This is me dressed for a very rare public event, a Gatsby party fundraiser for my child’s school. I usually host small functions in my house which allows me to control food and environment but this night I tried to go out. It’s all an illusion. The hair has no product in it, I just rolled it when it was wet. The dress was bought online because I don’t do stores. The shoes are practical because I get wobbly during a reaction. The makeup, while minimal, is great and will be discussed later. Still, I don’t quite recognize myself here, and not just because the photo is blurry.
I have never been adept at the more advanced feminine arts regarding appearance. No labels or judging here, to myself or others. I am just saying that even before the onset of the chemical sensitivities at age 25, I did not know how to correctly apply eyeshadow. If it had been just one color maybe, but apparently you are supposed to use three?! The advanced stuff was always beyond me and I was ok with that. I could do the basics of cleaning and maintaining. For special occasions I could polish up a bit with some makeup and a hairstyle attempt, maybe some jewelry and a scarf. But after the toxic injury I became very limited in the body products that I could use, and any small vanity I had left to me was thoroughly squashed. Or so I thought. It had been years since I had highlighted my hair or put product in it. I only wore makeup a couple of times a month. I wore as much sun protective clothing as possible to minimize sunscreen usage. I seemed to tolerate my wedding ring but could not wear earrings without a reaction (nothing completes an ensemble like a purple swollen ear lobe). I thought I had it figured out.
But no, nothing ever stays the same with MCS. In general, as I age I find that I am more sensitive to bath products. My inhaled sensitivities have stabilized as long as I keep avoidance tactics in place, but my skin is getting more reactive. There are still products I can be around, even use without reaction. In fact, a lot of my guest bathroom options are products that I used to tolerate but no longer can. Since the first rule of thumb is fragrance free, they are still fine to be used in my house, just no longer on my skin. Fortunately I have found like-minded and like-bodied friends online. Lately I have been applying ideas I learned from Miss Diagnoses, The Allergista, and MCS Gal with great results.First and foremost I have cleared up 2 years of extreme seborrheic dermatitis. I mean awful, oozing, open sores all over my scalp. I tried all the medicated shampoos, all the allergy shampoos, and I even finally tried the steroid cream my dermatologist had been forcing on me for months (of course I had a reaction – duh). But after reading lot of online information about the no poo method (as in no shampoo), I developed a modified routine that is working very well for me. I still shampoo with Free & Clear once a week, but the other days, I use a diluted baking soda scalp scrub (1 Tbs BS in 1 cup water) and a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse (1 Tbs ACV in 1 cup water). The awful rash is gone and my hair feels great. It looks, well, it looks like it belongs to a 43 year old woman who is comfortable with aging. I rarely use makeup, but I may do it more often now that I have purchased some Alima Pure products. The company was founded by a mother who wanted a different option for her teenage daughter that was safe for both her and the planet. The products have no parabens, no gluten, no dyes, and no nano particles. The matte foundation I am trying has four ingredients – all natural pure minerals. That’s it. Love them – thanks Miss Diagnoses!
Everything else is a no. No body wash, I use oil with salt or sand to exfoliate and lubricate. No deodorant, I rinse the sweat off once a day and that’s good enough. No sunscreen on my face, I wear a lot of hats and have more wrinkles than most. At the same time that I have increasing chemical sensitivities to skin products, I am also visibly aging. But those effects seem to balance each other out; the socially constructed need for anti-aging products is completely nullified by a more mature belief that I don’t care what others think of my appearance. A lot of these losses and restrictions I truly find liberating. Since I have no choice in the matter but to avoid them I have to accept my appearance as is.
Here is what truly blows my mind about my vanity. I knew all this years ago. Before I got sick I owned fewer products than most Americans of any gender. I used the phrase “less is more” in regards to myself and I meant it and I thought that I was applying it. Once I got sick and cleaned out my bathroom, I thought I was natural as I needed to be. And here I am 18 years into this illness and I am still learning how much better it is to leave my body alone; to only put things on it that I could put in it. The fact that I have to keep re-learning this lesson speaks to the scope and pervasiveness of the beauty industry in our culture. Every time I think I have really learned and applied the lesson, there is another layer of brainwashing to strip away. Or it could just be that I am a resistant, stubborn idiot. Either way, facing the truth seems to help with TILTed vanity. As does a self image that has nothing to do with appearance.
This is what I look like in my head. I am obviously very happy, I am outside at my beach, I am doing something…inexplicable to anybody but my sister and I, who have a plan that we are putting into action. It’s my self image made real. You can check out my sister’s fabulous blog at I Am Friday.