Friday, February 5, 2010

Red Dress Day

"Red has more personal associations than any other color. Recognized as a stimulant, red is inherently exciting and the amount of red is directly related to the level of energy perceived. Red draws attention and a keen use of red as an accent can immediately focus attention on a particular element." ~ From "Sensational Color"

My 15 year old daughter has a major complaint about my wardrobe. She'll walk into my closet and look around, shaking her head and grumbling to herself, as she's devising an outfit for me to wear to an event. "What exactly do you have against COLOR, Mom?", she'll ask, "Everything in here is brown, gray and black!". Her thoughts aren't off base. I have an unreasonable fear of color in my clothing. Every time I try to wear something outside of my comfort area, I find myself feeling uncentered, lacking focus and nervous. In my limited palate of clothing, navy blue is my color of reckless abandon. My mother and my daughter are both wardrobe and personality. They love to joke that they are monkeys; attracted to bright, shiny objects. My mother looks amazing in turquoise and my daughter shines in vivid purple. In their world of zest and spice in the use of color, I'm afraid that I'm the drab pigeon to their peacocks. I can appreciate how lovely and vibrant they both look....but when dressing myself, I'm far more likely to shrug off those same colors, despite the fact that we all have the same coloring.

When I first read about "The Red Dress Project" a few years ago, I was enchanted. What a delightful idea about spreading the message of women's risks for heart disease! This program has grown from one fashion show to a global awareness event. Because heart disease kills more women every year than any other cause, I was intrigued. As a survivor of women's cancer, I had always assumed that cancer would be the leading cause of death in women. How wrong I was! Heart disease kills 18 more women than cancer does every year. I became involved in the charity thanks to a good friend, who raised my awareness. Thanks to her, our local community is passionately involved in not only increasing perception to this crucial health risk, but also in helping those already effected by the disease. Women are not only encouraged to wear red dresses, but skirts, shoes, sweaters and scarves. Gentlemen are implored to wear red ties, shirts and hats to help create an atmosphere of compassion for the women in their families.

The first Friday in February, the Red Dress day becomes an international event, garnering attention for this exceptional cause. First begun here in the United States, the project has spread to a dozen countries. Will I participate? I most certainly will. I own one red dress, and I plan on wearing it to a charity event this evening. Will I feel out of place? Absolutely not...this is the one evening each year I can shake off my charcoal gray-ness and know that my clothes will speak for something larger than myself. When we only look to our own comfort areas, it's very difficult to help make the world a better, more loving place. When we step outside those areas of black and white, we find there is a whole rainbow of color, just waiting for us to experience them.

Won't you join me in this endeavor?

Red Dress Day

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beauty and the Inner Beast

You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul's own doing. ~Marie Stopes

Several weeks ago, I was listening to news on the radio in the car. Most of the time, I spend my hours driving in a half aware state about what's playing. I do try to pay attention to the road, given my less than stellar auto skills. However, one report caught my attention; in a recent survey, 1000 women, age 40-55, were asked if they would rather be 20 years younger, 1 million dollars richer or 20 pounds thinner. An overwhelming majority, over 70%, stated that their wish would be youth. Initially, I was surprised. After all, I'm both happy and proud to be 44. I would never chose to be another age. I'm far more comfortable in my skin than I was in my teens or twenties. Still, the survey caught my attention and drew me to think more deeply about the idea of aging women in our society. Apparently the same survey was given to men, and over 90% would choose to be 1 million dollars richer. So, why are women more concerned about youth than men, in the same age category, are?

Part of this is due to our current society. Hollywood glamorizes young girls, as does the modeling industry. How many women over 40, no matter how stunning, are picked to walk the runway by designers? How many fabulously talented and gorgeous women find their acting careers to be derailed once they reach "a certain age"? Women do not see images of female characters who physically resemble them often. The good roles seem to be few and far between, and women over 40 are relegated to playing mothers...often to men who aren't much younger than they are themselves. This double standard of embracing maturing, handsome men while tossing charismatic, passionate women is unnerving. When a woman in her 40's is sexually aware, she's considered a "Cougar". A man of the same age is simply considered a man. Women are predatory, whereas men are "normal". It's insulting and unfair. A man who marries a much younger woman gets a 'trophy wife' a prize. A woman in the same life circumstances is teased about 'robbing the cradle' and having a Boy Toy. For men, it's to be applauded. For women, it's embarrassing. Of course, our society is telling us nothing new in the devaluation of middle aged women. For centuries, men married, and fathered children well into their upper years.

Rather than be angry at this scenario, I find it's simply not worth the anger. What this situation has done has been to teach me to find what beauty means to me, at this point in my life. I wouldn't want to be 18 again. When I think of the anguish, the heartbreak, the lack of wisdom and my own insecurities, I shudder with regret. I think of how often I allowed other people's opinion's of me to shape how I felt about myself. I remember how helpless I felt when confronted with unsettling relationships. I cringe when I realize how much of my own happiness was based upon how I allowed others to treat me. My self-worth was changeable as the weather, and my confidence only seemed to be in place when someone else was praising me. To give up the knowledge I've worked so hard for would be unthinkable. Every gray hair reminds me of a battle I've fought and won. Each wrinkle represents a day spent laughing. To give those up would be to walk backwards, forgetting the extraordinary beauty in life that can only come with experience, with pain and with passion.

Rather than cosmetic surgery, or fad products, I try to encourage my yoga students to look within. I know that many of them roll their eyes at me. Yet, the most beautiful women of any age are those who exude confidence, charisma and wit. This doesn't happen overnight. A woman's inner beauty isn't something that she's born with. It's a gift that she earns by working through her demons. Obviously, if a woman is blessed with wonderful DNA for gorgeous legs or flawless skin, it's a huge benefit. However, if she's bitter, hostile, jealous or selfish, those natural gifts aren't going to go very far. My theology class is taught by a lovely woman in her late 60's. Her long gray hair is pulled back in a pony tail and her clothes are those of an Episcopal priest. However, her melodious voice, her brilliant comments and her zest for life make this woman absolutely breathtaking. Her love for life, and those around her, radiates and although she doesn't look like any of the girls from High School Musical, Reverend Glass becomes captivating. When I ask myself if I'd rather be my theology teacher when I grow up, or to age backwards to be a Disney creation, there is no reverend would win out every time. Beauty comes from the way a woman speaks, the way she carries herself, her zest for learning new things and her own sense of who she is. A woman who knows herself well, who doesn't depend upon the opinions of others, is beautiful at any age.

I wasted decades of my life worried about my weight, my hair and my clothes. I wish I'd spent a tenth of that time working on 'esteemable acts' to boost my skills in practical areas. Interestingly, I may be twenty pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day, but I've never felt more beautiful. It's nothing whatsoever about the woman who gazes back at me in the mirror. If I relied on that image, I'm sure I'd be back into my pit of despair. Rather, my confidence comes from doing what I love to do, being with the people I adore and feeling proud of the life I've tried to build. Have I fallen short in some areas? Of course. But, have I walked towards my dreams? Absolutely. I find that, even just working towards those goals in life leaves me with an air of fearlessness. It took me more than forty years to discover that fortitude, courage and self-possession are what makes a woman beautiful. Like Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness, it took me that long to reach my own "promised land".

Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you see? Do you see wrinkles, age spots or thinning hair? Or, do you see a person who is traveling on a journey and has gained beauty-increasing wisdom along the way? Slay the inner beast of being self-critical and look for the beauty. It's there.