The Grey Experiment

“You look tired!”

“You don’t want people to think you’re letting yourself go.”

“What a shame! You have such a youthful face.”

“No, really…how old ARE you?”

All of the above statements have been made to me by friends, relatives and surprisingly, complete strangers. What they are all commenting on is the color of my hair; not a complete head of grey, but a village of silver and white that sprang up at my sideburns and crown beginning at the age of 19.  Yes, 19. This early onset of grey is genetic; both my sister and I inherited the premature greys from our mother. Three traceable generations before her went grey in their early 20s. I remember a story about my great grandmother almost becoming an “old maid”.  As her male relatives haggled with potential husbands over her dowry, her dark hair became fully grey. By the time she was married at age of 30, which was considered over the hill in those days, she was perceived to be much older due to her hair color.  It probably didn’t help that her husband was also almost 60.

Speaking of perception, societal pressure for women to maintain a “youthful” appearance is evident in the way we react to graying hair.  A recent UK news story spoke of scientists isolating the gene that causes hair to lose its pigment. The end goal would be to eventually create a pill that would target that gene and “stop the clock” on the greying process.

Guess I’ll be needing that pill, huh?

When I saw my first white hair at 19, I promptly plucked it out.  At the time, I was also dyeing my hair to match my moods (thank you, Manic Panic).  As a result, I never allowed enough of the grey to come in to be noticeable to myself or anyone else.  Paradoxically,  a baby face with a head of silver had become a beauty trend.  Girls and young women purposely dye their hair different shades of gray before their biological clocks have them looking so au naturale. So, where is the disconnect? Going gray is only acceptable if you choose to do it and are visibly in your 20’s as opposed to it happening naturally. J-Lo is 46 years old with amazing skin and body fitness. If she stopped dyeing her hair, she most certainly would have some greys. Would that make her any less of a sex symbol? Would her younger boyfriend leave her? Would the world tell her that she was letting herself go?

gray_20something yr old
The grey 20 something year old…

I wanted to see how long I could go without reaching for the L’Oreal bottle. I decided to stop dyeing my roots in June of 2015. I was already sporting a tan and the village of grey coming in on my head was being oxidized by the sun giving it a reddish and blondish hue depending on the light. My clients complimented my “highlights” and my deepening bronze skin tone. It was still all positives once September rolled in and I started my semester.  Within the first three weeks of school, I got my first comment. It came from a girl who had a penchant for blurting out whatever was on her mind  in the middle of class no matter how inappropriate (social pragmatics = 0). Sitting outside our classroom, she looked at me and said, “What’s up with your hair?” I asked what she meant. “You don’t dye it,” she replied in a flat tone. While I was mildly annoyed in the moment, it didn’t deter me from maintaining my decision to keep it REAL. I told her I liked how it looked and kept reading my textbook.

By the end of October, there was a solid inch of grey hair from my crown downward. The tan was also fading and as the semester became more rigorous, my hair was going up in a bun most days to be out of the way. I arrived to school sometime around Halloween and the security guard in front of the gate stopped me from entering. He asked for my ID and when I showed it to him, he did not believe it was me. He kept saying that it did not look like me. I took my hair down and shook it out to match the style in the grainy image on my card. Still, he was adamant that it wasn’t me in the ID. He then called over the other female guard to show her my ID. All this time, there were young people filtering past us and none of them were being stopped for IDs. So, I made mention of that. The answer: They’re students. Before I had a chance to answer that I, TOO, was a student, the female guard playfully hits her colleague and tells him it is my ID, it’s just my hair that was throwing him off. They both laughed and instead of apologizing to me for all the trouble, he thought it would be a good idea to compare me to the bride of Frankenstein with her grey streaks and wild up-do. Your Halloween joke was not funny.

As final exam time approached in early December, I had experienced a few more incidents. The post office worker who told me I was “brave” for leaving so much grey. The 20-something year old boy who made a crass comment about the color of “other hair” on my body. And the handful of much older gentlemen who complimented my hair and asked how I take such good care of myself. More than anything else, the little comments were wearing me down; things like you look so tired, school is aging you, stop putting your hair up if you don’t want people to say anything. I found myself near tears as I wrestled with the urge to dye my hair again. In the end, I made an appointment just after Christmas and dyed my locks back to black. What broke me was the idea that major judgements that could affect my future, both personally and professionally, would be made based on the “age” of my hair. I left the beauty salon feeling like I had my armor back, not my youth.

 

Additional Reading:

http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/369413

http://recil.grupolusofona.pt/handle/10437/6666

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=QD_eCQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA133&dq=hair+color+and+self+esteem&ots=ExFkYHlghp&sig=AG9Y01Aw1VmXoihOo7WiY9a2_iw#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

Loving those perfect imperfections

John Legend’s “All Of Me” is a melodious appraisal of all the reasons why he is so head over heels in love with his woman, including her “perfect imperfections”. It’s a beautiful line that has gotten me thinking about the parts of ourselves we fear being rejected over and the traits we see in others as unacceptable or non-negotiable. Let’s explore…

Last night I watched this documentary made by a man who was worried that his penis size would prevent him from finding a partner in life. After a very public humiliation, he set out on a journey that took him to several corners of the world in search of ways to augment his slightly lower than average penis. After trying some pretty shocking methods, he finally threw in the towel realizing that the issue was his own self esteem. The more he projected his inadequacy, the less likely someone would want to date him. So, at films end, he bravely asked a girl he had met during shooting out on a date and she bluntly told him, “There’s more to you than just THAT (i.e. his penis)…”

The man in question putting his “imperfection” out there for all to see!

Even the most secure individual probably has some physical or personality driven feature that could subject them to rejection. This follows what I mentioned earlier about non-negotiable traits. The filmmaker’s girlfriend turned down his proposal because she felt his penis size was a non-negotiable. I wonder how she would have felt if it was the other way around and someone told her the size of chest was the deal breaker. Each of us is entitled to have our mental check list for a partner, but sometimes those supposed imperfections can be perfect if we just embrace them full on.

There was a period in my recovery from an Anorexia where the man I was dating found it important to point out how much weight I was gaining and specifically, what parts of my body were now unattractive to him. Some of this he said to my face with a “you better do something about that or it’s a wrap.” Other commentary was saved for mutual friends and coworkers. When we broke up, he did something any woman would be mortified to learn. He publicly posted that I was a “fat bitch.” Shortly thereafter, another man became interested in me, but my brain was so wrapped up in being too big that I completely rejected him. It must have been exhausting to be around me at the time because the whole thing made me such an insecure pile of flesh. One of my closest male friends had once told me he broke it off with a wonderful, gorgeous girl because she was tremendously insecure about her body. Her constant need for affirmation just drained him. His next girlfriend was much plainer looking than the previous, but her confidence was infectious. He couldn’t get enough of her. (Note to selves, ladies!!!)

To paraphrase Dan Savage’s comments in the film, each one of us has to know what we bring to the table and work that to our advantage. However difficult you may find it, loving all of you first will allow someone else to love all of you right back. Thank you for putting it so well, Mr. Legend!

Cellulite is NOT an itis…

On the left, cellulitis; On the right, cellulite – big difference!

I can’t tell you how many times, when discussing “trouble spots” with a client they refer to their cellulitis. What they mean to say is their cellulite, but the term they choose has nothing to do with the aesthetic appearance of their wobbly bits (see image above). It is understandable that for some women, the look of cellulite can feel like a serious medical condition. With summer unexpectedly here, they become acutely aware of their “imperfections” and panic; rushing to the spa for any firming, toning and detoxifying treatments available in the hopes that they can bare their flesh without fierce judgements. Cellulite doesn’t happen overnight, though. We are all born with a certain amount of fat cells that are distributed throughout our bodies according to our genetics. As we enter puberty, hormonal fluctuations affect our metabolism and shifts the distribution of the fat underneath our skin. The same thing occurs as we age and enter into menopause. In 80 to 90% of women, some level of cellulite will be visible; however the following factors greatly influence its widespread formation. Take notes:

  • Poor circulation and lymphatic drainage

The tissues in your body need to be fed and then flushed of the by products and toxins left behind after the fact. However, if you have a genetic or pathological insufficiency, the “toilet water” sits and festers, causing the breakdown of the matrix that holds the fat cells in their proper place. Since it all has to get flushed up and out, the areas most affected are the extremities. Exactly where you don’t want to see the cellulite.

  • Increased levels of stress hormones in the blood

We all know a high stress lifestyle can take a toll on our health, but it also has an affect on our fat distribution and connective tissue. Cortisol and catecholamines are stress hormones release by the adrenal glands as part of our “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous response. The body instinctively slows its metabolism and increases its “padding” of fat as it reacts to survive. The presence of the hormones over long periods of time can start to break down connective tissue, which as mentioned above, creates the matrix that holds the fat cells at bay. Once the matrix is damaged, the fat cells push up against the lower layers of skin, which is the puckered look that we all recognize as cellulite. The slowed metabolism also causes weight gain, which swells the size of the fat cells, making them pucker up even more.

  • Yo-yo dieting

Weight fluctuations occur as a result of physiological and hormonal changes. Step on the scale in the morning and again at night, and you could see your number rise or fall by 5-8 lbs. This is normal. Patterns of weight loss and gain over long periods of time of more than 20 lbs, damages the elasticity of the skin and connective tissue matrix. Out pops the cellulite.

  • Liposuction

Remember how we are all born with a certain number of fat cells? This procedure removes them from specific areas of the body also referred to as “re-contouring.” Once the fat cells are gone, they are gone. However, should the individual gain weight, the fat cells that are left redistribute the bulk in places the individual never had before. This is why the best candidates for liposuction are those who lead an active lifestyle and have a consistently clean diet.

And speaking of active lifestyles and clean diets, let’s segue into how one can address cellulite. Certain treatments and topical applications can produce visible results if the person remains consistent with modifications to their diet and exercise. Here are some of the one’s I can vouch for in my professional and personal practice. Still taking notes, I hope :-).

Dry brushing per day keeps the cellulite at bay…

Dry Brushing – One of my favorites is dry brushing. The practice consists of lightly brushing the surface of the skin in long upward strokes, starting at the lower limbs and moving upwards toward the heart. The brush bristles should be made of natural fibers and the brush itself easy to grip in order to properly handle it. Not only will you exfoliate the top layer of skin, but the increased blood flow to the capillary networks renews and tightens the skin’s surface. The movement towards the heart promotes proper circulation and flushing of the tissues via the lymphatic system. Done daily, it’s a great way to diminish the dimples.

Flushing and tightening

Caffeine, topically applied – As a little girl in Greece, every female relative young and old swore by their CLARINS cellulite cream and slathered in liberally in all corners and crevices of their bodies. What many creams geared toward cellulite contain is caffeine and what they do is act as a diuretic for the tissues, flushing out excess fluid and helping to tighten the surface of the skin. The cellulite puckers less; happy times on the beach. What I have seen work best is an application of caffeinated cream prior to a workout. The combination of an exercise induced sweat and that of the caffeine is like a one-two punch, firming and flushing. Also, since tissue repair happens during sleep, an application at night can be effective as well.

Courtesy of “8 Kilos to 50” Tumblr (You go girl!)

Get your sweat on and build muscle Recall how earlier we talked about people having a predisposed amount of fat cells that are distributed under the deepest level of skin in different ways dependent on genetics, hormones and age. These factors are sort of written in stone; however what you can control is how much a fat cell can swell. Therefore, the amount of lean muscle you build will reduce the size of the fat cells and help spike your metabolism, as muscle requires more calories than fat for maintenance. Reducing your overall body fat % will counter the factors you cannot control. A wonderful little exercise known as the Bulgarian Split Squat can do a whole lot to diminish the look of the dimples that many women have directly under their gluteal fold. At least, that’s what I have found within my own workouts. A tiny addendum to this bit on exercise is to make sure you are hydrating properly to flush your system out while also maintaining a balanced diet that is specific to your activity level and overall bodily needs. Consulting a registered dietician or certified nutritionist for advice is a great way to make sure you are eating right for you, cellulite or not.

It is also important to keep in mind that within that 80-90% of women who have cellulite are the fashion models, actresses and popular girls we gush(ed) over and/or envy. It’s a fact of physiological life that we can address to a certain extent, but inevitably must come to accept. Be good to your body through all its transformations and transitions and hopefully, it will be good to you.

A Body is a Terrible Thing to Waste

All bones, no strength – Anorexia circa 2003

October 13th was the 8th anniversary of my recovery from Anorexia. Back on that date in 2004, I broke down on the floor of my bedroom in the middle of the night. I was staring into the demon bowels of the disease that had dictated my life for 3 years. It sucked the air from my lungs. I couldn’t live another day with its crushing pressure. It took me two weeks to leave the confines of a friend’s home (where I had escaped to cocoon myself from reality) and once I did emerge, I felt like I was in some kind of silent film. The world moved slowly, while I felt frenetic. I quit and distanced myself from everything in my life that I had allowed to enable the disease. I went into therapy. I ate a bowl of black eyed peas and rice, my first meal, with trepidation. My stomach; my intestines; my mind slowly came back to life. With belly distended, I proudly proclaimed on whatever social networks existed at that time that I was recovering. I was still very thin, but by the New Year 2005, my consistent eating led my body to “betray” me.

Performing in 2007, at my heaviest post recovery (Image copyright: Gary Winter)

The life preserving shut down of my metabolism was meant to make sure I wouldn’t starve again. I was afraid to eat, but I did anyway. I submitted my food journals to my therapist who approved and told me to eat more. “Variety” she stressed, but I was fixated on foods I felt safe with. I did gratuitous amounts of cardio at odd hours, so no one would stare at my body at the gym. They had known me when I was at my thinnest and I feared their assumption that I was letting myself go. My fears were realized when in the Spring of that year, a trainer approached me and offered to give me a fitness assessment. The masochist in me accepted and after running his various tests, proclaimed to me that I was borderline obese. Oh, the shame that washed over me. For years, that left me with such an acrid taste for personal trainers. He told me to cut out the “junk food” and come see him for sessions at the gym. I was living on tuna fish and pita breads, fueling my workouts with coffee and bee pollen smoothies. I never went back to that gym. In fact I stopped going to any gym. My weight and health habits fluctuated erratically between 2005 and 2008, until a good friend recommended his trainer. I got over myself and the shame I had felt in my previous experience and contacted him. He assessed me through a short circuit of activities and introduced the concept of strength training. He taught me how muscle mass and strength would benefit me in the long run, making my metabolism more efficient and letting my body reshape itself into it’s own “normal.”

All muscle, all strength!

The seed he planted germinated when I went back to school for massage. I was hit with Anatomy, Physiology, Neuro and Kinesiology. I never soaked up information with such appetite before. I couldn’t get enough. This knowledge enhanced my workouts and sessions with my trainer because I understood how my body was designed to function. Suddenly, Mr. “Borderline Obese” became the joke that I should have never taken seriously. (Side note here: I saw his picture and name on a real estate placard recently, which clearly shows us he did not have a glowing career in exercise physiology after all). I also returned to therapy with a more cognitive approach to help get to the root of my control issues and take them head on…much like throwing knees and elbows during pad drills. I channeled my emotions into my workouts and learned, often times the hard way, what an art BALANCE is. Now, as a massage therapist, it is so important to foster this healthy sense of bodily awareness within my clients, wherever possible and always when solicited.

So when I was contacted recently by a Fitness/Wellness website for a review of their services, I stepped up to the plate and joined. SlimKicker is a point based program kind of in the vein of Weight Watchers, except that it values activities and nutrition at various levels and creates challenges for its users to foster long term health habits. It also provides a calorie counter, fitness tracker and other resources. There is the community aspect too, as users can post inspirational feed on the homepage, join each other in challenges/groups and “friend” each other for support. The About Us section states that the site is all about learning proper nutrition, portion control, and acquiring important habits. In that vein, upon signing up I was asked for my weight and what my goal was – weight loss or strengthening/toning. Although I chose the fitness oriented option, the pop up that followed was more for weight loss, citing how many calories and percentages I needed to consume in order to achieve my goal. The amount it noted was no where near what I would need to fuel my body and my workouts. To drive this point home, I logged only my exercise habits; not my food intake. If I followed what the site suggested, I would essentially send my body into starvation mode.

It is important to note here that there is a disclaimer in their Terms and Conditions that states the site should not be used by anyone with any medical or nutritional conditions and that content is for informational purposes only, not meant to replace professional medical advice. Obviously no one with an eating disorder has any business on a site where everything is meticulously logged and counted, but many people without said issues can still have disordered eating habits and cycles of guilt they feel compelled to share via social network. The site’s inspirational feed is 80% laments at having eaten too much of something labeled “bad” either by the user themselves or the nutritional information offered to them by the website (Remember that disclaimer,guys?). Also, there are statements of pride over extra exercises and completed challenges; however these inspirational statements are edged with complaints about weight gain or lack of loss (again, that disclaimer). This is not the site’s fault. They want you to be positive, stay focused and band together for support. Our society is more to blame for fostering this widespread self loathing and depreciation. The hate and guilt are infectious and breed a vicious cycle that will continue so long as we choose to continue “sharing,” despite any health oriented social networks best efforts.

SlimKicker, if used properly, can function as a motivator for adopting a fitness regimen because it holds you accountable for your activities. Much like a TO DO list, if exercise is factored into a week and logged daily, it makes you all the more aware of the need to check it off your list. After doing so for so many times, it will hopefully become a natural part of your daily lifestyle. I’m still not a fan of food logging due to my past; however if you truly don’t know what you have eaten in a day, keeping a food diary can help you track unhealthy patterns like over eating and of course, under eating. My advice is to pay attention to your body’s individual needs and seek out a registered dietician and/or nutritionist if you find the process to be overwhelming.