In the Beauty-Brain Loop, the interdependent system that connects all aspects of what makes us beautiful, Environment is the most sensitive. Our health, our skin, our inner self—these are all fairly stable, at least, we hope they are. But the environment, which consists of our physical surroundings, our relationships and the way we view others and the world around us, is dynamic and constantly changing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We shift our physical surroundings by something as simple as lighting a candle, while relationships can change course with a single sentence. So it is not surprising that during the holiday season, our environment is under assault from a powerful enemy: work.
We’re a work-centric culture, and we two are no different. As physicians, our work is a great part of who we are. It defines us in some very important ways, and other people in other professions, from law to journalism to education, are the same way. Such people are actually quite blessed to be involved in careers that are so engaging and important that they can shape who we are. But…what about when it becomes too much? What about when work follows us home? The home is a vital aspect of holistic beauty; it’s supposed to be the place where we are at peace, where we can enjoy love and music and the smell of food cooking, where we can shape our physical surroundings to appeal to our senses in any way we like. When you come home after leaving your work behind, don’t you breathe a sigh of relief? It’s your space, your sanctuary, where you can nurture the most beautiful aspects of yourself.
In the past, work stayed at work. But in recent years, it’s become culturally OK to be on call 24/7. Cell phones, e-mail, Blackberries and virtual private networks make any of us (unless we commit the societal sin of turning off our electronics) reachable at any time, anywhere. Home has become an extension of the office for many people, and when that happens it loses its peace and serenity. Its rejuvenating power diminishes. When your concern at home is not slipping into a comfy robe, grabbing a favorite book, curling up to read to your kids or just sitting with a cup of tea doing nothing, but dealing with work, you’re not recharging your batteries. You’re not in balance, and the Beauty-Brain Loop is all about balance. You’re not balanced when you are at work even when you’re at home.
So we are issuing a call to arms…actually, to hands. Turn off the devices. Leave work at work. Rebuild the boundary between work and home. If you’ve been feeling stressed out, impatient, sleepless and ragged this holiday season, it may be because your home is not the beautiful environment you need it to be. Fortunately, that has little to do with its decor. It has everything to do with how you feel when you walk across the threshold. In this season of giving, give yourself the gift of a beautiful Environment. Decide that it’s OK not to be at work all the time. Remind yourself that home, aside from being what Robert Frost called the place that “when you go there, they have to take you in,” should also be the place where you heal and revive body and spirit. Try it. You’ll feel—and be—more beautiful.
Let’s face it, the holiday season is unkind to beauty. In almost any part of the country the weather is, well, frightful, which makes skin dry and red and makes us more likely to come down with a cold or flu (interesting note: it’s actually been scientifically proven that cold viruses spread more easily in cold, dry weather). Holiday parties and big family dinners mean tempting calories that can undermine months’ worth of hard work at the gym, in the pool or at the yoga studio. And of course, the travel, relatives coming and going, fighting for the last Elmo toy and worrying about spending during a troubled economy can mean a month’s worth of stress that can cause skin breakouts, suppress the immune system and wreck sleep, leaving us with dark circles under our eyes and a generally non-cheery disposition.
Call it “Bah Humbug Beauty Syndrome.” It’s what can make us, at a time of the year when we’re supposed to be taking joy in family, friends, winter’s beauty and festivity, feel and look less than our best. We just don’t think that’s fair, so we’re here with some suggestions. Not so much for your waistline or your skin; those are easy to find from many sources. You know the usual advice: skip the potluck meals, eat light, drink in moderation, keep working out, moisturize, and so on. No, our advice relates more to the stress component of the holiday season, the part that sometimes keeps us from seeing the beauty around us because we’re so busy trying to keep up with what the holidays are supposed to be.
Well, as we point out in The Beauty Prescription, part of being beautiful is seeing and appreciating beauty in others and having the air of joy and peace that comes with that beauty. So some of the best beauty advice these two docs can provide is medicine that you make yourself with your mind, eyes and heart:
Stop during your running and look around. See the decorations, the people dressed for the holidays, the delight on childrens’ faces. Listen to the music and carols. Appreciate it for what it means: everyone coming together to celebrate life, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Quit trying to find the perfect gift for certain people and focus on something meaningful to the values of each person on your list.
Spend more time on the simple, healing aspects of the holidays: songs, tree decorating, deep conversations with family. Slow down.
Think back on the blessings of the last year and take time to really appreciate and find the meaning in each one. You might find you have more to be thankful for than you realized.
Do something kind for someone else, whether it’s serving food at a soup kitchen or donating canned goods to charity. It feels wonderful.
Yes, you should take care of your skin, eat right and all the rest. But true beauty comes from within, and if you live in a frigid climate nobody can see your perfect complexion under all those layers of outerwear anyway. But a beautiful disposition always shines through.
Bettie Page, the “pinup queen” of the 1950 and 1960s, died on December 11 at the age of 85. In case you’re not old enough to remember (or weren’t an adolescent boy in the Baby Boom years), Ms. Page was the well-built, scantily clad dream girl of thousands of posters, photos and short films. In an era when overt female sexuality was just becoming something other than lurid and shocking, Ms. Page unashamedly celebrated her curvy form. High art she wasn’t; the sensibility of most of the work that featured her winking image was more in the pulp genre, kissing cousins to the “naughty girl, hard-boiled detective” dime novels of the day. But she became something of an obsession to millions of young men.
But in her totality, was Bettie Page good for women? We could make a convincing argument that she did nothing but support a stereotype of women by posing in settings that were pure cheesecake: wearing a leopard skin swimsuit with two cheetahs, or posing with a black man in face paint and carrying a spear. Hardly the stuff of feminist dreams. But at the same time, a famous series of photos shows Page on the beach in a beautiful, informal style, often completely nude yet completely unashamed of her beauty and sexuality. In many of these photos, she’s absolutely childlike, like a toddler playing nude at the beach because, well, who needs a swimsuit anyway?
It’s these pictures that remind us, as we dwell on the constant meaning of beauty, that even though it’s easy to dismiss Bettie Page as a symbol of the objectification of women, she was also a symbol of the liberation of women’s sexuality. Remember, much of her most famous work was done at a time when it really wasn’t OK for a woman to be overtly sexual. If she did, and she wasn’t ashamed, then she was a harlot. Bettie Page didn’t care what anyone thought of her; she took joy in being a lusty person without a hint of apology. That’s what made people cherish her. If she hadn’t had that innocence and delight, she would have been just another nude woman.
In the end, we think Bettie Page was good for women. She reminded us that even as we work hard to be seen as more than our physical beauty, it’s OK to flaunt what we’ve got from time to time…and enjoy it.
It’s been obvious for many years that the U.S. has become a deeply diverse nation. The election of Barack Obama was, to us, final proof of the fact that we’re getting to the point where we can see a non-white face not only as beautiful but trustworthy, intelligent and wise. That’s a huge step, and here’s another: a company called Thevi Cosmetics is debuting lines of beauty products designed specifically for women from different ethnic groups. Companies have been marketing specialty lines of foundation, eye shadow, lipstick and other prodcuts to African-American women for years, but now this company is targeting the estimated 44 million women in the U.S. of Latino, Asian, South Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent.
This is a fantastic development. As we talk about in The Beauty Prescription and this blog, not all colors are for every woman. Color palettes are based on skin tone, eye color and hair color, and women from different ethnic backgrounds have exotic combinations of these elements that demand attention. Well, they’re getting it. Thevi and other companies are using color science to develop new palettes based on undertones like red-brown, red-gold, olive and golden. The reason this is so important goes far beyond giving women from Pakistan, Greece, Syria, Sri Lanka or Brazil the ability to accent their most beautiful features. That’s important, of course, but the real benefit goes deeper.
Essentially, by opening our eyes to wider world of cosmetics, companies like these are saying to women of different non-Caucasian ethnicities, “Yes, you are beautiful, too!” By acknowledging these women, they are contributing to the inner beauty of all ethnic women. Part of inner beauty is seeing beauty in others and knowing that others see beauty in you. In this context, ethnocentric beauty products become tools of recognition and empowerment. That may seem like quite a burden to place on lip liner, but hey, it’s not easy changing the world.
Julia Roberts’ smile. Tina Turner’s legs. Jennifer Lopez’s backside. Yes, these are all beautiful, striking women but they are as well known for one spectacular feature as they are for their overall looks and magnetism. And that’s what we want to talk about: our theory that focusing on bringing out that one feature of your beauty that is truly exceptional—even if you feel that the rest of the package is quite ordinary—is a marvelous way to make yourself look gorgeous to others and feel more beautiful inside. We call it the Single Feature Effect (if you’re not old enough to remember the days of the “double feature” at movie theaters, you’ll have to trust us).
Remember, in our book, The Beauty Prescription, we talk about the idea that you are 20% more beautiful to others than you appear to yourself in the mirror. That’s because people don’t judge you as harshly as you judge yourself and because when you look in the mirror you don’t see your wit, confidence, style or sexuality. The Single Feature Effect upends the traditional concept of beauty in the same way. It says, so what if you’re not perfect in every way? Most of us aren’t close to the physical ideal. But everyone has at least one aspect of their physical appearance that’s show-stopping. It might be your eyes. It might be your hands. It might be your hair. We say, play that feature up! Make it as great as it can be so that people comment on it, and the “halo effect” given off by your best feature will shine on the rest of you, enhancing your perceived beauty.
Here’s an example from our friend and sometime collaborator Tim Vandehey: “I was at the gym and noticed this woman doing aerobics. She wasn’t especially pretty in the face, was in good shape, but something about her kept drawing my eye. Then I realized it was her skin. She was probably about 35 but her skin was flawless. She was very fair—red hair, classic Irish coloring—but her skin was like a child’s, like perfect porcelain. Something about that was very alluring and appealing.” It made her much more attractive than she might otherwise have been.”
That is what the Single Feature effect is about. One feature that captures the imagination of other peopel so that everything else about you is more enchanting. We love it because it reduces some of the pressure to have the perfect derriere, the perfect nose and hands like something out of a Dove commercial. Instead, you can take care of your fitness and health like you should, attend to your personal style as best you can, but concentrate on making your best feature better and letting that rising tide life your personal boat. We think it’s a holistic, healthy way to look at beauty…and we’d love to know what you think about it.
Now this is interesting. An upcoming new ABC TV show being co-produced by Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher called “True Beauty” turns the tired reality show cliche of “who’s hotter?” on its head in a way that we beauty docs can’t help but find intriguing. The show was unveiled recently after six months of secrecy. Read on:
Hosted and judged by TV personality Vanessa Minnillo, along with supermodel Cheryl Tiegs and Nolé Marin of “America’s Next Top Model,” the series will spotlight six females and four males who will live together as they undergo a series of challenges to determine who is the most beautiful. While the contestants think they are being judged solely on their outer appearance, the challenges are actually designed to test their inner beauty. At the end of eight episodes, a winner who is the most beautiful inside and out will receive a cash prize and a spot in People magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People issue.
Perhaps the format is a little bit deceptive, but what a fascinating and challenging idea! Details aren’t 100% clear, but it looks like the contestants will be videotaped dealing with stressful or morally challenging situations and rated not on their physical appearance, but on their character. Participants won’t know about the actual judging criteria until they are eliminated. This suggests that the “most manipulative, scheming person wins” model that has dominated everything from “The Apprentice” to “Survivor” won’t be in play here. Instead, losing contestants are likely to see an ugly side of themselves.
One of the reasons we find this so interesting is this: in the same way that outer beauty is different for everyone (for example, some people find tall, curvy women irresistible while others prefer small and petite) the concept of inner beauty is difficult to define. So what qualities should the judges rate in determining who has the greatest inner beauty? We have some suggestions:
Kindness to others
Coolness of temper under stress
Willingness to listen
Authenticity (being a real person rather than a self-created TV persona)
Odds are, a man or woman with all or most of these qualities is someone that any of us would want as a friend, colleague, partner or mentor. It will be fascinating to see if the producers of “True Beauty” can really focus on emphasizing what true beauty means, instead of focusing on “gotcha” moments that show people at their ugliest. Aside from bringing a breath of fresh air to a withering TV genre, that would also bring to light the genuine qualities of attractiveness and magnetism that we talk about. We’ll be tuning in…or at least running the Tivo.
The economic news just seems to get worse and worse, doesn’t it? First the unemployment rate jumps, then the stock market drops, and the cycle starts again. And at the end of the day, we as consumers start getting more and more nervous about spending money on anything but the necessities. Luxuries become things to be deferred for another day, and apparently that includes beauty products. Usually one of the steadiest sectors of the marketplace, fragrance, makeup and skin care products are showing that they’re not recession-proof, either.
According to Women’s Wear Daily, spending on all major categories of beauty products is down 1% going into the all-important holiday season. No big deal? Well, consider that 1% of the total annual beauty spending in the U.S. equals about $70 million. That’s nothing to shake a lipstick at. Now, we’re doctors, not economists, so we’re not going to weigh in on the impact of the drop in beauty spending. But we are going to say a thing or two about the importance of investing a little bit, even during tough times, in keeping yourself looking great outside and feeling great inside.
Our basic advice is, if you’re in the habit of spending a certain amount on cosmetics, skin care products, “cosmeceuticals” or regular manicures, cut what you need to feel more secure, but don’t stop spending on your beauty completely. It’s too important. From a Beauty-Brain Loop perspective, you should always be doing what you can to keep yourself looking as good as possible, because that affects your Inner Beauty, your self-esteem and feeling of confidence. And since beauty is often a sign of good health, focusing on the essentials of beauty is also a good way to ensure that you’re taking the basic steps to maintain your health, something that’s vital for dealing with stressful times.
What are the “beauty essentials” you should not cut back on? Here’s our list:
Moisturizer with sunscreen. If you can afford only one beauty product, this is the one to get. Great brands include…
Hair care products. These include a shampoo that’s right for your type of hair and a conditioner with an SPF factor such as…
Lipstick or lip gloss with moisturizer and SPF. As we said in an earlier post, the lips are the doorway to your beauty, what attracts the eye and the interest. Take care of them. Good choices include…
Skin-healthy foods such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries (which contain powerful antioxidants) and foods rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids like walnuts, flax seed and salmon. You can also take omega-3 fish oil supplements to get a daily dose of important fatty acids.
Dental care. Flossing and brushing each day should always be part of your daily routine, and even if you don’t have dental insurance and can’t afford veneers or some other cosmetic procedure, get your teeth cleaned twice a year. It’s important for oral health…and for preventing halitosis that can render even the most beautiful face intolerable.
Exercise. Working out can be free, but even if you pay for a gym membership, keep going. Regular exercise helps control your weight, boosts your energy and reduces the effects of stress. It also helps fight osteoporosis as you age.
Annual physical. Deal with the co-pay and keep getting your annual checkup with your regular physician. There’s no better way to catch possible health problems early when they’re easy to treat, and to develop a positive, communicative relationship with your doctor and his or her staff. Hint: make sure a skin check is part of your physical.
This stuff is pretty basic, but when you have to tighten your belt and “extras” like Botox, fillers, peels and monthly highlighting treatments are out of the question, the basics are what keep you going. In fact, since too many women focus on the exterior trappings of beauty while going easy on the internal essentials like nutrition and fitness, look at the recession as the time to make sure the foundation of your beauty is strong. Things will get better eventually, and when you have the means to go back to expensive beauty products, who knows…maybe you won’t need them.