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"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."

 

Embody | Part 4 | Practical Steps

EMBODY is my "word of the year" for 2018. It's become a pillar for me and came as the culmination of a long, negative "relationship" with my body that I have been vigilantly trying to correct, understand, walk into joy with, and hopefully help any like me along the way.

1. The Realization of The Body (The Literal Embody)
2. Embodying What Is Beautiful
3. Comparing and Contrasting Beauty and Sexual/Physical Desirability

4. Practical Steps
5. 
The Creativity and Artistry of Bodies
6. The Embodiment of Others


"You will take care of what you value." These words, heard on a podcast, have struck. my. heart. It makes so much sense. Instead of chasing the wind and always coming up short, filled with disgust, there is a way because of "good things" to embody my spirit and wear it joyfully on the outside.

Instead of doing anything out of:

Hate
Disgust
Envy
Anger
Hopelessness
Shame


I can change the narrative and, by embodying the good, act out of:

Love
Gratitude
Generosity
Grace
Hope
Joy


This has been my aim in the practical. 

For a few weeks there I was just taking notes on the “Trains of Thought” when they came blasting down my inner tracks. This led me to a fun place. Brain-storming and getting to know “my character.” These are all simple but have brought so much joy in just practical outworking. I feel more connected to and grateful for my body these last months. Not where I want to be eventually, but definitely getting there…

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An important note: Don’t ever take someone’s practice of a principal and copy-and-paste it to yourself. Explore the principal, then walk out our own life. Do your research, pace yourself, and find your little joys. All of this started becoming a part of my “weekly routine” bit by bit over six months. In 2016 we really focused on our “soul fire” things, which for me included cooking healthy, delicious food and the feeling after working out. I’m really in a sweet place with both… feeling like my family is fed well, my creative outlet is met with cooking a lot, and losing a lot of negative and yucky stigma over exercise (the way to be skinny or “pay back” eating bad). Every week I do something… on the fullest maybe five times… on the least only once. But it’s been re-trained in my head to be a “hit of happiness” and I’m working for that feeling right afterwards. I feel like my body is strong and healthy, which is absolutely wonderful. 

And the years before these were survival mode! We got through the other side, but we had no headspace, energy, or time for “more.” Don’t feel bad if you are there! It is crucial, you will get through, and “the other side” will feel even better than you remembered! It will be fun to get things done, not burdensome. Make it fun, when it's fun. No shame here.

Okay! Here we go:

- Speak Gratitude
I've had to do this verbally and outloud. When the "voices of hate and shame" whisper, I've been striving to re-train my mind to being grateful. I try to find one physical part and notice it, and thank God outloud. When legitimate yet "negative" feelings arise, I'm learning to make the effort and gain the peace. (For example: "I feel sluggish." "Okay, well, go for a run and you WILL feel better. So just do it." or "I feel sad." "Okay, make something delicious... it will bring you joy! Go do it!") There is so much to be grateful for that can compel us to good action.

- Grand Childhood Memories Trip of 2018
Seeking to make the most special, yet simple-expectation-ed, time for us… enjoying the thrill of waiting, letting “the happening” be seen through rose-colored-glasses, and promising a good return on the moments once they’ve become memories. (Details here!)

- Social Media
I saw a quote that said something like “Unfollow anyone who make you feel discontent or jealous.” (Or something like that). I did. I am pretty picky about who I follow anyway, but I went back through. I firmly believe that what we put before our eyes and what we allow to infiltrate and be “normal” (even if it’s NOT!) impacts our souls. I also did a tally of all my followers. I made a list of what “kind” of account they were, and went through one by one.

At the end I had about exactly 50% people who were friends or family. The other 50% were split pretty evenly between “writers” (I decided this was people I follow because of their WRITING), photographers, motherhood, food accounts, body positivity accounts, designers, travel accounts, etc. I only follow one “fashion blogger” and no fitness/weight loss/body goals accounts. For me it brought out more temptation and gave microphones to the negative voices. Instead, my feed now is a place filled with positivity and in general and mostly, I leave being on IG feeling uplifted, not competitive or complaining. This, as you can imagine, was ridiculously helpful. 

- Dancing
“Dance like no one is watching”… actually. Just dance with no one watching. Ha! I’ve closed and locked the door, tried to find a fun playlist, and then just move… let however I feel move “out.” No mirrors, no witnesses, no one but me and God. So, if I feel stupid, then I’ll move stupid. If I feel amused, I’ll do whatever I can to express amused. If I wave of passion rushes over, I’ll try to embrace it and stomp it out.  A lot of the body positive accounts I follow encourage and do this... so I finally decided to start trying!


- Relaxation Meditation
Not for “spiritual” purposes as much as physical — though I know all are connected. Using these guided relaxation videos Caleb and I both are always so impressed with how much of the body is tense that we didn’t realize… and how much better we feel releasing the tension and being coached how to. It feels refreshing.

- Posture
With the help of my brilliant sister, at home exercises, and a few products, I’ve been feeling so much better… it’s amazing to correct posture and feel the instant “better-ness” of standing properly. I have a long way to go to re-train my muscles. This fall Katelyn James posted about her “neck hump” thanks to bad computer/phone posture. I was mortified to feel back behind my neck as I watched… I have “the hump/curve too! The exercises my sister has given me have improved my flexibility and mobility, and the two “devices” have been a game changer! Caleb can tell the difference… it really is working. (The products are linked here).

- Natural Skin Care
I’m so passionate about food and made the switch to taking care of my skin and hair (almost totally!) with “products I could eat.” It feels like cooking for my face. I did a whole post about the details of that here.

- My Natural Face
My goal is to have supple, glowing, sun-kissed (by the real sun) skin without spending much money, while “killing two or three birds with one stone” (aka: making memories with the kids, moving my body, and getting sun and minerals on the beach), with homemade and local (first) ingredients then chemical-free/toxin-free/paraben-free ingredients (because this is SO MUCH FUN for me! It doesn’t feel like a burden or “another thing to do”… it’s a blast. Wanting to use less make-up overall, even for a "fancy" face. I want my own body to be at it's best and it's fascinating to get to figure out how to do that. No shame for make-up-lovers. That's not the point. I love research and concoctions and experimenting and analyzing results. It brings such joy.) Details in this post!

- My Natural Hair
Comfort in my own skin, at least for this season, meant peeling the layers to my actual naked body as God made it. I found a lot of identity and confidence but also envy, desperation, and toxic mindsets in “being a blonde.” Quickly I realized: Oh my word… my hair is falling out, fried, breaking, and crispy… the embodiment of my internal feelings about myself! Yikes! I wanted my hair to be strong, soft, vibrant, and cared for. Like I wanted my heart. It was a “tangible step” for me to take into this. So, I had my hair dyed back to its natural color, and I have been absolutely babying it! But… it is working! My hair texture and strength has reversed in the last four months. It’s growing faster, too! I had to decide if I wanted to have long healthy hair, or blonde hair… and while both “felt like me” ultimately I swung a little more to the natural health side of the choice. It took a solid three months to even “like” the change. I’m getting close to loving it ;) (The details of what I’m doing are here).

- My Color Story
I love white, black, blue (from navy to pale), and red. Trends are fun, but hello! really distracting at times (and expensive almost always). Realizing: I’m not really a grey person! Why do I keep buying grey things? Or pastel person! Or purple person! has been fun. Even though I enjoy it so much on others, or on Instagram, or or… My spirit is pretty classic, bold, yet simple and happy.

- My Clothing
Honed in the qualities I most wanted to embody, I brainstormed words, created mood boards, and paired through the “pieces of art” that I will dress my form and narrate my spirit. The defining words I came to were: “Classic, merry, and sensible.” Classic both for “standing the test of time” and also “classy-ness and elegance.” Merry, a vintage-sounding word for a mix of happy and whimsical. And sensible: both clothing that is practical for a mother of two who really isn’t going to galas or luxe-anything’s, and also “that makes sense” for a woman in 2018 to be wearing… modern not costume-y. (My post detailing the final line-up and more of the process is here)

- My Artistic Details: (this relates mostly to “how I clothe myself”)

Texture
Denim (I love how it’s sturdy)
Silk/silky (I love how it’s soft)
Cotton (I love how it’s functional)

Patterns:
Breton Stripe
Small Check
Polka Dot

Shape:
Wide/open/interesting necklines
“Womanly”/structure mixed with curve
Wraps/ties

Details:
Piping and trim
Brass Hardware (buttons — also buttons in general, snaps, zippers, etc)
Sunglasses

Hair Style:
Down + Curled
Headbands
Pencil Up-do’s

Jewelry:
“Gold”
“Diamond”/Crystal
Timeless design

Other Notes:

Love one pop of color against neutrals
Love color-blocking with shades of the same color
Love beads or “crystal” sewn into clothes

Things I noticed: I don’t prefer lace on me, most floral patterns, entirely loose and flowy cuts, stretchy/spandex-y/body-con type fabrics (unless I’m wearing dem yoga pants), graphics/writing on clothes, chevron and buffalo check, geometric or natural stones jewelry, excessively trendy pieces, turtlenecks (but man I love them… they just aren’t my happy place on me. Something for me to admire on others hahah).


Here’s the fun part… everyone will be different. I love people I know who dress in almost all neutrals and those who are like a living rainbow. I love the stories those tell. I love how people and their bodes can embody rain forests, and art museums, and soccer fields, and eras of old, and the quality of mystery, and mermaids, and Boston, and horses. I love the stories in the forms. I love when people do it well with courage and joy. It’s such a worthwhile goal.

My Embodied Routine | Skin + Hair

As I wrote about here, I have been on a mission to 1) "cook for my face" and use products on my skin that are "safe enough to eat, 2) pull back from the great beauty product industry (mostly personal reasons and to know "I can"), and 3) for the fun! This type of research and discovery and results is SO. MUCH. FUN. for me! I'm taking the chance to do it while I'm in a time of life that I can.

None of the products I recommend are sponsored or have been given as gifts. I've bought and tried them all myself! I'll include a few "this didn't work for me's" along the way too... but everyone's skin is different. So. My success doesn't necessarily mean yours!

I've linked all the products in my Amazon Shop... so you can click here and find anything (at least that Amazon has...): I'm Kristen Amazon Front.  This isn't sponsored either, but I get, like, a 3% commission from anything off this link. So I figured "why not!" This gets it all in the same place for you, it's easy for me to update, and it might bring in a little travel money. If you can get any of this at a small, local business or for cheaper at Target... totally do it. Saving money and being more local is a large part of my heart in this! And I get how Amazon commissions can look conflicting with that ;) So I'm admitting it all upfront! Haha

HAIR CARE

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Kristen's Favorite Hair Mask:

I've tried them all you guys. Eggs. Honey. Yogurt. Apple cider vinegar. Banana. Mayo. Avocado. It's been five months of science projects over here! Hahah But bar none, hands down, for me these three are the most effective.

- Castor Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Real aloe vera (haven't tried bottled, though!)

Literally just slick your head up with palm-fulls of all, starting at the scalp, massage for 10 minutes, tie up in a loose bun, and shower anytime in the next hour to 24 hours. When I first got going I did this every other day, and would sleep in it each night. After a month I went down to twice a week (once over night, once for a few hours during the day). Now I sleep in it once a week. The oil has made my hair so strong and soft, the aloe makes it so shiny!

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Honesty Policy:

I'm having a hard time with chemical-free/natural shampoos and conditioners. First, they're just expensive to play around with. Second, I've used two or three and they were awful. I decided to try some other options.  I used the RemyPure bottles (shampoo and conditioner) for a month straight, then OGX Argan Oil of Morocco for a month, and in December used Argan Magic (far left). Argan Magic has been by FAR FAR FAR my favorite. It doesn't lather well, but other wise it's had the best results. I'm hoping once my hair is even a bit more healthy I can try some chemical-free options to maintain it. 

SKIN CARE

Literally everything I can find says that the foundation of good skin care is "Exfoliate, Cleanse, Tone, Moisturize, every night, no exceptions." So mama is obeying!

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I've been using this system since highschool (recommended to me by my dermatologist!), and it's still my favorite. I tried a few other exfoliators including coffee grounds, salt, baking soda, turmeric, etc. Nothing gives me the results good ol' white sugar and olive oil do. I've added some drops of tea tree oil to reduce redness and help even tone. I also tried a large variety of local, homemade, all-natural, charcoal, etc soaps (soap is cheaper and easier to experiment with) but Dr. Bronner's Castille BAR Soap is the victor. 

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I also tried many toners! Apple cider vinegar, green tea, lemon, lavender, rice water... but nothing has been as good as this combo (which was suggested to me by a IG reader!!)

- Witch Hazel
- Rose Water
- Elemi Oil
- Frankincense Oil


It doesn't skin, it's so soothing, and my skin looks so even! You can also put some in a spritz bottle and spray it on your wet or dry hair for a little shine! I do this!

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Last but not least! The Dunk Tank.

Jojoba oil, Vitamin E oil, Argan oil, Coconut oil, castor oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, apricot oil... phew! I tried these ALL. Here's my faves!

- Coconut oil (to remove make-up... so I guess this should be at the beginning of the post! Before washing!)
- Vitamin E oil (I adore the JASON brand!!) or Argan Oil (got mine from Trader Joe's) for the face
- Castor oil for eyebrows, eyelashes, and eye area (It's pretty thick so it's good for more delicate areas. But you have to be careful or your eyes will be all goopy! It also helps thicken and grow hair! I can't say I've noticed longer lashes/brows... But I notice DEFINITE thickness improvement!)

SUPPLEMENTS

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"Everywhere" is talking about collagen and its practical divinity for skin and it's elasticity and health, so I've been mixing it up with collagen protein powder, homemade bone broth, and collagen oil. It dawned on me that collagen is what people get injections of during plastic surgery or for "plumping." So, I'm thinking this is more of a longterm lifestyle thing than "instant results for a 20-something."

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I have SO MANY MORE supplements in my cart on Amazon and saved in lists. But this is what I take now:

- Biotin (great for hair, nails, skin)
- Rainbow Light Organic Prenatal/Multivitamin (been taking this the whole way through since Rowdy's pregnancy)
- Fish Oil
- Charcoal (because I get SO BLOATED! This helps very much.)

My Embodied Wardrobe | Capsule + Essential

“The significance - and ultimately the quality - of the work we do is
determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.”
― Wendell Berry


A made a secret board and to it I only pinned images that I ADORE and images that I felt like showed a "part of me." "This looks like what I feel like." Or "This looks like who I am." Not just clothes... sights and food and furniture and homes and the like. Anything that stirred up that "Oh yes!!!" sensation in me. (You know, the way I feel walking down Main Street Disney or watching Mrs. Maisel or listening to The Andrew Sisters and Vivaldi). That made me not just "like it" but know it. I found an interesting pattern... lots of lines, pops of red, smiling/sass, memory-making, and black and white and black and white and black and white. Hm. I know I love blue, but I don't think I realized how drawn my spirit is to red. I knew I loved "playful" but I don't think I realized how sweet a more tailored, classic look could be. I KNEW I loved black, and then I remembered why all over again!

It's so easy to got swept up in the trends and think you love a color or look because it's what is popular, but there are few things I love more than when I am seeing a "creation" of a friend (their outfit, their home, their music, etc) and I can say: "That looks like or feels like you. That's YOU in living room/chorus/clothing form!" I also realized that if I were styling a photoshoot, or producing a play, I would be crazy-attentive to the colors and costumes! It tells a story. Thinking of myself as a little theater show, and having the fun of using all elements to tell my narrative was so fulfilling! As opposed to what I often feel when looking at fashion/passing through stores/etc. Usually the "I want I want I wish I wish!" kicks in, but after this I've found myself so content... so happy with my presentation. It feels true to my spirit. It feels (drumroll!): embodied.

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With this little exercise behind me, and using tips from lots of different "Capsule Wardrobe" posts on Pinterest, I did as I was told: emptied my WHOLE closet and sorted through each item one by one. Only that which I LOVED could stay. I also knew I was intentionally pairing down to a color story and vibe for the time being. Put big patterns, lots of color, florals, etc into a bin in the garage. And just keep my favorite items. I ended up being a few pieces for $1.50-$3 on Swap.Com to fill out the corners. I've known what I've loved for a long time, but I definitely "get distracted" from it and end up with pieces that were a waste of money and space. Turning to a more focused, intentional, patient way has been fun.

My closet has a little over 40 pieces (minus pajamas, exercise clothes, bumming-around-cleaning-t-shirts-and-stretchy-workout-pants, etc). I took a whole trash bag to GoodWill and have one box sitting in the garage to re-evaluate in a few months. No clothes shopping whatsoever until then! See ya in May, stores! hahah.

It feels SO HAPPY to open my closet door and see my colors! My trim and piping! My stripes! My brown leather bags!

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I left all my shoes in my closet because the just go on their shelf and it doesn't make my life harder to have them there. But these are the main ones I wear day-in day-out!

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I also reaffirmed my love for "crystal"/"diamond"/vintage jewelry. It's like wearing a little art deco 1920's window on your ear. Oh! And as for sunglasses? Tortoise shell pattern in vintage shapes or aviators. Those are my ride-or-die's. 

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- My Clothing
Honed in the qualities I most wanted to embody, I brainstormed words, created mood boards, and paired through the “pieces of art” that I will dress my form and narrate my spirit. The defining words I came to were: “Classic, merry, and sensible.” Classic both for “standing the test of time” and also “classy-ness and elegance.” Merry, a vintage-sounding word for a mix of happy and whimsical. And sensible: both clothing that is practical for a mother of two who really isn’t going to galas or luxe-anything’s, and also “that makes sense” for a woman in 2018 to be wearing… modern not costume-y. (My post detailing the final line-up and more of the process is here)

- My Artistic Details: (this relates mostly to “how I clothe myself”)

Texture
Denim (I love how it’s sturdy)
Silk/silky (I love how it’s soft)
Cotton (I love how it’s functional)

Patterns:
Breton Stripe
Small Check
Polka Dot

Shape:
Wide/open/interesting necklines
“Womanly”/structure mixed with curve
Wraps/ties

Details:
Piping and trim
Brass Hardware (buttons — also buttons in general, snaps, zippers, etc)
Sunglasses

Hair Style:
Down + Curled
Headbands
Pencil Up-do’s

Jewelry:
“Gold”
“Diamond”/Crystal
Timeless design

Other Notes:

Love one pop of color against neutrals
Love color-blocking with shades of the same color
Love beads or “crystal” sewn into clothes

Things I noticed: I don’t prefer lace on me, most floral patterns, entirely loose and flowy cuts, stretchy/spandex-y/body-con type fabrics (unless I’m wearing dem yoga pants), graphics/writing on clothes, chevron and buffalo check, geometric or natural stones jewelry, excessively trendy pieces, turtlenecks (but man I love them… they just aren’t my happy place on me. Something for me to admire on others hahah).

The Embodied Vacation | Childhood Memories Edition

TAKING THE INTANGIBLE (OUR CHILDHOOD MEMORIES) AND MAKING THEM... TANGIBLE
(GIVING THEM BACK TO OUR CHILDREN AS THEIR OWN CHILDHOOD MEMORIES...)

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It is no secret that we love to travel, and we've been dreaming of a multi-month trip (or more!) in other countries our entire relationship ... as we're building Caleb's career base here in Florida we can't take off for 3-6 months yet, but we're anticipating and working toward that "someday!"

We positively thrilled big 2018 adventure: a month in Europe, chasing down the story locations and inspirations that make up some of our sweetest childhood memories.  Last year, for our Italy trip, we booked it last minute (about eight weeks in advance) so, while it was pretty-dang-close-to-perfect, our kindling wood was stoked for an even longer, "more special" trip. 

And it's pretty sweet how often something regular turns into something special by just the slightest adjustment of perspective, or simplest moment of pause to build excitement, be in awe, or remember.

So, with lots of time to prepare and increase wonder, revisit old books and movies, have them on repeat for our children, and learn some extra details ourselves, we're heading on The Morris Grand Memories Tour in Fall 2018!

Here's a little peak into our journey, and we'd love any feedback, "must-sees," and tips from you! I'll also be sharing "how I find those travel deals" as I do (our flights, for all four of us, round trip were $1100 including taxes and fees. We fly into London on $99 one-way flights! INSANE. PrimeraAir.com and IberiaAir.com are where we found these deals! We booked a few weeks before Christmas when their October calendar opened up... so if you're wanting to get the same deal, maybe check that time of year next year!)


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  • PRIDE & PREJUDICE \ In 2005, when the new Pride & Prejudice came out, my dad amazed us all by being absolutely smitten with the film. He would have streaks where he'd watch it three times a week, sometimes twice a day. Now he probably keeps a steady pace of once or twice a month. The soundtrack filling our home, with dad in his chair muttering the lines to himself in an A+-for-effort British accent , and turning around at his favorite ones to see if anyone else had the joy of hearing it too. "Oh, that's such a good line." A few of us kids have mentioned that we'll have to play "Dawn" or "Your Hands Are Cold" at his funeral. When dad saw me hours after getting engaged he said "I cannot believe that anyone can deserve you. But it seems I am overruled." (We'll visit some of the locations the movie was actually filmed at!)
     
  • MARY POPPINS \ Not only do I have countless memories of watching this as a child, with mom in the background singing along, but the month mom died was the month "Saving Mr. Banks" came out (the movie about author P.L. Tavers, her life, and Walt Disney's relationship with her that led to the movie being made.) We had plans to see the movie with mom, but she never got there. My best friend found a pirated version she sent to us, so in mom's last night we had "Saving Mr. Banks" playing on the laptop next to her so we could watch it together, like she wanted. "To My Mother," from the soundtrack, will always be sacred to me... I play it to go back to her that night. (Planning on reading this to Rowdy in the coming year).
     
  • CS LEWIS \ and Chronicles of Narnia. Need I say more? Why not. When I was pregnant I read this portion of the beloved-book: "At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in it's inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the start of the holidays or the beginning of Summer.” It was what secured the name "Summer" for our girl to my heart. Plus, on my second trip out to Oklahoma the family went to see Prince Caspian on theaters and I was with them. Good timing ;) 
     
  • PETER PAN \ If you made Caleb sit down and tell you his absolute favorite part of being ages 5-15, he would say "Going to Pap's lake house." It's the fulfillment of every good thing. His grandpa lives right on a lake, and they would go boating, inner-tubing, swimming, drink lots of pop, and watch cartoons on TV in what was perfect, time-standing-still summer days. And the only Disney movie he grew up watching was the one he'd watch at Pap's during this magical days: Peter Pan.  In his own Neverland. (We'll visit a few places like these, and really hype up that "Captain Hook's ship landed in the park!" for the kids...)

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  • SABRINA \ While my mom introduced me to the magic of Disney, my dad introduced me to the dearness of romance. We were chick-flick buddies growing up. The two I remember watching with him were "Somewhere In Time" and "Sabrina." The themes from both were the music for our wedding processional. The height of romance to me. (Sabrina Theme / the 2:00 minute mark and on... gets me EVERY time.) Sabrina was a young, sheltered girl who went off on a photography internship to Paris, doing rainy shoots in front of the Eiffel Tower and becoming a woman not a girl. When I graduated highschool and left for my photography internship in Chicago dad hugged me goodbye and said "Have fun in Paris."
  • MADELINE \ My mom was VERY proud of this story: when I was 18 months old I could recite/"read" (not read, but I knew when to flip the pages) the whole book. She says she is not exaggerating to guess she read Madeline to me a thousand times. "Three or four times a day for years..." Rowdy can recite almost the whole book now, too... and he has asked on his own to see "the place where Madeline lives." It's one of his favorites. 

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  • MOZART / One of the most moving works of music Caleb listened to in his childhood was Mozart's collection. "Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major", "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," and so mnay others played an enormous role in his passion for the feeling and power of music. Salzburg is Mozart's home town, so we plan to absorb him and his world!
  • SOUND OF MUSIC / Another favorite of my dad's... you haven't lived until you've see him sing "Do-Re-Mi" in a soft, lady voice. "These are a few of my favorite things..."

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  • THE PILGRIMS / Reading books like "Stories of The Pilgrims" during elementary school years gave Caleb a fascination with Holland. He loved the descriptions of windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, and cobble streets. Whenever he's thought about "traveling the world," the image that comes to mind is seeing little villages like the ones the Pilgrims settled in before heading to America.
     
  • VAN GOGH / We did an art history series when I was in second grade. My teacher was so enjoying teaching us the material, it was evident and made me love what I was learning far more. My favorite artists from those lessons were Georgia O'Keefe and Van Gogh. The week mom died my aunts and uncle went to the National Gallery of Art in DC and I looked at "Wheatfield with Cypresses" and heaven felt near.

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  • Though none of the stories have real countries cited as their setting, Disney was openly very taken with parts of Germany, Switzerland, and France. The movies I grew up on feel so "fairytale Europe" and were indeed inspired from places there. We hope to see lots of timber frame, French chateau, and thatched roof! 

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Embody | Part 3 | Beauty vs. Sexuality

EMBODY is my "word of the year" for 2018. It's become a pillar for me and came as the culmination of a long, negative "relationship" with my body that I have been vigilantly trying to correct, understand, walk into joy with, and hopefully help any like me along the way.

1. The Realization of The Body (The Literal Embody)
2. Embodying What Is Beautiful
3. Comparing and Contrasting Beauty and Sexual/Physical Desirability

4. Practical Steps
5.
The Creativity and Artistry of Bodies
6. The Embodiment of Others

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Defining my terms:

In this post, when I refer to “sexy” I’m using it as such: the word that sums up hotness, gorgeousness, the-physical-look-romantic-partners-want, cultural ideals physically, “what you look like,” idolized image, erotic or romantic physical attraction, etc. 

I know that there is a sensuality of spirit, and that “sexy” is a vague, overused, kind-of-taboo word… and there is more to it than look. But that’s how I’m using it.

I started my last post on the topic of embodying beauty (and defining it) with a series of questions that run through my mind  (along with other similar ones) every day, and, to some degree, have for the last 18 years. 

Why is it devastating to so many to not be “the most” beautiful, especially physically? Can being just one of the physically-beautiful (in general or in a specific category) people in the world be enough? All the while being able to admit there are plenty of other beauties, including many far greater ones? Why do we have to live in denial to be “at peace” with ourselves?

In short, how come some people get to have sexy-hot-culturally-ideal bodies and faces, and how come some don’t (regardless of personal effort). And to what extent should those “who don’t” (or don’t anymore, or could have more, etc) go to achieve “that”? And how do we accept our bodies with great joy to ourselves and those around us? I’ve sought to process this through three different (helpful to consider, I think) dynamic categories that impact so much of our life experience:

1. The Fear
2. The Money
3. The Reality

 

FEAR

While sexuality and being desirable have always been prized throughout history, from what I understand, there has been in most past eras a greater comfort and naturalness with bodies and the desire of the body, that has been twisted in our modern, media driven times. There were natural limits on comparison (you know, not having access to the internet, for example) but there was also natural freedom. People lived and slept and made love and gave birth beside each other… and raised kids who married and then often lived and slept beside you still. People of past generations were much more comfortable with the reality of death (from killing animals to eat, to watching sickness take many loved ones in your lifetime, to war, etc) and also had a deeper sense of honor for the body—both in life and in death.

 

We could talk about arranged marriages and marrying for “function not love,” the Catholic Church, the Victorian Era, or the (often misunderstood) Puritans. We could study and stew over marriage-and-sex and sex-outside-of-marriage and polygamy and monogamy and adultery and The Patriarchy, and so much more… but I think the simple broth we’re left with (once all the bones and vegetables have been taken out) is essentially this:

Sexiness indicates desire, and what is desire but “that which I want”… so sexiness is “wanted-ness.” 

And we become afraid. For those of us insecure about how we look, I think ultimately we’re insecure about whether we are or deserve to be wanted. I have gleaned from conversations, personal reports, and the writings of strangers, that there is a nice-sized swath of people who may have their insecurity or two, but in general don’t have consuming “self-loathing-body-issues”; but the vast majority that I’ve talked with or read from in this category are people with somewhat “ideal bodies.” White, slim, clear-skinned, feminine, long-haired women. They “fit.” They belong in The Wanted Box. Of course it’s good that they don’t have self-loathing! But there’s an element that’s like “Well… of course you don’t. You didn’t have to do anything, or barely had to, and you’re wanted!”

Last post I mentioned a podcast from TED Talk Hour discussing beauty. Every segment of it fascinated me, but I think my attention was especially caught by Cameron Russell’s words. In our modern day, there probably isn’t a much higher standard of “ideal sexy beauty” than a Victoria Secret Runway Model. Her candor on her life, success, and body were refreshing:

“For me, being fearless means being honest. And I am on this stage because I am a model. I am on this stage because I am a pretty, white woman, and in my industry, we call that ‘a sexy girl.’ I'm going to answer the questions that people always ask me, but with an honest twist.

So the first question is, how do you become a model? I always just say, ‘Oh, I was scouted,’ but that means nothing. The real way that I became a model is 

I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy, 

and maybe you're wondering what is that legacy. 

Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we're biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. 

And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it's a legacy that I've been cashing out on.”

Well… dang! There you have it! And she’s exactly right. If you’re one of the few who won the lottery, in this time in history, you can be paid, marveled at, envied, and prized because of your sexy body! 

“When I was writing this talk, I found it very difficult to strike an honest balance, because on the one hand, I felt very uncomfortable to come out here and say, ‘Look I've received all these benefits from a deck stacked in my favor,’ and it also felt really uncomfortable to follow that up with, ‘and it doesn't always make me happy.’ But mostly it was difficult to unpack a legacy of gender and racial oppression when I am one of the biggest beneficiaries.”

Cameron Russell

Cameron Russell

Cameron Russell 

Cameron Russell 

Aphrodite - Goddess of Beauty and Sex

Aphrodite - Goddess of Beauty and Sex

Aphrodite - Goddess of Beauty and Sex

Aphrodite - Goddess of Beauty and Sex

Venus - Goddess of Love and Fertility 

Venus - Goddess of Love and Fertility 

Venus - Goddess of Love and Fertility

Venus - Goddess of Love and Fertility

I’ve talked dozens and dozens of times with Caleb about what a bummer it is to have missed out on Greek and Roman life in the age of mythology, or the Italian Renaissance… I would have been it back then!

“Venus is the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory.” “Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, desire, beauty, sex, affection, and the attraction that binds people together. Apart from her natural beauty, she also had a magical girdle that compelled everyone to desire her.”

The physical difference between the pinnacle, ideal sex-and-beauty goddesses of old world and today are… stunning. The slimness valued in our age would have been thought of as sickly and not ideal for mothering children, enduring hard-working farm life, and longevity. Robust softness was an indicator of higher chances of a happy, safe, long life… makes sense why it was appealing. And, yes, while proportion, symmetry, and health have always been valued and received as “beautiful” and everyone has different preferences, the push for “more more more” led to sexiness becoming more and more narrow. Instead of imaging a vast majority of women, throughout time and history, the ideal has become smaller (literally). The female form isn’t just sexy on it’s own anymore (according to “them”), it’s the female form that looks really similar to mannequins in mall windows… or Barbies. Form that is rare, and makes the chase for it extra exciting. Form that almost always requires computer tools, professionals, surgery, or genetic lottery winners.

This can leave those who aren’t (either lottery winners or professionally re-crafted) heavy with disgusting-ness and weighed down with a heap of desire…and nowhere to put it.

For people like Caleb and I (and we aren’t the only ones), you have to add to the equation the distance we tried to keep from our sexuality, as we came into it, because of being frightened. Afraid to dishonor God. Afraid to dishonor our future spouse. Afraid to lose something we could never get back. Afraid to become damaged. Afraid to have regrets. Afraid to fail. Afraid… afraid…

“Perfect love casts out all fear.”

I, personally, was not just afraid of the sensations my body… but of my body itself. Who it might “cause to stumble.” Or who it might lure to real or mental adultery. The difference between attraction, admiration, lust, sin, goodness, desire, respect, healthiness, dignity, knowledge, anticipation, and, well, love were harmfully blurry for me.

So, we open another can of worms: given how much both culture and church openly discuss sexuality (“Sex is liiiiiffee! Do whatever it is you feel!” and “There is basically nothing worse you can do than mess up sexually.”), there is also a startling canyon of silence on the topic. Between millennials and their parents (and their parents, etc). Between spouses. Between close friends. I realized recently that there is a real Bermuda Triangle at play:

1. Sex and money issues are the number one cited reasons for divorce (supposedly. I can’t find a statistic… but I hear that often).

2. Sex and money are intensely taboo subjects, among even the most intimate friends and family. You can talk about most anything… but not that. That’s too personal. That’s distasteful. That’s private. Sssssshhh.

3. Yet, there is probably nothing society/money-makers at large talk to us about more than what to think about sex and how to spend our money (“go for it”; “buy my product”).

Couples are, undeniably, crashing to ruin, over sex, while having nowhere to really turn to heal this part of their lives, while being force-fed sex sex sex/desire desire desire/want want want every single day. No wonder it’s all a mess. No wonder we’re scared.

Scared of not being wanted.
Scared of being un-wanted after being once-wanted.
Scared of ruining everything.
Scared of caring.
Scared of God.
Scared of addiction. 
Scared of rejection.
Scared of not getting to have and grow love; or family.

Being afraid has caused a panic for affirmation, and a spiral-of-despair if it’s not found, when it comes to sexual desirability.

MONEY

Other than dress for royalty or very specific occasions, clothing for most of history, for most people, has been about function. With limited resources and a great need for protection against the outdoor elements in which they lived and endured, clothes were made as a tool for life.

Couture Fashion is traced back to the era of Marie Antoinette, her world at Versailles, and France during the late 1770’s. But it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the modern day, made-to-wear, accessible to “most” (not just the royals) came into existence. The Industrial Revolution is one of my favorite times of history to study (worldwide), observing all the technologies and advancements that made the way, the time, and the money for wide-spread frivolities and fun — allowing ‘commoners’ an unprecedented joy in human history.

It was in the 1920’s that the beauty industry erupted, following closely on the heels of fashion (which makes perfect sense). Advertising, cities, and small-business were mid-explosion and all those small family trades had the chance to “make it big” instead of being isolated in their little town or village. Soap and simple cleaning products from companies like Proctor & Gamble got the ball rolling, but it wasn’t long before powder, lipstick, and mascara were in the hands of the public. The 1920s can claim the beginning of “Vogue”, “The Queen,” and “Harper’s Bazaar.” By the 1930’s, fashion and beauty were widespread and “household.” (Read this, among many other essays and posts!)

Earlier this summer in the midst of researching all of this for my own benefit, I was booking a flight for my grandmother. I asked her for the date of her birth and when she said it my jaw-dropped. “1936?? You were born in 1936??” My grandma. Sitting down the road right now, struggling to make sense of her iPhone, in 2018. She was alive when Revlon first introduced nail polish. Oh my gosh.

It hit me how new all of this is. Not beauty or desirability, of course. But the in-your-face-ness of this industry. Megan from @bodyposipanda writes often about the way companies could (and did) decide something was “a flaw,” create a product “to fix it,” and then happily take your money… off to work on the next “flaw fixer.” Hire the models, paint and sculpt them, edit their images, pass them around everywhere, and offer this little bottle of perfume… this little bottle of desire. Like giving candy to a baby. (Cash or credit?) Women desperate to be chosen (and kept) made great effort to be choosable and keepable (Mrs. Maisel, anyone? Watch it if you haven’t…).

The obsession grew. People hadn’t had the luxury to care so much about their aesthetic! Now, first world could. And it didn’t take long for human nature to take over advertising. Of the Seven Deadly vices, Pride and Envy are at the “top” (bottom?) of most ranking lists. “According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the struggle aroused by envy has three stages: during the first stage, the envious person attempts to lower another's reputation; in the middle stage, the envious person receives either ‘joy at another's misfortune’ (if he succeeds in defaming the other person) or ‘grief at another's prosperity’ (if he fails); the third stage is hatred because ‘sorrow causes hatred.’” I receive emails and see online ads every day, to this day, specifically marketing based on jealousy, flaunting, pride, manipulation, and discontentment. And we fall for it. “Every time I wear this I get showered in compliments!” “Be the star of the show, and make your friends jealous!” “Everyone will be green with envy this spring!” To make ourselves feel better we have to put others down. Show up more impressive, more enviable, more desirable. And when they do, we find pieces to nit-pick and bash… “I’m not vain and self-absorbed like she is.”

From Love Thy Body (By Nancy Pearcy):

“The Body Obsession, The Body Rejection

Is it true that Western culture devalues the body? Don’t many people place a ridiculously high value on physical appearance and fitness? Consider the widespread obsession with diets, exercise, bodybuilding, cosmetics, plastic surgery, botox, anti-aging treatments, and so on. We are surrounded by Photoshopped images presenting unrealistic ideals of physical beauty. 

A Christian college professor once told me, ‘It seems to me that people tend to go in the opposite direction—they make an idol of the body.’ But to be obsessed by the body does not mean we accept it.

“‘The cult of the young body, the veneration of the air-brushed, media produced body, conceals a hatred of real bodies,’ writes theologian Beth Felker Jones of Wheaton College. ‘Cultural practice expresses aversion to the body.’ Even the cult of the body can be an expression of the two-story dualism. An obsession with exercising, bodybuilding, and dieting can reveal a mindset akin to that of a luxury car owner polishing and tuning up an expensive automobile. Philosophers call that ‘instrumentalizing’ the body, which means treating it as a tool to be used and controlled instead of valuing it for its own sake. When we do that, we objectify the body as part of nature to be conquered. Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo writes, ‘The training, toning, slimming, and sculpting of the body . . . encourage an adversarial relationship to the body.’ These practices express the will to conquer and subdue the body—and ultimately to be liberated from its constraints."

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REALITY

 

It would drive me batty if someone genuinely suggested that all photographs are beautiful. They all might be valid. They all might (potentially) have worth (even if just emotional worth). They might contain a beautiful subject. But all pictures are NOT created equal, and without question, some are better than others. More… beautiful. It’s offensive to suggest otherwise. Offensive, because, of course, in this case I am the artist. “Don’t lump my best work in with my awful work and act like ‘it’s all the same!’ It’s not!”

Certainly businesses and people with power have fed a beauty myth… however, I think there is some legitimate standard for physical beauty. And I think it’s okay to recognize it, accept it, and have fun with life… even if you aren’t one of the “top 10%” or “1%” or what have you. There are so many kinds of beauty, so many ways beautiful qualities create an actual physical beauty, and so many freedoms to a beautiful self-awareness. 

"Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good." (John Steinbeck)
Now that you don’t have to be obsessed, you can enjoy.
Now that you don’t have to reject, you can partake.
Now that you don’t have to overreact (either direction), you can be content.

Now you can just calm down, admit so-and-so is more physically desirable than you, and be merry. You don’t have to try so hard, now you can enjoy yourself. There is something so freeing about the truth!

It’s okay! You aren’t the first place winner! You aren’t last, either! Some people find you attractive, some don’t! You’re prettier than some people, and you’re not as good-looking as others! And it’s very fluid and subjective and case-by-case anyways! And it matters… your body is a part of you. And you matter. Phew. Okay. Onto the things that are worth building a life on, strong enough to hold the foundation of you, and things that do just matter more.

EMBODYING THE DESIRE TO BE DESIRED
+ EMBODYING CONTENTMENT

 

I have found a lot of freedom and comfort in my own skin with acknowledging and wrestling through these things. There are not fast band-aid answers. This was a super flyover starting point. It’s been a full year and a half now, after 17 years of deep struggle, of intensive note-taking, private study sessions, thousands of hours of conversations, lots of tears, and getting to a healthy, stable place to start the trek “out.” I’m deeply grateful to have a husband like Caleb to get in the trenches with me… robotic answers or passive niceties won’t do here. This was and is the big stuff of my heart, and he is my fellow soldier with whom I have a strong foundation of love. But I know not everyone gets to do this journey with a devoted soulmate like him. Either alone, or with a not-so-helpful partner, or anything else… I just want to encourage you to keep going, and find someone you can really talk to. Message me! But don’t give up. This is too important and the conversation and comprehension of all these topics needs to change for the good of men, women, and children everywhere.

The desire to be pleasing is of God and wonderful. The desperateness to belong and “be known and loved” is also directly from His heart and is outstanding. Being confused by the strength and force of “in your face sexiness” and the true beauty of it is very reasonable, because it is…a handful. 

I’ve come to think of “sexy” like a well-placed adjective. (Brilliant, huh? Since, ahem, it IS an adjective? ;) ) When writing or speaking there are few things more thrilling than having the perfect descriptor come to mind. It tells the story, the point, the message, just as you meant. I love how many adjectives are available. I love how I can people-watch and discern what a person is like, then describe them. Thoughtful, flustered, calculated, charmed, flimsy, meaty, blue, sensational, wobbly, fine, lovable, wise, sincere, careful, gracious… sexy. Some characters in this story get that “universal, cultural adjective” as a descriptor for their looks. It tells the story of them. Or at least part of it.

They are not worth any more. They are not capable of any more happiness (maybe some advantages, but not happiness… but there are disadvantages too…), they do not escape pain, boredom, anxiety, or depression. Sure, maybe some have an unhealthy way of embodying rivalry, superiority, and intentional belittling. Maybe some do it unknowingly. And maybe some (as Cameron Russell appears to) handle the reality with grace, honesty, and a dedication to what is good, at least as far as she understands it (research her a bit, she’s a fascinating woman!). You have not a bit less value, gift of experiencing pleasure (in all forms), or joy.  Choosing to see the beauty in what is beautiful, giving us eyes to more forms of beauty everywhere - including in our own lives - is one of the healthiest things we can do. Instead of zeroing in on our insecurities, we can open wide to the many lovelinesses. Instead of hating what we don’t have, we can celebrate what others do have. Instead of chasing the wind on a treadmill, we can be deeply, happily content. Instead of complaint, we can have gratitude to the Beautiful Artist.

We can combat our fear with bravery, not become disillusioned with the prompts and teases of people making money off of our desire for good things, and being as honest with the truth as we can… all carried in a bag made of Joy and Good Humor… this changes everything.

Up Next: PART 4 - Practical Steps