For the past 5 years I’ve been focused on my quest for a simpler, healthier life. It’s been a fascinating and rewarding search. I’m constantly discovering strategies that help bring me into a more consistent state of equanimity. It may seem superficial to some, but focusing on my skin has been a part of my wellness because how I feel in my body and how I feel about my body helps me generate my Core Desired Feelings (CDFs). And ignoring my skin or mistreating it can take me off track.
Let Me Explain
As a woman in her late 40s my skin is changing. My hormonal balance is changing from my reproductive years (which were on a 28 day-ish cycle) to that of perimenopause (a bit all over the place with low progesterone and estrogen highs and lows and most definitely not 28 days) and heading towards menopause and postmenopause (consistent estrogen decline). My skin is reacting differently to my environment, my levels of stress, the food I eat, and the products I use.
What I used to work for me no longer does. This past year I’ve invested in my skincare so it’s right for me right now. I see it as a part of my simpler, healthier life quest. It’s self-care in this transitory phase of life. It’s a way of feeling Poise and Radiance (2 of my CDFs).
But when I think about it, the state of my skin has always been part and parcel of how I feel about myself and hoping for a sense of peace and composure. I think that’s because our skin is a visible example of how our body, while always working to be in a balanced state, is never static. It’s always changing. And that’s super frustrating.
I was a teen in the 1980s and an avid Seventeen reader. I have a very strong memory of buying a specific copy at McDermot’s – my small town’s family owned and run pharmacy – and all the feels I got from the purchase as well as the inspiration from the beauty articles and fashion spreads.
I experimented with so many DIY skin and hair treatments I found in this magazine. I remember going to school smelling like vinegar because I had used it as a hair rinse – oh, how my friends made fun of me. This experimentation was a bit of adventure fun. It helped me discover my likes and dislikes. It made me feel empowered, that I had some control over my changing body and over how I felt about it. Much like I feel now that I’m going through puberty, but in reverse!
Age 14 – 1985
I let my parents take my photo. It must have been a good skin day.
I don’t have many photos of me as a teenager.
However, like most adolescents I was awkward. I had a fair amount of outbreaks. Often on my forehead and on my nose. Perfectly aligned in the middle of my face. I hated them. I was lectured about eating too much chocolate. I was teased. I was given Noxema. And like many girls and young women I became a picker.
This turned into a compulsive behaviour that spread to other parts of my body and lasted well into my late twenties. If there is interest, I will write more about that and how I overcame it in a future blog. I touch on some of what I did below, but there is more. Other than ending my marriage and later getting sober it might be the hardest thing I’ve done.
This self-mutilation was the dark side of my skincare and was about a deeper struggle.
For the longest time I thought if I was perfect, then everything would be OK. I’d be OK. If I never made a mistake I’d make everyone around me happy. I’d never disappoint those I love. I’d never feel bad – ever again. A part of that perfection was appearance. Perfect skin would make me happy. Blemish free skin would make me happy. Smooth skin would make me happy. If I just looked perfect people would like me. I would be acceptable. I would belong.
This kind of thinking stuck around for a long time. It took me many years and a bunch of therapy to learn how totally unrealistic it was. Also to see how perfection actually doesn’t equate to happiness. Other things – like the healthy things I do every day to nurture my mental and physical health – are what make me feel good.
Having the desire to feel good is OK. It’s more than OK. It’s what drives me to create, to be of service, to engage, to be present. It’s what drives me to be connected to my body – something that for me is no mere tool for my consciousness to participate in this Earth experience. Getting precise on how I want to feel has helped me focus on healthy ways to feel the way I want to feel – more and more. So I do the pleasant in the moment yet damaging in the long-term things less and less.
The paradox is while desire for happiness is a big part of being human, to have some emotional stability you need to comfortable with discomfort as well be non-attached to the outcome of your desire. Tara Brach’s RAIN resource is a cornerstone for me and my wellness toolbox in this regard. It helps with big emotional pain, but also the smaller day-to-day things that come up.
When it comes to my skin I take pause when a critical thought comes to mind, I acknowledge it, I investigate it with kindness and curiosity, and I don’t try to change the thought or feeling. Using this technique I have learned to accept my skin on good AND bad days. I accept that hormonal fluctuations will mean pimples are certain times of the month. I recognize that when I eat to satisfy a craving one day will affect my skin a few days down the road. I’m becoming comfortable with the aging process. I know that repeated expressions of emotion like smiling and frowning will show up on my face. I accept the feelings of discomfort that arise when my body’s aging and hormonal changes show up on my face.
The neat thing is the more I practice RAIN – and gosh, is it ever a practice – the more I make healthy choices for my skin. I eat foods that fight inflammation and use products that don’t irritate my skin it’s clear and smooth. I don’t eat my feelings with an enormous portions, unhealthy fat, salt and sugar. I don’t pick. I don’t over clean or over scrub my skin. I don’t overload my skin with products.
I do believe in the cliché when you feel good, you look good. That good will look different day-by-day, through out your menstrual cycle and as you age. As you nourish feeling good, your outer being will reflect that. It will not look the same as it did in the past and it likely won’t look like anyone else’s good – especially media representations. It will be * your * good.
And, I also think the reverse is true too. When you look good, you feel good. Especially if it’s coming from a state of mindfulness and compassion, imperfection and acceptance, intention and vitality.