This website is supposed to be about chronicling our adventures in remote Alaska. This particular blog, however, is about an inward venture. I won’t be detailing a near-close encounter with a bear, or telling about how I survived a four-wheeler crash in the frozen lake. This adventure is more poignant than thrilling. It’s about an inner journey I have experienced since moving here. It didn’t happen all at once, but, instead, has been a succession of small moments that have rolled into one giant “ah ha” moment where I’ve pieced it all together and discovered something about myself that I never even set out to learn. At the crux of it all? Feeling pretty.
To some, especially members of the opposite sex, the concept of “feeling pretty” might seem trivial or even silly, but, to a lot of women, feeling pretty is an essential part of a network of complicated layers that make up the full labyrinth of what it means to be fully feminine. To be fair, the concept of “feeling pretty” is different for every woman. For some, it might mean the simple experience of having a fresh shower, clean skin, hair and nails. For others, “feeling pretty” might mean wearing makeup or new clothes. And, still others might require more advanced techniques like tanning, teeth whitening, manicures & pedicures, hair color, Botox, or even plastic surgery.
I’m not necessarily talking about vanity here. More simply, I’m defining how specific things make a woman feel good about herself. It’s a little different from self-esteem which remains somewhat constant over a long period of time. “Feeling pretty” is a roller coaster of ups and downs that women try hard to maintain on the upswing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “feeling pretty” as I have had to pick and choose what few basic things I require to maintain my positive well-being.
As I prepared for the transition to live remotely in Alaska, I knew that I would have limited access to things that for as long as I can remember have been part of my regular routine of things that make me feel pretty. Some things that I have given up were easier than others. Some things I freely relinquished, like painting my fingernails. Other things which I thought I couldn’t live without took some time, but I have let go of them. Others I have fought tooth and nail to keep.
When I lived in the lower 48, and worked a full-time job, I was able to go to the hair salon, tan, workout at a gym, shop for new clothes, and eat an abundance of healthy foods. In remote Alaska, I have had to learn to do without most of these in some kind of way. I had grown accustomed to the way all of these things worked together to make me “feel pretty”and healthy. (For me, feeling “healthy” is something that feeds into my psyche of feeling pretty.) What I have learned is that the common denominator in things that make me feel pretty is one thing: an endorphin boost. So, how would I get my endorphin fix in my little cabin on on the lake?
To be truthful, some of the items on my list could be acquired in our small town of Haines, or through a short 30 minute plane ride to Juneau. But, we came to this lake to live a different kind of life, and without the regular monthly salary that comes with a regular, full-time job, the funds don’t exist for “extravagances.”
Since shopping for new clothes or slipping on something brand new can give many women that endorphin high, I have resorted to periodically “going shopping” in Nate’s closet. Even though his warm up pants and flannel shirts are a little too big for me, I’m amazed at how rejuvenating just putting on something different can make me feel.
I have purchase a total of THREE new articles of clothing in the last 18 months: 2 pairs of leggings, and 1 shirt. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to get used to. Most of the clothes I owned before moving here are still packed in boxes in our attic. Skirts and high heels don’t work well here. My daily attire is heavy-duty work pants with leggings underneath, layered shirts, and slip-on, rugged boots. To be certain, it’s hard to feel pretty in this outfit, which is why I am a big fan of lip gloss.
Several years ago, I read an article about a young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was scheduled to have a double-mastectomy. On the morning of her surgery, her anxiety was very high, and one of the few things that brought her comfort was putting on lipstick. To her, this was a way of being able to maintain her femininity, amidst the assault on her womanhood. Although I have never had to survive such an ordeal, I do know firsthand how beautiful lip gloss can make you feel.
I wear makeup everyday, but I’ve discovered that I could probably do without all of it–everything except mascara and lip gloss, of course. My hair has been more of a challenge. When I lived in the lower 48, I went to the hair salon every six weeks, spending about $200 each time. Not only is that figure not part of our Alaska budget, but the nearest location to have such a service completed would be in Juneau, which would require $240 in roundtrip airfare and about another $200 for overnight accommodations and incidentals, in addition to the fee for the salon service. I did this trip once, last year, and in the end, decided it was too cumbersome, too expensive, and a waste of 3 days. I’ve opted instead to do my hair at home, by myself, with a box of L’oreal hair color. It costs me about $13. My hair doesn’t look as great as I think it used to, but I’m happy that I can maintain it myself, and I’ve learned to live with it.
My hair is naturally wavy and unruly, so my hair dryer and curling iron are a necessity. Both of these appliances require a lot of energy usage, more than our solar panels generate. So, to use either one of these tools requires the use of our generators (and, gasoline!) I try to only use my hair dryer once every 2-3 days, but the curling iron is needed daily, if not more than once a day if I wear my hair down. Needless to say, there are lots of days when I have learned to be happy with my hair up in a pony tail, or wearing a hat.
I very rarely wear jewelry any more. I have never taken off my wedding ring, but I’ve learned that jewelry, especially earrings, are not suited well for this climate or lifestyle. In the frigid temperatures of winter, wearing jewelry is like putting a piece of frozen pipe on your bare skin, no thank you. When working outside, you also don’t want anything that could get tangled up in a piece of machinery or an earring that could get caught on something and rip your earlobe off. Jewelry does, however, have a way of making me “feel pretty”, so sometimes when we take an overnight trip to Haines or to Canada, I will pack a pair of earrings and some bracelets. When I put them on, because I haven’t worn them in so long, I feel like an egyptian princess, or a little girl playing dress up. It makes me laugh to think about how such little things can make me feel so magical.
I miss having a beautiful bronze glow on my skin in the summer. Getting sun-tanned has been a challenge in Alaska, since the sun hid from us most days this summer, and it’s not convenient to go to the one tanning bed that’s available in town on the days when we are there. Happily, Nate knows how much the sun makes me feel beautiful, so on the dozen or so sunny days that we had, he encouraged me to spend the afternoon on our sundeck, which I did. I got enough of a base color that I felt glowing.
The one thing I have been able to keep up which gives me the ultimate best endorphin high is exercise. Now, I don’t mean taking a walk or a hike. I don’t even count working on our property as exercise. To me, an exercise “high” comes only from being breathless for about an hour. Whenever I work out hard enough that I am gasping for air, I have an incredible sense of euphoria afterwards that ultimately feeds my “feeling pretty” emotions. Before working out, I can look at my face in the mirror and decide that I need Botox or a facelift; however, after sweating for an hour, I can look in the mirror and be extremely content, even happy with the skin on my face. I don’t know if it’s the endorphine high clouding my eyesight, or if the extended perspiration on my skin improves its elasticity, or maybe it’s a combination of both of these things. The one thing I do know: I look better after a workout. I also feel better.
Even though I have incorporated hour-long workouts into my daily routine, I do miss a lot of the specific equipment at the gym. Without access to a leg extension machine, inner/outer thigh machine, and a smith machine, it’s more of a challenge to build or sculpt specific areas. I have learned to improvise and be more creative with free weights. I also do more full-body workouts which are probably healthier for me anyways. I alternate weight training with cardio and plyometric DVD’s. I am also diligent about getting a run in every time we venture to town. This can be challenging, but it helps me keep my workouts balanced. It’s not convenient to get in a 5-8 mile run on the way into town, then try to “washcloth” shower in the bathroom at the library, and spend the rest of the day in town feeling dirty and spent, but I’ve come to accept that the emotional rewards are greater for me than this little bit of discomfort.
In our little cabin, we only have two mirrors. One is a half mirror that is in the bathroom where the lighting is not very good. The other one is full-length, but it is also in a dark area, propped up against a wall where you naturally don’t walk in front of it, so you have to go out of your way to see yourself in it (or not see yourself because there’s no light there!) Mirrors lie anyways, right? I read a story of a lady who had a near death experience and she talked about her spirit/soul coming out of her body and looking back at her physical body. She described being surprised by her own beauty. It was the first time she had seen herself in 3-D. I read another story about a woman who decided not to wear makeup or look at herself in the mirror for a full year. She concentrated her efforts on things that made her feel good, like taking yoga classes and eating healthy foods. She said during that year she never felt more beautiful, and people regularly commented on how her face “glowed”. She had more men ask her on dates than at any other time in her life.
What I have learned through all of this is sort of cliché: what makes us feel pretty is what comes from the inside…the adrenaline and endorphin rush that comes from things like working out, and feeling happy and content with your life— all of which shows on your face. I notice the lines on my forehead, in between my eyebrows, and around my mouth are more pronounced when I am sad or stressed. But, when I am at peace, the lines seem either like they turn upward, or their lose their depth. I’ve learned that feeling beautiful is a state of mind. They say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but I believe that true beauty begins in the mind and spirit behind the face, not in front of it. Making your eyes or your skin glow is something that comes from treating your body well, feeding your soul, being gentle with yourself, loving others, feeling peace, and finding joy in simple things.