On Sundays I Smile - Week in Review July 31st

On Sundays I take a moment to review the past week and I Smile. I share these moments with you.

Allow me to begin by sharing a sample conversation between myself and these two very charming little men, Jake and Josh:

Scene: Breakfast room, 8:05 am Saturday morning.

Josh: Mom! Look at this! Look at this! Look at this!!! (holds up Lego creation of indeterminable shape.) This is a Transformers Mario car that opens up and look at this! It totally opens up, can you believe that??? Mom! We should totally go to the Cheesecake Factory tonight. It would be epic. Can we, Mom? Can we?
Me: (Blearily rubbing the last traces of sleep from my eyes.) Dude, it's eight o'clock in the morning. I haven't even had my coffee yet. I can't think about dinner.
Jake: But Moooommm, we haven't eaten there in a long long time. Let's ask Daddy! Daddy loves food and sliders and stuff.
Me: Daddy's out playing golf. We'll ask him when he gets home.
Josh: Oh. (Exasperated sigh.) Okay.
(extended silence)
Josh: Mom! Did you know that bellybuttons are scabs? Because they are, I read it in a book.

End scene.


This week I went to both Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack to buy new bras (more on that tomorrow.) Of course I got distracted by a few things - namely, a rack of discounted Kate Spade garments and these unbelievable Christian Loubotain leopard pumps. At only $995! Grabby hands *sob*.

When I got home from my shopping expedition, I traipsed into my closet to hang my new purchases and nearly threw up in my mouth. Clothes, shoes and belts were snaked everywhere, winding around my ankles and draping over hangers. It was time for a closet purge. Five garbage bags later my closet is organized and clean. Even better, there's tons of room for new stuff. Bonus.

And finally, to finish these smiles on a sweet note, I present to you a giant chocolate chip cookie from Corner Bakery. Yes and also PLEASE.

Now it's your turn: What are some things that made you smile this week? Grab my button (created by Kate of Divergent Musings - HUGE THANKS to Kate!) and blog about your Sunday smiles; share your weekly smiles in the comments; or smile just because it makes you feels good. 

As I'm pondering whether my bellybutton really is a scab, catch up on my posts from this week:

 I had one blog accomplishment this week:

As always, thank you for supporting me by following my blog, continuing to leave thoughtful and introspective comments, and dropping by every day. I am so appreciative that you all are here.

If you're visiting my blog for the first time, please think about following me through Google Friend Connect, tweeting with me on Twitter (I'm quite witty on the Twitter, I promise), becoming a Facebook fan, and following me through Bloglovin.

My feature in this week's IFB Links a la Mode: Week of July 28th

This week IFB was selected to be featured in IFB's Links a la Mode! IFB is a website for style, fashion and beauty bloggers containing articles, forums, polls and promotional tools. Home to thousands of members, it is an incredible resource for those interested in promoting their blogs, networking with fellow bloggers, and improving their posts. For fashion and style bloggers it's like crack. Not that I've tried it, but like I've seen on Intervention.

Anyways, I've learned so much about blogging through IFB and made from pretty wonderful friends through the message boards. If you're a blogger interested in gaining followers, traffic, and ideas for future posts, don't hesitate to become an IFB member. 

I am incredibly honored to be included with such a talented group of bloggers. Be sure to check out the other posts.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all influenced by something, whether it be celebrities, trends or designs of the past. This week’s links a la mode celebrates influencers and the voices we create from our inspiration. As fashion bloggers, we have each other to look for when we are feeling uninspired and this community is something we should never take for granted!

Links à la Mode: July 28st


August Giveaway: Win a gift card to MAC!

This week I wrote a post about the relationship women have with cosmetics. I thought it'd be fun to follow it up with a giveaway from a brand that is near and dear to my own heart.

This week's giveaway is for a $40 gift card to MAC!

MAC is my absolute favorite cosmetics brand. Why? Their products are affordable, highly pigmented, and have real staying power. They also refuse to test on animals and are dedicated to community causes, such as those that provide direct services to people living with AIDS.

Here's the fine print: 
  • The gift card is only good in MAC stores - not at the MAC counter in Dillards, Macy's, or other department stores. It is also not good for online purchases. Please do not enter if you are unable to use the card at a MAC store. (Check the MAC website for locations.)
  • The gift card cannot be redeemed for cash. 
  • Giveaway will be drawn next Friday evening.

To enter the giveaway, simply do the following (which you're probably already doing anyway:)

  • Follow me on Google Friend Connect;
  • Follow me on Twitter @dresscourage;
  • and leave a comment at the end of this post with your email address (comments left without an email will be disqualified.)
  • For two bonus entries, tweet the following about the giveaway: I just entered to win a MAC gift card from @dresscourage! http://tinyurl.com/3jrlb9b

That's it! Thanks for entering and good luck!

Visual Fashion Beauty Friend Friday: Where I Blog From

This week, Suze of Miss Vinyl Ahoy is hosting Fashion Beauty Friend Friday's visual edition. The theme is "Where I Blog From." I thought it was an interesting choice of topic was happy to participate...mainly because I am a super snoop and wanted to see where everyone else blogs from. My honesty is admirable, I know.

This is my set-up - laptop, camera, iPad, cup of coffee in an extraordinarily obnoxious-sized mug that always makes me smile in the morning.

I use my iPad for research on posts, and it's been a real blessing. Mostly because if I have more than ten windows open on my laptop it throws a tantrum and crashes. I tend to write my posts a day (or more) prior to posting, and in the mornings I edit and publish. I blog from the dining room table in my breakfast room, which is located just off my kitchen, which is convenient if I'm in need of a snack. 

My breakfast room is in easy viewing of my family room, and I usually have the TV for background noise. I watch really highbrow things, like CNN and C-SPAN and PBS and last night's DVR'd episode of The Real Housewives Of Whatever City They're Filming, in which I cackle at while pounding away on my keyboard.

So that's my blogging set-up. Next you'll probably want to see my closet...but that's a post for a different day.

Where do you blog from? What do you like about your blogging spot?

How to Write a Great Blog Post, Part 3: Titles, length, and language

Three weeks ago, I began a series in which I shared the very simple process involved to take a concept from the idea stage to completed blog post. This process is successful because it always keeps new material in the pipeline. It keeps you inspired, helps prevent burnout, and encourages creativity.

In parts one and two of the series, I covered the early steps of writing a post - creating an active ideas file and tips for finding inspiration; and advice for expanding the concepts in your ideas file and the positives of getting personal in posts. This week I'll discuss the process behind writing your post - summarizing the concept in your ideas file; creating a great title; choosing the right length; and using the most effective language.

Part 3: Writing the post

Before writing your post, it's crucial to sum up what you want to communicate in three sentences or less.  Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What is the one thing I want my readers to know? 
  • What is the one thing I want my readers to remember? 
  • What simple truth do I want them to embrace as a result of the material I am providing? 
Maybe all you want your readers to know is you prefer high heels to flats. Summarizing your post topic before it's written will keep you from writing 700 words on the construction process of high heels and straying from your point. I usually hand-write the three sentence summation of what I want to communicate on a notepad beside my computer and look at it frequently as I am writing.

If I cannot sum up the idea in less than three sentences I have to entertain the idea that I may not have an article, I may have a series.

Once my material is grouped in your ideas file comes the difficult process of editing. Everything I have added to my idea is not going to make it into the post. I go through the concepts in my ideas file, and decide which points contribute towards effectively communicating my message, and which words detract. Some material may be discarded not because it is bad, but because it works better as a stand alone idea of its own.  Do not use material in an article that could be an article in and of itself.  Put it back in your idea file.

Once you have selected the best material from the concept in your ideas file for the intro, body, and closing of the post, you're ready to compose your post title. Why do this before writing the body of your post? While there will usually only be a handful of words in your post title, they are the most powerful words that you’ll write because for most of your readers the decision as to whether to read the rest of your post rests upon them.

Composing An Effective Post Title

Blog post titles appear in: 
  • Search engine results
  • RSS feeds
  • Links from other bloggers
  • Social media sites
  • On your archive pages (depending upon how you format them)
The title is often the only thing people see and the sole thing on which they base the decision to visit your blog. The purpose of a title is to drive potential readers to your blog, and a boring, complicated title will guarantee you less traffic than a captivating, intriguing one. While many bloggers use song titles or lyrics as post titles, they are avoiding the massive opportunities a straightforward, powerful blog title can generate.

When crafting an effective post title, it's helpful to consider one of the following techniques:

  • Communicate a benefit: Identifying a need with your readers, and promising to meet that need, is a guaranteed way to draw potential visitors in. Posts with titles such as "Dressing For Your Body Type" and "How To Wear Fall's Fashion Trends" clearly articulate what readers will learn in the post.
  • Ask a question: This is a favorite technique of mine. When you present a question, readers are wired to respond. Posts with questions as titles are not only effective at drawing in readers, but also at generating comments.
  • Personalize titles: Personalizing the language that you use helps readers feel more connected to your blog.  Simply inserting the words "you","your", or "my" draws readers in. For example, my post My stomach, myself has drawn over 1500 hits since it was published less than a week ago.
  • Use keywords: Keywords tell search engines what your post is about, and guarantee that it will resonate well beyond the date it's published. Search engines pay particular attention to titles to ascertain what blogs are about.
  • Keep it short: Search engines show only approximately 65 characters of a post title, so if you go too long it's likely your full title won't appear in search results.

Post Length: How long should a blog post be?

It's well documented that the typical web reader has a short attention span when it comes to reading content online. An investigation on Problogger found that average blog readers stay 96 seconds per blog. As a result many web-masters purposely keep their content length down to a level that is readable in short grabs.

  • SEO: There is a fairly strong opinion among those considered experts in Search Engine Optimization that both extremely short and extremely long web pages are not ranked as highly as pages that are of a reasonable length. The general opinion seems to be that a post of around 250 words is a reasonable and effective length.
  • Quantity of Posts: Shorter posts might allow you to publish more posts, and more posts are better for generating readership with RSS and in Search Engines.
  • Topic/Genre: The type of post that you’re writing will often determine it’s length. For example when writing product review you’ll generally write more than when you compose a daily outfit post.
  • Comprehensive Coverage of the Topic: Ultimately this has to be the main criteria that bloggers go with. You should write enough to comprehensively cover your topic and then stop. Long posts for the sake of them are not a wise move – but so are short ones that don’t cover the topic well.

You've gotten inspired, organized your concepts in your ideas file, narrowed down your concept into three points, constructed an effective blog title, and thought about length. Now it's time to write! Use language that you speak in - your own voice is distinctive and makes you unique. The great writing manual, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, instructs us to write in a way that comes naturally. It also says to avoid fancy words and to omit unnecessary words. Readers enjoy writing that is conversational, without being wordy. Write in a way that speaks to your reader, not down to them, and doesn’t confuse them with jargon and acronyms and technical stuff.

Pretend that you’re having a conversation with a friend, and write like that. Then go back and edit out sentences and words that are unnecessary, and revise sentences that aren’t clear. 

Next week I'll discuss the final editing process of writing a great blog post, and provide a few final tips. Has this series made you think different about crafting a post? What has your favorite tip been so far?

Daily outfit 7/27/11

Vintage thrifted lace vest; Buffalo Exchange skirt; White Mountain sandals; TIKKR watch; Dolly Python leather cuff; Buffalo Exchange turquoise bracelet

I've decided to break up my posts and include a separate daily outfit post here on Dress With Courage. Considering how long and wordy my posts are, it seems the most effective way to include outfits without overwhelming everyone. And gives me a nice little space to talk about what's going on with this little outfit o' mine.

I found this little stretch lace vest at Goodwill for about $2. We're going on 25 days of one hundred degree plus temperatures here in Dallas, and the mere thought of wearing anything with sleeves makes me perspire. I literally squealed with joy when I dug this vest out of the racks. If a goth high school student in the eighties joined a marching band, she'd probably love it almost as much as I do. Almost, because the goth girls I knew kind of hated most things aside from black lipstick and heavy metal concert tee shirts and cigarettes. Cigarettes they'd smoke illicitly in the girls bathroom. Not that I know anything about that.

Breaking up with my mirror

In July 2009, while promoting his film Public Enemies, Johnny Depp confessed that he hates looking in mirrors. Speaking after the film's European premiere in London's Leicester Square, Depp said: "If I could avoid a mirror when I brush my teeth in the morning, I would."

I live in a house with a large mirrored wall in my formal dining room. My children are drawn to this mirror, posing dramatically in front of it, contorting themselves into impossible poses and examining their muscles, stomachs and twig-like biceps. I walk past this mirror and feel an overwhelming urge to examine my feet, the tuft of dust drifting across the floor, even the ceiling towering above. Anything except my own reflection.

There's a certain skill I possess for averting my eyes when confronted by a mirrored or otherwise reflective surface. While most people would stop, transfixed, and examine their reflection, I scurry past. I only look when I absolutely have to, such as when I'm getting my hair cut. And when I see myself, I'm not exactly pleasant to my body. Ugh, I think. When will I get rid of these rolls, this cellulite, those post-pregnancy stretch marks? Is that a double chin I see? I really should do something about this hair. And oh my GOD, is that a pimple forming on my chin???? GOOD LORD, I'M A FREAK. Then later, when I'm emptying the dishwasher or driving or folding the laundry I'll continue to give myself a hard time about what I saw - sometimes for hours or even days.

As a child, I spent hours in my mother's room, watching as she dressed for work, weekends, and evenings out with her friends. I also observed as she applied her makeup, silently stalking much like a lion planning a kill. She twisted and turned, examining herself from every angle, critically appraising her figure. Sucking in cheeks. Jutting out hips. Arching her neck. Bending and kneeling and analyzing. Look at this, she'd hiss, pointing to an imperceptible flaw. I used to be skinny, she'd lament. I wore a size zero wedding gown, and now I'm fat. Fat. Fat. I'd perch on the corner of her bed, or bathroom cabinet, and silently observe her examination.

The message I got during those scathing moments with my mom was this: The mirror determines your worth. The mirror tells you the truth, defines your mood, and lets you know if you're acceptable or not. Research shows that 80% of American women check out - and disapprove of - their reflections minutes after waking. On any given day, 45% say they are dieting. Scarier yet, a 1992 study found that 46% of girls 9 to 11 say they are "sometimes" or "very often" on a diet, and experts agree that the numbers have probably increased since then.

Among women over 18 looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least 80% are unhappy with what they see. Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection. Most of us have heard that anorexics see themselves as larger than they really are, but some recent research indicates that this kind of distorted body-image is by no means confined to those suffering from eating disorders – in some studies up to 80% of women over-estimated their size. Increasing numbers of normal, attractive women, with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders, look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.

Sometime in the last two years, I told myself to stop falling into my reflection in the mirror. I could not have an innocent relationship with it. I could not trust it to give me an accurate reading of my appearance. I did not know how to objectively glance at myself and not turn such an activity into a emotional collapse. SoI rely on my waist-high bathroom mirror when doing my makeup and choosing my clothes. I don't analyze my outfit photos. Indeed, the only times I am forced to examine how I look is when I scroll through this blog.

Now I ask you: What's your relationship with your mirror? Are you comfortable with what you see? How often would you estimate you examine your reflection each day?

Outfit Post: How do you define blogging success?

So I just passed my seven-month blogging anniversary. Truthfully, I had no clue I've been blogging for this long, and had to go searching through my archives to learn exactly when I published my first blog post. (If you'd like a laugh, go check out some of my earliest posts. They're HIGH-larious.) I'll confess that I'm not an especially sentimental person. I never partook of the whole SQUEE it's-the-four-monthiversary-of-the-first-time-I-was-kissed/ate sushi/had sex/bought towels with my boyfriend at Bed Bath and Beyond-HEARTS AND RAINBOWS-and-LURVE *TWEE.* It's just not for me. Mostly because I'd rather buy someone (or myself) a present whenever I feel like it and don't like to save cake for special occasions.

However, the realization I'd been blogging for seven months straight gave me a bit of pause. I never thought I'd make it this long. I never expected to have quite so many followers, and have my writing featured on other sites. And I certainly didn't think my content would be so far evolved beyond daily outfit posts. I could not have predicted that my blogging would be a success.

Success is a strange concept to define. We've all heard the cliche that success is a journey, not a destination. There's often more fun in the chasing than the catching. I deeply enjoy researching and writing my posts; I like putting together outfits to be photographed; and I get a thrill every time I see a new follower or have a post featured. But the fun is in the pursuit. I love the excitement of producing fresh content, the what-ifs of how my posts will be received, and the hopes that come with them.

I believe success is about how I see myself and how I'm able to enjoy my life. It's simple to wrap success up in tangible rewards - things that success grants us, such as acquiring great wealth, holding a high position in a career, or winning a game. And it's true that success is largely about achieving something you have set out to do. But limiting yourself to those attributes doesn't factor in the role of happiness, personal fulfillment and peace of mind.

Here's what I've learned: Blogging success is not about the numbers - whether that includes the number of followers, number of comments or the amount of money pulled in from sponsors. Blogging success is about the loyalty of your readers, whether they continue to come back, and if they establish a relationship with you through regular, thoughtful comments. You can have 20 followers, or 4000, but your success is defined by the relationship they have with your blog. I am fortunate to have an incredibly loyal readership, and their support and regular comments are what make me feel like a success.

Furthermore, if your blog makes you stressed, anxious and pressured, your 4000 readers are meaningless. If you are not receiving personal satisfaction from your blog, you have failed. If your blog doesn't inspire you to produce interesting, engaging content that energizes you, you have failed. And if you're blogging merely to please your readership, you might also consider your blog unsuccessful. 

Although the only true way to define success is to create and meet your own goals, I would argue that tangible goals (such as follower count) only get you so far. A raise at work combined with miserable conditions wouldn't make you happy. So why permit your blogging "numbers" to define your success? Does your blog make you happy? Do it energize you? Does it inspire you? Are your readers loyal and engaged? If you can answer yes to these questions, you are a success.

Now it's your turn: How do you define blogging success? Do you struggle with being too focused on the numbers? Be sure to share what you feel is successful about your blog - we'd love to hear!

Vintage thrifted silk top; vintage thrifted skirt; vintage clutch from Vintage Martini;  Old Navy belt; Miz Mooz wedges; Forever 21 necklace and bracelet; Marc Jacobs watch

Outfit Post: Kiss and make-up - what's your relationship with cosmetics?

Weeks ago, I embarked on a trip to the mall to replace my beloved MAC Viva Glam lipstick (whose loss I lamented here.) I'd planned to breeze into the MAC store, grab my desired lipstick, whip out my debit card, and leave. But somehow, in between my lipstick and the cash register, I got distracted by the glorious display of cosmetics. Oh, pretty pretty eyeshadows! Oh, sparkly lip glosses! And eeew, Lady Gaga's lipstick (which, I'm sorry, looks like foundation, and why in God name would ANYBODY want to slather foundation on their LIPS??) A "helpful" sales associate informed me that I absolutely needed lip liner to accompany my Viva Glam. And as long as I was there, I might as well pick up some foundation - see those little crow's lines around my eyes? And pressed powder would help set the foundation...need that too. And blush, because the foundation made me look kind of washed out. By the time I left I was $120 poorer and so heavily painted I could hardly recognize myself.

Back in January, a study of 3,000 women conducted by Superdrug found that one in three women refuse to go out in public without wearing makeup. As in, they can't even run out to the grocery store or to pick up their kid without makeup on. Nearly half of all women say they prefer to wear cosmetics than to show their bare face. But what's the most shocking of all: one in ten women polled said they would never ever let their partner see them without a full face of makeup on.

Here's some other interesting results of the study:
  • The average woman waits 2.5 months before going makeup-less in front of her partner.
  • 14% of women get out of bed early to put on makeup before their partner wakes up.
  • Six in 10 women will not go to work without makeup.
  • Nearly 25% believe they would be ignored for a promotion if they didn't wear makeup.
  • 37% think their managers would assume they didn’t take care of themselves if they didn't wear makeup.

I was never really into wearing make-up. In high school, when girls  traditionally become infatuated by things like multi-colored eye shadows and bright pink blush, I stuck to the rare swipe of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, preferably in a sugary artificial flavor like bubble gum. In my eyes, cosmetics seemed reserved for grown-up, adult women, the kind that got bi-weekly blow-outs and never, ever had runs in their tights. I was fascinated by these woman, whom I quietly observed during my commute into Manhattan. In their glossy red lipstick, they were utterly sophisticated and glamorous. I imagined they lived in full-floor penthouses and spent their free time perusing antique furniture, drinking espresso and hosting elaborate dinner parties where they ate canapes and discussed surrealistic art.

But there were other women who wore so much makeup that they looked embalmed. One of those was my own mother. Her sharp, spidery lashes, coated by sticky layers of mascara and aggressively contoured cheeks, frightened me. And her cosmetics collection - overflowing bags of shadows and polishes and lipsticks - would have easily classified her as a hoarder. So, in fear of becoming like her, I stuck to my lip gloss. But eventually I married, turned thirty, and started wearing mascara, which was my gateway drug to lipstick, eyeliner and eyeshadow, and finally wound my way to foundation and blush. And now, I am one of those women who will not leave the house without my face on (as my mother was fond of saying.)

Sara Wolverson of Superdrug told the Daily Mail: "For many women, putting their makeup on is animportant part of their day, and the thought of people seeing them without can be horrifying. We know that when it comes to cutting back, cosmetics are seen as an essential. Wearing and buying cosmetics is not about vanity. It’s about giving a woman confidence to succeed in every area of their life."

I confess that in my Nars' Orgasm blush (which I swear I do not buy solely based on name) I feel pretty. Better yet, putting on make-up is a fun activity. I like trying out new lipsticks, and blending eye shadows to create a smoky eye, and experimenting with different colors of liner. The artistry of applying cosmetics is appealing, as is the playing of color and technique. But I don't feel like I have to be "done" all the time, and I certainly don't believe that I'm "horrifying" without my mascara. I have a few Urban Decay shadow palettes, one MAC lipstick, two Maybelline eye liners, a Dior Show mascara, a MAC foundation, and the aforementioned Nars blush, and that's it. Compared to this video featuring a woman in one years' worth of cosmetics, I'm under-performing. 

So what do you think about this study? How much makeup do you wear on a daily basis? When did you start experimenting with cosmetics? Do you regularly leave the house without makeup on? Are you self-conscious without it? 

Thrifted vintage top; thrifted vintage skirt; Michael Kors espadrille platforms; thrifted belt; Charming Charlie bracelets; Forever 21 hoops; Michael Kors rose gold watch

On Sundays I Smile - Week in Review July 24th

On Sundays I take a moment to review the past week and I Smile. I share these moments with you.

This week I learned that one of my favorite vintage stores, Ahab Bowen, is closing. I was sort of heartbroken when I learned this, as the shop was one of the last places to buy well-curated vintage here in Dallas. It was there that I met the the sweetest, most kind-hearted employees, who could always be counted on for honest opinions. And their prices were really fair too. Sniff.

On the plus side, I walked away with two vintage kimonos and six dresses, all from the 1950's and 60's, at half off. I felt kind of dirty when I left, but glad to give some of my money to the shop. It was the least I could do...right?

Earlier this week, I attended a special preview of high-end and couture vintage at Vintage Martini, which was just voted Dallas' best vintage store. Including this cray-cray vintage bolero made from what appeared to be nylon cable ties. Oh...and it's original price was $13,000. Because you just never know when you're going to need a nylon cable tie bolero. Amirite?

This week was also remarkable in that I lost a substantial amount of heart muscle when my laptop crashed. I haven't cried that hard since Denny Duquette died on Grey's Anatomy. May he rest in peace. It was that bad. As a result of my infected laptop, I had a rather unsexy date with a repair guy and a few fetching employees at my local computer store. I get around. Oddly, they must have know I would be dropping by, because they all wore the most attractive uniform of short-sleeve pressed dress shirt, pocket protector, pleated khakis, black socks and white sneakers. It was hot.

Speaking of fetching, here is a woman I literally ran into at the mall. Literally. I was so entranced by her long, flowing hair that I crashed right into her when I went for a Dr. Pepper refill at Chick-Fil-A. This woman encouraged me to make an appointment for a haircut immediately. Not that there's anything wrong with long hair. Or haircuts.

Moving on.

So, you know when you get a craving for something? You're doing something totally mundane and unremarkable, like folding laundry or brushing your teeth or killing your kids on the Wii because hey, you just can, when it hits you. That all-consuming, passionate, if-I-don't-eat-it-right-at-this-moment-I-WILL-DIE feeling? Well, that swept me hard this week. My temptation? Tex-Mex. Oh, glorious Tex-Mex, with your queso and fajitas and guacamole and quesadillas. I am no match for your deliciousness. You win, Tex-Mex. You win.

Now it's your turn: What are some things that made you smile this week? Grab my button (created by Kate of Divergent Musings - HUGE THANKS to Kate!) and blog about your Sunday smiles; share your weekly smiles in the comments; or smile just because it makes you feels good. 

As I'm lounging around my house in my kimono feeling all fancy, feel free to catch up on my posts from the past week:

One big blogger mention this week:
  • Sal, author of Already Pretty, my blogger idol and all around body-acceptance hero, featured my post regarding my stomach confession in her Lovely Links for the week. I'm honored and thrilled to be included. She had some amazing posts in her compilation - be sure to check them out.
As always, thank you for supporting me by following my blog, continuing to leave thoughtful and introspective comments, and dropping by every day. I am so appreciative that you all are here.

If you're visiting my blog for the first time, please think about following me through Google Friend Connect, tweeting with me on Twitter (I'm quite witty on the Twitter, I promise), or becoming a Facebook fan.

Outfit post: My stomach, myself

I was in the fourth grade when I first began hating my stomach.

It all started during a brief foray into the world of ballet. I was ten, just on the cusp of puberty, and approximately as graceful as a toddler. It didn't take long for me to notice how unlike my body was to my classmates, the winsome, delicate creatures who shared the floor. These other girls were whisper-thin visions of grace. They glided. They floated. They were long-limbs and knock-knees and bony elbows and protruding hipbones, pre-adolescent teacher's pets in pastel pink leotards. I wore florescent fuchsia and always had holes in my tights. And, even worse, I had a stomach. A stomach that jutted forward, straining the seams of my leotard. A stomach that tattled on my penchant for soft-serve ice cream cones. A stomach that stared back at me from the dance class mirrors defiantly, taunting me, comparing my tubby body to that of the lean girls around me.

I hated my stomach. I hated it for existing. I hated the fact that I couldn't suck it in. I hated that I couldn't wear crop tops. From then on, my stomach became the source of all my body hatred. This thing, this foreign sycophant-like thing, attached to my body, this thing I could not get rid of despite countless sit-ups. This stomach.

Over the years, as I plowed through puberty and adolescence and womanhood and post-pregnancy, my stomach became the first thing I'd check in the morning, and the last at night. The condition of my stomach defined my mood. If it was flat, I felt elated, confident. If it bulged, I felt defeated. During my darkest days of anorexia, I would lie in bed at night, hands rubbing my hipbones. They jutted forward emphatically, visible underneath my clothes, like two sharp handles. I was proud of those bones. But even then, malnourished and dehydrated and emaciated, my stomach seemed too big. I'd go through boxes of laxatives and diuretics to shrink it, eat minuscule amounts of food to eradicate it, and make it flatter and flatter. It still wasn't enough.

In the last two years, I have gained 30 pounds. This weight gain was necessary to restore my body back to health and reverse the heart damage twenty years of starvation caused. If I was going to live, I needed to gain the weight. And because I made the conscious decision to live, I gained. And, predictably, much of the weight traveled directly to my stomach

Here's the thing I've learned during the course of my recovery: Hating my stomach all those years didn't change a damm thing. I am not destined to have a perfectly flat stomach. I am never going to be one of those long-limb, lean creatures I see in pilates class, striding confidently in their booty shorts and sports bras. If I was going to recover, I had to let myself just be. I needed to accept my body just as it was.

Therapists call this the paradoxical theory of change. According to the Gestalt Therapy Page, “the premise is that one must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move, and…it is difficult or impossible to move without that footing.”

In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense; when I hated my body so much that all I did was focus on changing it, it led me to beat myself up in ways that destroyed the intended effect. But when I started accepting my body as is, it allowed me to show my entire self – including my stomach – kindness and love. Which led to greater self-care.

If you had told me five years ago that I couldn’t change a thing until I fully accepted where I already was, I would have tried to get you some psychiatric help. But today I know better. I know that in my life, change doesn’t come from a place of self-hatred, but rather from a place of self-acceptance.

Rodarte for Target lace dress; Forever 21 lace crop top; Lucky Brand wedges; thrifted vintage bag; Charming Charlie bracelets; Michael Kors rose gold watch

Everybody, Everywhere: Thrifting - Trendy pastime, time-tested addiction

This week, Everybody Everywhere focuses on a special feature regarding thrifting. Imagine my delight when I, thrift queen and author of a 23 part series on shopping for vintage and thrifted clothes, discovered this. Swoon.

I discovered thrifting as a high school student back in the late 80's. Back then, thrifting didn't have the appeal it does now. Shopping at thrift stores was a secret activity, born from necessity. You thrifted because you could not afford to pay retail price for clothes. You didn't brag about it; you didn't bring friends along; and you certainly didn't gloat about your finest score (as I am likely to do.) I was drawn to thrifting because it was a cheap way to buy clothes, and it made me feel unique. I loved knowing I was wearing something no one else had.

There is no doubt that our culture had become much more accepting of thrifting. According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, the industry is growing at a rate of 5 percent a year.
The association estimates that there are 25,000 such stores in the United States. Furthermore, Britt Beemer, the founder and chief executive of America’s Research Group, a consumer behavior research firm, stated that 16 to 18 percent of Americans shop in thrift stores, while 12 to 15 percent visit consignment stores.  Thrifting is so popular that it has it's own Wikipedia page, StumbleUpon category, and an infinite number of blogs devoted to the art of scoring and wearing thrifted items.

The recent popularity of thrifting is most likely due to the tough financial conditions our country has faced in recent years. More people have turned to thrifting since the economic shift, as The New York Times noted back in April of 2008. However, the popularity of the vintage movement has had a certain amount of impact on the thrifting trend as well. The resurgence in the interest of vintage is due mostly to celebrities' desire for the glamorous, classic styles of bygone eras. Julia Roberts' choice to wear a vintage Valentino dress for the 2001 Oscars signaled the love of vintage clothing among celebrities. And since celebrities are today's biggest trendsetters, their support of vintage clothing has also infiltrated the mainstream, encouraging women to consider incorporating vintage clothing into their daily wardrobes.

A key component of the vintage movement is creativity - specifically, the mixing of vintage pieces along with modern-day accessories and garments. It takes thought and planning to wear thrifted clothes without looking as though you're dressed for a theme party. It's a fun, affordable way to play with fashion, and mold it to express your individuality. And it's a great way to exercise your creative muscles.

So thrifting is about affordability, creativity, and personal style. But my favorite reason to thrift is for the adventure. Pulling up to a store always gets my blood pumping, because I have no clue what to expect. Maybe I'll unearth a 1980's peach velour jumpsuit discarded from the set of the Golden Girls. Perhaps a 1940's vintage bathing suit will beckon. I might uncover a selection of vintage hats, or gold lame lounge wear, or vintage sequined blouses. I might leave with armloads of clothes, or nothing at all. I love that moment when I spy an employee rolling out a rack of new-to-me merchandise, and I stalk it like a famished cheetah circles a herd of axis deer. Thrifting makes me unbelievably, gleefully happy.

My entire outfit today (aside from my shoes) is from thrift stores. And I couldn't be more proud. For the other parts of my extensive thrifting 101 series, which covers everything from fashion history to cleaning tips to styling advice, search my blog using the label thrifting 101.

Thrifted vintage Wrangler top; thrifted vintage skirt; vintage Buffalo Exchange bag; Lucky Brand wedges; Dolly Python leather cuff; TIKKR watch; thrifted turquoise and silver bracelet

In defense of failure

Pop quiz: What do these statements have in common?
  • "When I lose twenty pounds, I'll go on vacation."
  • "I'll submit a guest post as soon as my writing improves."
  • "Once I've gotten really great at softball, I'll play on my company team."
  • "I'll confront my mom about her negative comments once I move out/get married/have a baby."
  • "I'll wear a swimsuit in public as soon as I can run a 5K."
  • "Once I reach x number of followers, then I'll know I'm a successful blogger."
Have you guessed? The common thread behind all of these thoughts is both a fear of failure and an all-or-nothing approach to doing things. The core of this thinking is, "I won't do it until I know I can do it perfectly." And, attached to this philosophy, is the fear of failure.

If you follow me on Twitter, you likely heard me bemoan the fact that my computer caught a virus yesterday, rendering it as usable as a cement brick. Dolt that I am, I had neglected to back up my work or save my outfit photos on an external drive, so the pics scheduled for today's post were inaccessible. After much hand-wringing and crying and unleashing a spout of expletives usually reserved for a commute on the New Jersey Turnpike, I decided to skip today's post. What was the point, I wondered, of posting without outfit pics? It would be incomplete. Unfinished. And far from perfect. In my eyes, it would be a failure.

I can't dispute that there are benefits to protecting yourself from the risk of failing. Cautiously approaching situations assures us that we won't look ridiculous or get caught unprepared. But the downside to this is that we avoid trying new things. We obliterate potential opportunities to be creative. The pressure to be "perfect" leaves us tip-toeing around family members or coasting on automatic pilot at work, feeling safe but stuck. By not challenging ourselves, we become complacent and even lazy. We're not as likely to discover new things we're good at or might enjoy. In addition, we're unlikely to learn that we can survive and even learn from failure, or that we don't have to fear failure as much as we do now, because we haven't had much experience dealing with it.

Fiona Lee, psychology and business professor at the University of Michigan, explored which conditions help people experiment with novel ideas. She uncovered an interesting phenomenon. Lee's study concluded that rewarding employees who repeatedly try new things and fail leads to more innovation and more long-term success. Employees grew from their failures, and utilized them into opportunities to be creative.

G.K. Chesterton once said: “Everything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” If something is worth doing, and we don’t have the skill, confidence, or energy we need to do it really well or perfectly, we might as well go ahead and do it poorly, since it’s still worth doing. It’s the worth doing that is key here. I’m not suggesting that we try to fail. This mentality is for the things that are risky, that we’re not great at, but are worth doing despite the possibility of failure.

When we redefine failure as “not trying important things” rather than “not succeeding at important things,” we can set ourselves free to live adventurously. Understanding, and appreciating, the value of an opportunity, and letting it override the fear of failure, might lead to rewards.

In the end, I've decided to post without outfit pics. I'm using my home computer, and as I had saved my work through Blogger, am able to blog as scheduled. Is it "perfect"? No. But learning to work around my failure will make me more resilient and adaptable. And, in the end, that's worth far more than a perfect post.

How have you worked with the risk of failure? Does the thought of failure scare you into avoiding certain tasks or activities? Have you ever worked through a fear of being less than perfect or failing, and found positive results?

Outfit Post: On self-awareness and being different

I am child of New York City. I rode the subway alone when I was fourteen. I know the difference between a bialey and a bagel. I can hail a cab in the rain like no one's business. And I'm a master at the fast walk without looking anyone in the eye because I'm very very very important, I have important places to go, can't you see how IMPORTANT I AM?

In the New York City of my adolescence, oddball and eccentric behavior was both welcomed and encouraged. I thought nothing of wearing neon fishnets under my ripped jeans and layering Catholic schoolgirl skirts with vintage lace blouses, leggings and Doc Martins. Conformity was a four-letter word, a disease best left to adults, or those that had the unfortunate condition of living in the (gasp!) suburbs.

And now, at 37, I live in the suburbs. I am nothing like my housewife neighbors, with their bedazzled capris and designer bags and bleached hair and penchant for gardening and sharing recipes and hosting Southern Living kitchenware parties. I stand out. I have bright red hair and an affinity for wearing vintage sequins while fetching my dry cleaning. I am pale, refusing daily trips to the tanning salon. Instead of scrapbooking and organizing neighborhood potlucks, I skulk around thrift stores. And I have many, many visible tattoos. I get looks when I venture into my suburban neighborhood - second glances, curious side-eye, or blatant, outright staring. And the majority of this eye contact isn't exactly friendly. A trip with my kids to the mall yesterday resulted in so much staring that I felt embarrassed, even ashamed, by the time I left.

It takes considerable courage to be different. Of course, being different extends far beyond what you chose to wear, or whether you have tattoos. Being different means embracing the opportunity to chose where your heart leads you. It can also include the freedom to start doing what you love, following the things you are interested in, and discovering the things you've always wanted to find. 

When I got home from the mall, I jumped on the computer to try and figure out others handled being different. I found that the key to embracing your uniqueness, the things that make you different, is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means being loving and happy with whom you are NOW. It is an agreement with yourself to appreciate, validate, accept and support who you are, even those parts you’d like to eventually change. Self-acceptance is the willingness to embrace all the things about you that make you different, regardless of how you might compare to others.

When you lack self-acceptance, you’re more likely to struggle with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and problems in relationships. The refusal to love and accept yourself might lead you to believe that you’re not rich enough, beautiful enough, loved enough, lucky enough, or successful enough. It might lead you to doubt who you are, and entice you into conformity.

Being different may set the stage for a lifetime of side-eye. But it's what makes you, you. You should be different. If there weren't people different from you, you would not be an individual.

So what makes you different? What are your quirks? Have you ever faced criticism for being different? Do you enjoy feeling different, or are you more comfortable blending in? Leave a comment, and share the things that make you different here!

Thrifted The Limited silk blouse; Gap bra; thrifted Escada skirt; Lucky Brand wedges; TIKKR watch, Charming Charlie bracelets

Outfit Post: Why fat is not a feeling

The other day my husband and I found ourselves in a rip-roaring fight on the phone. He said hurtful things; I countered back with a few digs of my own. Eventually, we realized our fight was getting us nowhere, and we hung up.

Later that evening, as I sat working on a blog post and chewing on the argument, I began to ruminate on everything Id eaten that day. Suddenly, I could feel my thighs expand. My stomach felt bloated and bulging. And my arms, oh good God, how could I have worn a sleeveless shirt with flabby arms like these? I am so, so fat, I decided. I feel fat and gross and disgusting and OH GOD I FEEL TOO FAT TO EVER LEAVE THE HOUSE AGAIN.

I find myself thinking "I feel fat" at least a few times a week. After a twenty battle-year with an eating disorder, my self-esteem is pretty much welded to my body image. When I feel good about myself, when I like who I am, I feel “skinny”. When I make a mistake, when I’m not 100% perfect, I feel “fat”.

Do you ever wonder why it is that you can wake up feeling good about your appearance, but by the end of the day feel certain that you have gained twenty pounds? Sometimes it doesn’t even take all day for the shift in mindset - it can seem to happen in an instant. But usually there's a precipitating event, something that triggered such self-critical thoughts about your body.

One explanation for our reliance on "I feel fat" is that we might not know how to identify feelings other than “fat.”Our culture discourages us from complaining, or otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of our lives other than our body image. Because of this we may not be comfortable identifying and articulating our feelings. Considering that we learn at a young age that complaining about our bodies is socially acceptable and even encouraged, we may not have a lot of practice identifying feelings other than "fat."

Dr. Stacy Nye a specialist in the field of eating disorders describes this, “Saying I feel fat can often be a common denominator for a variety of powerful forces, especially dysphoric moods.”(Dysphoric = an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease.) “The problem comes when a person is unable to decipher these moods and they get condensed into a final common denominator – feeling fat” Says Dr. Nye.

In addition, we might have been so unhappy about our appearance for so long that we see it as the cause of all problems. The explanation for the state of our life might be, "Of course I'm unhappy - I'm so fat." Body dissatisfaction becomes the explanation for the problems in our lives. Though destructive, this narrative may be rooted in an attempt at self-preservation. Our psyches tend to steer us toward things we can tolerate, and away from those which are messy, overwhelming, or threatening. Proclaiming "I feel fat" becomes so routine, so part of our daily monologue, that we aren't even aware of how often we say it.

When I find myself stewing in negative vitriol about my body, I try to step back and take stock. What am I really feeling? Could there be more going on than dissatisfaction with my body? Has something happened to agitate me?

How often do you find yourself complaining that you "feel fat"? Do you find yourself using these words after a stressful event? Or is "I feel fat" part of your routine, everyday dialogue?

Thrifted white sleeveless top; thrifted vintage skirt; Old Navy flip flops; Buffalo Exchange vintage bag; Dolly Python leather cuff

On Sundays I Smile - Week in review July 17th

On Sundays I take a moment to review the past week, and I Smile. I share these moments with you.

I present to you a sandwich that will change your life. Seriously. I'm not one to get passionate about food, but this delectable bite inspires me to write sonnets and paint watercolors and compose maudlin lyrics and prostrate myself on the restaurant floor. It's the club sandwich from Corner Market in the little town of Lakewood, near Dallas. Composed of homemade wheatberry bread, turkey, bacon, avocado, buttermilk mayo and sprouts, this sandwich seduces me into driving 30 minutes to order. It's that good.

And, to entice me even further, attached to Corner Market is a little cupcake shop called Society Bakery, which offers the best cupcakes in the city (and perhaps the world.) Essentially, my message in posting these pics is drive down to Lakewood, gain 10 pounds, and leave blissfully satisfied.

This is a $3.49 Versace yellow body-con dress. This dress literally made me jump up and down when I excavated it from the rack at my favorite thrift store. This is a dress I hugged close to my body (thrift store mustiness be dammed). This is a dress that caused me to emotionally high-five nearly every person that walked past. This is a dress I'm not sure I have the nerve to wear, but I'm hopeful I'll get over that.

Moving on.

I am not known for my gardening skills. As a matter of fact. I hate to garden. I despise getting dirty and sweaty and bugs just aren't my thing and even when, in an act of courage, I buy a potted plant, I manage to kill it. Or it commits suicide, I'm not sure which. So imagine my fear when we discovered our house has a peach tree in our side yard. This tree produces the sweetest, most delicious peaches I've ever eaten in my life. And doesn't require any work at all, aside from a spray with a hose every day. And even I can manage that.

Last night the family and I went to possibly the most country restaurant I've ever set foot in, The Trail Dust Steakhouse. There were scalped ties cut from people who dared to think this was a fancy establishment.There was an open-pit grill. There was a dance floor and live band playing country music. There were people wearing cowboy boots and hats and overalls and  ginormous belt buckles and not in a costumey Halloween way, but in a these-here-are-my-special-going-out-dancing-clothes - y'all way.

Now it's your turn: What are some things that made you smile this week? Grab my button
(created by Kate of Divergent Musings - HUGE THANKS to Kate!) and blog about your Sunday smiles; share your weekly smiles in the comments; or smile just because it makes you feels good.

As I'm nursing my heartburn from last night's dinner, here's what went down on Dress With Courage this week:

I had one major blog accomplishment this week:

  • Sal, author of Already Pretty and all-around blogging goddess, included my post on aspirational-sized clothing in her Lovely Links. This is a such an honor.
Thank you for supporting me by following my blog, continuing to leave thoughtful and introspective comments, and dropping by every day. I am so appreciative that you all are here.

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