunity to take part in “The Beauty Experiment” I instantly chose the option of writing a timeline of my inner voice in regards to my looks throughout my life and how it has impacted my feelings of self-worth. 

Having spent many years listening to my ever-so-critical inner-voice, we are well acquainted, and this is one instance where my memory doesn’t fail me. 

Phoebe baker Hyde however, had more on her plate than a simple blog post and a trip down memory lane. She decided that she would give up all of the trappings of the modern woman in regards to beauty of over a year. 

No makeup, concealer, mascara nor fatigue hiding foundation. No new clothes, no hair products, no salon cuts, (unless you count a trip to a Hong Kong barber to have her long locks cut short like a man) and no jewellery.  

She decided to see what life was like without these things while living in a city where it seems this would be considered a monumental act of rebellion. Apparently women in Hong Kong would never dream of going to the grocery store without being more dressed up and made up than I would for an important job interview. 

At first I thought to myself. “I did that years ago!” I have long ago become very comfortable with my own reflection sans cosmetics that just tend to run down my face as my eyes tear every time I step outside in my frozen, windy world. 

Then I considered a day without hair product and realized that I have little in the way of beauty courage. My fine curly mane, which untreated is equivalent to a head full of flying spider webs doesn’t live naked.  And I couldn’t shave my head no matter how often I’ve threatened to do so.

I lack the courage of this author. 

That said, I have finally developed a healthy relationship with myself and I have long given up measuring my self-worth by what I see in the mirror. It wasn’t always this way, and looking back I can see the truth plain as day. As Phoebe Baker Hyde writes so eloquently:

Good hair days, bad hair days: maybe less about the hair than the head underneath.

Me at age 3:

I can remember my very first moment in life when I became aware that how I looked mattered to me, and quite frankly I believe it was the first of many times that I felt somehow less than and that I didn’t measure up. 

I was just 3 yrs old, when my first hair cut. (I barely had the ability to grow real hair until I was about 10). But after my grandmother, Grace, who had absolutely no talent for hair cutting, decided to help my parents out by saving them a trip to a salon.   I ended up in the hair dressers chair much sooner than planned. 

Apparently there was little left to work with once Grace had practiced her art, so the only option was a short pixie cut. I can remember the moment I saw myself for the first time.  The adults in the room were crooning over how pretty I looked, but when I was held up to the mirror to see what I saw wasn’t me.  The picture that I had of myself had changed and I didn’t recognize this short-haired stranger. I burst into tears. 

3 yr olds don’t have the longest of attention spans, (quite frankly I don’t have a very long one over 40 years later) and I had yet to learn how to be consumed with my appearance so I learned to live with my new hair.  That is until a neighbourhood boy informed me that I was also a boy because I had boy-hair and girls aren’t supposed to look like that. I think this might have been the first time in my life that I resented my parents. Fortunately, that didn’t last.

Age 10:

By this age, fitting in was incredibly important and I had more than proven my lack of talent for it. I was not obsessed with my looks but I believe this was probably the age where I started to consider that maybe if I were prettier things might be better.  It was inevitable that I would explore this for some time as I attempted to untangle the unsolvable mystery of why I just didn’t seem to “belong”. My inner voice, (whom I later came to call Dexter) and I had a reasonable relationship at that age. Dexter had yet to learn how to abuse me.

Jr. High/Middle School:

This is often where we first start to build our relationship with that voice.  I can remember feeling so small and “less than” my peers as I was tiny and very slow to grow… praying for puberty so that I could be like those around me.

I can remember feeling dwarfed as my female class-mates shot up to the sky, developed hips and breasts while I remained stuck in the body of a child. It was, (thank goodness) the only time that I felt small because I was small, due primarily to Dexter’s incessant need to compare everyone around me and point out the differences.

High School:

By this time, I was actually starting to show signs that I might become a grown-up. My first week of Grade 9 we were measured in gym class and I can distinctly remember the feeling of relief when my gym teacher informed me that I was 5’ tall. I had feared (and not unreasonably) that I would never get there.

Later, as I matured, I did add a few inches to become something near average, though I will always have a tiny frame that is shaped more like an average 12 yr old. I have come to see this as a blessing… but that took another 20 years.

My final 3 yrs of school were the years where I really cared about what I presented to the world. I was a vocational student, taking half-day courses in Fashion Design, learning how to create the clothing that I saw in magazines, or my own head and being both talented and driven, I had few limits.  It was a fun world of creative exploration while I found out who I was.

Dexter however was always there suggesting that I was still, and would always be, less than in some way.  Too skinny, too flat-chested, too acne-prone, too different…

Not being a carbon-copy of everyone around me was a problem for my critical nemesis. Dexter had got it into his brain somehow, that who I was had to change… 

Early Adulthood:

This is the part of my life where I was extremely busy postponing my inevitable nervous breakdown. This is such hard work I would recommend skipping the postponement and just going for the breakdown. 

This is where Dexter became the ruler of my Universe.  My abuser, my jailer, and, my greatest liability. I fed him daily by believing that he was truth, and that if he beat me down enough I would finally straighten up. I had a life-time of “not fitting in” as evidence to prove that everything that Dexter had to say was necessary and true. 

Dexter abused me as punishment for my many failures, reminded me constantly of all of my flaws and kept me awake at night with a litany of my sins among which were not being able to get it together enough to look like something in a magazine. Every time I looked in a mirror what I saw was not myself, but my failure as a human being.

Finally, I could postpone no more.  I had starved myself down to 92 lbs, not out of fear of getting fat, but because I believed I was so worthless that I didn’t deserve food. Mirrors were avoided… I developed the ability to walk past them without even registering what I was seeing and when I failed at that and saw my mal-nourished, exhausted and over-worked body staring back at me, it looked and felt something like this: 

My much younger self.
My much younger self.

All I can say is thank God for excellent therapists…

My much healthier 30s:

I had finally come to recognize Dexter for who he was. I now knew that he was a master of lies, and just because he spoke, it didn’t mean I had to listen or worse yet, believe.

I had become healthier in all ways, and what I saw in the mirror no longer upset me.

I became rather determined not to let my looks define my self-worth. 

It was at this point that I started to fully understand the truth of my physical appearance: I am actually, in my own unique way, beautiful… and I knew that it didn’t matter.

I knew that what I believed about myself held far more weight than the package of a tiny body, dark curly hair and bright-green eyes ever had, as they had gained me nothing when I didn’t believe that they had any value.

Since I have a habit of being more interested in work than in standing in front of a mirror for myself, I learned then to feel confident without makeup worry more about dressing others, (this was my job) and myself if I had the energy. I had finally recognized that the shell that I call my body, is just that and I have learned to be grateful simply to have it and give up any notion of how it measures against anyone or anything.

40 and fabulous, in my own sloppy way.

I’ll be honest.  I still find myself wishing that I could organize myself to dress better, wear a little more makeup and have more good hair days, but I realize, that this is just a story that plays quietly in the background that has little consequence.  I’m just not that woman who will spend much time prepping to get out of the door and I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m fine with me.

Dexter doesn’t hang around anymore having run out of fuel since I don’t listen to him and I am far more interested in cultivating inner-beauty by adding compassion and value to the world I find myself in. 

People have often suggested that this place where I live now is easy for me:  After all, “you’re thin and pretty”. Let’s face it, is this not the ideal that women are to strive for? 

To this statement I have one response:

Yes, I am thin and some people think I’m fairly pretty. But, I was once young and thin and pretty and hated myself to such levels that I saw a monster in the mirror and believed that was who I was…

It is not the hair, but the head…

Thank you Phoebe Baker-Hyde for your courage, and your fabulous book, and thank you to TLC Book Tours for asking me to take part in this tour!


When Life Really Sucks: Re-Write Your Stories


Every time one year ends and another begins we tend to look at it as a fresh start. A new page, an end and then a new beginning. The new year always seems to come with hope and promise. Especially when one is very happy to say good-bye to the old.

When 2013 rolled around, I was excited and happy to look forward to what I thought would be a better future as 2012 wasn’t particularly stellar.

I had been plagued with some non-life threatening but quality of life-diminishing health issues which had been keeping me stuck in a toxic work environment and I was eager for a fresh healthy start.

This lasted for 12 days when I managed to break my ribs. I soldiered on, going to work each day, even shoveling snow (which I don’t recommend) reminding myself with each painful breath that I’ve been through worse and this will heal.

By April 2013, I made the very smart decision to cut myself some slack and take a desperately needed break so that I could heal, and get my life in order. Shortly after that, I was informed that I would have to leave my apartment as my building had sold and the new owner wanted my suite.

This is a great position to find yourself in when you’re unemployed and dealing with health issues. I knew that going back to the job that was making me sick in the first place wasn’t an option, and it is difficult if not impossible to qualify for rent when you haven’t been in your job for an entire year. I didn’t even technically have a job.  Awesome.

Then, I started having issues with my insurance company, but going hungry and risking homelessness made more sense to me than going back to a toxic environment. (A decision which I am still convinced was the right one.)

I lost my website, then my internet connection and went over a week without a phone.

By July things were so bad that I became convinced that it would be statistically impossible that great things wouldn’t enter my life. No one has this much bad luck forever do they?

Holding on to my theory kept me in a somewhat positive state of mind which I’m certain played a role in my landing a really nice position with a fabulous company which is large enough to be brimming with opportunity.

So my theory turned out to be right.

Then, my landlord changed his mind and let me stay in my home.   And things are still looking up.

I cannot say that 2013 was the worst year of my life but in terms of major life stresses it has to rank near the top. The interesting thing is however, that it is the first time that I have been through so much crisis while possessing the necessary skills to cope without falling into despair.

If health issues, joblessness and impending homelessness, and poverty (I actually lost 12 lbs because I couldn’t afford food) is not enough to make me depressed… Then it looks like I can’t really be depressed. Anymore…

Losing my home was heartbreaking.  I cried when I found out I would have to leave just because so much of what I love about my life exists in the wonderful neighborhood that I have called home for nearly 6 years. And, life hadn’t been giving me a lot to love for quite some time.

However, I now understand that it is the meaning that I give to the events of my life that create the emotions that I experience. I just don’t have the stomach for depression and despair anymore so I am deeply committed to finding meanings that keep that at bay.

I had so many things that I wanted to be different in my life at that point, that I decided that the Universe was simply pushing me in the direction I needed to go. Where-ever I ended up, would be the right place, even if it was not what I had hoped for or imagined.

I remembered how I hadn’t wanted to move to this neighborhood when I did and what a wonderful gift that turned out to be… I had to believe that this new situation would end the same way.

I was also keenly aware that choosing this option greatly increased the chance that I would be right.  Had I decided that nothing good could come from this unfortunate situation, I would have completely closed my mind to better possibilities and run the risk of making things much worse.

Deciding that going back to my former job was not an option, motivated me to go for career counseling.  I had done this in the past and ended up in hell due to bad advice which I foolishly believed, but this new 2 week program changed my entire perspective on my own abilities and what I had to offer in the workplace. Without that, I would not be in the job I am in today which is a supervisor position that allows me to utilize and grow my skills. It is exactly where I need to be in order to create the future that I desire.

I would rather have had a year without all of that physical and emotional pain, but of course, those things fall under the heading of Beyond My Control and I am completely willing to accept that reality. I am grateful for all that I have learned and am still learning from these experiences.

For one thing, I have come to the conclusion that strength is a decision. I have it in spades any time that I choose. I have given up my life-long habit of taking every hurt I’ve ever experienced and lining them all up in my mind to prove how terrible my life is. I am done with feeling like that and so I tend to focus on whatever I can find to be grateful for, even when it would be much easier to fall into misery.

I am thrilled to still be living in the home that I love, though the shiny has been rubbed off a bit. It makes me a little sad, but then I remember that losing my attachment to this place is probably the best way to open myself to something better. I have been aching for a house of my own, hopefully shared with someone I love so that I can sing and play my guitar, listen to music when I want to and get a dog. Last year simply paved the way for a better future. This is my story and I’m sticking to it because it is the story that serves me best.

Even the act of simply accepting those things that are Beyond Our Control will lessen suffering in any difficult situation. It doesn’t mean that we become pain-free, or deny our negative emotions, it is simply a more constructive way of dealing with “what is” that will help us to move more quickly to a better state.

3 Steps to Coping With What You Would Rather Not Cope With

Yep.  This is what it looks like much of the time here...
Yep. This is what it looks like much of the time here…

As I sit here writing this, the temperature outside is -40 with the wind chill. At this level, whether that is Celsius or Fahrenheit makes no difference. It’s the same. At -40, you are in hell regardless of which side of the Canada/US border you happen to find yourself on.  It’s what we call Effing-Cold because so far no-one has invented a more appropriate description.

This winter is making me rather aware of the fact that I’m getting older.  Not old, but so far, I must admit to loving it much less than I have in the past.  In fact, I’d rather skip the whole thing all-together, or at least run away on a winter vacation.  Unfortunately, my super-powers have failed me and I am unable to even make the temperature rise a few degrees, never mind make the whole thing go away. So -40 it is until things change. I have to live with it, and no amount of complaining will change that.

Winter isn’t a terribly happy time for a lot of people and this makes obvious sense.  Aside from days where one is risking frost-bite within 2 minutes of stepping outside, we also spend most of our time in the dark as the sun shines for only a few hours each day.  It is not unusual for people to become terribly depressed in the winter… Because it sucks.

I was never a person whose depression was terribly affected by the seasons. I pretty much had one season all year round which was some level of  miserable no matter what. Brutal cold was definitely a reason to be unhappy, but if it wasn’t cold outside, I’d find some other reason to feel bad. That said, it makes perfect sense, that many if not most would find mood management exceptionally hard during a long cold and dark winter.

But hard is not impossible, and in fact, things that are especially difficult always get easier with practice.

I have long been in the habit of keeping careful track of my own thoughts, (which is the primary reason that I no longer suffer from depression) and I have become extremely conscious of the stories that I tell myself regarding the situations and circumstances of my life. During the winter months, I pay close attention to what I tell myself about the weather.

I could tell myself the story of how brutal it is outside and how just a quick walk to the grocery store is downright painful. Then, I can throw myself a pity party about how my life is extraordinarily hard because I don’t have a car so I have to walk and take the bus everywhere, which means that I’m cold all of the time. After that, I can really pay attention to the fact that my knees have started to hurt every time I go outside which makes everything even worse, and I can exacerbate this unhappiness by remembering that this is just the beginning of winter… And it will go on for months. Since I’m not one of those people who gets to take of for a week or two in Mexico my crappy life will continue to suck possibly every single solitary day  until April or May.

Fortunately, that’s not the way I roll.

Years ago, I managed to figure out how to cope with and for the most part enjoy this insane part of the planet that I happen to have been born on… by changing the stories that I tell myself about it.  (For the record however, I must state plainly that I do NOT enjoy    -40, just in case you might think that I need to be locked away for my own protection.)

I hate -40, but it’s here and this is how I deal with it in 3 steps.

Step One: Strategy

First I need a strategy and mine goes like this:

“Screw fashion! If I can’t be warm and look good at the same time… then I choose warm.”

I layer, I bundle and I wrap, leaving not much more than my eyeballs exposed (then I often keep those as close to closed as I can without walking into things).  It is the only sane solution to the problem of winter. I check my coat pockets for the necessary winter supplies; handfuls of tissue, lip balm and an extra pair of gloves in one pocket, things that I want to be able to find in a hurry, like keys, bus tickets my phone in the other. Now,  I am finally ready to venture outside and continue with steps 2 and 3.

Step Two: Physiology

Once outside I pay close attention to what my body is experiencing, without telling myself a story about it.  While my mind might want to repeat a mantra that sounds something like: “It’s effing-cold, it’s effing-cold, it’s effing-cold, this sucks, this sucks, this sucks…” my body will react to what I tell it. This mantra tells me to tense up as though I can block wind and cold by clenching every muscle.  The truth is however, that holding myself rigid does nothing to keep me warm and in fact,  impairs circulation and will make me even more cold.  As soon as I recognize tension in my body, I let go of my instinctive reaction and instead, I relax.  Suddenly the cold becomes less painful. I can move and breathe more freely which means that I suffer less.  (Note: this works for any pain or discomfort. Fighting only increases suffering, relaxing into the experience without telling ourselves a story of how terrible it is will decrease suffering.)

Step Three: Story

What I choose to tell myself about any situation will have the biggest impact on how I feel about it.  The key word here is choose.  No matter what, there are always many ways to frame a situation and many potential perspectives to choose from, but it is incredibly easy to pick one and decide without questioning it, that it is the only option.

I could choose the first story that I wrote above, but knowing that this will only lead to suffering, I don’t.

Instead I choose a story that goes something like this.  “This too shall pass…” This is my catch-all phrase for every situation that is not what I want in my life. It may seem overly simple, but it is  true and therefore effective.  When I accept my physical experience as a temporary one, it is much easier to deal with.

Next I pay very close attention not only to what I am saying, but how many times I’m saying it.

Repeating a mantra is a great thing to do while meditating, but serves no purpose here. The first string of foul language and “OMG it’s cold!” is an observation. After that, I’m just whining to myself. There is nothing to be gained by mentally replaying the same complaint over and over in any situation, though it is what we tend to do, (It’s all a part of being fallible and human).  My experience will be determined by what I focus on, and I have nothing to gain from focusing on the cold beyond making sure that I remain safe.

Quite frankly, dressing as warmly as possible, remaining physically relaxed while moving as much as I can and not throwing myself a mental pity-party is pretty much all I need to get interested in; well anything that is more interesting.

Even this past weekend when I found myself standing at a bus-stop for 25 minutes until my fingers were stinging and my iPhone had frozen and crashed,  I was eager and able to coach myself into wandering into happier thoughts. Focusing on where I was going, and why I was going there is only one of many options. (In this instance, I was making a pit-stop at the art-supply store which always gives me a reason to be happy.)

Step Four: Be Grateful

Yes, I did say 3 steps because 3 steps will get you into a better place than no steps, but in every situation, there is always something to be grateful for.  Here are a few things that live on my gratitude list…

  •  I have the most amazing warm boots that were gifted to last winter me by a dear friend. No matter what, I have yet to experience even slightly chilly toes.
  • While I’m on the subject, I am grateful for all of my friends and feel completely lucky and blessed to have all of them in my life…
  • I might not be in it at any particular moment, but I have a home. Too many people don’t and I truly cannot imagine what that feels like at any time, never mind in these kinds of temperatures.
  • I have a job, my health, people who love me and things that I love.  Nasty weather can’t really take that away.
  • I might be stuck inside most of the time, but there are plenty of books to read, things to write, art to create and other pleasures that summer weather doesn’t leave time for.
  • This too shall pass. Spring always seems to be forever away, but in truth, it always arrives. Eventually.

Until then…

Stay Warm!

Stay Warm!

Life, at times can be far too full of things that are unhappy, unpleasant and or downright painful. If you’re alive and breathing, this is inevitable. When faced with situations and circumstances which are not what we love but beyond our control,  acceptance, paying attention to what we’re doing and what we’re telling ourselves about what we’re doing, is the only real path to peace. (though I’m still working at honing those super-powers!)

The Healing Power of Love

My last post was about learning to love yourself despite a past where one may not have been treated as well as they deserve.

I also wrote about how it is my responsibility to make sure that I do not allow people in my life who will hurt or abuse me. I made a commitment some time ago not to allow anyone else s judgment, or treatment of me affect my self-worth. You cannot take anything from me that I choose not to give.

And then, just a couple of days later I found myself enduring the wrath of an emotional abuser.

This was a complete and total shock to me as up to that point, I had not known about this person’s temper, nor did I know that that temper had a purpose and it was to bully, berate and belittle. The MO of your average abuser, the goal being to cut another down until they have no strength to fight anymore.

I was unable to escape in that moment, but I can assure you, this person will never do it again. I plan to do whatever it takes to remove myself from the situation so that I have no contact with this particular person for the rest of my life. I absolutely believe that this is the only solution in dealing with someone like this.

What blew me away was the reality, that despite my strength, my love for myself, and my commitment to never giving up my personal power, I was still damaged.

I would compare it to having fallen and sprained an ankle or injured my body in some non-life-threatening but nonetheless painful way.

And now, I need time, space, rest and care to recover and then I will be back to my usual powerhouse self. And just like a sprained ankle, I will in no way be scarred for life. Once I extricate myself from this situation, all will be well.

It is unfortunate, that it is the monsters of this world that seem to have the most impact on it and us, but as is often the case when life get’s stupidly difficult, there is a silver lining to even the blackest cloud.

Feeling worn down injured and incredibly vulnerable, I did something that the Jenny Ann Fraser of the past could never have done. Instead of taking responsibility for the treatment that I so wrongly received and hiding in shame, I reached out and said, “Help. I’m hurting.” And as happens when we are truly willing to receive help, it came. In truckloads.

I got it from close friends and family who know and love me, but I also got it from people I have never met in person.

I shared my story with the wonderful women in Effy Wild’s Facebook Group, The Sisterhood of The Book and was overwhelmed with love, support and genuine caring. Instantly I was filled with love and gratitude which has it’s own magic way of clearing out pain.

It reminded me again of what we human beings are capable of when we decide to give freely with our hearts wide open for the sake of others.

So far, since this wonderful group came into being just a few short months ago, it has been my pleasure to write supportive, encouraging words to my sisters, supporting their art and doing my part along with the other 493 sisters to give the best of ourselves in the service of anyone who needs support. Of course, giving really is receiving and interacting within the group has become one of my greatest joys.

This time, it was my turn to receive and remarkable healing has already taken place. My bruised soul is rapidly turning back to it’s healthy colour, and while I would certainly have loved to avoid this incident, it shone a light on some really wonderful things about life.

  1. There are more loving people in the world than there are hateful people. It often doesn’t seem that way, but if you open your heart, your mind and your eyes… it will show up.

  2. Sadly, there will always be people who have a pathalogical need to hurt others, and the only way to avoid them entirely would be to avoid people entirely… And then you would miss out on all of the love and joy that life has to offer.

    That said: when you come across one of these monsters, RUN AWAY! This is not cowardice, it’s love.

  3. When you’re hurt, don’t hide. Reach out and remember there is no shame in asking for help. No one can be strong all of the time, so accept the beauty of what you can find when you’re really willing to look.

  4. How people treat you is never and indication of your worth. Yeah, I know, I said that last week, but I needed to say it again… and again.

  5. How people treat you is never and indication of your worth.

  6. Even when you feel as though life has beaten the crap out of you. There is always something to be grateful for. Acknowledge your pain, but don’t forget to put some focus on the good stuff. If it doesn’t seem as though there is any; look harder and let the healing begin.

    I’m not sure what is going to come of this situation as it is still to be resolved this week. I am relying on my faith that things will work out in the end, (and I’m hoping of course that the end is swift and painless).  In the meantime, I am actively loving myself and others back to where I was a week ago. More than likely stronger than before.

    The power behind me is greater than the problem in front of me.~unknown