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An Examined Life

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Style Essay

Essaouira

I wrote this essay for another blogger. But it seems to have disappeared from that site. Why waste a good piece of writing, huh? So here it is.

I wish I had a great story about my style evolution. This may be termed a good story, not great. Anyway, I am happy to share!

I believe that personal style is an extension of who you are. Does that sound very obvious? I fervently believe that everything we do in the outer world is a natural and spontaneous expression of our inner self. Call this my personal hypothesis, a pet theory, a life philosophy.

Knowing oneself can seem like a monumental task. People spend a lifetime searching. They seek help from enlightened masters, ancient teachings and practices, wisdom in books and scriptures. Does this mean that good style can only dawn, post-enlightenment? Not really. Knowing oneself may be easier than you think. One can embark on the path of self-knowledge in many ways. As you gain greater clarity and insight, life changes inside out. Appearance, perspective, outward action, expression, career, relationships… all of it.

So here I am, curious and introspective, a little more aware of myself than before, and naturally that knowledge starts to express itself in my lifestyle choices, relationships, future dreams, personal style.

As a child, I was somewhat shy but I was able to pull off the extrovert act quite well. So well that I fooled myself too. It took many years before I realized that I wasn’t an extrovert any more. Perhaps I never was one. I wore simple clothes, nothing too attention-grabbing or bright or fancy. I was (and still am) of a conservative mindset, so I’d pick inexpensive clothes. I favored plain colors, often picking shades of maroon, brown, russet, beige, cream, etc. My aunt enquired why I was dressing like an old woman. I think my style at the time may have been an extension of my personality — shy, timid, unsure, wanting to please.

As I progressed from teenage to adulthood, my style didn’t change much. I wore a lot of jeans and Tees. That was pretty much how my cohort dressed. Mumbai is a hip city, and I recall feeling intimidated by girls in miniskirts, shorts and like. My parents are fairly progressive; they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I’d worn shorts to college every day! But I was the self-conscious one: oh, my thick calves and fat legs! No, my calves weren’t close to thick. I also wore Indian cotton salwar suits in beautiful shades of saffron, red, ochre, forest green and like. This may have been the period in my life when my personality bloomed, and possibly my clothes reflected the inner confidence and blossoming. I had no qualms about wearing bright colors at that time. I was drawing my fair share of male attention, and my personality glowed under its heady effect.

Then it was time to get married, meaning I had to buy wedding sarees and salwar sets, jewelry, etc. And I was moving to the United States, so I also had to begin packing. Oddly enough, I hit a phase that I like to term “delayed adolescence.” Pink entered my wardrobe. I even owned a pair of deep pink heeled shoes! Again, it may have been a reflection of my life and emotions at the time. I was marrying the love of my life and moving with him to a new country. It was going to be just the two of us. It was the end of courtship and the beginning of married life. Excitement, apprehension and happiness made for an eventful entry to the U.S. But I was carrying sadness within. I had baggage to deal with. And it was dealt with in good time, and soon I felt free, light, forgiven.

Then I hit a so-called “style wall.” What was I to wear? Stores were so overwhelming. And I am a skinny person, so sizing was a problem. Plus I had to get the hang of layering.

I blundered along, picking clothes, shoes, bags, etc. as best as I could. Again, my conservative mindset prevented me from making expensive mistakes. Parallel that with my life journey where I was similarly experimenting, testing the waters, finding my true philosophy.

Fast forward to 2017. I am 38 years old. I have been a resident of the United States since late 2003.

I am a happier woman today than I was when I came to this country. I enjoy a deep sense of contentment within. It feels like all those years of soul-searching, climbing craggy hills and mountains, and wading through murky streams has brought me to a happy, verdant place. Now I can saunter along at my own will… Gazing at lilac sunsets, drinking in the quiet solitude, relishing the stillness.

I have nowhere to go, nothing to gain.

And that probably explains my current dressing style too. I have found the clothes that make me happy, comfortable. No, this isn’t a static state. As my mind expands and develops greater knowingness, so does my style. I have no one to impress. This feels like a happy medium that allows me to explore, stay curious and content, all at the same time.

My current wardrobe comprises of slim-fitting jeans and pants, an assortment of tops including blouses, linen shirts and tunics, cotton tees, a couple of dresses and skirts. I prefer natural fabrics and simple silhouettes. I am not afraid of color; I think I would wear any color that appeals to me. I hardly ever stop to think about how a color would look on me. I feel that I gravitate towards shades that I enjoy AND look good on me. I love Indian clothes. I have a decent collection of sarees in the loveliest of shades and fabrics… Navy blue, flaming orange, beige and maroon, ice blue and gray, vibrant aqua, cream and gold, deep brown, smooth silks, comfortable cottons — I love them all.

A few years ago I decided that I wouldn’t wear silk any more. So that meant the end of new silk sarees for me. It’s okay; I have no desire to acquire any more. I have a similar policy towards leather as well.

I think that my low-drama, no-fuss attitude to life has percolated into my sense of style and dressing in a natural way. I have very little desire to buy clothes. My closet looks full to me, and I genuinely enjoy wearing the clothes I have.

What does the future look like? Perhaps a continuation of the current state? As long as I remain true to who I am, all is perfect.

A Friend with Style and Class

I cannot recall when/how I chanced upon To Universe with Love, a personal/lifestyle/fashion/travel blog, penned by Archana Paladugu. I read one post, then another, and kept going. It has now become the blog I check every morning. Archana writes with candor and honesty, sharing her views on sustainability, style, ethical consumption, travel and more. She has a loyal base of readers whose comments generate useful conversations and information. I am real happy that Archana blogs regularly, and in the event that I go to her site AND she has no new post up… I simply go read an old post, then another. There is enough stuff on her site to keep me reading and re-reading.

I asked Archana if she could write a guest post for me, and she agreed.

Popular blogger Joanna Goddard has a series titled Beauty Uniform where she quizzes women on their style philosophy, beauty tips, favorite products, etc. I created a set of questions for Archana that was loosely based on the ones Joanna asks on Beauty Uniform. So here goes…

What is your daily skincare routine? 

I really enjoy the ritual aspect of skincare. Buying products is one thing. But consistency is what makes the most difference for my skin.

AM : I cleanse my face with graham flour. And apply sunscreen.

PM :

Cleanse : graham flour

Serum : SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or SK-II

Moisturize : May Lindstroms face oil

I was given Retin-A by my dermatologist this December. I usually forget to use it but been meaning to include it somehow. Being aware of all the toxic ingredients in it somehow makes it harder to pen it into my routine.

Do you have a game-changing beauty product?  

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic acid. You should have seen my skin when I lived in Arizona. I was outdoors a lot. My skin was in a terrible condition with sunburns. Once I got religious about using the antioxidant and layering sunscreen on top, it improved tremendously. I have hyper pigmentation from those days which always resurfaces when I don’t use it.

Do you have any non-beauty rituals that help you feel great?  

Inversions. Go for a run. At the end, stretch by touching your toes. The rush of blood to the face and the warmth can be felt. It gives me a glow throughout the day. Wheel pose. Hand stand. Shoulder stand. Head stand. I feel great when I exercise regularly and smartly.

Yoga. I have tried meditation and never could get into the zone. Then tried the moving meditation — Yoga. It’s made a lot of difference in how I feel during the day. I am addicted to it. I try to sneak it in, come what may during the day.

I sip on tea all day long. My tea contains dried herbs, white tea leaves, ginger, lemon and turmeric. I have a desk job and having something to sip on is comforting.

The blueberry green smoothies I drink everyday helps too. I don’t like yogurt or milk products. But I add a spoonful of it to my smoothie. It’s camouflaged by the fruit and I would have gotten my probiotic needs for the day. I try to include some raw food in my diet everyday and it’s convenient to blend it up. My skin gets a visible glow when I am consistent with my smoothies.

Do you have any unexpected physical traits that you love?  

When I exercise regularly, I grow visible muscle. I really like the look of them on me. It’s hard for me to put on muscle and easy to lose it. I have to work hard at it. And love it when I see the results. Does this count as unexpected?

Do you have any stories of regrettable beauty moments or experiments-gone-wrong? 

Not using sunscreen is the biggest. One day, I read some article on how most urban dwellers don’t get enough Vitamin D. I then decided I wouldn’t apply it on my body to “catch some sun.” I used to bike to work and my hands were getting too much sun. I had a dozen sunburns in no time. I tried to cure it in my kitchen by applying yogurt and aloe. I was keen on treating it “holistically.” But it kept getting worse from the regular sun exposure. One day, a coworker saw the scars and asked me about potential domestic violence at home. After that incident, I went to a dermatologist who helped me heal it.

When I first moved to America, I didn’t know how to cook. Neither did I know how to eat when there is no one spoon-feeding me. I was buying zero-fat ingredients and making sandwiches for every meal. I soon “dried” up literally and became very lanky. Good fats are very important for hormonal balance and for proper functioning of organs. I am pro-healthy fats. It wasn’t an intentional experiment but more ignorance on my part about what to eat. I learnt how to cook and feed myself over the years.

What is your bedtime routine?  

This is not exactly a recommendation. But lately, I have been falling asleep listening to a book on Audible. I need to read before bed but I am too tired to these days to read. So I listen.

Have there been any important women in your life who taught you about beauty?  

Not really. Most people I know treat taking care of oneself as vanity and unnecessary waste of money. Every thing I do, I taught myself by trial and error.

How does food play a role in your beauty philosophy? Are there any foods or drinks that help you look and feel your best?  

I grew up in the household of a dermatologist. He has taught me about the skin being a result of four factors: genetics, the general state of health, the surface, and environmental factors.

We eat a lot of home-cooked fresh food. I make it a point to get my dose of probiotics and raw food in my diet everyday. I exercise. I do these for my well-being more than for beauty. I treat it as one of the contributing factors. I would not rely solely on the food to be my skincare. I need the external and internal nourishment.

What do you like most about your look?   

Nothing and everything. I don’t single out facial/body features anymore. Being critical like that only brought me self-confidence issues and I have stopped thinking that way.

Do you have any style inspirations?  

Yes I do. Georgia O Keeffe. Not in the way that I want to buy items of clothing that she wore. But in the way she approached dressing. Our views on aesthetic, art, life, love, modern women, style, clothing, … match.

Last but certainly not least, what’s your overall beauty philosophy?

Find sustainable happiness. Work on something that you love and are proud of. Everything else will fall in place automatically. I don’t want to be remembered for my clothes or appearance. I want a legacy that changes the world in some way. I am most confident and feel beautiful when I am happy.