Love Your Body, Love Your Self

scale-urbeautiful

There are plenty of reasons we’re supposed to hate our bodies and millions of products sold to help us battle these insecurities. There are weight loss products, hair dyes, wrinkle creams, supplements, and surgical procedures designed to help us get over the feeling that our bodies are disgusting.

In fact, just having a body seems to be something that’s generally frowned upon.

There are some basic assumptions we’ve made as a culture in order for these attitudes to thrive, but that’s a whole other blog post. Instead, let’s look at how unfair we can be to our bodies, and why they deserve to be celebrated instead.


Laughing_Buddha

Every body has fat. And we’re so mean to fat.

Everybody knows all about how bad fat is supposed to be. Burn it off, starve it off, carve it out, avoid it altogether, put it in your breasts, butt, lips, or in the garbage, just don’t let it get the upper hand.

But fat is our friend. It really just wants to to protect your vital organs and take care of you when you can’t nourish yourself. It wants to envelop you in a warm hug on a cold day. It makes babies even cuter. And it’s just kind of fun and silly and wants to jiggle along when you giggle.

Be nice to your fat.


greyhairModel: Yasmina Rossi

Every body has hair. And we’re so mean to hair.

It’s okay to have hair, but only in certain acceptable places. Otherwise shave it off, wax it, tweeze it, rip it out, burn it, or zap it with a laser. Have some on your head, but only if you’re prepared to process the hell out of it. Strip off all the nice natural oils with detergents, coat it in synthetic lubricants, and then spend 3 hours loading it with more products, fry it with heat, burn it with chemical dyes, and then try to fix all of the damage you’ve done with even more “repair” products.

Hair has its own personality, and it doesn’t mean to argue with you, it’s just got to do its own thing. It would rather dance around in the wind, wild and unruly, than hear about your hairstyle plans. It might want to be big, or flat, or whirl around your scalp in all different directions. It does not care what colour is “in” this season, it joyfully changes its own colour; it glows in the sun, and in time it shifts into grey, silver and white.

Be nice to your hair.


interwovenhandsPhoto credit: alejandroplesch

Every body has skin. And we’re so mean to skin.

It’s never quite what we want. It’s too dry, too oily, too freckly, too wrinkly, too thin, too light, too dark, too saggy, too uneven, too blotchy, too blemished, too scarred. Scrub it, douse it with chemicals, cover it with makeup, screw up its natural balance and then lube it up with petroleum, strip it with acid, sandblast it with “microbeads,” fry it in the sun or bake it under the sickly glow of a tanning bed.

Your skin is your soft, sensitive bodyguard.  It’s cautious and protective, but ready to face any threat first without question. It will warn you when something’s not right and will become more resilient if abused. It’s a warm place for loved ones to find comfort. It’s your connection to the world, and the medium of your intention.

Be nice to your skin.


leafveins

Every body has veins. And we’re so mean to veins.

At some some point in your life you will be told that your veins are an unsightly problem. Whether it’s that vein that pops out of your forehead when you laugh, or the spider veins and varicose veins creeping over your legs, or whichever ones happen to show when you put on your bathing suit. You’ll be told to cover them up, squash them with socks, zap them or wish them away.

Your veins and arteries are magnificent, and they lovingly help to nourish every part of you. They do the bidding of your heart, and guide your blood on its journey through every cell in your body, making every breath you take another miraculous extension of your life. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Be nice to your veins.


blowingkiss

Every body has breath…

I predict that this will be the next completely normal, natural thing that will someday be considered a disgusting aspect of our bodies that needs to be regulated and controlled.

I mean besides breath mints and mouthwash and all of that. If I’m right, some day you are going to have to avoid breathing too much in front of people.

There will be advertisements for products that ask questions like,

“Tired of that nasty hot air coming out of your nose and mouth?”

“Are you embarrassed that your breathing is bothering people around you?”

People will wear masks, or filters, or some product to make the completely normal and natural act of breathing more socially acceptable, and we will all start being really mean to our breathing.

Sound ridiculous? It is, but so are all of the other ways we demean and subjugate our physical selves.

Life Before the Internet

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This week I came up against some technical difficulties. My work email was down and I wasn’t able to send or receive any messages for most of the day. Luckily I was able to get on with existing projects and I wasn’t up against any pressing deadlines that would have made it a disaster rather than an inconvenience.

I’m old enough to remember life before the internet, but not old enough to have worked in an office without using an email account.

The outage made me wonder to myself, half jokingly….What on earth did people do at work all day before emails and the internet?!

I’ve read that the most successful workers are ones that are proactive rather than reactive, meaning that they ignore their emails and focus on completing their highest priorities first rather than getting caught up in other tasks.

That ability to focus on only the most pressing work is something I strive for, but it’s easier said than done. Especially when, like me, you work in the field of communications, marketing, and social media where reaction times can have a significant impact on how your efforts are perceived. It’s a difficult balance to say the least.

Offline, All the Time

The experience also made me think about life in general before the internet.

I resisted getting a cell phone for the longest time. It was an extra expense, since I already had a land line, and frankly I didn’t WANT to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wherever I go and whatever I do.

Then, I realized that the way people socialized had quickly changed.

Before mobile phones and constant connectivity, people would plan to meet at a fixed location at a fixed time. You would make an appointment, basically, and if you got held up for some reason, the other person would just have to wait. Or leave.

As cell phones became more and more common, making plans to meet up with your friends required a lot less planning. All of a sudden, you could just kind of drift to the same general area and send each other messages about when and where you’d be in the same place at the same time.

NoPlans

For people too young to remember getting together any other way, can you imagine trying to find your buddies at a music festival, or a darkened movie theatre, a huge lecture hall, or a particular restaurant or coffee shop without the help of messaging OR GPS??!

Truly, us pre-internet people had it rough.

Pre-Email Collaboration

I saw a documentary years ago…and I can’t remember the exact topic…but in the late 1970s or early 1980s, two brilliant minds in the field of [insert academic area of study] were working together on a project and sharing research. One lived in the US and one lived in the UK.

In order to share information, each expert meticulously typed up their findings on a typewriter into stacks of paper containing all of their findings. They would then ship the paper files by mail to the other person, which would take at least a couple of weeks to arrive.

The recipient would then spend the next several months reading through the findings, adding their thoughts and data, typing up their response, and would then send another package by mail back again.

TypewriterWork

They might have had a phone call or two, but the long-distance phone rates were very high and even short phone calls would be very expensive. They mainly communicated through letters.

By the end of it, the two collaborators made an incredible breakthrough and changed the course of [insert area of academic study] forever. The entire process took many, many years.

It’s hard to imagine that we’ve undergone such an incredible change of pace in only 30-40 years, but we have.

One Thing at a Time

I know it’s naive to assume that life must have been rosy and carefree before – we are so quick to romanticize the past, and changes in culture and technology are always feared by people living in the semi-present – but it does make me wonder if our expectations have become a bit warped in the rush to keep up.

For example, I read a chain email years ago that described how people used to do laundry before washing machines and dryers. It listed in detail the tasks that a housekeeper or average mom would have to go through to get all of the household’s clothes clean: soaking, boiling, scrubbing with a washboard, wringing, hang-drying, folding, etc. It suggested that we all be very thankful that we don’t have to work that hard anymore.

Image Credit: Charming InkIt struck me because, while I’m sure doing laundry the old fashioned way was grueling work and a lot less convenient than popping everything in a machine and walking away, it was probably one of only a handful of things that the person had to do that day.

It was called “laundry day” because that was the day you devoted to getting the laundry done. There weren’t 1000 other things to do that were all waiting for your attention. In fact, in Victorian times, if you were wealthy enough, you had staff that just did laundry all day every day.

The idea of “dinner in 30 minutes” is a challenge these days, but would sound ridiculous to a Victorian cook who would have food on the go all day long and could easily prepare a meal or snack for a surprise guest in far less than 30 minutes.

Give and Take

Technology has given us a great deal of freedom and entertainment, but it’s also made us busier by making everything we do self-serve. The more conveniences we welcome into our lives, the more self-sufficient we are supposed to be, and the more productive.

Why hire a person to take care of tasks when there’s an app for that and you can get it done yourself in just seconds? Well…because now your phone as 1000 apps on it and you don’t have time to use all of them.

switchboard1943Bell System International Switchboard in 1943

It’s a trixy trade-off, and despite what we’re meant to believe, we don’t always come out ahead.

While I’m certainly comfortable turning off my phone and staying offline during a vacation, I do know the anxiety of losing my phone, losing my internet, and finding myself disconnected involuntarily. It sucks. And it’s surprisingly disorienting.

It makes me realize how dependent I am on these technologies, and makes me wonder what my life would look like had they never been invented, for better or for worse.

Why Target Missed the Mark in Canada

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Today Target announced that it will close all 133 of its Canadian locations just two years after its rapid expansion into the market.

I live really close to a Target store, and saw for myself how disappointing their performance was. Sadly, we kind of saw this coming. The business experts all have their own analyses but here’s what I saw, plain and simple.

Too Much, Too Fast

Target entered the Canadian market by buying up most of the remaining Zellers locations from the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), who had bought up the struggling discount chain years earlier. This apparently worked for Walmart when it first sprang into Canada in 1994, so I suppose this seemed like a great strategy on paper.

But to take on Walmart and compete for the hard-earned loonies and toonies of Canadians in such a rapid and enormous expansion, Target would have to bring its A game to the fight. As everyone is well aware, Walmart is a force to contend with.

Unfortunately, the follow through just wasn’t there.

Lack of Selection, Lack of Stock

I don’t relish shopping at Walmart. I know their labour practices are appalling and tend to feel guilty even walking in. I much prefer to support local businesses, small shops, and I took the Handmade Pledge dammit (that used to be a thing).

But to their credit, of all the random things I’ve ever decided to buy, my chances of finding those items at Walmart have been pretty good. It’s a great place to find those things you don’t know you’ll need until you need them.

It’s still kind of amazing to me that you can walk into one store and come out with a meat thermometer, a selection of craft supplies, a set of power tools, a couch slipcover, a grooming brush for your favourite furry animal, and a week’s worth of groceries. You will probably even find a wide selection of brands for each item you buy.

Target disappointed already-loyal Walmart shoppers in Canada because they didn’t manage to match Walmart’s enormous selection of stuff. Even if you were really lucky and they had the kind of item you wanted, the selection was pretty dismal.

And the only thing worse than not finding what you were looking for is finding that the item you want is out of stock. Every single time.

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

The sunglasses display at my local Target has had the same three lonely pairs of shades on an otherwise empty set of display stands for several months. You almost want to buy up the last few pairs out of pity for the little guys.

Overpricing

My first and only Target experience in the US was a cross-border shopping trip where I bought an armload of cheapo skirts and tops for $4 each. I was pretty thrilled. I still have one of the skirts actually, surprisingly it’s lasted me for many years.

So I was pretty surprised when the prices at Target in Canada were nowhere near as affordable as they were in the US. They were also well above Walmart’s prices, and I think that’s what was really disappointing to Canadians.

This past summer I went into Target to look for a swimsuit and, out of a handful of styles that I’d consider wearing, I found a two-piece set I wanted to try on. Then I noticed that the $30 price tag was for the top part only, and the bottoms had to be bought separately. “Where am I, The Bay?” I thought to myself and put it back on the rack.

It’s Not all Bad

To be fair though, Target did have some nice things going for it.

The store environment is, in my opinion, much more pleasant than any Walmart. It’s bright and clean, feels less like a danky warehouse, and hey, there are even free cart wipes for all the budget-conscious germaphobes out there.

Rather than an in-store McDonalds they offer a mini Starbucks. I know Starbucks is another source of pure evil, but it’s also a good source of the sugar-loaded high-calorie caffeinated beverages that I need to drink because they’re so freakin’ tasty.

And although it’s a sad sign of the company’s flop, I really enjoy that unlike the Walmart and Costco madhouses, Target remains quiet and uncrowded. Like, just a few days before Christmas it got “busy,” and they had to open maybe three whole checkouts instead of the usual one. The insanity.

I do feel very sad for the thousands of workers who will lose their jobs because of the company’s mismanagement of the expansion. Hopefully they’ll all get first dibs on the liquidated merchandise.

I’m willing to admit I’m looking forward to the sell-out deals. Maybe I’ll finally find some more $4 skirts like I was hoping to all along.

Edit: Target is now being criticized that former CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s severance was more than the entire budget for the 17,600 staff who lost their jobs because of mistakes made on Steinhafel’s watch.

This is a great reminder about why big box stores aren’t helping the growing wage gap. In fact, when it comes to paying CEOs massively disproportional salaries compared to their front line workers, big box stores like Target and Walmart are the biggest culprits.

The money you save on those super cheap items is really coming out of the salary of low-wage workers in your community.

Sigh. Maybe I don’t need another armload of cheap skirts after all.

2 Recipes for DIY Laundry Detergent

Green cleaning the old-fashioned way. Image credit: http://goo.gl/i4AoND

Green cleaning the old-fashioned way. Image credit: http://goo.gl/i4AoND

Today I whipped up a batch of homemade liquid laundry detergent. It costs almost nothing, takes very little time, and lasts for months.

I used to make dry powdered laundry soap but last year I moved to an apartment building where the washers only take liquid detergent. I grudgingly went back to buying store-bought detergent. That stuff is just nasty.

Did you know that a lot of detergents contain florescent pigments to make your clothes appear to be brighter? They’re called “optical brighteners” and are used in detergents, cosmetics, and paper.

I find it really funny that we use chemical cleaning products that reference the natural cleaning methods people used to rely on. Ever wonder why cleaners are scented with lemon or “outdoor fresh scent”? It’s because people used to clean with lemon juice, and by hanging things outside. People “freshened” with fresh air, not Febreeze, and bleached their whites in actual sunlight, not bottles of Unilever brand Sunlight detergent.

I know going back to these methods alone is not always possible, but I do at least try to reduce the number of commercial cleaning products I use by making my own household cleaners.

I had heard about the DIY laundry soap recipe made famous by the Duggar family, and wanted to try it out, but found that the batch sizes were so enormous it just wasn’t practical for a person living in a small space.

Luckily, I eventually found a recipe for a 1/4 batch of the liquid soap recipe that makes enough for two eco-sized detergent bottles. That’s still a lot of soap, but more manageable to make on my little stove in a standard sized dutch oven.

Here are the laundry detergent recipes I’ve had success with. Give them a try!

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent

laundrysoap-powdered
This was originally posted on The Burlap Bag.

You’ll need:

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda*
1 bar of soap

*Washing soda, not baking soda! You can usually find it in the cleaner section at the supermarket along with the Borax.

Now do this:

 1. Grate one bar of soap into a mixing bowl. 

Yes, your regular cheese grater will work just fine.

I’ve found that cheap soap like Ivory or Irish Spring crumbles easily so grates up pretty fast. Fancier “gourmet” soap like The Soap Works or hand-made artisan soap is lovely to use, but it doesn’t disintegrate into a fine powder so is more difficult and time-consuming to grate up.

Use whatever soap you have. I prefer the fancier stuff because I know there are less harmful chemicals and additives, which is one of the reasons I like making my own soap. Also, I can alternate soap colours and get a nice confetti of soap bits into my mix! (Ah, simple pleasures.) But when we’ve bought 3 packs of Ivory bars on sale and the stockpile is staring at me, I’ll gladly use it up this way.

2. Pour in one cup of borax

3. Pour in one cup of washing soda

4. Stir all the ingredients around until it’s well mixed

5. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Seriously, that’s it.

Use 1 TBSP per load, 2 TBSP if you have a mess and mean business. Add it to the water before you start loading your clothes. And don’t worry, it works great in cold water.

I used to keep my DIY laundry soap in a big mason jar in the laundry room with a tablespoon in the jar.

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

laundrysoap-liquid

This was originally posted on Busy-At-Home.

You’ll need:

¼ bar of Fels Naptha soap*
2 tablespoons of borax
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) washing soda
2 clean empty 1.17 gallon laundry bottles

*Again, the soap you use is up to you. Fels Naptha or other laundry soap is fine, or just use what you have around. I’ve actually found that hotel soaps are just about the right size for this recipe, so be classy and stock up during your next hotel stay!

Now do this:

1. Grate the ¼ Fels Naptha Bar
If you are using another soap, this equals about 1/5 of a cup of soap. I usually use 1/4 cup of grated soap, or one bar of hotel soap, just to keep it simple.

2. In a small pot, melt the grated soap in 1 cup of water over medium-low heat, stirring constantly.
Keep going until all of the soap bits have dissolved.

3. While you’re melting the soap, pour 10 cups of water (2½ quarts) into a large container.
Make sure there is enough room left to double the amount of liquid and some. 

4. Once the soap is ready, pour it into the water along with the borax and washing soda.

5. Stir the mixture.

6. Add another 10 cups (2½ quarts) of water.
You’re thinking, “That’s a whole lotta soap!” You’re right. But hang in, we’re just getting started.

7. Stir again.
It should start to get a little sudsy.

8. Cover the mixture and let it sit overnight to thicken.

9. Once set, stir well to even out the thickness of the gel.

10. Fill each of the empty laundry detergent bottles about halfway with the soap, dividing evenly.

11. Fill up the rest of the bottles with water so that the mixture is 1 part water to 1 part soap.
THAT’S a whole lotta soap. And this is a quarter of the original recipe? Good grief.

12. Shake the bottles vigorously now, and before each use.

It will separate so be sure to mix it up before pouring. Use 1/4 cup per load of laundry.

If you enjoyed this post and want more DIY, money saving, eco-friendly ideas for around your house, check out my Thrifty Hippie Tips Pinterest board.

Living #BelowTheLine

After getting a bit of negativity out of my system, I’ve decided to focus on gratitude moving forward.

Right as I started to focus on being truly thankful for everything I’ve got, I heard about the Live Below The Line campaign. To raise money and awareness about global issues of poverty, participants pledge to spend only $1.75 per day on food.

I mulled it over for a bit. I hesitated to take part because the start date was just a couple of days away and I hadn’t done any fundraising, research or preparation. I have the added challenge of needing to stick to gluten free items, and most of the suggested low-cost meals contain bread or flour.

But I think this challenge came along at just the right time for me, and at the last minute I decided to jump in. I signed up and chose to fundraise in support of Make Poverty History.

So, it’s Day Two of the five-day challenge and I’m learning some humbling lessons. Here are a couple of them:

When you have little money, fresh food becomes a luxury item.

As a new Ottawa resident, I was interested in finding out what kind of food box programs exist here. Delivery services like Mama Earth Organics are pretty popular in Toronto and I hoped to find something similar here.

I happened to meet someone who volunteers with the Good Food Box program. When I realized I lived right down the street from one of the drop-off locations I decided to try it out. I signed up for a small box.

For $11.50 (including a $1.50 fee for ordering online) I got a load of produce including potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, bananas, oranges, and a few other essentials. They lasted very well and I still have a few carrots and onions left.

Even with the amazing savings I got by purchasing produce through a food box program, I still managed to go over budget on my first #BelowTheLine meal.

Yikes. When I thought about what my simple meal would have cost at regular grocery store prices, I started to realize just how difficult this challenge is.

Small budget, small portions.

I like to think I’m pretty eco-concious, and that I don’t take the food I eat for granted. I like to think I’m pretty thrifty too, and that I don’t waste what I don’t have to.

But to survive on $1.75/day, I’ve had to re-evaluate my portion sizes. When I realized I’d gone over budget on my first meal, I halved it and realized I still had enough left over for at least one more meal.

Soup, veggies & rice.

Soup, veggies & rice. Not bad!

You can follow my progress on my #BelowTheLine fundraising page. Please leave me a message and consider making a small donation to support my efforts.

Do you have any advice on how to maximize your food budget? How do you practice gratitude when simple things in life, like having food to eat, are so easy to take for granted? Please share!

 

Does Social Networking Make Us Narcissists?

I think Nina Arsenault is an incredible artist. [Heads up, her website has some NSFW content.] She explores and deconstructs the concept of “personhood” with such ferocity, it’s completely breathtaking.

Nina Arsenault - Mannequin (2007)

I recently read an interview with Nina Arsenault about her ties with serial killer Luka Magnotta. (Thanks Jeff Perera at Higher Unlearning for sharing the link.) The conversation turned to a general discussion about the “virtual self” and narcissism as the new norm:

Back in the 80s it was difficult for people to understand the concept of virtual reality.  The term was considered an oxymoron.  Now, the minds of an entire generation are developing with virtual selves–representations of themselves which can have exaggerated, false, or accurate relationships to their lived existences.

What my generation calls narcissism–understanding oneself and others as a series of images–is being bred into human beings globally.  Post-millennial children do not really know what life is like without a virtual self. I don’t think we can anticipate where this evolution/mutation will take us as a world culture.

What new technologies will emerge to fuse with this mentality? How will it further commoditize us as human beings? How will it continue to construct our understanding of reality as a series of images we are buying, selling, vivifying, living up to or not living up to?

Her comments really struck me.

Does social networking encourage narcissism? Is it harmful for kids to grow up exploring, forming and expressing their identities on an image-conscious, sound-byte loving internet?

A blog article called Transparency is more expedient than lying does a good job of addressing these questions, I think.

As the article explains, our identities are much more fluid than they used to be. Thanks in part to these “virtual selves” that Arsenault talks about, our identities are now largely a matter of our own opinion.

So how do you know who is authentically who they say they are?

Venetian Masks

Well, thanks to social networks and everyone’s ubiquitous online presence, the evidence is out there for everyone to see.

Our lives are becoming transparent. This makes it very difficult to create a fake personal identity that’s convincing. Not impossible, but difficult.

As Nina Arsenault herself points out through her work, identity is already extremely fluid and the way we express who we are is extremely complicated.

Think about it this way. Which do you think is more disturbing?:

  1. I lie about my age on Facebook so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.

    OR

  2. I use cosmetics or surgery to alter my physical body so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.

Nina Arsenault - Ordinary Day, Extraordinary Girl (2007)

We live in a society where transforming our physical selves is commonplace and considered desirable. So is it really shocking that this sort of behaviour would translate to how we present our virtual selves?

Aren’t we already pretty narcissistic and image-obsessed?

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