Ignorance is Bliss

IMG_1340To celebrate my newly-renovated bathroom in the house I bought this winter, my mom presented me with one of those super-duper magnifying mirrors to sit on the pretty quartz counter where I can pull up a stool and examine my face to my heart’s content.


In my old bathroom, I had a big rectangular mirror I’d bought at Costco hung above the vanity. Screwed into the wall over to the left was a smaller mirror that swung out on an arm and you could flip the round mirror between regular strength and the other side that provided a more magnified view of oneself.

I bought the smaller mirror a few years ago when I determined I couldn’t really see specific things on my face that required grooming, like errant brows and pimples. At the time, I chalked it up to the inferior craftsmanship of the Costco mirror but in reality, I couldn’t see myself as clearly as I used to because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, much like abs.

So I began to rely on that smaller side mirror for grooming but, honestly, my routine is not very complicated, especially when it comes to wearing makeup. I don’t really get involved with anything other than lip stuff unless I’m, like, going on a date or something. Honestly, I can’t stand the idea of taking eye makeup off and I’m also just not super-handy in the makeup department. Much like hair braiding and doing splits, I am deficient in those most feminine of skills.

All this being said to explain that as I am not applying mascara or rouge on a regular basis, I did not find myself really examining myself in that smaller mirror. The big Costco deal was just fine for putting on deodorant and rubbing lotion onto my elbows.

I also outsource my waxing needs, which eliminates another reason for heavy examination. Every few weeks I visit one of my favorite “browistas” who somehow shape the, like, three eyebrow hairs I have left into something resembling an arch and then rip the mustache off over my lip for good measure.

While I was paying for my waxing a few months ago, I picked up this little mini-razor that was displayed on the counter after all the girls who worked there were raving about all the hairy bits on their bodies they used the razor on – their arms and their faces, to name a few. What the hell? I thought.

I went home and went to work on the fuzz covering my right cheek and jawbone. I began scraping and holy shit, it was like I’d uncovered a small kitten on my face. Who knew all that peach fuzz, which I’ve noticed every now and again since I was, like, a little kid, would have added up like that? Of course, it was kinda satisfying, too, so I continued down my neck and up along my chin. I moved over to start working on the left side but the lighting in my bathroom above the vanity only illuminated the right side of my face so I did a little scraping on the left but couldn’t really see much accumulation and then decide I just didn’t have as much fur on one side than the other side of my face.

But a trip back to my browista a few weeks later confirmed the fuzz on my face was not relegated to just the right side. “You should use one of the mirrors in your car,” my brow girl suggested. “You’ll really be able to see your whole face in the daylight.” So, apologies to anyone who had to witness me half-shaved for those few weeks.

But honestly, I was just screwing around. I’m not really worried that the fuzz on my face is horrifying those forced to look at me. I mean, our whole bodies are covered in hair and even though I spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to keep a lot of that hair at bay, I can live with a fuzzy face. It was just fun to scrape up all that fur. And a cheek is a lot easier to work with than an arm. I have no interest in getting involved in removing all extremity hair and luckily, my Irish heritage is on my side in that respect.

So, even though I have not been a great mirror examiner in the past, when we moved into our new house in the beginning of March, our only mirror was a little old medicine cabinet in the hallway bath upstairs that requires really good eyesight to  see things. I could identify my teeth for brushing and hair for combing, but not much else. I’m lucky though in that I am definitely a glass-is-half-full kind of person. Unless otherwise notified, I tend to assume that everything is hunky-dory.

Ignorance really can be bliss.

I even found myself in a condo on vacation recently with an equally-bad mirror situation. But it was just me and my 13yo son – who has a hard enough time looking up from his iPhone, much less look at me – so I wasn’t too worried about what I looked like. We’d gone down to Hilton Head with our neighbors and enjoyed low-key week of sitting on the beach and riding bikes that didn’t really require any gussying up. I was shooting for presentable, at best.

When we got back from our spring break, I picked up the mirror my mom had bought me and eagerly took it out of its box, placed in on my counter and pulled the stool up close to take a gander. It’s the kind of mirror that magically lights up when it senses you in front of it and as the light bathed my face, I was horrified at what I saw.

It was ALL. SO. BIG.

The pores. The wrinkles. The eyebrows that had grown down to my lids. Even my earlobes looked crazy.

The whole thing gave me pause. On the one hand, it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. It’s nice to keep things in check. And on the other hand … I don’t know. Has it really improved my quality of life knowing I can literally see through the holes punched through my earlobes when I was in second grade that have supported four decades’ worth of dangly earrings and slowly stretched? If anything, it has alarmed the poop out of me.

But the mirror is not going anywhere. For one thing, I can actually see my eyelashes and putting on mascara isn’t the nightmare it used to be. And also, nose hair.

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Eat Better (Yawn), Exercise Less (Yay)

Eat more of this.

Eat more of this.

When I was young, my strategy for fitting into my jeans was to exercise like a maniac most days. If I wasn’t drenched in sweat by the end of my workout and completely spent then I did not consider the effort a success.

The were times in my life, when the kids were very small and their dad left early for his commute to work, that I’d drag myself out of bed and run through the darkened streets of our town around 5 a.m. I’d enlisted my girlfriend who lived across the street to join me and we’d set out in our reflector vests — bundled in layers to ward off the frigid pre-dawn air or shorts and t-shirts to beat the summertime heat — and jog the same three-mile loop. We shared the challenges of raising small children and frustrations of decade-long marriages in the early-morning quiet and arrived home in time for our husbands to depart for work and greet sleepy toddlers to begin another day.

Many of those days I’d also make my way to a gym later in the morning to take a “sculpt” kind of class that added weight lifting to my exercise regime. I’d lunge around a room holding weights in my hands and jump up and down doing burpees and push ups and the result was that I stayed the same size for many years and ate pretty much whatever I wanted. I mean, within reason.

For years I enjoyed things like bagels and pizza on weekends and had a sandwich everyday along with a handful of chips on the side and can of Diet Fresca. I continued to wear a two-piece in the summer and while I probably could have looked better, I wasn’t a disaster.

Naturally – even though the exercising took up a fair amount of time most days – I assumed that I could maintain this routine for the rest of my life and look about the same.

But after a decade of running and jumping up and down, my body started to feel a little broken. I’d added trail running and spinning to the mix and competed in a couple of triathlons and found that some days my knees were really pissed when I tried to get them to walk down the stairs in my house.

I’d also noticed that no matter how many crunches or other ab exercises I did during class, my tummy was just not as flat as it used to be. There was something going on around my middle and some of my back was kinda squeezing out of my exercise bra. Perhaps my skin was just getting a little looser, I thought.

As I’s also once assumed that the weird indentation of flesh cutting through either side of my back was due to an undiagnosed case of scoliosis, I was obviously no medical expert.

In my early 40s, just as my 18-year marriage was collapsing, I discovered hot yoga and held onto it like it was my lifeline to sanity. I practiced several times a week when I wasn’t huffing and puffing through the woods and pouring out my tale-of-woe to my girlfriend. Since I’d gone on the divorce diet and stopped eating much for a while, I was pretty thin but remember being in awe of the woman who owned the yoga studio and taught a bunch of the classes. She was probably in her later 40s at the time and had a rocking body. One day after class I asked her what she did for exercise since I figured a bunch of down dogs and sun salutations couldn’t result in those toned arms and washboard abs.

“I just do this,” she said smiling — all good karma and namaste — and mentioned something about watching what she ate.

I was highly suspicious.

It just didn’t make sense, given what I thought I knew about staying in shape. To be fit required a combination of cardio and weights for an hour a pop and alternated throughout the week while not eating too much pizza, Doritos or Dunkin Donuts glazed donuts (the menu for my last meal, I’ll have you know). That was the formula that had worked for me although, I’d have been the first to admit that my diet was heavy on pastas and bread-y matter and lacked a lot of fruit and vegetables.

A couple of years ago, during an exercise lull for me as my gym went through a transition and the holidays had added a little more girth around my midsection, my girlfriend asked if I wanted to come over and try working out with some guy she’d heard from other mommies in town was really great.

“What the hell,” I thought and stood in her den while some goomba dressed in black straight up asked me how much I weighed and peppered me with questions about what I ate. I remember he talked a lot about sugar being “poison” and how great protein was.

“Whatever,” I thought as I laid on my back and lifted myself up to touch my right hand to my right toes 25 times and wondered how much time we had left listening to this guy.

The hour ended and he said he’d be back in two days and we asked him what else we should be doing on the days we didn’t work out with him.

“Eat more protein, please,” he said and told us that if we cut out stuff like pizza and bagels and added things  like Greek yogurt and egg whites, we could work out twice a week and our bodies would start to change.

Naturally, I was dubious as this went against everything I knew about fitness.

I kind of resisted the guy at first. I still ate Cheez-Its in bed and Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast. They were my dietary staples back then.

But over time, and because I couldn’t stand watching him look at my ass and tummy and ask me what I’d eaten the weekend before, I started to comply. I slowly started to sip his Kool Aid.

I started making smoothies – experimenting with things like almond milk and chia seeds – for breakfast and swapping out rice for quinoa at dinners and always, always, always including some kind of protein in my meals. I gave up running and began walking instead a few times a week with friends just to move around.

And the bastard in black was right: my body started to change. My arms and legs became thinner and leaner than they used to be and my ass lost some of that excess side-ass that used to be there. I mean, my diet remains imperfect and that, combined with the slowing metabolism and exciting hormone-shit that plagues gals in their late 40s, my midsection still has a bit of a bulge.

But I am now a firm believer that it’s all about what you eat with a little bit of exercise on the side. So I got really excited when I noticed that this was the subject of the most emailed story yesterday over at The New York Times.

Who knew that annoying goomba in black was really onto something?


Even though I weirdly kind of like exercising, I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day and can use that time instead for other activities I enjoy, like writing and making money. And probably the nicest benefit from the new way I eat is that it’s trickled down into the food I buy and prepare for my children. Sure, there are still some chocolate chip cookies and tortilla chips in my pantry, but there’s also nuts and kale chips and last night our dinner included bok choy and mushrooms.

I like to think that — as with most things in life — it’s all about moderation. I don’t want to live a life with no pizza but am willing to save it for every once in a while rather than a few times a week if that means I can still fit in my jeans because, Jesus, being thin really does taste better than pizza.

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Good-Bye Pizza. Hello Kale.

trader Joe's watermark

Shhh. Can you hear them calling my name?

Most days for me begin the same: the iPhone next to my head comes to life at 6:05 and I struggle to remember – for the millionth time – what I need to do to make the thing shut the fuck up. Generally, I tap the screen to snooze it and promptly fall back to sleep. This happens another three or four times until I see that it’s almost 7:00 and need to get downstairs to make breakfast for my dear children. If I have snoozed away valuable early-morning minutes, there’s no time to brew a cup of coffee and get back into bed to write in my journal for a spell. I do like to squeeze this activity in a few days a week and take a very Bridget Jones-approach to documenting the amount of alcohol I’ve consumed the day before and my perpetually stagnant love life.

But if I’ve frittered those precious minutes away, I begin the day by first ascertaining like Nicole Kidman in “Before I Go to Sleep” where the hell I am (I don’t know why I must begin each day disoriented) and, once I’ve realized that I am in the same bedroom I’ve been waking up in for the last 12 years, I get up to use the toilet and – most mornings unless I just can’t handle the truth – get on the scale.

This is always done after urinating but before drinking anything and always while wearing the tank top/underwear combo I sleep in. Scientist that I am, I like to keep all the variables not only consistent but also as lightweight as possible. Every ounce counts.

When I am being really good about what I’m eatingsaying “yes” to Greek yogurt and kale and “no” to all the beautiful, salty things sold at Trader Joe’s – I am anxious to see if my weight reflects my culinary sacrifices. I mean, if I am resisting the siren call from the plastic tub of Whole Foods chocolate chip cookies in my pantry, there better be some fucking payoff. If I can’t make love to each and every one of those gorgeous cookies, I need to know my ass somehow just got a little bit smaller.

I am the kind of person who needs to weigh myself daily to help keep me honest. I need something to reign me in when I am standing in front of my pantry and eyeing the open bag of Trader Joe’s honey sesame cashews. When the news on the scale is bad, I am more apt to move away from the pantry and just eat some baby carrots instead. However, when the scale tells me I’m moving in the right direction, I sometimes tell myself that I deserve a reward, like I am a good doggie and just sat on command. Slip me a treat, wouldja?

But mostly, knowing how much I weigh helps me stay on the right track.

But if I’m premenstrual – which I have been for the last two months (if you don’t understand this phenomenon, please discuss with any woman you know in her mid-to-late-40s/early 50s while slowly backing away from her if she’s holding anything remotely sharp) – all bets are off. I not only need those TJoe’s sweet-and-salty nuts but a cookie chaser to wash them down and don’t even think about getting in between me and those snacks or I will press my thumbs into your eye sockets and crush your skull Game-of-Thrones-style.

The other element that usually helps keep me on track that’s been missing lately is the now-famous Girl Whisperer. For a couple of years he sat on my couch and encouraged my girlfriends and I to cut out the sugar and add the protein yadda yadda yadda while we squatted and lunged around the room. He’d arrive on Monday mornings and ask us about our weekends while assessing – subtly, I’ll give him that – our bellies. And then he’d ask us to tell him what we ate. Since I am a terrible liar, I would generally refuse to tell him the extent of my naughtiness. Maybe I’d admit to a cookie after dinner but I’d never let him know about the bag of veggie sticks I ate in bed. I just hated to let him down.

But, as many of you guys know, my friend The Whisperer has been out of commission for months undergoing treatment for cancer and we’ve been left to our own devices for staying in shape. Actually, we’ve been great at maintaining our workouts a couple of times and week but my eating, which I really kept together for a couple of months, fell apart somewhere around March. Going to Hong Kong was kind of the beginning of the end. I still drink yogurt smoothies religiously for breakfast but I ate a sandwich for lunch on Friday and devoured a bowl of chips and guacamole at dinner that night. I never would have eaten any of those things a year ago.

So in a come-to-Jesus-moment, I hopped on the scale Saturday morning in an attempt to get back on track. I got up and peed and stood on the scale while saying a little prayer and when I looked down, I saw a number on my scale that I have not seen since the second trimester of my last pregnancy. Or when I was a sophomore in college.

It was a sad, sad day in Amyville. Just in time for swimsuit season, I am fat as can be and cannot fit into shorts or button down shirts and am currently relegated to wearing stretchy exercise clothing and old skirts from The Gap.

But here’s the good news: The Whisperer is coming back, like Lazarus from the dead (but that’s not my story to tell). Starting tomorrow, he will be back on my couch and talking about the evils of sugar and joy of protein. And egg whites. The dude is always talking about egg whites. But I can’t wait.

In the weeks leading up to his return, I’ve joked with a bunch of the ladies who work out with him about how much we worried about him seeing how we’ve kind of fallen apart in his absence. We’re so worried about him seeing how we look. Of course, given the circumstances, that is ludicrous thinking. Here we are, generally fit and healthy people, fretting about what a guy – who’s just endured months of having his head radiated and body pumped with chemo – thinks about our bloated bellies.

So to celebrate his return, I am heading out this afternoon to meet an old high school chum at a very hip and trendy place that’s known for its outrageously good pizza. They even make one with Nutella. I will say good-bye to carbohydrates the proper way, with a glass of two or wine while eating every bit of crust off my plate.

And when I get on my scale tomorrow, I will know for sure that the only direction those numbers are going from there on in, is down.

It’s the least I can do for my Whisperer.

Amy shares way too much about herself at ‘A’ My Name is Amy. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter@AMyNameisAmy.



Bikinis After 40: Good or Gross?

This photo of a model, presumably well under 40, is sadly taped to my frig for inspiration/agitation.

This photo of a model, presumably well under 40, from the Athleta catalog is sadly taped to my frig for inspiration/agitation.

To wear or not to wear?

That, my friends, is the question I struggle with lately at the start of each new swimsuit season.

Twenty years ago, wearing a two-piece wasn’t even an issue. In fact, it was 20 years ago this year that I put one on over Memorial Day weekend after having my second child that March. But back then I guess my body was a lot more elastic than the thing I’m working with today. I mean, I was 27 for godssakes and six weeks of running and laying off bagels was all I needed to bounce back into a bikini. I don’t think I even did sit ups.

I was too busy trying to keep two little babies alive to eat, probably.

Since then, I’ve managed to get it together every year to wear a two-piece to the beach or pool – although some years are definitely better than others. I even wore a Gap maternity bikini the summer I was about five months pregnant with my fourth child because I just couldn’t bear the feel of the hot, one-piece fabric on my middle. Made me sweaty.

As I approach some bathing suit-wearing this April, I am once again hopeful that I can pull off a two piece on the cusp of my 48th birthday (okay, it’s not until August but I can already feel it staring at me like my cat).

My main concern is not if it’s appropriate but whether or not I look good enough to pull it off. Like, I need to get that Shar Pei of a belly under control. STAT.

But yesterday, I read a blog post by Heidi over at Still a Dancing Queen about how, at 40, she worries more about looking inappropriate in her bikini as a mother of a certain age.

From the sounds of it, Heidi looks pretty good in her two-piece – she’s just finished training for a half-marathon and is, after all, just 40. I met her in real life last summer at Blogher and can vouch for her bikini-ready figure.

But when she pulled out her old purple two piece for an upcoming family trip, she questioned the “appropriateness” of it.  “My conservative halter top with its full-coverage bottoms is a far cry from the string bikini thongs worn on Caribbean beaches, and yet I worry it is too revealing for the kiddie pool,” Heidi writes.

And I immediately thought of my trip to Greece last summer and … wait, did you just hear that? “My trip to Greece last summer”? Sigh.

Anyway, the only person I saw wearing a one-piece bathing suit during my week in Greece last year was me, when I put on my black, strapless J. Crew number to sit around the hotel pool in Athens on my last day. I thought it appropriately glamorous for the setting and besides, I needed to cover my middle that had bloated over the week after eating countless “chips” (for us Americans, those would be French fries, like the thick “steak fry” variety that Ore Ida sells) that seem to accompany every meal served on tiny Grecian islands. Drinking a few Mythos beers every day probably didn’t help the situation.

Every woman, even the grandmas, wears a two-piece on holiday in Greece. All the Turks and Italians and whoever else seemed to be sunning themselves on the Aegean in August, where it is very hot, is wearing very little. In fact, some women even opted out of tops. Everyone seemed quite comfortable and, I’d like to add, I also don’t remember seeing any particularly overweight women either.

I am glad that in the end Heidi decided to pack her purple bikini.  “I’ve earned the right to wear that swimsuit—and I’m going to try to wear it proudly without concern about judgment,” she writes. “After all, it’s only a matter of time before gravity wins and I won’t want to wear that swimsuit.”

As someone a few steps ahead, I say, “Right on, sister.” After all, Halle Berry is a day younger than me (don’t think that didn’t blow my f’ing mind when I discovered that tidbit).

We have crazy body issues in the United States. On the one hand, a lot of us could stand to lose a few pounds and on the other, those who are thin and fit fret that they’re not perfect. They struggle with the images they see in things like Sports Illustrated and that bullshit Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Mandy at Words By the Glass wrote a hilarious blog post this week about the swim suit styles being hawked this season by VS, which she called “The 2014 VS Swim Catalog: A Mom’s Buying Guide”: “I start looking through this magazine and I just keep wondering why I get this in the mail.  I can’t wear this shit.  I don’t even know anyone who can wear this shit…or WOULD wear this shit even if they had an ass like that.  If you are showing your ass crack at the beach, what’s the point in wearing a t-shirt?”

Credit: Victoria's Secret

Assuming this ass hasn’t seen its 40th birthday, either. Credit: Victoria’s Secret

For me, that’s the definition of inappropriate swim attire.

At this stage of the game, I don’t care about being perfect. I’ve never eaten more healthfully — tons more vegetables and protein than the Doritos and pizza that used to be my nutritional staples – and exercise a few days a week.

I want to feel good about all those things when I put on my new sporty Athleta two-piece in April, even though I’m well past my 40th birthday. And hopefully I can get there in six weeks – barring car accidents, job or tooth loss, which tend to make me want to be bad and snuggle up with salty good-for-nothings.

But if all else fails, I’ll just get a spray tan. Because as an old friend once so wisely observed, “If you can’t tone it, tan it.”