Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Importance of Spring Cleaning for the Soul

I am a disorganized organized person. Everything has a place, it’s just sometimes I can’t remember where that place is.

If there is such a thing as a scatter-brained Type A gal, that’s me. Some of us excel in this area, but no matter if you are disordered or tidy, spring cleaning is for establishing much-needed order. Your home’s mess-o-meter aside, spring cleaning for the soul is an essential step in trimming up those frayed emotional edges.

This isn’t about getting your closet color-coded, instead, let’s focus on cleaning out those inner cobwebs that may be fogging your vision or on unpacking your unnecessary baggage. Here is a daily checklist that can help you stay focused, positive, and clear-minded not only during this time of year, but all year-round.

Clean Out the Kitchen Sink – The phrase ‘everything but the kitchen sink‘ is one that holds a lot of water (pun fun!) for women in today’s hectic, hurried world. The phrase first appeared in common conversations during the early 20th century after World War II. The idea is that everyone’s kitchen sink is connected to internal pipes and usually bolted down; so it’s not easily moved. Metaphorically, consider the kitchen sink to be your foundation. This represents your core beliefs and what you consider to be your moral code. Take inventory of the random dirty dishes you’ve collected. Clean them and then put them away. If you have made small mistakes or big ones, this is the step that can help you rediscover homeostasis. Without emptying out the ‘dirty dishes’ you’ve been ignoring or allowing to build up overtime, it can be hard to re-discover the base structure of who you really are.

Make Your Bed Everyday – While this can be turned into a metaphor as well, the actual act of making your bed every morning is a great way to start your day. One small accomplishment like this can put into place a habit of finishing what you begin. Leaving little things undone throughout the week (beginning with skipping making the bed) can become a pathway for procrastination. And can even ultimately lead us into a life of doing things half-way. Start everyday by taking the time to make your room a place you look forward to relaxing in after a long day.

Throw Out Old Magazines – Whether you have a magazine subscription to every gossip rag in circulation or only buy an US Weekly when Ryan Gosling is on the cover, it is important to clean out those old magazines. Not only can stray paper clutter our homes and literally eat-up otherwise useful space, they can also clutter our minds with impractical ideals. Hollywood isn’t reality, and while it is great to escape every now and then, it is also important to counter-balance that input with some more substantial information. If you struggle with body issues, consider skipping the health magazines with super models on the cover. Instead, load your iPod with positive message running music or read motivational books about cultivating inner beauty.

Clean Splatters Off of the Mirror – This may be the most important step in soul spring cleaning. The way we see ourselves can get splattered upon through other people’s back-splash and our own misconceptions. Instead of letting those smudges and water spots overtake our reflections, we need to periodically wipe it away and start afresh. One way to do this is to write down some negative thoughts you’ve been harboring over the last season of your life. Go through each thought you’ve had about yourself or someone has verbalized about you and cross it off with a red pen. Write in black pen next to it, a positive thought about yourself and focus on that in place of the old one.

Spring cleaning for the soul is necessary anytime we start to feel internally cluttered. Whether you struggle with negativity, taking on too much or are simply feeling lost you need to take the time to take out the trash. In this particular time in history, women have so many options- in life, love and work. The only person holding us back from our utmost potential is the person in the mirror. Make sure you can see her clearly by giving her the space she needs to truly shine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can You Ever Be Too Pretty For Your Own Good?

I was having a conversation with a few of my girlfriends the other day when a beautiful girl walked into the coffee shop we were at. The table went quiet.

One of my friends nervously pulled at a loose string on her hem, another stared the girl up-and-down, and the quietest of the group continued flipping through a magazine as if Brooke Burke’s doppelganger hadn’t just breezed through the door.

Finally, I said “Wow, that girl is really pretty.” Everyone responded in surround-sound; defeated and despondent, “I know, right?”

In that moment I began wondering what I was in the middle of. There was an energy shift among the women. Each of us responded in a different way. Each of us had exposed our insecurities and our imperfections in one quick moment of reflection.

As women, are we really threatened by beauty or by the way that beautiful women make us feel?

I found a recent Psychology Today article detailing the perils (ahem) of attractiveness. Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. revealed that “recent research has shown how the advantages of being beautiful don’t always translate into greater successes. In fact, being good-looking can cost you opportunities – jobs, scholarships, promotions – depending on the gender and attractiveness of your evaluator.”

She goes on to further explain via fellow Psychologist Maria Agthe, that attractive applicants who were in the process of approval for a graduate scholarship received higher ratings ‘from opposite-sex raters, but not from same-sex raters’. She went on to say that in this case, female applicants were actually penalized for their beauty by women.

As an author of a book that focuses on social graces and treating each other kindly, one of my core beliefs is deeply rooted in the importance of cultivating inner beauty. But that isn’t to say that outward beauty doesn’t have it’s own gravitational pull in our society and in our emotional lives.

The pretty girls feel like they need to apologize for being so.The plainer girls feel like they need to interchange the words ‘mean ‘and ‘pretty’ to make themselves feel like the nicer of the two. Regardless of where we fall on the spectrum of beauty, I stumbled across some stats that I think may help us better understand our aversion to accepting prettiness with grace.

According to the Social Issues Research Center (SIRC) a non-profit organization founded to conduct research on social and lifestyle issues, 80% of women over the age of 18 are unhappy with the way they look.

SIRC explained, “Recent experiments have shown that exposure to magazine photographs of super-thin models produces depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity, body-dissatisfaction and increased endorsement of the thin-ideal stereotype. Magazines like Vogue and Elle are banned in many eating-disorder clinics, because of their known negative effect on patients’ body-image.”

In a Harvard University Study they found that two-thirds of underweight 12-year-olds considered themselves “fat”. By 13, at least 50% of girls are dissatisfied with the way they look. At 14, the dissatisfaction becomes more targeted to certain areas of the body. By the time 17 rolls around, 7 out of every 10 girls will have been on a diet.*

Our image insecurities have lead us to judge not only those around us, but in turn, our poor fragile selves. And this vicious cycle of self-loathing and discontentment has led us to develop a distorted idea of beauty.

The root of the root? Pretty girls don’t have it made. No one does.

One of the freshest examples of this is Whitney Houston. Gone too soon at 48, she was a beautiful and talented lady who had everything going for her . In an interview with Good Morning America, the Canadian power-house Celine Dion commented, “What happens when you have everything? Love, support, motherhood…Something happens that I don’t understand. That’s why I’m scared of show business.”

In Whitney’s case, people continue to say what a waste. What a loss. What a shame. Because it is. Here is a woman who didn’t understand her own worth. Here is a woman who never understood how to accept her beauty and talent instead of resent it. I think there are a lot of us like her.

The problem may lie in the way we have been programmed to view beauty. While every woman wants it, we are also told to ‘harbor a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room’ (whether that’s someone else or ourselves)- as feminist-songwriter Ani DiFranco so eloquently stated.

How about you? Have you ever been shunned because you were a threat to another woman? Have you ever been left out, even though you didn’t quite understand why? Maybe just maybe, it had nothing to do with something being wrong. Perhaps it was just because you looked too right.

Have you ever done the shunning? Have you ever given envy the upper hand?

We hear all the time about accepting each others faults, but what we hear less about is accepting each others loveliness.

We need to remember that feminism in it’s original form was not only a sect of activists promoting a series of accomplishments to catapult women into their own real of economic progress– it was also meant to create a bond between sisters; a union of souls. We need to get back to that place.

Beauty is defined as ‘the qualities in a person that pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.’

My advice? Shock people with your goodness. There is nothing more defusing than a pretty girl who is kind. Because, even if pretty is something you are, being beautiful is something we should all work hard to become.