I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!
I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!

If you really want to watch your budget this year, I recommend you try a “No New Clothes” policy. Pick an amount of time (3 months, a year) and make a point to only buy from thrift stores if you need to purchase any clothes (except for things like underwear and socks… gotta draw a line there). N and I did this for a year, and we both learned a lot about our spending habits.

First thing I noticed: “No New Clothes” saved me a lot of TIME by keeping me clear of the mall and the outlets. And I definitely saved money by not buying designer clothing on impulse. I found I was less susceptible to the “what’s hot” marketing ploy that stores use to make us buy their nice, shiny new clothing. The thrift store is full of the unique. Outfits aren’t pre-packaged. There’s usually only one of each item, so you have to take your time and make your own best decisions about what goes together.  Beauty standard? What beauty standard?

Still, in a lot of places, clothing is so cheap that “No New Clothes” isn’t really even about how much you’re spending. It’s more about checking yourself before you spend. You know how it is. You go into Target for… shampoo and a new bowl because you broke one… and you leave with a cart full of t-shirts and shoes that you may or may not wear more than once, but they were so cheap so how could you not buy them?

That kind of spending adds up, not just monetarily, but societal-ly, as well. It’s the kind of thoughtless consumption that corporations nurture, because it benefits them. But it doesn’t always benefit you, and it definitely doesn’t benefit the people at the bottom of the manufacturing food chain.

We could argue both ways and until hell freezes over about how our spending habits do or do not affect the rest of the world, and I’m not gonna do that. I haven’t run the statistical models. I don’t have any facts for you that will blow this thing wide open. And that’s not really my point, anyhow.

But I will tell you that spending a YEAR consciously not buying new clothing made me a better, more mindful spender in the long run. I began to break the instinctive habit of just throwing that cheap pair of pants in my cart because they were so cheap, or buying that designer’s mass produced outfit because it’s trendy. I now stop to think about my closet, and about my budget, before I spend. And I think about who benefits from my dollars more. I try to buy things from the people who made them when I can. Because it’s important to me.

So if you want to work on your brain and some of the ingrained notions of beauty that society has force on you, but not shaving is just not something you’re willing to handle right now, why not try “No New Clothes” for a few months or a year?

Spoiler Alert: The world didn’t end. And believe it or not, I actually felt better about myself.

If you know me at all, you probably know I’m a big fan of Amanda Palmer. That right there can be a pretty controversial statement. Most people either love AFP or they hate her. She takes a strong stance on art (and who can do it… she thinks anyone can), and her music is both revered and reviled, depending on, usually, what people think of her as a person. Me, I love her. We can argue all the details of what that means later. But for the sake of this post, what you should know that I admire about her most is that she lives wide open, that she is who she is with no apologies, and that in the process of being who she is and refusing to be pinned down by norms, standards, and expectations she changes what it means to be beautiful.

If you know me … at all … you probably also know I’m a feminist. I want to openly acknowledge here that I am not a perfect feminist (if that even exists). I often surprise myself when I recognize the filters of privilege and gender-normative behaviors that I make assumptions about in my every day life. If I’ve learned anything in the process of becoming a better feminist, it’s to question everything, especially if it’s put to me as something that always is, always was, or always should be. And I use that philosophy on myself… a LOT. My mental process upon discovering some of the basic expectations and assumptions I carry about myself and other women, even now, that are social construction and not laws of nature: How did those get there? and then, Oh, my gods, what was I thinking? 

It was only a matter of time before my love of AFP and my feminism created a perfect storm in the form of a crisis of character for me. How can I break free of even a little part of the mindsets and the social constructions that hold me into the mold of who I am expected to be and allow myself to be who I want to be, or even better, who I naturally am? My solution, and the first step I took: Stop shaving.

If you think about it–and the point of a social construction is that you absolutely not think about it–shaving is not something natural to humanity. Having hair is natural. Having hair in certain places (facial, pubic, armpit, leg) is a physical sign of maturity which used to be a sign of desirability. Though even this scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing proves how problematic body hair has been throughout the centuries (for the appropriate line, skip to 0:00:58).

But over time, our society has come to equate beauty and youth, and therefore beauty and hairlessness. It wasn’t that big a push for razor companies to start selling that idea, preying on the fears of women that they will be less desirable to their partners if they don’t remove the hair from “inappropriate” areas of their bodies.

I had a shaming experience because of hair on my legs when I was 12 years old. Yep. That’s how young I was, and how young the boy who shamed me was as well. If you think about it, he’s just as much a victim of the social construct as I am, brainwashed from that young to believe that hair on a woman’s legs is unnatural instead of natural, and that it makes her less desirable. So even though he made me cry that day and I’d like for 12-year-old me to beat him to a pulp for it, I feel pity for him.

From that very young age, I began to submit to the idea that hair on my body must be sculpted to fit an ideal that was upheld somewhere outside myself. I couldn’t know what was beautiful (or what was comfortable, or what was natural) without the help of society. Really, what I was doing in those early days, though, was trying to conform so that I could keep from being ridiculed. But over time, the purpose of conformity moved from avoiding ridicule to becoming desirable. The emotional triggers that my early experiences had created were easily transferred to my understanding of beauty, making the leap to equate hairlessness with beauty, beauty with desirability without even having to think about it. Hairiness in inappropriate areas meant rejection and pain.

Fast forward 25 years. I’ve been an Amanda Palmer fan since 2003, and she just does. not. care what people say she should do to conform. She has hairy armpits and hairy legs, and she is not ashamed to be naked on film, in front of a crowd, or in private with an intimate partner. And one day it just clicked for me. If I want to break free of the need to conform and to reclaim the beauty of my own body for myself, the first thing I could do was stop shaving.

Why had I been shaving all those long years? Because I was worried about what other people would think. I was worried that my body would be offensive to someone else, to someone who has no right to my body, and no authority over what I do with it (that includes everyone, all of you, sorry, except my partner… and even, largely, him… and by the way, he fully supports my decision). 

It took me six months to stop constantly wondering what other people thought when I wore shorts and my hairy legs showed, or wore a tank top in public and raised my arms. It’s been over a year, and I still wonder sometimes. But I’m moving past the hang-up of “I will be undesirable if I am not hairless.” I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. And if I make someone else uncomfortable because I have body hair, I hope they’ll talk to me about it… because I’m happy to challenge their perceptions of beauty and what right it is they think they have over my choices about my body and how I present myself.

I shave occasionally now. But because I want to. Because I like how my skin feels when it’s smooth. And that’s the point of the exercise. I do what I want with my body because it’s right for me, not because someone else has picked an arbitrary ideal and forced me to uphold it. So DON’T SHAVE! if you want to. Or DO! It’s completely your choice, male or female. Having hair on your legs, face, pubic areas, under your arms, on top of your head… it doesn’t make you more or less desirable. If you do what you want, present yourself as you want because YOU want to, and not because of what someone else thinks or expects, it makes you MORE beautiful, in my opinion. It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We are a work in progress. And we are beautiful.

I started reading tarot a few years ago after my friend Lori gave me a deck for my birthday. At first I was kinda overwhelmed by all of the symbology. My deck came with a book, and so I started flipping through it, trying to understand what the cards were telling me. I thought about trying to memorize meanings and spent a lot of time pouring over what that book and other books told me about the symbols and intentions that were contained in each image.

I decided that I needed some outside instruction to help me make sense of it all. Another friend of mine who was learning tarot too, at the time, invited a tarot expert over to her house and we sat down with our decks and flipped cards and talked about meanings and applications and possible spreads. And do you know what I learned?

It’s not about the cards. It’s about you.

Our tarot teacher that night showed me that what I bring to the table, what I see in the cards, is far more important than anything that the cards are supposed to mean. Sometimes what the symbols meant to me when I read them was way off from what the actual meaning of the card was. And sometimes it was exactly in line with it. But the point was, what I saw mattered most.

I went to the tarot party that night looking for formula for reading so that I could get it right every time, so that I could see what the cards were trying to tell me. What I got was a powerful tool for unlocking my mind so that I could more clearly see the truth that I possessed all along.

The cards became a tool for introspection.

That’s the method that I teach to others now. If you come to the tarot looking for someone else to tell you what you should do with your life, what’s going to happen in your future, or give you an answer to your problems, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. The future is always changing and giving your power away to someone (or something) else always falls short of your expectations.

If you come to tarot and ask yourself what you need to hear most, it will show you what you already know in your heart. The cards always show you what you need to know — you bring the answers to the table with you. But you have to take the time to work out what they mean. Because in the end they’re only reflecting you back to yourself. What do you see? What do you need to know? What do you want most?

I grew up believing tarot could invite demon possession, but I don’t believe that anymore. The cards have only the power we give them. And that can be a lot of power! Our spirits and our need for meaning are strong.

Once (for me) tarot was a tool of witches (which meant it was bad), something that had power over your life, a vehicle for bondage and possession. Now tarot is a way for me to ask myself what I’m missing and look at things from a different perspective, to tap my subconscious and find the answer I’m looking for, to recognize thought patterns that are holding me back and set myself free.

Last year, last February to be exact, I painted my first rock. Well, that’s probably not entirely true. I’m pretty sure I’ve painted rocks before last February, but never with the purpose and intent with which I began painting them in February of 2015. I had been cultivating a list of mantras for myself, of courageous and encouraging phrases to help me battle the demon Anxiety and her cousin Depression, two monsters I have fought for years now. Be brave. You are bigger on the inside. Don’t hide who you are. Words of power. Words that I desperately needed to grow and find the freedom and strength to do the things I dared with my life.

As wonderful and as meaningful as the phrases were I was collecting, I felt a need for something more tangible, more concrete to help me be reminded of the things I wanted to embody. Words on the wind blow away from you as quickly as the come. And so I painted my first rock. Love more.

Have you ever tried painting rocks? I highly recommend it. It’s great fun. Needless to say, between the powerful words and buckets of fun, I soon had quite a collection of “rock balms” as a friend of mine calls them. And for the past year they’ve sat on my counter, near the door, where I and anyone who comes into my home can see them and draw strength from them.

As with anything I make, at first I love it so much that I can’t bear to think of letting it go. And so the rocks have stood as solid reminders of the things I need to hear, the words I need to infuse my life with. Trust more. Let love in. Yes you can!

But last week, I could tell… I could just tell… it was time. And so I took three rocks on the walk with N and the dog, three mantras that I wanted to release into the world. Choose love. You have permission. Believe in yourself. I placed each of these rocks along the path that we took, left them for others to find. I hope that they’ll make their way to people who need to hear the words they carry. Or if they don’t, if they stay in the spots they were planted in, I hope that they’ll be noticed by people who will take the words to heart.

It was such a fun process that I know I’ll do more. I have quite a few rocks left in my pile and new mantras on my heart to write in stone and put out into the world.