On Beauty, Perfection, & Babe Paley

“People read themselves into books, altering what they need &
discarding what they don’t.”
– Charles Bukowski

This month I have been reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue, and I have found myself identifying with the character Babe Paley. Who, by the way, was actually a beautiful socialite living in NY in the 50s. This book is considered fiction, but it is layered with so much history, it almost mirrors a biography or fan fiction. The book is written about Truman Capote and the scandal the ensued after the publication of his novel “Answered Prayers.” You can read more on that here.

But back to Babe. Of course, we all read ourselves into stories, and who wouldn’t want to identify with Babe!? She is the beauty of the story. However, it is not her glamour or status that I identify with. I find myself identifying with the character’s insecurities, her mannerisms, and approach to relationships…the way I once identified with Esther in The Bell Jar, or Holly in Breakfast at Tiffanys.

I have often found that a book transcends from being simply a book, to one of the many loves of my life, in just one moment. It is the moment that you read a passage or a quote that resonates with something so authentically you. I think the beauty in that moment is: from then on the rest of the book is self discovery.

“I am out with lanterns, looking for myself…”
-Emily Dickinson

It is not everyday or even every year that I find a book I feel this way about. When it happens though, it really is like falling in love. And in that same fashion, I have found that no matter how the story ends, I have recognized some part of myself in those pages, and always treasure that.

With all that said – in the spirit of authenticity and makeup, I wanted to share this lovely passage here:

“And to tell the truth, she was dependent on her cosmetics as others might be dependent on alcohol, in a tactile, pleasurable way. She loved the faint, flowery smell of her favorite blush; she delighted in the heavy silver of the brushes, the silkiness of the bristles against her skin. She enjoyed applying foundation, personally mixed for her by Elizabeth Arden herself, taking the sponge and dabbing it on her skin, each dab like a scale of armor, of power. She never grew tired of seeing her cheekbones come into sculpted glory with each swipe of the brush; she stared into the mirror as she blended and stroked and dabbed, and little by little, like pointillism, the face she knew and depended on, emerged into a complete portrait. Perfection.”
-Melanie Benjamin; The Swans of Fifth Avenue

P.S. You can find the book here =)

Authenticity (Dec. 29, 2016)

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”
-Charles Bukowski

As 2016 draws to an end, I have been drafting my list of new years resolutions (which I will share here). However, I keep coming back to one that is my primary resolution for 2017.

Resolution #1:
Choose behaviors that are consistent with the most authentic version of yourself.

 In graduate school, my classmates and I learned several different therapy styles (note: my education is in clinical psychology and family studies). However, the one that has always stuck with me was ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy). I view ACT as more than a therapeutic approach though, and here I want to share/propose it as a lifestyle choice.

“My life – my personality, my habits, even my speech – is a combination of the books I choose to read, the people I choose to listen to, and the thoughts I choose to tolerate in my mind…”
-Andy Andrews

There are a lot of components to ACT that are beyond the scope of this post (you can read more on that here). As it relates to my new year’s resolution, ACT is all about “living in a values consistent way”. So what does that mean and how does one do that?

The first step would be to consider what you value most. In therapy, you would probably be asked to rank these values. For example the top 6 values on my list are as follows:

1.Authenticity (to be authentic, genuine, real; to be true to myself)
2.Self-care (to look after my health and wellbeing)
3.Beauty (to appreciate, create, or cultivate beauty in myself, others, & environment)
4.Intimacy (to open up, reveal, and share myself in my close relationships)
5.Creativity (to be creative or innovative)
6.Order (to be orderly and organized)

So your unique set of values represents, on some level, the most authentic version of yourself. The next step then, is to identify behaviors that serve your values and then consciously choose to spend your time engaging in these behaviors based on each value’s priority level. That is, if your #1 value is family, the corresponding behavior should be spending time with family. Further, this should take priority over behaviors that match values #2-infinity.

Here are some more examples of behaviors that match the values I have identified for myself:

1.Authenticity
-act in a values consistent way, be consistent between interactions with others, match
words, feelings, and actions
2.Self-care
-yoga, working out, tea-time, reading, clean eating, sleep
3.Beauty
-kindness, give, volunteer, church, nursery, hair, nails, makeup, flowers, lingerie,
perfume, give compliments, tea parties, animals, books, art,
4.Intimacy
-spend time with friends, have meaningful conversations, fall in love
5.Creativity
-writing (journaling and publishing research articles), crafting, drawing, blogging
6.Order
-cleaning the apartment regularly, laundry, dishes, keep desk organized, clean out purse

It sounds simple enough, but often times it seems that instead of managing our time this way, we fill our calendars with so many dates, activities, and events that do not serve our values. Also, as women, society conditions us from a very early age to acquiesce, so really this is not surprising.

The result though, is when we do this, we are often over worked, over booked, and just simply tired. In my opinion, the most authentic and healthy thing we can do for ourselves in 2017 would be to identify our values, say no when we are presented with plans that do not align with our values…. and more importantly make time to say yes when they do!

Warsan Shire said it best:
Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself – what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.”

If you’d like to complete this exercise yourself you can find a list of values here or here!