In Defence of Playing Dress Up

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my makeup habits a lot.

Why do I wear this stuff? How I justify hauling a “mask” of sorts around town? What am I trying to prove? What am I trying to hide? 

While sometimes the answer is “Um, obviously you’re trying to hide that pimple, Shauna,” I have realized that these questions as a whole are flawed. My makeup isn’t really a mask.

IMG_8802Story time.

Growing up, my mother rarely wore makeup. She was a low-maintenance country girl and, perhaps more importantly, she had four little people to look after. I was the oldest of these, and the only girl.

On very special occasions, my mother would unleash the mystical cosmetics bag. I would watch, fascinated, as she expertly curled her lashes and powdered her face with whatever-that-stuff-was. She would share her eye shadow with me (just a little bit, just for fun) and I would giggle as I buried my little feet in her size-8 shoes.

Dress up was one of my favourite games.

My day-to-day makeup free momma was no more or less beautiful than the date night version, and she was certainly no more or less my momma. Still, I really dug the special-occasions grooming process. I loved watching my mother ceremonially draw on her face before leaving us with the babysitter. Once, in one of my most embarrassing moments ever, I even stole red nail polish from my her bathroom and tried to use it as lipstick.

(Wait. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how stupid that was.)

Fast forward through a few face paint faux pas and the turtleneck-centric middle school years, and I found myself in the dress up big leagues. High school meant my choices were endless and personal. It also meant that the factors influencing those choices were complicated. I had more self to express, more peers to please, more categories and clothes and I finally got my ears pierced. 

So I shaved my head, then dyed my hair brown for awhile. I went through everything from au naturel months, to questionably bold colours, earthy tones, pinkish glows, red lipsticks. I wore cowboy boots. I wore sneakers. I wore huge hoop earrings and tiny necklaces. I stole (borrowed?) my mother’s nail polish once again, and actually managed to finally use it right.

This was dress up. This was the same game my mother played when she got ready for a night on the town. The same game I played as a giggly little kid, stumbling around in mom’s shoes with 20 different barrettes falling out of my hair. 

…and it’s the game I play now, as I try on my third outfit and rush through my current eyeliner-infused routine each morning.

And so the questions follow:

Why do I keep playing this game? Am I trying to be something I’m not?

Hardly.

Actually, as I look back on my life, it appears to be quite the opposite: Dress up isn’t about denying who I am. It is a part of who I am.

Is part of the motive to look pretty? Of course it is. I felt pretty in my twenty barrettes when I was five, in my vintage earrings and cowboy boots at 16, and in my big-kid makeup yesterday. No, I don’t believe I owe it to anyone to be consistently attractive (though for some people that’s a thing, and it shouldn’t be). I just believe that feeling pretty feels good. work really freakin’ hard to be beautiful on the inside (not sure if that’s a weird/vain thing to say), so sometimes it’s nice to feel like my face is a part of that. 

Do I try to look pretty for other people sometimes? Of course I do (‘sup, hormones?). But I also try to act nice and be funnier and listen better. Highlighting your best qualities isn’t a bad thing. And getting your game face on (literally) isn’t a bad thing either, not really.

Dress up doesn’t have to be about changing who we are. It can be about expressing and highlighting who we are, where we are, how we are. We just have to own the game.

You’re allowed to wear whatever makes you most comfortable. If that means sweat pants (helloooo Thursday night Netflix!), then great. If that means covering blemishes and highlighting features with a so-called mask of colours and chemicals, then cool.

As for me? Well, I’m just going to stick with what dress up means to me today: Reddish lipstick, blue jeans, and unmatching socks.

IMG_0793(2)Classy is as classy does, folks.

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My Bathroom Scale Ban

I used to hate the mall.

On the surface, it was just another way to separate myself from other teenage girls (I watch Die Hard! I wear shorts! I watch hockey! I can pretend to be funny!  [please love me?]).   My high school mall hatred was different, though.  It was more passionate.  Yes, I could find joy in Christmas lists and record store bargain bins. But “clothes shopping”?  The mall rat scene? The bad music, the money, the lights, the mirrors, mirrors, mirrors.

Even the idea made me kind of queasy.

I hated the mall because it was the home of destructive analysis.  In middle school, I learned it was a place for measuring yourself. The food court featured conversations about calories.  Conversations which eventually turned to numbers and sizes, then to vomiting techniques.  I sat and listened.  I ate more Taco Bell, silently trying to compensate for my friends who (proudly) weren’t eating.

Then I weighed myself, because that’s what they were doing.

I put an abhorrent amount of value in those numbers.  I cried when I saw them rise.  I didn’t know that growing teenagers gain weight, that it’s normal.  I didn’t know that girls with eating disorders were sick, that I shouldn’t measure myself against their reality.  That “being skinny” and “being fat” were stupid over-simplifications.

I didn’t know that.  I was thirteen.  But man, I hated that mall.

I don’t think much about my body anymore, not like that. My own personal body image just sorta…is, unless I have something to compare it to.  I’m pretty sure I look bloated when I feel bloated, and I look healthy when I feel healthy. I love the mirror some days, I hate it other days. Sometimes I care more than usual.  I have bad hair days and good hair days, wish-I-were-a-little-more moments, this-outfit-is-cute moments, and (this just in) I-am-way-too-busy-to-care moments.

But I have banned bathroom scales from my home.

There aren’t many rules in this apartment, but that one has stuck.

Let’s talk.
Body Image is the next Taboo Tab topic, by very popular demand.

Submit your story here:

New to the Taboo Tab?  Read other stories on subjects society skips over at: https://shaunanagins.com/the-taboo-tab/

Busy Being a “Big Kid”

Whenever I talk about growing up, I use the term “big kid.” 

A costume change (see also: my foray into the “business casual” world) is “putting on my big kid shoes.”   Pushing past emotions is “putting on my big kid face.” Moving households and changing furniture is “getting into my big kid bed.”

It’s a bit strange, using such juvenile terms.  I get that.  But this “big kid” terminology works. It works because, even if it’s just a distant memory, almost everyone knows how it feels to be told that they are now a “big kid.” Step it up. Here’s your new title, now go earn it.  Be brave.  Growing time is now.

It’s uncomfortable, exciting, challenging–and yes, “big kid” moments continue long after you outgrow the physical definition of a “kid.”

It’s no longer my parents and teachers telling me to what time it is.  It’s more of a voice in my head, reminding me that this next step is BIG. And, naturally, that I need to be BIG to greet it effectively.

…though really, I don’t know what exactly being BIG means.

In a lot of ways, I’m still just a little girl. I’m a little girl in stilettos, and lipstick;  I’m a little girl who does her own laundry and sleeps in a bed across from Capitol Hill; I’m a little girl who seems pretty confident while taking the Metro. But rest assured folks–I am the clumsiest, goofiest, daydreamiest little girl ever.  I get all kinds of blisters from my metaphorical big kid shoes.  My big kid bed is a pretty lonely place.  And those steep escalators out of the Metro station? They terrify me.

And so, I think about growing up all the time:

How do I grow up without losing my sense of wonder? 

How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others? 

How exactly do I go about creating one of those “home” things? And how does a big kid respond when “home” suddenly doesn’t grow with them?

Once I establish a “home” with all the big kid fixin’s, can I bring it with me when I travel?  No? But, isn’t traveling the best way for me to grow, too?

Do I even have control over any of these things?

This list might make me sound like a total stressball.  I promise I don’t just sit around worrying all day.  I love growing up. I love learning. It’s just that sometimes, while I’m on that journey, these questions come up.

And the answer to all of the questions?  I don’t know.

"How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others?"
“How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others?”

I can guess the answer to that last one, though. Do I even have control over any of these things? So far, it doesn’t feel like it.  Not really. Yes, my choices matter. Yes, I ultimately am the one who decides to put on the big kid shoes and the big kid face. But if I didn’t make that call…

Well, I would be pretty cramped in those little girl shoes.

The people around me would be pretty cramped, too. As we grow up, we have to change to greet our new discoveries. We adapt. Mostly, we learn what we can expect from people, and what we can expect from ourselves.  That we all need a little help sometimes, but we still shouldn’t count on anyone. That we are more capable than we ever thought possible, but that we can’t do it alone–though, some days, we’re going to really have to try.

In my article A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood, I wrote this:

“My latest definition of “growing up” has been the process of realizing 1) how very alone and 2) how very not alone we are. Growing up means always playing with loneliness and interconnectedness, because life is a whole lotta both of them.”

As I sit here, feeling homesick, feeling loved, feeling alone, feeling like I have community (and trying to articulate those feelings, because that’s what big kids do), one thing is for sure:

It’s big kid time. This is what growing up feels like.

[note: this post was inspired by the Daily Prompt]

– – –

Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real
Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

Three More Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me)

Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post“You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”

As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right.  Here’s how that one ended:

Bonus lesson: Don't step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you're trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy...
Bonus lesson: Don’t step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you’re trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy…

Ungh. Onwards?

[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]

5) Guitar

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What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”  

This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up.  Seriously,  if you only read one of these, read this one.

The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced.  The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational.   Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”

W.G. keeps it real.

A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the  degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.

“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”

Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar.  But…I’m not any good.”

You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line?  The chatter stopped.  One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.

“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’  Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”

“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.

“Then you’re a musician.”

You know what? He’s probably right.  Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents.  I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.

It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay. 

The fact is, I listen to, learn about,  and talk music all day.  I get inspired.  When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me.  It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :

Hey Shauna,

A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”

Is that not the most beautiful thing?  I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.

6) Curling mousse

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What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.

My hair.  Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?

Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.

 

Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC.  It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.

Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.

The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks.  If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak).  Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating.  My hair doesn’t define me.  Imagine that.

Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too.  One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly.  It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight.  All I have time for is a mousse.

When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off.  The only option left is to join ’em.

7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash

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What it taught me: Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.

New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.

…yes, actually.

I first discovered this trick in high school.  I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself.  I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.

I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances.  I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.

Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.

(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)

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Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!

Four Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the 4 lessons they taught me)

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Black heels meet the favourite things, in true Shaunanagins style.

This is the first in a series of three posts–I actually have a top ten (pictured above) but dividing it up seems like the best way to go.

Yes, “couldn’t live without” is an overstatement. Basically, these are the items which would make it into my suitcase no matter what (or where). There are reasons and stories behind these things, most of which translate into serious “lessons learned”…lessons which pretty much explain why these items are even with me. After all, I haven’t even had most of these things for more than a couple years.

Too bad. I could have used them.

1) Cucumber cleansing milk (from The Body Shop)

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What it taught me: If it’s the right product, and the right price, you should probably buy two.

I worked at the Body Shop last year, and quickly learned that their skin care lines are amazing. My best find during my time there was this cucumber cleansing milk. It was $4, it smelled fresh, and it softened my skin instantly.

Oh, and they discontinued it.

I don’t wear a whole lot of make up, so it takes me awhile to go through my perfect shade or find the right skin care product. After I run out, I almost always discover that my products are discontinued. With this moisturizer, it was a double heartbreak–come on, $4? When will I find that again?

Needless to say, I’m making this bottle last.

The cucumber toner is still available through their website’s outlet section (presumably on a “while supplies last” basis). I would get one if I were you. Maybe two. Then go to the mall and buy your favourite lip colour, if you have one, or stock up on your foundation shade. Because if your skin is as pale or annoying as mine (sexy, right?) then you probably don’t want to lose your secret ingredients–and you probably will.

2) Homemade, wood burned Canada flag

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Lesson learned: Appreciate other people’s talents.

Think about how hard it is to draw a maple leaf. Now imagine wood burning it.

Let us all have a moment of silence to remember the Canada flag drawings we have effed up in our lifetimes.

(Thanks for the Christmas present, bro.)

3) TiCats hat

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What it taught me: If you want to connect with someone, you need to find a way to care about the things they care about.

It was Christmas break. As my family gathered together, my mother turned to ask me a rather out-of-the-blue a question. You could tell this one had been bubbling up for quite some time; Limited segue, loaded tone, genuine curiosity.

“Okay, Shauna. I know you do, but…when exactly did you start watching sports?” She turned to my father, adding: “I watched Football with her, like, a few months ago and she seemed to really know what was going on.” Back to me. “How did you learn that? When did that start?”

I offered several explanations. I played touch football for a couple months in middle school, didn’t I? The neighbor boy and I used to throw a basketball around sometimes, and “Well, mom, I’ve never missed a Superbowl.” But as I traced back in my memory, I could find only one explanation: because I love my brother, that’s why.

I’ve always enjoyed watching sports, but I have only been following actual teams for a few years. I think it started with some uneasy phone calls back at the beginning of my University life. Time after time, conversation fell flat with 3/3 of my brothers. I missed them terribly, but we had nothing to really share. The only lead I had was with the youngest, who kept trying to talk about sports.

Sports. I like sports, right? Watching hockey is fun. I’ve always been interested in football. We could totally connect over this. So I turned on Sportscenter, Googled some NFL stats, watched a few games. I gave him a call.

Then he started calling me. We messaged each other during a game. Now, our relationship sounds less like “So, what’s new…nothing…yeah…okay…” and more like this:

A 13 year old's response to my email asking "So, is the Pack back?" after they won a game in September. I don't care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.
A 13 year old’s response to my email asking “So, is the Pack back?” after they won a game in September. I don’t care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.

Clearly, he cares about this. I found it to be something I could care about, too–there were sports I liked, I fell for a franchise, I started following up. I was already interested, but I honed in on the interest because it was something he loved. Our relationship has never been better.

After helping me to build a friendship with my little brother, football helped me build yet another bridge–this time, with my grandfather. For the first time, here we were: same city, same team, same ability to be glued to the game. Quick visits turned into NFL/CFL marathons stretching to 8 hours.

The best part? I ended up having inside jokes and a solid relationship with my grandfather, who I barely saw for the first 20 years of my life. My grandmother’s sighs of “This is a silly game. Why don’t they just give them all a ball so they stop fighting over that one?” in the background were hilarious. It was so easy. We just had to share something.

Truthfully, I inherited my TiCats fandom from my dad, who inherited it from my grandfather. I carry it through not just because I like it, but because the people I love like it–my brother, my dad, my grandfather, even a couple childhood friends. I carry it because it matters to my relationships. I’m clinging to commonality. It’s one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

(…also, I’m more than a little emotionally involved when it comes to my teams.)

4) Red lipstick.

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Lesson learned: It’s called “classy is as classy does.” And it works.

Okay, so maybe not everyone is a fan of red lipstick. But please, try to understand: this is no ordinary lipstick. Pictured here is a lipstick infused with lady superpowers.

This lipstick is my secret weapon. If want a productive, no-nonsense, superwoman day, this is step number one. Then comes a pencil skirt. Then a pair of pumps. The hair goes up. The coffee comes out. Being an attractive, busy, shit-together lady is a go.

I will forever defend the power of red lipstick and a little black dress. And no, I’m not talking about its powers in the MRS department. The red lipstick isn’t for dates. It’s to signify go time for me–red lips and heels happen when I’m doing homework, doing dishes, filling out applications, and working through to do lists. Things just get done when my ladyself comes out.

Yeah, I’m kind of a lipstick feminist. Classy is as classy does, friends.

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As I mentioned, this is the first in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!

Foodie Gift Idea for the New Mom

“And so it begins!”

It has started, my friends. I had my first-ever trek to the maternity ward to visit a post-C section friend. My former manager Melannie just gave birth to an amazing baby boy, and my sidekick Caitlin and I were beyond excited to head down to Ottawa General and welcome him into the world.

Babies, you guys. Oh man. My ovaries pretty much exploded.

(Also…does anyone else get REALLY nervous when holding a baby? I mean, sometimes I can throw enough PR spin on my clumsiness to make it charming, but I don’t think there is anything “charming” about dropping a newborn. Holding the kid was amazing [recall: ovaries exploding] but also completely and totally terrifying. Yet another “how do nurses do this?! They must be wizards.” moment.)

The reason I write about this for a Home-style post is to share the gift that Caitlin and I came up with for this lovely momma.

Melannie is a foodie hailing from the East coast, so it wasn’t surprising that she openly missed some of the foods that are unsafe for baby-carrying. Think about it: seafood, cured meats, cheeses, alcohol, eggs…it’s all a no-can-do for the cautious pregnant woman. And for the cautious foodie pregnant woman, that makes for a pretty long nine months.

….actually, I think the whole “carrying another human being around in your stomach” thing also makes for a long nine months, but for the sake of this post: THINK OF THE CHEESE!!

So Caitlin and I set to work on a gift basket of foods that she had avoided for so long, but could now enjoy post-pregnancy.

Here are all the foods Melannie had to avoid during her pregnancy:

Certain cheeses, like feta, goat, camembert, and brie, can carry listeria. Not great for baby.
Pregnant women are supposed to avoid raw or soft-boiled eggs. Also, we had to get quail eggs because…they’re a thing you can get.
I don’t think a pregnant women is supposed to eat this dude, either…
…so we picked up a sample. Sort of.

Of course, we grabbed some celebratory wine and Guinness, the ever-classic Momma’s milk.

There were two major challenges in the making of this gift:

1) How do we openly discuss which foods to NOT give a pregnant woman, then purchase said foods, without looking like we are trying to damage a pregnant woman?

2) How do we wrap this stuff up in the middle of the mall, armed with only ribbon and cello from the dollar store?

(The answer to #2 is by being as awkward and resourceful as humanly possible. Fun fact: cursing out quail eggs DOES in fact make you look like a crazy person.)

Photo creds to Caitlin here, who documented me wrestling with the gift basket game.
Using keys for scissor works. Or at least, it works…well enough. Ish.
This is what dealing with well enough-ish cut cellophane looks like.

But in the end, of course, we had an awesome foodie gift basket and were set to welcome a new little man into the world…and make sure his momma didn’t have to go one more day without some good Guinness and salmon!

Happy birthday, newbie!