What makes you feel most beautiful? I have a hunch it has nothing to do with what we’re constantly being advertised. Never in my thirty-two years have I, or any of my female friends, said “You know, mascara makes me feel the most beautiful ever,” or “This smooth glide tampon makes me feel so freaking beautiful I can’t handle myself!” Damn, I wish I heard that sentence more often. Most of the time, we’re taught periods are a pain (and they definitely can be), but we’re not taught they make us beautiful.
I’m not knocking makeup or modern conveniences. I enjoy both of them too. There’s a place for them, sure. But what really makes you feel the most beautiful? When I think about that question, the answer has little to do with my body.
Author, blogger, and podcaster, August McLaughlin, is hosting her annual Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. She’s asking women all over the world to talk about what beauty means to them. And since she’s also the fab creator of GirlBoner, (“Where Good Girls Go For Sexual Empowerment”), some bloggers are writing about sexuality too.
I’ve been a participant in both categories over the years. If you want to check out one of my past posts, I recommend Heavy Petting is a No No: Sex Education for the Saint of Heart. 😉
This year, I wanted to talk about beauty as a woman in her thirties. At a time when your body starts changing (like, not bouncing back in ways it once did), it can be a mind shift to still feel beautiful in a world that emphasizes outer beauty and youthfulness so highly. My body changed, and so did my style.
There are some things that remain constant, though. That will always make me feel truly beautiful and empowered in my own skin.
10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful
1. Learning something new.
Is there anything quite like the joy of learning something new? There’s that moment when you’ve really put time and energy and sometimes expense into understanding something that didn’t come naturally, and then…it finally clicks!
Damn, that’s a gorgeous moment.
2. Reading books out loud.
What can I say? Words are my love language.
3. Making art for the fun of it.
I believe adults don’t PLAY enough. When’s the last time you picked up your ol’ Crayola 64 pack (dating myself there) and just colored? Or used a paintbrush? Or even doodled? I’m not “an artiste,” but playing around is therapeutic and relaxing for me when I remember to leave judgment at the door.
4. A damn fine blazer.
I’m a sucker for a power suit. Alas, I rarely get to wear them anymore. But why not give yourself a Try Day Challenge and write about it? I did.
A friend of mine coined the term “wonderfully uncomfortable” and it has forever stuck with me. Traveling somewhere outside your comfort zone is a great opportunity to meet new people, hear new stories, and gain a bigger picture of the world. I always leave feeling grateful and humble afterwards. Aren’t those beautiful, genuine emotions?
6. Going for a walk.
Cool breezes on your skin, your feet pounding the pavement or hiking the trail. I never get clarity like I do when I’m on a solo hike.
7. Genuine, consensual touch.
You know people who are huggers? Like good huggers, not creepy uncle huggers? There’s something beautiful and comforting about being with someone who just knows when to give you a hug or reach for your hand. Science even supports that hugging longer has positive effects on the endorphins in the brain! I value a good hug from a friend or loved one.
Who doesn’t appreciate when someone finally notices how damn hard you work?! You go, grrrl! I see you!
9. Eating dessert for breakfast.
Because I’m an adult. Because I can. Because I’m worth it.
10. Not buying into all the ageist, objectified patriarchal bullshit.
Cause ain’t no one got time for that!
What makes YOU feel truly beautiful?
*This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.
It’s time to announce the annual winners of the 2017 copies of the Phenomenal Woman and Cafe Mix playlists!
Every year I make two mix cds as gifts for my mom and sis, and I count on you to help me find the best songs out there to include!
Thank you to all who gave suggestions, sharing their favorite artists and songs to jam out to. I love researching this project because it’s basically me dancing around and surfing the internet, watching a lot of music videos.
So… thank you for your help in making that happen.
Without further adieu, here are the 2017 playlists! Happy listening, everyone!
The 2017 Phenomenal Woman Mix
1. On + Off ~ Maggie Rogers
2. White Tiger ~ Izzy Bizu
3. Roll Up Your Sleeves ~ Meg Mac
4. That’s Alright With Me ~ Andreya Triani
5. Rainbow ~ Kesha
6. Higher ~ The Naked and Famous
7. Want You Back ~ HAIM
8. Ice Age ~ Serena Ryder
9. Deeper ~ Ella Eyre
10. Tightrope ~ LP
11. Simply Falling ~ Iyeoka
12. Breathe You In My Dreams ~ Trixie Whitley
13. Mermaid Song ~ Emily Kinney
14. What You Don’t Do ~ Lianne La Havas
15. Make It Rain ~ Koryn Hawthorne
16. Capable ~ The Wild Reeds
17. Tennessee Rain ~ Addison Agen
18. Brother ~ Uncle Jed
19. Pretty Please ~ Lauren Ruth Ward
20. Moonlight ~ Grace VanderWaal
The 2017 Cafe Mix
1. Summer Storm ~ Joel P West
2. Dusty Trails ~ Lucius
3. The Luckiest Man ~ The Wood Brothers
4. The Old Churchyard ~ Offa Rex
5. Glorious ~ Melissa Etheridge
6. Cover Me Up ~ Jason Isbell
7. Into My Arms ~ Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer
8. Break My Heart Sweetly ~ John Moreland
9. Let It All Go ~ Birdy & Rhodes
10. Someone That Loves You ~ Izzy Bizu & Honne
11. Without You ~ Oh Wonder
12. See You Around ~ I’m With Her
13. I Followed Fires ~ Matthew and the Atlas
14. The Chase ~ Tori Amos featuring Natashya Hawley
15. Floodlights ~ Jack and Eliza
16. Blue Ridge Mountain ~ Hurray for the Riff Raff
17. When the Right One Comes Along ~ Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen
18. Come Undone ~ Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
19. Ghost in This House ~ Lauren Duski
20. Friday I’m in Love ~ Janet Devlin
You know the drill. We’re making a mixtape, people.
It’s old school. It’s outdated. Who even has a cd player anymore?
Well, my mother does. It’s a Bose. Because all old people own Boses.
Since 2007, my reoccurring christmas gift to my mother and sister is a Phenomenal Woman Mix Tape, and I rely on YOUR HELP to find the best songs to put on it. Bonus points – in the last five years, I also added a Cafe Mix for all those winter mug holding moments.
So tell me, who are the phenomenal women you’re listing to? And what coffee shop tunes are you chillin’ out with?
Two lucky commenters will win a copy of each CD!
Get started with these inspiring jams off last year’s CD!
Into the Wild by LP (Phenomenal Woman Mix)
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Postmodern Jukebox featuring Maiya Sykes (Phenomenal Woman Mix)
Wildest Moments by Jessie Ware (Phenomenal Woman Mix)
Unsteady by X Ambassadors (Cafe Mix)
Growing Things by Shook Twins (Cafe Mix)
I love seeing people embrace their own beauty. In a world of impossible beauty standards, the role models I want to embrace are the people who celebrate doing their own thing while opening doors, rather than closing them, for others to find what’s right for them too. I follow campaigns like Tess Holiday’s #effyourbeautystandards. I’ve been a user of #StitchFix for awhile and love how detailed their style profile is and that they allow clients to play with fashion. So when Dia & Co. asked me if I was interested in participating in their Try Day challenge, I said yes.
The Try Day challenge is about the clothes in your closet you haven’t found the guts to wear yet. The items you chose to buy, but haven’t worn. The clothes you’d love to try on and try out, but always second guess yourself or change out of at the last minute.
Dia & Co., like Stitch Fix, is a personal styling business that sends five items to your home to try out with your existing wardrobe. They specialize in plus size fashions which is awesome because no one should have to forgo personal style just because of size. Having worked in the retail industry for several years, I know how hard it can be to find as many options in special sizes. Everyone wants to look and feel great in what they wear. Shopping and sporting your style shouldn’t be as degrading or frustrating as the fashion industry, and let’s not forget misogyny, sometimes makes it.
I say, WEAR WHAT YOU WANT.
I grew up the youngest child of four, so a lot of my clothes and fashion sense came from my older siblings. Acid wash jeans, anyone? This year it dawned on me, I didn’t really know what my fashion style was because I never actually thought about my personal style. I got the same kind of pieces I always got, bought some trends, but didn’t necessarily have a signature look.
To be honest, I’m still figuring that out, and it’s cool with me if it changes over time. Clothes are just another way to be creative. At my core, I’m a jeans and tshirt kinda gal. But I love the feeling I get when I wear a suit jacket. A nice, well fitting blazer makes me feel like a badass.
Still, I have clothes in my closet that I never wear too. Specifically, two leather jackets. So when I thought about the Try Day challenge, I knew I had to incorporate one of them. Another look I love is denim on denim, but since I don’t live on a ranch and professionally rope cattle, I wasn’t sure I could rock that style either. So, there was my challenge. Wear denim on denim with a leather jacket, and rock it.
I styled my look with things that I loved, and paired them with things I wanted to try. I wore dark denim skinny jeans with a lighter denim shirt. I scrunched up my socks on the outside of my boots (because 80s girl). I threw on a leather jacket, a scarf, and some teardrop earrings and went out with the hubs.
I loved my look and felt good in it (until we went outside, because this outfit is not winter weather appropriate for Wisconsin, but hey it’s called a “challenge” for a reason, right?) All wind advisories aside, I loved doing something that pushed me to try a new look. We could all do with a little more self confidence and creativity, don’t you think?
What items are hiding in your closet, begging to spend a night out?
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance.
March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.
What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.
A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.
Overview from Goodreads:
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.
I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies.
Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).
This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:
“A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.”
― Joy Harjo,
I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.
It really should be read aloud.
Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre?
What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend?
I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
I’m behind on blogging about my reading challenge.
Ok, let’s be honest, I’m behind on blogging in general. Transitions, yo. I’m taking it easy.
Something I’ve enjoyed so far this year has been picking a title each month from the book A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from March: Justice.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
I’m a big nonfiction reading fan. I love memoirs and biographies, so I was gripped right away by Stevenson’s writing. Threaded throughout the book is Stevenson’s involvement with the Walter McMillian case, meetings they had, court appearances and processes, interviews with family and witnesses, and police involvement. Intertwined amongst this case are stories of many cases Stevenson worked on that portray how he got his start into the battle of death row cases, and how his work would shape his path from then on. The writing kept my attention because you learn more about Stevenson and his work in chunks of casework, but there’s also this ongoing saga of what’s happening with Walter.
Stevenson began his own nonprofit practice that focuses on helping minorities and underage victims of the criminal justice system, specifically those placed on death row. His book is an intimate look at capital punishment law and how many people, guilty or not, end up on death row. He uncovers all kinds of issues within the system, such as tampering with evidence, tampering with jury selection, and larger social issues of racism and economic status.
I was first made aware of racism in the justice system after attending a local talk led by my city’s League of Women Voters chapter. In the talk, we looked at racial disparities in our court system in my own city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as nationally and internationally. Once you see those numbers, it’s kind of hard to ‘unsee’ them. You’ve got to know there’s a problem.
I witnessed it myself during my months working as a public health educator and teaching at the juvenile detention center. For the percentage of minority populations in my city, there’s a disproportionate amount of teens of color (mainly black and biracial teens) being sent to juvie.
As a country, we are largely punishing people of color in more violent manners than we are their white counterparts. Since that eye opening talk several years ago, I’ve been active in starting up a local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), where white folks put in the time and work and energy of educating themselves on the issues, partnering and learning from people of color led organizations, and working to create change.
It’s upsetting to me that so many people are still (color) blind to the issue, or simply unwilling to discuss it. Today, for example, a (white) friend of mine is in court contesting a fine she and her daughter each received for writing messages of inclusivity and peace in SIDEWALK CHALK outside a public space. The city fined her almost $1000 between the original fine and restitution saying they spent seven hours washing off SIDEWALK CHALK that took her less than an hour to write. ???
You can read about her case here, but it’s clear from the way the city alderman addressed the issue, that the problem wasn’t really with the chalk (though that is what they fined her for, however there are chalk messages all around the city now that have not been washed away). The problem was with her messages.
Messages that were written were, “Black Lives Matter,” “You Are Standing On Ho-Chunk Land,” “I Stand For Love,” “Peace Be Unto You: As-Salaam-Alaikum,” “You Are Welcome Here,” “The Time For Racial Justice is Now” and “There is Enough For Everyone.”
I stand with my friend and her messages of inclusivity and diversity as strength. I highly encourage everyone to read more about systemic racism, as we all play a role in it when we don’t actively unlearn and fight against it.
Just Mercy is a phenomenal book that tackles racism in the judicial system. And the most powerful part of the whole read are Stevenson’s thoughts on mercy. Given the many examples of hate we can see every day on the news, or right in our own hometowns, it’s more important than ever to question our own biases. I hope you’ll grab a copy of Stevenson’s work as I found it incredibly thought provoking, emotional, and timely.
A few of my favorite quotes:
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
Have you read Just Mercy yet? Or perhaps another title about racial justice?
What are your thoughts?
My friend Heather is a smart, lovable lady who doesn’t watch a lot of movies. Ask her if she’s seen something and the answer is probably no.
A month ago, however, she messages me and tells me I need to watch the show Twin Peaks, a cult drama I had never seen. She described it as a small town murder mystery. Ok, sure, I wanna know what happened to Laura Palmer, the dead girl. I’ll watch.
So I reserve what ends up being a season one and two box set from the library, and I message Heather when it comes in so we can have a social media shared viewing party.
Only I never hear back from her.
I message her via text, I try Facebook messenger, and I tweet at her. But if Heather is bad at having seen movies everyone else on the planet has seen, she is terrible at checking social media. Like working for the CDC is so hard, Heather? Check your messages! I have questions about this melodramatic tv show you made me watch!
So I watched all of season one and over half of season two without her. In a state of growing irritation.
I hate this show. Now all I have are questions.
I finally heard back from Heather. Her phone died and it took days to get a new one. This loss would unhinge a social media person like myself, but Heather just went on living her life, working by day, eating pizza rolls like a boss at night, probably sketching something amazing because she is a talented artist too.
So by the time I heard back from her, I had my own melodramatic show to air. I wanted to know why she made me watch this ridiculous show.
Here are the screenshots of our text conversation in which I tell Heather she is a terrible human being for making me watch Twin Peaks.
*Warning: if you haven’t seen the show, there are spoilers ahead.
This song is three minutes of teenage torture. Get your shit together, Donna! This is not a healthy relationship!
And now I find out the show is being revived and airing on Showtime! People are eating pie and dream dancing all about it on Twitter.
Also Heather has stopped replying to my texts once again. I think the owls got her.
Your turn. What do YOU think of Twin Peaks?