Archive | Health and Beauty

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things You Learn From Losing Your Voice

larynx

larynxI was invited to a brunch recently with a woman who happens to be a yoga teacher. In describing her practice, she noted that when she conducts retreats for families at her home in Notting Hill, she requires that everyone do a “silent breakfast” – one where you cannot speak. (Note to self: Family yoga retreat? Count me in!)

The silent breakfast is a real struggle, she said, for English people in particular, as the culture is so verbal and witty. But there is no talking whatsoever allowed during breakfast and ultimately, she says, everyone comes to appreciate it.

I’ve had my own version of the silent breakfast lately. I have nodules on my vocal cords – which means that I’ve basically had laryngitis since early November. It’s not a dangerous condition, but it does hamper one’s speech considerably. There was a point in mid-December when my doctor advised me not to speak. At all.

I’ll be having surgery later this month to correct this problem, which may come as more of a relief to some quarters than others (cough). In the meantime, I thought I would share five things I learned from losing my voice:

a. You listen more. Cultivating the art of good listening is thought to have all sorts of benefits for business, for teaching and for parenting. When you’re forced to stop talking for a couple of days, you also realize how much you interrupt, depriving others – especially children – of the ability to formulate their own thoughts. It also forces you to intervene less in family conflicts, which can only be a good thing. 

b. You invest in other forms of self-expression. As fate had it, the final performance for my improv acting class took place during one of the days when my voice was completely shot. So I had to go through an hour and a half of group exercises without saying a word. Boy, was that instructive! When you can’t speak, you have to rely much more strongly on gestures (including rude ones!) and to devise other techniques – like miming – for getting your point across. It’s a good reminder that speaking is only one of several ways to communicate. Indeed, deprived of the ability to speak, I am also pouring a lot more energy into writing my book.

c. You develop empathy. There’s a well-known journalist who anchors the BBC’s flagship morning radio show, The Today Programme, named Nick Robinson. Robinson is a veteran reporter, but a couple of years ago his vocal cords were severely damaged during surgery to remove a tumor from his lungs. When I first heard Robinson speak on the programme after he returned to work – still husky from months of voice therapy – I was a bit taken aback. However good a reporter he might have been, I was puzzled that the BBC would be willing to put someone with a voice impairment on the radio every day in such a prime slot. Fast forward two years and now I feel like a heartless fool. Not only is that *exactly* what the BBC should have done – in the spirit of fair and equal treatment of its employees – but Robinson is an inspiration. Whenever I hear him, I find myself thinking: “Well done, Nick! I’m so glad that you have a voice and are using it to make yourself heard!”

d. You take advantage of alone time. When you have a busy life – and especially if you have children – it can be really hard to carve out any time for yourself. And even when I do find that time, I always feel compelled to invite someone else along. But when you can’t talk to anyone, you figure, “What the heck?” I might as well go do something I enjoy by myself. When I was at the height of my self-imposed alone time, I saw two films and one play. All by myself. It was fantastic. Rather than feeling like I needed to “discuss them” afterwards, I just relished the feeling of assessing them on my own. Highly recommend.

d. You are reminded not to ignore physical pain. I have a tendency to avoid pain. That’s not always a good idea. In the case of my vocal nodules, the stress in my neck was such that it quickly spread to my upper back and before long, I could barely sit up. I’m now in physical therapy and things are improving rapidly, but this entire episode has reminded me why – when something goes wrong in your body – it’s important to deal with it quickly and thoroughly.

Homework: Pretend you can’t talk at your next family meal and let me know how you get on!

Image: File:Larynx normal2a via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Get A Makeover in Middle Age

eyeliner

eyelinerOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a girly girl. I hate shopping, I rarely purchase clothes and I only really began wearing make up regularly five years ago when I started my most recent job.

So when my 22 year-old niece recommended me for a free makeover/photo shoot, I was initially skeptical.

“It’s fun!” she insisted.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is, but you’re 22 and I’m…not,” I answered.

When the call from the salon initially came through, I politely declined. But when they later followed up with a text, I found myself wavering.

I’ve only had someone show me how to apply makeup once in my life, another freebie back when I was much younger and first out in the working world. Back then, someone told me that figuring out how to style yourself is all about seasons – and my coloring renders me “Winter” – but I never bothered to investigate what that really meant. More to the point, that was like 20 years ago and I felt like it might be time for a”refresher” course. It was.

Read the rest of this post over on Making Midlife Matter

Image: YSL Baby Doll eyeliner 11 Light Blue by Heidi Uusitorppa via Flickr.com

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Sibling Relationships Affect Your Development

SiblingsI was watching a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last month when I was suddenly overcome by a desire to leap out of my seat, jump on stage and start belting out “Any Dream Will Do” with the title character. 

And I suddenly thought: Who on this planet can possibly relate to this impulse to shed my middle aged composure and burst out in song?

And the answer was: my sister. She and I were raised on musical theater, have been to countless Broadway shows, and often communicate with one another via lyrics from our favorite show tunes. 

Sure enough, the next day – as soon as I told her (via email) where I’d been the night before – she responded with a choice lyric from Joseph…to which I replied in kind. 

We all know that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave. Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50:

Image: Siblings via Wikimedia Commons

How Mindfulness Apps Energized My Morning Routine

mindfulness

mindfulnessThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” — both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive Global

Image: JohnHain via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Get A Makeover

eyeliner

eyelinerOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a girly girl. I hate shopping, I rarely purchase clothes and I only really began wearing make up regularly four years ago when I started my most recent job.

So when my 22 year-old niece recommended me for a free makeover/photo shoot, I was initially skeptical.

“It’s fun!” she insisted.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is, but you’re 22 and I’m…not,” I answered.

When the call from the salon initially came through, I politely declined. But when they later followed up with a text, I found myself wavering.

I’ve only had someone show me how to apply makeup once in my life, another freebie back when I was much younger and first out in the working world. Back then, someone told me that figuring out how to style yourself is all about seasons – and my coloring renders me “Winter” – but I never bothered to investigate what that really meant. More to the point, that was like 20 years ago and I felt like it might be time for a”refresher” course.

It was. Here are five reasons to get a makeover:

1. It’s efficient. I have no idea which makeup looks good on me. For awhile now, I’ve noticed that others were applying their makeup differently to me and better, but I didn’t know how to alter my daily regime and that’s not the sort of thing I’d be naturally good at figuring out. This time, the lady who did my makeover told me that my natural skin tone is yellow. This means that I should stick to “peach” tones. But because I have blue eyes, I can also work in some grey accents and pink is OK for lipstick. Best advice? Putting eye liner on the top eyelid, not the bottom.  Apparently it “opens the eyes.” (Yeah, I’m pretty late to that party, but at least I’m not alone.)

2. It’s a good excuse to declutter. Relatedly, there’s nothing quite like seeing professional photos of yourself to realize that the jeans you think look good, don’t; the color of shirt you think suits you, doesn’t, etc. etc. I’ve just finished reading a book about decluttering – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – whose essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” If we can get rid of all that excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed. In my own case, I know that I could easily do without at least two-thirds of the clothes I own because I only wear them once a year. It’s time to accept that they simply don’t “spark joy” and move on.

3. You can bond with your child. I took my 12 year-old daughter along with me to the makeover/photo shoot. They gave her a tiny bit of lip gloss and curled her hair. She loved it. I know that many would find this troubling: it encourages her to focus too much on her looks and to learn that her natural beauty is something that she needs to perfect endlessly. But I’m really confident that my daughter knows exactly who she is and also knows that looks aren’t everything. And as long as she’s still at that age (just) where I’m her best friend, I cherish any chance for us to spend “alone time” together.

4. It’s good to experiment. I’m currently reading a self-help book that encourages readers to try one new thing a month. The idea is that only by experimenting, can you discover your true passion in life (more on that another time…). I’ve written before on these pages about the value of experimentation in adulthood. In my own case, I’m trying really hard to fight the side of me that always responds to new opportunities with “You don’t have time,” “It’s too expensive” and/or the perennial, “Yes, but…” In the case of this makeover, my gut told me that I actually wanted to try this and I figured I had nothing to lose. I didn’t.

5. You get a decent photo of yourself. Yeah, I’m not above that…

What about you? Have you ever had a makeover? Did you like it? What did you learn?

Image: YSL Baby Doll Eyeliner 11 Light blue by Heidi Uusitorppa via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons to Start Swimming

swimming

swimmingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m rarely an evangelist for anything athletic. While my kids and my husband are all very sporty, I just wasn’t born with that particular gene. (My best “sports” are bowling, ping pong and pool, if that gives you any sense for my athletic prowess.)  But like so many things in middle age, you can find yourself doing things in your 40s and 50s that you never imagined even five years earlier.

I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. Sure, I’d taken the usual lessons at the local YMCA as a kid, where I learned enough of the basics to stay afloat. And think I even learned how to do a “back dive” at sleepaway camp a couple of years later. But that was all 30-odd plus years ago in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t enjoy swimming very much and I wasn’t particularly good at it. For me, swimming was sort of like learning how to boil water for pasta: a useful skill, but nothing you’d want to invest time or energy into perfecting.

Instead, as a grown up, I went running for my exercise. But after years and years of running, I finally made a decision last year to stop. My right leg had been aching on and off for ages – piriformis syndrome, for those who are counting (reciting obscure aches and pains being another tell-tale sign of middle age) – and after going to physical therapy for four months and seeing no improvement, I decided that running simply wasn’t in the cards for me any more.

“Why don’t you take up swimming?” My doctor suggested. “It’s much lower impact on your knees.”

“Swimming,” I thought? “But that’s so…cold…And wet…And cold.”

But given my leg problems – and the reality that “fast walking” sounded like something my mother might do – my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: Swimmers via Pixabay.com

Is Fat Passé?

feeling fat

feeling fatLONDON – At the risk of lobbing a hand grenade into the collective female unconscious, let me throw out some food for thought: I think that, slowly, the whole idea of being “fat” is becoming passé.

It’s not that I believe that body image has ceased to be one of the central parameters for how women – and especially, girls – define themselves. Nor – if musician Pink’s recent “fat shaming” episode is any bellwether — do I think that others will continue to pressure women, and particularly celebrities, to stay thin.

It’s just that culturally, I see a few signs that the the tides are slowly turning on this one and that one day in the foreseeable future, much like smoking and not using sunscreen in days gone by, our cultural obsession with being thin will wane and “fat” and “chubby” and “plus-size” will cease to have the negative cultural resonance it holds today.

“Rubenesque” will be the new black.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

 

Image: Feeling Fat by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

Dear USA: It’s Time For A New Maternity Leave Policy

pregnantwomanIn the seemingly endless competition to see which country ranks “best” on a host of well-being indicators, here’s one race the United States will never win: its policy on maternity leave.

This point was driven home by the announcement last week by the telecommunications giant, Vodaphone, that the company will now guarantee a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave for all new mothers. These women will also be able to work reduced hours (30 hour work weeks) at full pay for the first six months after they return to work. The kicker? This rule applies to all countries where Vodaphone operates, including those – like the United States, most African countries, and India – where statutory maternity leave policies are considerably lower.

Well, not to be a wet blanket, but here in the U.K., where I live, that headline wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. In accordance with U.K. law, women can take up to one year of maternity leave; 39 weeks of that leave is paid (the first 6 weeks at full salary and the next 33 at a percentage of income), with the remainder unpaid.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Amy Winehouse, Like Princess Diana, Was Bulimic

I’ve always had a soft spot for Amy Winehouse. The British, bee-hived chanteuse was the polar opposite of the proverbial girl-next-door: outré…erratic…Jewish.

In a country where the Duchess of Cambridge – aka Kate Middleton – currently personifies a sort of Ivory Soap poster girl for all that we hold dear, Winehouse embodied this nation’s darker side: wayward, unpolished, self-destructive.

And yet, there was a certain tenderness to Amy Winehouse – a vulnerability – skating just beneath the bravado that drew you to her. You could hear it in the lyrics of her signature album “Back to Black,” which launched her career in 2006 and subsequently won her a record 5 Grammy awards for a female British pop star:

I cheated myself,

Like I knew I would

I told you I was trouble,

Yeah, you know that I’m no good.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side...

 

Image: Amy Winehouse – Sign by eduhalls via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

What Swedish Mannequins Reveal About Body Image

Sometimes, all you need is an Internet hoax to generate a “teachable moment.”

I refer here to the photo of two “plus-sized” mannequins — allegedly from an H&M store in Sweden, but actually lifted from a photo of a different Swedish department chain in 2010 — that went viral earlier this week when a blogger at Women’s Right’s News posted them on Facebook to an overwhelming response. Last I checked, the page had 57,000 likes and17,000 shares.

H&M has subsequently denied using these fuller-bodied, scantily clad mannequins at any of their stores, in Sweden or anywhere else. But that doesn’t really matter. Because, authentic or not, the visual representation of “zoftig” models in the fashion industry — even fake ones — has clearly struck a chord.

Let’s face it. Part of the mannequins’ viral appeal was no doubt the illusion that they came from Sweden, that Nordic bastion of pushing-the-envelope cultural fare that brought us the likes of Ikea and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” We all secretly want to take our lifestyle cues from Sweden. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

But the excitement and interest generated by the mannequins run much deeper than that. “Call it a hunch, but I think we could have quite a discussion here,” wrote the popular syndicated columnist Connie Schultz on her Facebook page, where I first viewed the image. Which is clearly what Women’s Right’s News was after in posting the photos: “Store mannequins in Sweden. They look like real women. The US should invest in some of these,” read the caption.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: By Becka.nu at  http://www.becka.nu/2010/10/23/tummen-upp-for-ahlens-skyltdocka/