Gratitude

Yesterday was the culmination of 40 days of preparation for my 50th birthday. Every day for 40 days I did over an hour of Kundalini Yoga and Meditation and wrote a blog post. My intention was to have a different experience turning 50 than I did at 30 or 40. I didn’t want to be devastated all day (30) nor did I want to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening (40). My goal was to leap out of bed with joy and gratitude yesterday. That did not happen but I certainly didn’t want to pull the covers over my head and sulk in bed all day either.

I also made the questionable choice to launch this blog to my friends and family yesterday. It was risky putting myself out there in such a public way on a day already rife with emotion, but I am so passionate about some of the things I’ve written that I wanted to share them with the people in my life.

I am humbled and amazed at the feedback and support I received on the blog. From people I’ve never met from the WDS group to friends I see every day, so many people came forward to let me know that they heard me and what I have to say is important. I also heard from many people who are in the same situation as I am, feeling their way around a milestone birthday. It is empowering to find an extended community to share this process with.

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that sees a 50th birthday as a reason to celebrate. Not all companies honor the wisdom and experience that comes with age. They went out of their way to make sure they showed me that I am appreciated and valued.

Last night a dear friend of mine arranged a party for me at a fabulous hotel downtown. Even though it was a Thursday night in the middle of downtown with LA traffic, a lot of people came. When my friend the rock star spinning instructor showed up he gestured to the room and said, “Is this all for you?” I realized that yes; all those people were there for me.

I understood in that moment how my life has changed. I used to move every 2 -3 years and start my life all over again. I just wasn’t open to deep lasting connections with other people. I’ve been in LA for 11 years and I now see the benefit of not just staying in one place but of choosing great friends and building a sense of community. I’m finally learning how to truly connect with other people. I saw last night what a blessing it is allow myself to be vulnerable enough to let my friends see my true authentic self. That is where connection happens and that is where joy comes in this life.

On this, my second day of being 50 the main emotion I feel is gratitude.

I Am grateful to all the friends and family who showed me such incredible support yesterday (and everyday).

I Am grateful to work in an environment and for a company that took the time to show me that I am appreciated- not just as an employee, but as a human being.

I Am grateful that I was able to act from a place of love yesterday rather than from a place of fear.

I Am grateful that I was led to start writing again, to document the journey I am on to find my own truth. This simple act is bringing me clarity and joy.

But mostly I Am grateful that I am here, I am whole, and I am loved.

Admit Your Age

Today is my 50th birthday.

#WildernessYoga

I have a confession to make. I lied about my age for most of my adult life. Lying might not be the right term, I usually didn’t quote a false number, I simply told people that I don’t like to talk about my age. People pressed me all the time, but I was consistent and firm. I didn’t talk about my age.

Seven years ago a co-worker asked to look at my wallet. I didn’t think anything of it, we’re both fashion designers, I assumed that she was looking at the configuration of the credit card slots. However, she was trying to sneak a look at my ID. It seems that everyone I work with was curious to know how old I really was. She wasn’t fast enough for me, I realized what she was doing and pulled it away before she had a chance to see the date of birth on my driver’s license, but that incident got me thinking. Why couldn’t I admit my age?

Six years ago I went through treatment for breast cancer. It’s sort of a joke among cancer patients that everyone is reduced to two items of information- your name and your birthday. Even when you talk to people on the phone they won’t say anything until you give them your name and your birthday. I work in a really open office where everyone can hear everyone else’s business. At first when I took calls I would try to whisper my birthday so the people I work with wouldn’t hear. By the end of treatment I would rattle off my name, my birthday, and a whole host of other delicate and personal details at the drop of a hat. Clearly I knew that my age was no longer a secret to the people I work with. However, outside the office I was still elusive and mysterious when it came to my age.

Six months ago I went to a swanky fundraiser at a hip Hollywood Hotel. I happened to run into one of my mentors, the yoga guru responsible for getting me into Kundalini Yoga. He is an incredibly popular spin and yoga instructor in West Hollywood. He also DJs and is just an all around cool guy. My friend brought up our plans at the time to go back to Africa this year as he had expressed an interest in going with us on our next trip. Then my friend told him about the safari we were tying to add on to the trip since this was the year I am turning 50 and I’ve always wanted to go on safari.

I was mortified. The first thoughts in my head were-

Oh no! Now Mr. Fabulous knows how old I really am. I’ve just lost all my hip + cool credentials. I think he’s looking at me sideways. Is he disgusted with me now that he knows I am so OLD? How can I dance around and sing and cover up the fact that this even happened? How can I make everyone forget that I am going to be 50 years old?

Why was that my first reaction?

I could blame our society and the media and the fact that we ALL seem to be obsessed with youth. I could blame the women’s magazines and television shows that celebrate the young and either vilify or ignore the old. I could blame the beauty industry and the billions of dollars they spend marketing magical anti-aging products to play upon our insecurities.

But a lot of the blame lies with women like me. Women who won’t admit their real age. If I can’t accept the fact that I am almost 50, if I can’t stand up and yell to the world that I am almost 50, how can I expect the world to accept me at 50? If I were to still lie about my age, to try to seduce people into thinking I am younger than I really am how can I ever find my place in a society where nothing is real? Where every woman I come across is desperately trying anything she can to look younger? I have friends who aren’t even 30 who pull at the hairline wrinkles around their eyes and wistfully wonder what they can do to maintain their youth. In our society most women spend more time (and money) trying to make themselves look younger than they do on any spiritual pursuits. How did we get to the point where how young we look is more important than how we feel?

In not telling the truth about my age I’m not telling the full truth of who I am. The connection we all crave in this life only happens when we can be fully honest with each other, wrinkles and all. In Kundalini Yoga we use the phrase “Sat Nam”. At it’s most simplistic this phrase means “True Name”. Sat Nam. “The truth of my being sees and honors the truth of your being.” The essence is truth. I know that I have to be truthful with myself so that I can be free.

I challenge every woman reading this to admit your age. Stop judging yourself by the standards set up by corporations to capitalize on your insecurities. Realize that lying about your age only perpetuates the concept that how young you are is the only standard by which we should all be judged. Human beings don’t have expiration dates. Your value does not decrease at 30 or 40 or 50. Don’t just do this for yourself. Do this for all the younger women coming up behind you. It is time to tell the truth.

My name is Laura and I am 50 years old today.

Join me. Let’s start a movement.

#admityourage  #thisisfifty

50 Must be the New 30

1 day to 50.

I started this journey 38 or 39 days ago (depending on how liberal you’re willing to be with mathematical calculations). I have successfully done a set of Kundalini Yoga and Mediation every morning (granted, some morning sets were longer than others) and I have written a post in this blog every single day.

A friend of mine kindly pointed out today that as of tomorrow I am no longer 40-something. I will be suddenly in the middle of the night become 50-something. Right on cue, my AARP card came in the mail today.

On my 30th birthday I was living in Maui. I set an intention for myself that I would “settle down” and get a “real job” by the time I turned 30. As life happens, the winter before my 30th birthday two friends from college showed up in Hawaii out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to start a clothing company with them in San Francisco. I knew I wanted to be a designer and this opportunity just fell in my lap. I accepted.

The problem was that I moved to Hawaii for a man. The relationship wasn’t perfect, but I knew he wasn’t the right one for me. He had no intention of leaving Hawaii so I broke up with him, moved into someone’s spare room and made arrangements to totally turn my life upside down.

On my actual birthday the (now) ex-boyfriend took me out for a really nice dinner at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. He held my hand and said he hoped I would find what I was looking for and come back to him. I felt desperate and alone and terrified of the big scary move I was about to make. But I knew I had to do it because my clock was ticking. After all, 30 was not young.

Now I’m almost 50 and when I think back on the 20 years between that day and tomorrow I am astounded at how different my life is. My demeanor changed from terrified and unstable to confident and calm. No matter how many obstacles I’ve faced in the last 20 years they were all worth it to approach this state of peace. I don’t see peace all the time, I get glimpses now and then, but I now know that it is there.

The last 40 days in particular have shown me that 50 isn’t young but it certainly isn’t OLD. I’ve learned not to focus on the things I think I’m missing, but to focus on the gifts I have been given. I have so much to be grateful for in my life. Today, I am most grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate this birthday with family and friends who see and acknowledge my truth.

Sat Nam.

You Don’t Look a Day Over…

2 days to 50.

Yesterday at the gym I ran into a friend who did the Kundalini teacher training with me. We’ve been casual friends at the gym for a long time. I’d text her when I needed her to sign up for a spin bike for me at the most popular classes and she’d do the same. Spending 9 months together in an intensive yoga training program definitely brought us closer.

I asked if she was free on Thursday night and told her it was my 50th birthday and that a few of us were meeting for drinks downtown. She immediately gushed her congratulations and told me (as they all tell me) that I don’t look 50. To which I always reply,

This is what 50 looks like.

My friend (who is very spiritually aware) didn’t flinch at this, but most people tend to be offended by this answer. I think that I’m supposed to just smile politely and thank them profusely for the compliment. What kind of a compliment is that anyway? Why should people be ALLOWED to comment on how old I do or do not look? Did I somehow give everyone I come into contact with permission to visually scan me up and down and determine my approximate age? Has anyone ever said that someone looks older than they are?

This false sense of flattery doesn’t help anyone. I find that it doesn’t really matter how old you are, if you tell someone else (especially a woman) how old you are they will automatically exclaim,

That’s not possible, you don’t look a day over {5 – 10 years less than your real age}.

This phrase always rings hollow for me, and insincere. Yes, I might not look like a lot of women they know who are 50. I spend hours every day at the gym. I eat well and use a lot of sunscreen. But this is what 50 looks like. I can see 50 on me from 3 blocks away.

I’ve come to equate this behavior, this forced age flattery with catcalls from construction workers. Just as any woman dreads being verbally accosted walking down the street by men in overalls and hard hats, I’ve come to dread the auto-flattery response. I feel like if I go to my usual “this is what 50 looks like” that I might offend them, but I shouldn’t have to smile and say,”Thank you” to everyone who tells me that I look younger than I am. What is my responsibility in this? Am I responsible for their feelings or for my own integrity?

I’m trying to align myself with my truth. My truth is that I’m going to be 50 in 2 days and this is what 50 looks like.

My Love / Hate Relationship with Mirrors

3 days to 50.

There as a time when I loved looking in the mirror. My sister used to tell potential boyfriends that I could take half an hour putting on red lipstick. Red lipstick, you see, has to be perfectly applied. I ended up becoming a fashion designer so it makes sense that I would spend hours trying on outfits, twisting left and right to see how a certain angle could change the look of the clothes.

Somewhere in the last 5 or 10 years that all changed. Now I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window or somewhere else where I am utterly unprepared to see myself and I’m usually taken aback. The Laura in the mirror just doesn’t match the Laura in my head. So I do my best to make that image match the image in my head. I’ll lift my chin, twist a little to the right, shift my hips up or down to try to find the Laura I’ve always known. As if moving my head or my body could really make me look different to the world. I have this assumption that if I change my immediate perception that everything will be OK. I am still young and beautiful, if only for a fleeting second with every part of my body in exact alignment.

When I go to Bikram yoga I tend to stand in the front row because it’s easier to hold balancing poses when people aren’t falling in front of me. Here again, instead of really looking at myself I focus on certain parts on myself. My right eye only, or my collar bones when I’m trying to balance. I refuse to see the whole of physically who I am. I just see myself in little bits.

Part of this journey, this Forty Days to Fifty project that I am doing was designed to make me come to terms with the way I really look. People always tell me that I look fantastic when I come out of Bikram yoga with no make-up on. Surely part of this is being flushed from the heat. I do, however take this as a sign that using the same make-up routine I’ve been using since my twenties isn’t serving me anymore. I came up with the idea of getting a make-over somewhere in the middle of this process.

I decided I couldn’t turn fifty with half broken eye shadow palettes so I went to Beverly Center last weekend with the intention of actually talking to someone who could help me. I went into Sephora and bought brand new versions of everything I already own and left. Plus I was seduced by a small roll-on version of the perfume I wore when I was twenty and clueless. I’m wearing it now. It smells like hope and optimism.

Then I went to the Mac department in Macy’s and a really nice make-up artist helped me find a substitute eyeliner as the one I’ve used for years is finally out of stock. She works at Mac. She had a full apron with dozens of brushes and expertly applied mascara. She was nice to me. The store was empty; I could have had her undivided attention. But I couldn’t find the courage to ask her to help me change. Because to do that I would have had to admit that I’ve been using the same make-up routine for thirty years. How could I ask a 20-something to help me come to terms with becoming a 50-something?

I left the mall disappointed in myself because I had the opportunity to achieve one of the goals I set for myself this month and I let it slip away because I was afraid of being vulnerable to a stranger. I understand now why those make-over shows are so popular. I think every woman struggles with change in this regard. It would be so great if Oprah’s people would just take care of everything for me.

Maybe I should set that as an intention?

The real issue, however, is how I can come to terms with the way I really look now at almost 50. I need to learn how to stop expecting my twenty or thirty something reflection to greet me in the mirror. It’s been suggested that since I love figure drawing more than anything else on the face of the earth that I should draw myself. That would force me to really look at myself, to really see myself. I have yet to find the courage or the initiative to do this.

But isn’t this part of the process? Accepting myself for the way I look RIGHT NOW is part of accepting the whole truth of myself, of finding the authentic core of my being.

My relationship with mirrors seems to just further emphasize that I still have a lot of work to do.

Mind Over Medicine

4 days to 50.

I went to an event for Lissa Rankin’s new book Mind Over Medicine today. Mastin Kipp from the popular blog The Daily Love organized the event

I started following Lissa before the book was published. She has done a lot of work around finding scientific evidence that the body can heal itself, and conversely, how negative beliefs can harm the body. As a 5-year breast cancer survivor I have had a lot of time to think about my personal responsibility in my illness and the various factors in my life that may have contributed to it.

There is vast amounts of research detailing how dangerous stress is, but I know for myself that I thought I was invincible, impervious to the dangers from stress. 13 years ago I remember talking to a friend of mine in the fashion business about my stress level and how I was struggling trying to find a way to manage it. He seriously told me to go to the doctor and get a prescription for Valium.

Come on, Laura, everybody does this. It’s part of being a grown-up in today’s world.

Wow. I didn’t go to the doctor. I just spent hours at the gym every night burning off my stress with cardio. The fact that I cried every day in the car on the way to the gym seemed like the price I had to pay to work in my dream field.

In the end I became so overwhelmed that I quit my job with no real plan as to what to do next. I knew in my soul that the stress from that job was killing me. The plan I told people was that I was going to Colorado to live with my sister and write a book. I did this the week after 9/11. The fear in this country was understandably running rampant. After being accosted by person after person yelling at me that I’d never find a job again because the country was so unstable I succumbed to fear and found another job less than six months later. I didn’t get to the book.

I ended up back in the fashion industry in the company I’m with now in LA.

Right up until the day of my diagnosis I’d go the gym every night to do sometimes back-to-back cardio classes. I’d come home and transition from a couple glasses of wine to sleeping pills to get me through the night.

My cancer diagnosis was a wake-up call for me. I knew in that moment that something in my life wasn’t working. The answer couldn’t be Valium, the answer had to be something else. I’ve spent years on a path to find my way back to myself. As I’ve said before, spiritual awakening is unfortunately not a destination; it’s a journey that I will be traveling on for the rest of my life.

I can say that the way I handle my stress today as opposed to the way I handled my stress for most of my life are totally different. I’ve learned to use many tools to let the stress go and relax. I currently do a personal practice of Kundalini Yoga and Mediation every single day. I’ve learned how to leave work at the office. I take vacations. I seek out genuine connections with other human beings.

I’m not saying that the stress I was under caused my illness or that I’m impervious to getting sick again. Every time I have to go in for a scan I feel the old fear and trepidation come up again. But I do feel empowered knowing that I am doing whatever I can to heal myself and keep myself healthy.

I AM excited that Lissa and her book are re-opening a conversation about the health of the body and it’s relationship to the mind.

I AM grateful and thankful that more and more people will be genuinely interested in answers that don’t involve the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

Eighties on Eight and the Homeless

5 days to 50.

Sirius XM has a station called Eighties on Eight where they only play music from the eighties. It is one of the presets in my car (along with Heart and Soul and The Groove- don’t judge me too harshly).

When I drive to the gym on Saturday mornings I always catch the middle of a random eighties top 40 countdown and without fail a song comes on that takes me back to my past.

Today that song was “We Built this City” by Starship from 1985. In 1985 I was 22 years old. Whenever I hear it I am immediately back in college in North Dakota at an off campus party in some dismal little apartment. I clearly remember standing there with a drink in my hand hearing the words “The city by the bay” and wondering if I would ever see San Francisco again.

I had been there once in high school. We lived in Sacramento for a few years and my parents took us to San Francisco one weekend. The only thing I remember from that trip was seeing a homeless person for the first time. I wasn’t even aware that there were homeless people before that. We saw a man looking for food in a garbage can down by Fisherman’s Wharf. There were seagulls flying all around him hoping he would find something in the garbage can and drop it on the sidewalk for them.

I stood there dumbfounded, just staring at him. My father ran up and grabbed me by the arm to pull me away. We didn’t really have homeless people in Montana or North Dakota, or even in the area we were in Sacramento. Or I was just so clueless and unaware that I didn’t realize that people slept on the streets and ate out of garbage cans. It was a wake-up call for me. Life wasn’t always as safe and organized as I’d assumed it to be.

I ended up living in San Francisco in my thirties. There was a homeless woman a couple of blocks away from a restaurant I worked in. I passed by her every day and started carrying dollar bills in my pockets to give to her. This went on for months and then one day she just wasn’t there. I worried about her. I hoped she was OK. Then I hardened my heart and stopped giving money to the homeless.

The naïveté of that 17-year-old girl seeing her first homeless person is, of course, long gone.  Now I’ve seen thousands of homeless people. I’ve seen so many homeless people that I’m desensitized to them. They stand on the freeway off-ramps with their handmade signs and I busy myself with my mobile phone or the radio buttons (yes, oscillating between Eighties on Eight and Heart and Soul). I have friends who carry cash in their cars to hand out to homeless people. I tell myself that giving them money doesn’t help them long-term so I just try to ignore them.

A few weeks ago in Portland after the World Domination Summit while my friend and I were waiting for the train a homeless young man approached us. He told us a story about how he needed $2.00 to get a shelter for the night. I turned away as I always do but my friend reached in his pocket and pulled out a $20.00 bill and handed it to him. The young man was dumfounded. He stumbled all over himself thanking my friend, admitting he was really a drug addict but that he was trying to change his life. I was blown away and genuinely impressed with the generosity and grace of my friend. He nodded and told him,

 Tonight you’ll be safe. Good luck to you.

Wow. That small moment of kindness really made me think. Can I continue to turn my head when I see someone in pain? Can I try to handle these types of situations in the future with the grace and generosity of my friend?

What I know today is that I’m willing to try.

Impossible Dreams

6 days to 50.

For the last decade or so my sisters and I write out goals for the next year on Christmas Eve. We go to church early and sit in the front while out mother gets ready to sing with the choir. This is the one and only time I go to church every year but I know it makes my mother happy. We have a lot of time before the actual mass starts so we’ve started a tradition of checking who won the lottery of life in the past year (who gets the most check marks on their list) and list out goals for the next year.

Goals, 2007

The photo above is from 2007. The first 2 entries, Write a book, and Make a Broadway Show of that book have been on most of my yearly lists, including my list for 2013. I was going through some old Moleskins looking for a bit of information and came across enough of these lists to see the pattern. Why have the top two things I’ve listed year after year been things I consider to be nearly impossible? I like to get check marks at the end of the year as much as the next person. Why have I been listing things that I don’t think I can accomplish?

I also list easily achievable goals in these lists as well- like “buy a bike” (that took me 2 years), or “develop my underdeveloped deltoids”- my sister went through my workout routine with me and was appalled that I wasn’t working on my deltoid muscles so this seemed like a very important goal- one that I easily checked off at the end of the year.

I was given permission to consider myself a writer in a class on Charles Dickens that I took in college. The professor was a little quirky. He thought college shouldn’t be a fashion show so he wore exactly the same thing every day- jeans and a chambray shirt. I thought he was fantastic. We had to write papers for him on various Dickensonian topics. In the margins on one of these papers he wrote in red ink-

You are a great reader -maybe a great writer?

I was floored. I had never considered myself a writer and here was this strange man who I totally respected giving me permission to dream of something I didn’t know I had wanted. With a few words and a red pen he changed my opinion of myself and my capabilities. Since then I’ve always known that I need to write a book.

The working titles of the books I’m supposed to be working on have changed drastically throughout the years. My first working title was “Mediocre Mexican” which was to be a hilarious expose of the trials and tribulations of waitressing in a Mexican restaurant. The next working title was “Sweet Tart Life-  Bittersweet Stories of Everyday Life.” I have always collected stories. When I worked in restaurants I would write notes on little scraps of paper that I would stuff in a shoebox when I got home. When I became a designer I started carrying little notebooks everywhere and I would not only draw fashion details for work but I would make notes about stories for my future book.

I was in New York a few months ago and went to see Kinky Boots on Broadway. As a designer I always walk all around the theater looking at all the details in the architecture of the theaters themselves. Some of the theaters in New York are fantastic. I found myself in a stairwell off to the side of the stage and I just stood and listened to the murmur of the crowd. I had chills run up and down my spine. I felt a premonition. I felt in my soul that my impossible dreams of taking my still unwritten book to Broadway is not just possible, it is imminent. I knew in that moment that this can happen for me.

Last week I showed up to one of my Kundalini master teacher’s classes to find a substitute teacher and was reminded of the importance of the mantra “I Am.” He also said that once you start to change the way you speak to yourself, the way you use “I Am” that your life will start to change. People will begin to appear in your life to help you manifest your dreams. You just need to have the courage to change the script from a negative form to a positive form.

I am ready to write the book I have been preparing for my entire life. I am ready to believe that my once impossible dreams can come true.

On Just Getting Through the Day

7 days to 50.

Something interesting came up at work today. I was talking to a few friends about the choices we make. One of the managers in our company just went out on leave because the cancer she fought 2 years ago came back. She is in a very stressful position and we were talking about her personal responsibility in handling her stress levels.

As a cancer survivor I’ve done a lot of work on myself. I knew when I went through treatment that one of the contributing factors to my disease had to be my stress level. I took very definite steps to change that. I found a therapist, I found Kundalini yoga, I learned how to leave work at the office and unplug when I got home. These things were not easy but I knew they were necessary.

Of course I have a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy for her. I clearly remember a situation with her about six months ago where she was under so much stress that her lip was trembling because she was about to cry and I just kept chanting Kundalini mantras in my head trying to calm the situation. I looked at her and wondered how she did it. Life is so short. We had talked a few times about how her focus for life had shifted after cancer treatment and there I was watching her right back in the same situation again.

My friends at work think that the company should have gone easier on her. That she should have received some special anti-stressful treatment because she had been sick. I disagree. I think she had a responsibility to herself to lower her own stress level. Now I’m absolutely not saying that she gave herself cancer again, in fact, this post this really isn’t even about her. This is about my perspective vs. my friends’ perspective.

When I voiced my opinion I was faced with rather aggressive arguments that she didn’t have any choices. She had to keep working, she was probably scared, she probably had a lot of personal responsibilities. All of which really aren’t about this woman at all, they are about my friends and their perspectives on their own lives.

When I responded that I had the same issues and I’ve made major changes in my life I was met with the following-

Most people can’t be like you. They are so busy just trying to get through the day that they don’t have time to go on a spiritual path.

To which I responded-

Well, that’s the real tragedy.

I think about that. Most people are so busy just trying to get through the day- get the kids to school, pay the bills, pick up the dry cleaning, make dinner that they don’t have time to spend on their spiritual development.

I used to be one of those people. I bought spiritual books and kept them on a side table in my bedroom, ready for the instant I would suddenly be able to devote precious time to being more “spiritual”. I followed Oprah’s webcast with Eckhart Tolle. I did the same things a lot of people do, I took little steps towards the goal of THINKING about becoming more spiritual.

But looking back after finally being on this path for 5 or 6 years, I realize that all the books I’ve read, and the courses I’ve taken, up to and including the Kundalini Yoga Teacher training were invaluable. I see clearly that investing in my spiritual growth, both the time and the money was the best investment I have ever made. Teacher training alone would have been a bargain at ten times the price.

I see the world from a different place. I see opportunities where I saw only oppression before. It’s not just about being more positive or the fact that I’m happier, although those are both great things. It’s that I understand my place in my community and my world in a vastly different way. It is in finding and accepting my own truth that I can connect with other human beings in a deeper and more profound way. Isn’t that what we are all here for- to connect with others in a deeper way? I believe we’re here to share our truth with others, and to be of service to those who need us the most.

My hope is that more people will see that working on their own spiritual growth is a necessary and wise investment. Nobody should be in a position where they are just “getting through the day”. As one of my master teacher often says-

Peace and Joy are Your Birthright.

I know in my soul this is true- not just for me, but for everyone.

Unconventional Beauty

8 days to 50.

I shot the photograph below about a year and a half ago. My background is not in photography, but something about this photo has resonated with a lot of people. I’ve been thinking about our society’s concept of beauty lately and it seems appropriate to share the story of this today.

Unconventional Beauty

 

The woman in my photograph “Unconventional Beauty” is a member of the Mursi tribe in Southern Ethiopia. The Mursi tribe is one of the most famous and remote tribes in the world, predominantly known for the large clay lip plates their women wear.

Our guide told us the most common story regarding the history of this tribe: Centuries ago this tribe was known for its beautiful women and men from other tribes were notorious for interceding and attempting to marry them. The Mursi men decided that in order to keep their women to themselves they would make them as unattractive as possible, so they created clay lip plates and started stretching the women’s lower lips around these plates.

In order to accommodate the plates they cut a hole under the lower lip, which stretches open, leaving a gaping hole and a loose hanging lower lip when the plate is removed. They also remove the lower teeth so the plates don’t break when they wear them. The size of the plate is, of course, directly linked to the prestige and perceived beauty of the woman wearing it. I found the plates themselves to be beautiful, but the women were so disfigured it saddened me. I noticed something in the eyes of women wearing the lip plates that I had not seen in other African tribes. To me, it was almost as if these women were pleading for some form of validation. I expected the Mursi women to be strong and brash and invincible, but I saw firsthand that they want what all women want, someone to look in their eyes and say,

You’re OK.

The desire for acceptance and acknowledgment is universal.

I was drawn to the woman in my photograph for many reasons. I actually shot her portrait three separate times that day. It impressed me that she has the obvious and undeniable courage to stand up to the men in her tribe and refuse to pierce her lip. That kind of bravery is heroic in a male dominated culture. She may be the voice of a new generation in her tribe, a generation of women who question conventional traditions and who make choices based on the future they desire, instead of the future society expects for them. In American culture this Mursi woman would be considered unbelievably beautiful, but in hers, she may be considered hideous because she does not wear a lip plate. I saw courage, confidence and vulnerability in her as I photographed her. She moved me. I believe that whether someone comes from a tribe in Africa or the projects in Compton, every person has the fundamental right to determine his or her own path in this life. I have this photo hanging on my wall as a reminder of that fact.