Living by the Numbers

Even though people claim to have a poor relationship with math, we sure do live in a wriggly snake pit of numbers. For example: I have two children, one cat, one husband, one mom, and two siblings. I have a numeric value for how quickly I solve certain types of arbitrary problems (an IQ), another numeric value for a measure of my mass (my weight), and all manner of numeric values for my eyesight, my hair length, my ring size, my pants size, my bra size and even the size of my feet.

I don’t generally mind all my numbers because put them all together and they add up to one of me, but I mind a whole lot when my numbers are used as a comparison for myself vs. someone else’s numbers. I can accept – begrudgingly – the need to standardize sizes some kind of way so that I can buy a clothing item with a reasonable expectation that, given a certain number, it means something relative to my ability to wear it without it either cutting off my circulation or falling off of me. Got it. But then we have to get all immature about it and use our numbers to shame and/or brag. Oh my goodness, she wears a size 00, she’s so lucky. Ummmm, why? Or, she needs to stop eating so many deserts – she wears a size 14. So? Stop it. Just stop. No. Take a time out or a nap until you can make better judgments.

This is not to say that I am completely unaware of my numbers. Nope, I am aware that my number is bigger than some numbers and smaller than others. I don’t blame commercials for this, nor do I blame some plastic doll. Does anyone really think they ought to look like Barbie? Scratch that; I know the answer and I am not smiling. If I am going to be silly and compare myself to others, I will most definitely compare myself to a living person who represents a quality I admire – and when I do that I am not thinking about whether I can borrow their clothes. I have to remind myself that clothing sizes are not a measure of human worth and awesomeness.

I would like it if my brain wouldn’t get stuck on the sizing loop, but after a particularly fruitless shopping expedition of looking for blue jeans that involved the sales clerk recommending a store with jeans better suited to my age bracket (oh yes she did), I have concluded that the blue jeans of my dreams are somewhere sitting beside my sewing machine waiting for me to make them. My body didn’t do anything wrong; it was minding its own business of respiration, digestion, and locomotion, so it’s my brain’s fault for overthinking the numbers. My best way to rid myself of this numeric nonsense is to create a story problem: if a woman goes jean shopping on a Monday and the relative humidity is 80% while a train is coming down from Chicago to Tampa at 60 mph with a stop in Kentucky because it’s pretty, how much does the size of the blue jeans matter? Not a bit.

I am now heading out to the movies with a friend wearing my favorite blue jeans because they are the exact comfort level I want. Also, I cut the tag out of those a long time ago.


But first, let me (not) take a selfie

Confession might be good for the soul, but it’s definitely not good for the ego. To wit: I am not particularly photogenic. If I grin with reckless abandon, the photo looks like I’m in pain. If I try to look like I have a secret, it tends to look like I have to go to the bathroom. The only time I look like myself is when I’m not paying any attention to someone else’s camera/phone/camcorder. In other words, there is no selfie that will ever turn out well. This also doesn’t bode well for driver’s license photos, staff pictures, yearbook pictures, etc. In an era where everyone’s everything is exposed everywhere (sorry, got stuck in alliteration land), I am blissfully undocumented. Most of the time, I prefer it this way.

When I peruse my social media, I delight in pictures of my friends’ vacations, their children and grandchildren. I am a huge fan of pictures of particularly well-presented food as well. Recently, however, a picture of myself and a friend appeared on social media, which caused a familial frenzy. We don’t live in the same geographic area, so pictures are a great way to keep in touch. So are letters, though, and I usually draw stick figures to accompany the lines for visual effect. I am a) older and b) still not photogenic, so any current photos aren’t really all that useful.

I know there’s a lot I could do to “become” more photogenic: stand a certain way, angle my head a certain way, and wear certain colors. Ultimately, I have to wonder why I should bother. If I look best when I’m not looking, that must mean my best angle is face averted away from the camera. Either way, I don’t really care whether I’m in a picture or not. It bothers me slightly that I don’t look more like me, but not enough that I’ll practice making smiley faces in my mirror or on my phone or whatever it is people do to figure out their best face.

Today, I was reading a fantastic article about swimsuits and how to look great in them, and I realized I’ve been a bit hypocritical about the whole celebrating oneself business I’ve been espousing. I am healthy and vibrant, but I don’t like pictures. I love swimming, but I hate swimsuits. Well, that’s kinda silly, now, isn’t it? If I look like a person and dress like a person, and I’m person-shaped, I’m probably a person who doesn’t need to stinking worry about whether or not I have thigh gap or thick ankles or whatevertheheck it is people worry about.

I will continue to be relatively unfeatured in pictures on my social media. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, obviously. I will still delight in the photos other people post, even as I have to wonder how many pictures they took or how long it took them to realize they had to stand just so to look that fantastic. I will remain elusive and relatively undocumented, a modern-day Audrey Hepburn without the acting chops.


Don’t Do This When You’re Tired

Evidently I have reached the nodding off age: that time of life when sitting equals sleeping. I knew I nodded off during movies, but I also doze if the house is quiet or if I’m reading. You could point out this probably means I’m sleep deprived; I would agree. I have become rather like the video tapes of toddlers who are so tired they fall asleep in their food. Now we’re awake–and now we have face planted into the macaroni and cheese. It’s funny, probably because it’s so endearing.

During faculty meetings I now stand because 3:30 is the time of day when I most need to recharge with a little protein-packed goodness. I understand that the early mid afternoon is my body’s siesta time whether or not I actually rest. It’s always been this way, which is why I know to snack wisely in the afternoon.

Wisdom is elusive in the evening, though. I was whitening my teeth the old-fashioned way: oil pulling. Coconut oil, to be specific. It works best for me if I sit and read while I let the coconut oil do what it does. Of course, I nodded off. I woke up with a start because I felt the sensation of the oil hitting my shirt. The stain didn’t wash out. I will now add this to the list of things I won’t do when I’m tired. I really liked that shirt, too. Fortunately, my teeth are sparkly white.

Skin Deep

Beauty is skin deep, in the eye of the beholder, and/or a matter of perception depending on whom you ask and whether they’re talking about themselves or someone else. One of my favorite quotes that I wish I could give proper credit to is that everyone is beautiful given the proper light and perspective. Maybe it was a photographer who said that, maybe a poet, or maybe I wish I could have made it up.

One of my favorite people had a baby a bunch of months ago and was disheartened recently when her clothes didn’t fit the same way post-baby as they had pre-baby. Even though she could remind herself that her innards had shifted when she birthed a person, there was still a part of her that felt betrayed. The clothes hanging in her closet are as yet still unwearable, not because they don’t fit but because they don’t fit her the way she remembers. She literally has a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. The clothes lurk there, silently passing judgement on her postpartum physique. It doesn’t matter that I could remind her that she is a remarkably beautiful woman, with honeyed skin and big blue eyes that show a deep level of caring for others. Nope, it’s inanimate objects she’s paying attention to.

This weekend she’s going to be the boss of her closet and take down the clothes that aren’t comfortable at present so that she can assess what she has to work with. I hope that she’ll feel a burden lifted by putting subliminal reminders of the past away rather than lament what doesn’t agree with the beautiful woman she is at the moment.

We’re ever-changing multifaceted critters, we people, and our beauty is best expressed in our current evolution, not some vestigial remnant of clothes and days gone by. I don’t advocate to anyone that they run out and buy an entire closet every season – that’s pretty silly. I do, however, know how much better people feel when they feel comfortable in what they’re wearing. It’s just another version of being comfortable in one’s own skin, which is quite a bit more than skin deep.

Getting the Most out of Your Workout

Fitness magazines are awesome: muscular people showcase six-pack abs and toned physiques that beg to be encased in Tencel/Gore-tex goodness. The article titles range from “How to Get those sculpted biceps you always wanted” to “How to deal with the workout envy other people will heap upon you” (These aren’t real titles, but they’re close). I never knew until I saw the title that I always wanted sculpted biceps and I definitely don’t go to the gym to make other people jealous. What tends to happen when I go to the gym is that I make other people giggle.

I often feel like the antithesis of a healthy person. I work out, but not for long and no more than every other day. I don’t work out to push myself and I definitely don’t work out until the sweat drips off my person like a Gatorade commercial actor. In this area of life, I am wonderfully lackadaisical. My fitness goal isn’t to run a marathon or complete a triathlon, though I will gladly clap for those who do. My goals are a little less ambitious: don’t jiggle my way into my clothes, manage that middle-aged muffin-top, have the energy to do my day without getting breathless.

I read fitness magazines the way an anthropologist would study a culture: with detached curiosity. I admire those who are motivated to find out their peak physical condition, but I also admire people who make cakes and decorate them with ganache. Neither one of those things directly applies to me. One particular article that I connected with recently was how to get the most out of my workout. From concentrating on the muscle group I was working, to how long to take breaks between reps, I was fascinated by the advice. The target audience for these words of wisdom was definitely not a person like me who views exercise as a chore that must be done to maintain a healthy lifestyle and nothing more.

If you are at all like this, I will add an extra step that will help clarify how you, too, can get the most out of your workout: go. Yes, if you’re working on adding definition to certain body parts and streamlining other body parts while celebrating your cardiovascular system, then you’ll have to do more exercise-y stuff. If you are like me, we just need to go. Go regularly, go in whatever comfortable clothes you have (I feature good all-purpose cotton), but go. Go with a friend if that helps you, go alone if you want the think time, but move your body in a cardiovascular kind of way. There. We’ve all just gotten more out of our workouts.

Being Presentable

The capsule wardrobe craze is fascinating to behold. Take your clothes, graciously sell or donate the items that don’t make you happy, rotate through a streamlined version of the rest every three months or so. A thoughtful blend of clothing and seasons. One of the arguments many capsulers (capsulets?) claim is that using a capsule wardrobe makes them presentable more often. They don’t go out in sweats and ratty t-shirts because that’s not part of their capsule. My question, even as I remain intrigued by the capsule concept, is how come someone doesn’t just up and decide that their capsule is sweats and ratty t-shirts? Probably someone has, but hasn’t posted it on the internet.

Regardless, capsule wardrobes are wardrobes that make sense. A person doesn’t have to stress over what to wear because the choices are preselected and either ready-to-go or in the laundry. I love this even as I doubt that I’m going to apply these concepts to my own closet. The larger issue, and maybe that’s what minimalists advocate, is that less clutter equals less stress. I can appreciate that. The summers I spent working at a fine arts camp were great. I had no worries about what to wear because we had uniforms: blue shorts, blue logo polo, blue crew socks. We called ourselves Smurfs. I loved my shorts, which was good, because I washed and wore them for two summers.

If efficiency is one argument in favor of a more manageable wardrobe, making oneself presentable would also fit, with apologies to my fictitious sweatpants/ratty t-shirt friends. Even if we don’t think of it this way, we usually wear some type of uniform to work. For me, it’s usually slacks and a cardigan/top combo. Ta-da. Bright and sparkly in less than five minutes. My husband has a work uniform too: slacks, shirt, tie, repeat. The end result of this isn’t that we look the same every single day, it’s that we’re presentable. We don’t look like we just rolled out of bed, and we also don’t look like we’re playing dress-up. We blend into the situations of our days. I love my sweats and couch potato ensembles; they’re everything that’s comfortable and snuggly in my life. Nobody could pay me enough to wear any of my “at-home” relaxing clothes out in public. I know that the instant I leave my house to run a quick errand while in my college t-shirt and ratty sweats, I’m going to run into a student or a parent. Some things are best left unnoticed.

There’s a certain harmony in doing more with less, which is why the whole idea of minimizing the girth of my closet appeals to me. If I know what I’m wearing in advance, that’s one less decision to have to make in the morning. Looking presentable and put together while not having to overthink everything? I’m in.

The Power of Grey

If black is a powerful color, red is bold, orange is happy, and purple is regal, what is grey? I’ve mentioned before that black is not my go-to, grey is. Grey is smokey and blends in; it’s mysterious, aloof, but still kind of cool. It’s neither one color nor the other, but a mixture. Grey it is.

Not that I fancy myself as being aloof. I have too much of a puppydog personality to manage that level of indifference. But grey is my go-to color. This is only important because, in the act of decluttering my closet and minimizing the amount of unnecessary objects I have hiding in boxes, I realized that I have a collection of grey clothing for every season. I think I became the poster person for minimalism (as in, I need to practice this) right about the point where I counted my third matching grey t-shirt in exactly the same cut and shade as the other two. Was I thinking that I’d have backup when I spilled food on my shirt? Probably.

I have been organizing my closets in part because I don’t particularly like overcrowded storage areas, but also because I couldn’t remember what some of the boxes contained. To my nontangibly sentimental brain, this means those boxes could go away without taking up space or being missed. This is a process that’s been happening over time. I am not going to konmari myself out of my sentimental junk, I just like the idea of knowing where to find the objects I’m seeking.

Same thing for my clothes. I am not one of those people who has clothes with the tags still on them. Rather, I like multiple looks from one piece; grey suits my needs just fine. I would be perfectly happy with five grey t-shirts and five grey blouses in different cuts and shades, dark slacks/jeans, and various scarves and accessories in my favorite colors to add a little eye interest. That sounds wonderful. It would be my working and playing wardrobe reminiscent of smoke and ash. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

So why don’t I do this? I really don’t know. I admire versatile wardrobes and the people who have them. Their lives seem so much more put together for the simple reason that they don’t have to spend so much time worrying about what to wear. Shallow? I honestly don’t think so. There’s a quote in the first fashion book I ever read (Chic Simple: Women’s Wardrobe, 1996): “The more you know, the less you need.” This is attributed to an Australian Aboriginal saying, and the way I interpret it is this: when you know who you are, you don’t have useless stuff lying around mucking up your decision-making process.

Other people have the power suit, the power ensemble, superninja red, clean white, neutral beige, and sleek black. Me, I have grey.

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