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.
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.
You may recall, a few weeks back, a political uproar over a certain “lipstick on a pig” comment. We’re not going to go into the political side of things because, frankly, that’s not what we’re about. Instead, we want to talk about the power of lipstick. This blend of many different kinds of oils—including a great deal of castor oil (one more good reason not to eat your lipstick)—along with pigments and moisturizers, vitamin E, aloe vera, collagen, amino acids, and sunscreen has its origins in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Women would decorate their lips with either crushed precious stones or (yuck) the red color from the crushed shells of carmine beetles and red ants. Later, in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I popularized the more recognizable form of lipstick, made in those days from animal tallow.
But it’s not the natural or social history of lipstick that interests us. It’s the effect. Why is lipstick above all other facial adornments associated with feminity and sex appeal? Why do we feel more attractive when we have shiny, deeply colored lips? In part, it’s because of the nature of how we perceive beauty. The smile is the banner of beauty, the only part of the face that’s constantly changing from moment to moment. We begin an encounter with someone by looking at their eyes, but the smile quickly takes over from there. The lips are the exquisite frame for teeth, laughter, and speech. The more alluring and sensual that frame, the more attracted people are to the face around it and the person that lies behind it.
Lipstick has power because it’s the most vibrant color on the face, pulling our attention to the mouth. When it’s richly colored and glossy, it stimulates the hard-wired male attraction to beauty. Evolution has designed men to be drawn to vivid color and shine in hair and skin because in ancient times they were signs of health, youth and fertility. So when you put on that deep ruby shade, you’re speaking in a sexual lingua franca that goes back thousands of years.
And because color also carries subtle messages about personality, you’re also broadcasting something about who you are. What does your lipstick color say about you? We’ll tell you:
Deep red—This one doesn’t take much figuring out. Red is the color of sexuality, passion and intense emotion. It’s no accident that red is the color of the power suit or power tie, and that red roses represent romance.
Pink—Pink (as well as coral, salmon, and fuschia) is a softer color that represents femininity, girlishness, or playfulness. It’s better suited for a casual affair than a formal dinner or social event, though if a pink shade works for your coloring, always go with what makes you look ravishing.
Purple—Purple seems bold and exotic, and indeed it can work best for women with dramatic coloring, but there’s no reason any woman can’t make it work for her. Purple suggests sophistication, regal bearing, and an independent spirit.
Yellow—Yellow? Not so fast. Yellow family colors include amber and orange, which are certainly colors you can try. In general, this family of colors speaks of energy, caution, warmth, cheer and friendliness.
Brown—Whether you’re talking about a russet or a leather hue, brown is the color of melanin, the body’s natural pigment, and so brown shades suggest a natural, earthy quality.
As makeup guru Bobbi Brown says, never choose a lipstick shade based on your skin or hair color. Base your choice on the natural color of your lips. Of course, there’s a lot more to this topic, from SPF protection to lip liners and glosses to the many variations within each color family based on the minerals the color was made with, and so on. If you really want to dig into the topic, we suggest talking with a professional, certified makeup artist. Then let the color of your lips do the talking.
Back in 2007, Dawn Vandehey was six months pregnant with their second child. Dawn was running errands and walking through a parking lot to her bank when a woman she had never seen before stuck her head out of her car window and said to Dawn, “I just want to tell you that you look beautiful.” As you can imagine, Dawn was walking on air the rest of the day because of that unsolicited and very sweet compliment, especially at a time when she, as she says, “Had a belly like the Buddha.”
Now, Dawn is a tall, athletic-looking, beautiful redhead with bright green eyes. Men notice her when she walks down the street. But this wasn’t a man. It was a woman and a stranger, and people as a rule in our society don’t pay others compliments out of the clear blue sky. Also, Dawn didn’t have her usual sleek figure; she was sporting what’s commonly called “the waddle”: that very pregnant walk where women in their third trimester jut their hips out in front of the rest of them in order to reduce some of the pressure on their back. It’s functional, but lacking in the come-hither department. Yet in spite of this, someone was moved to favor her with a spontaneous bit of recognition of her unique beauty. Why?
In great part, it was because Dawn loved being pregnant. She handled it with incredible poise and grace and joy. She enjoyed every aspect of it as much as she had enjoyed carrying their first daughter. She was serene and happy and felt the most beautiful she had ever felt. In other words, the Inner Beauty stage of Dawn’s Beauty-Brain Loop was in overdrive. Her self-esteem and contentment shone from her like a beacon, encouraging her to take care of her body and dress well and look as great as she could in spite of her pregnancy. Inner Beauty also gave her a radiant self-confidence, and it was this that we believe the unknown woman in the parking lot responded to.
Inner Beauty has the power to do that for all of us. It’s the place where true, lasting beauty begins, beauty that transcends time and trends and the inevitable changes that come with aging. Some women, regardless of their age or station in life, are always beautiful and magnetic: Catherine Deneuve, Jane Seymour, Tina Turner, Bette Midler. What do they have in common? They are carrying on a passionate love affair with themselves and their lives; they adore who and what they are and enjoy lives filled with meaning, purpose and challenge. Because of this they are driven to stay fit and healthy and care for their skin. Most importantly, they give off a contagious energy and fire, a hunger for living that makes us feel better about being part of the human race. Because if they can be so amazing at 50 or 60 or 70, maybe we can, too.
This might be the secret behind Inner Beauty’s power to make others see us as beautiful. When we feel that we’re the best we can be, others look at us and think, “Maybe I can be that fabulous someday, too.” Try some of these to capture that beauty:
Reflecting on the good you have done for other people
Looking at what you have achieved in your life rather than where you have failed
Giving yourself one moment each day to think about your blessings
Setting aside some time each week for quiet contemplation
Finding ways to improve the lives of others, especially those less fortunate
Taking optimal care of your health through diet and exercise
Finding healthy ways to release stress—mediation, walking, prayer
Making the physical space you inhabit the most beautiful it can be
Inner Beauty inspires and elevates. And you don’t have to be pregnant to have it. You just have to be happy.
When you think of cosmetics spokeswomen, odds are you think of Drew Barrymore, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford. You probably don’t think of tomboyish, openly gay talk show hosts. But that’s exactly what we think makes the selection of Ellen DeGeneres as the new Cover Girl celebrity spokesperson so wonderful. In our book, The Beauty Prescription, we center our message around the idea that beauty comes as much from within—from personal magnetism and self-love—as from the face or body. But that’s hard to swallow when you see the entertainment media all agog over the latest pretty face and sexy figure while ignoring women of real substance and intelligence.
Enter Ellen. Exit, at least for the time being, shallow perceptions of what makes a woman beautiful. Because by Hollywood’s typical standards, Ellen DeGeneres is not a glamour girl. She doesn’t have Kiera Knightley cheekbones or J-Lo curves. She wears mannish clothes and a boyish haircut. In fact, her new wife, Portia Di Rossi, fits the “beautiful” stereotype much better than Ellen. But it’s what Ellen does have that makes us so delighted with her Cover Girl selection: a tremendously likable quality—an inner beauty—that makes everyone, men and women, want to hug her and take her home to be our cool big sister. She has charisma and charm and humor and self-confidence in ample supply, and she comes across as someone who’s 100% real and happy with who and what she is. You know from watching her daytime talk show that she’s going to approach her Cover Girl gig the way she does everything else: with wit and self-deprecating humor and perspective.
Yes, Ellen DeGeneres is what we would call magnetic. She’s someone who attracts the attention of others not just based on how she looks but on who she is. She’s hysterically funny and genuine and down-to-earth and passionate and courageous (how many other celebrities would have “come out” while they had a TV series running, as she did a few years back?). As a result, we’re drawn to her total beauty. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s got great skin, too.
Does the selection of Ellen into the equivalent of the makeup Hall of Fame mean we’ve lost our cultural fascination with the perfect 10 face and figure? Hardly. It’s a momentary blip; we’re still hypnotized by raw physical beauty, especially in women. But it’s a hopeful sign that cosmetics companies, at the very least, are beginning to understand that their customers are by and large real women, not fantasy Barbie dolls, and that it’s OK for their spokeswomen to look real as well.