Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Impossible Man

This morning as I was driving to work, it struck me: I want an impossible man. I want a man bursting with confidence, the kind of man who really gets things done, a driven, decisive, executive sort; someone, I suppose, who would not only complement me but also exceed me in the things I already do and like to do. This might look something like Mr. Command Man from this list. My friends have told me that someone like this would be ideal, and until now I never questioned it.

I realized, however, the problem is that I also want a man who is sensitive to my needs, who truly cares and will put me first, and who enjoys listening and responding to me on a personal rather than objective level. So far, this is unsurprising--I am a woman, after all. What is surprising, though, is my revelation that the two qualities may not be reconcilable in one person. How can a man be primarily dominant and hard-hitting as well as gentle and loving? Which one do I really want?

In my morning muddle, I looked to real-life examples of men I have known and admired. My father, for instance, does not really go for the jugular, either in business or personal situations. Perhaps because of his height and confident demeanor, he seems like he would be one of your ruthless, executive types, but he's really a lamb in wolf's clothing. In college, I was most drawn not to the professors who would assault the students with the material as if it were a sledgehammer or a nasty surprise round the corner, but rather to the professors who really cared most about my learning and about me as a person. My first professor "crush" was not on the hotshot philosophy professor whom everyone found so dreamy, but instead on one of the more unassuming and humble teachers. Finally, in my work life, I've been blessed to have two bosses who really exhibit an effective servant leadership. The first one definitely was not a commanding personality type, and he was a real joy to work for, as his understated style gave me to focus on the positive rather than negative aspects of the task at hand; on the other hand, my current boss unwittingly fills others' lives with stress with his imperatives. I like him, and can deal with it, but at the same time it's nice to go home at the end of the day.

I skirt the dangers of making a false dichotomy. Nevertheless, it seems that if you are going to live with and be married to a man who is always out conquering the world, you must be prepared to make some sacrifices. This guy will not be home a lot. He will be too tired to remember to bring you flowers. Perhaps the real question to ask is whether I want someone who will make that big of an impact on visible realities. Do I want the man whom people will see as the obvious leader and shaper of things in the world? Or do I want the man who, while doing his best in the world of work and play, fundamentally realizes that the most important things he does are in the spiritual and personal realms? It is a rare man indeed who can embrace his vocation to be a man in every sense, not shirking, shrinking, or deferring unnecessarily; while at the same time realizing that this work he puts himself into so fully is but straw, even on the level of the work to be done in this life, compared to the work of loving and bringing souls to Love. It is difficult to imagine, but as the Angel Gabriel proclaimed to Our Lady, "No word shall be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It seems there are two levels of friendship. One kind of friend accepts you as you are. This friend reaches out to you and makes no demands of change on your personality. Oftentimes, this will be a person you have known for a long time, such that you feel comfortable being who you are in your interactions with the other, though only to a point. Somehow, despite the mutual affirmation, there is a barrier that prevents the friendship from ever seeming full or round. This may not be due to a fault in either party; nevertheless, it remains the case that circumstances only allow them this type of connection.

On the other hand, the second level of friendship involves a stretching. While remaining very comfortable with this friend, at the same time you cannot remain static in your personality in order for the friendship to bear fruit. This does not mean that the friendship demands that you change who you are (that would make it no kind of friendship at all), but rather that the friendship does not allow you to grow complacent with yourself. In a way, your friend reaches out to you not simply where you are right now but also where you are going to be. This friend will accept your current state, and in fact accept it all the more deeply because of its orientation towards the future. At the same time, however, and without conscious effort, your friend encourages and challenges you to become a better and fuller you. Another aspect of this second kind of friendship is that the dynamism is mutual: one is not stretched more than another, but both grow in innumerable and complementary ways. Indeed, all friendship requires a growth in charity, yet the second kind sounds almost to the depths of the two friends' hearts. To use a common expression, the two "grow together"--and continue growing. The gift of this friendship is immeasurably valuable and necessary to us as we journey towards our true end.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Weight Question

Let me start by stating the obvious: this is a very sensitive issue! It's so sensitive, in fact, that it becomes a bit of a problem to decide what to say and what not to say on the question of what we should do about what we weigh. I think a couple first principles will come in handy here:

1. You are beautiful. This axiom comes first because it is most fundamental. You have to understand it before you continuing this discussion. That means, if you have an eating disorder of any kind, you need to stop reading now. I mean it. Go back to square one, look in the mirror, and realize you are beautiful.

2. Your health is more important than what you weigh. Stop tuning this statement out. I know we hear it over and over, but does it really sink in or do we just pass over it with a perfunctory mental "of course"? In fact, this key principle is very much tied into the first principle (you are beautiful), because after realizing your beauty and goodness your response should be a healthy love for your body, which implies certain demands. If you just want to lose weight to look more attractive, without regard to your ultimate state of health and vigor, you are a shallow person! You need to be willing to make legitimate changes to your diet in order to improve your health.

Having mastered these two principles perfectly, we are now ready to move on to some particular questions:

Do I Look Fat?

Yes. The answer is always yes to the person who's asking. If you are looking for fat on your body, chances are you can find it. It seems twisted, but even the thinnest people don't complain about being too thin--they claim to see fat somewhere on their slight and emaciated frames! So, the experience of feeling fat is universal. Moreover, it's also completely irrelevant. I say it is irrelevant because it is an emotional reaction. If you want to change something about yourself, you won't be able to do it based on emotional outbursts: your wahhhh, I'm faaaat feeling won't see you through daily jogs or cutting back on portions. Rather, you do it based on objective analysis and positive planning.

How Much Should I Weigh?

After careful analysis and research on the subject, the consensus is that the perfect weight for all women is 124.5 lbs.

. . . no!!!!!!!!!!!!! There is no number. It is entirely relative. I'm sure we all know that 140 lbs on one woman can look completely different on another woman, even if their respective heights are similar. Obviously, there are all different kinds of body types so that it is impossible to come up with an ideal weight. Scales are useless. I'm also not going to tell you to go to a doctor if you are perfectly healthy with no medical conditions--what a waste of time! Frankly, I don't know what you should weigh; it's something you are going to have to decide. You will find, however, that if you come up with an unrealistic number, the scale will become even more useless than it already is. If you want a general guide, try a Body Mass Index Calculator. If you come up as within normal weight, you really don't have to lose any weight at all if you don't want to, so don't worry about it and just keep principle #2 in mind.

How Can I Lose Some Weight for the Christmas Holiday?

Ok, now that we have gotten the boring stuff out of the way, this is the part where I get to subject you to my Magical Weight Loss Tips for Instant Success and Complete Insanity!

  • Exercise! Just do something, it doesn't matter what. I read a tip today that said to park at the farthest spot at work and at the grocery store to make yourself walk more. Whatever you do, don't make it nothing.
  • No Sugar. It all depends how much you want it. If you really do want to lose some weight, this will work: just don't eat any refined sugar at all for a month. It's a good discipline, too. See if you can make it work.
  • Drink Water Only. Self-explanatory.
  • Laugh more. Laughing works an incredibly important muscle in the inner stomach that causes swifter food digestion and processing leading to immediate leanness in the entire lower body. Highly recommended.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains make you happy. Seriously, the wonderful thing about whole grains is that they really are good for your digestive system, providing needed fiber that works almost as well as laughter. Plus, they feel more satisfying than refined grains, so that you don't need to eat as much.
  • Eat first more, then less. No one is going to lose weight if he does not eat breakfast. So if you don't eat breakfast, you're going to have to start out by adding this meal--eating more. Then, try to eat smaller portions at your other meals; don't have seconds--eat less.
  • Don't eat out. Making your own meals is a modern necessity. I have found no good way to eat out without eating too much, except to go to nicer, more expensive restaurants that have small portions. Even then, though, dessert can be so tempting. The best thing is to avoid restaurants altogether. If you have to eat out, try your best only to eat half of your entree and box up the other half. I usually fail at this, but it's worth a shot.

All this is not rocket science, but to many of us it's way more important and pertinent. :-) I don't know how to show people how to eat healthy foods. People often remark that my meals look healthy and good. My advice is just not to eat junk and gross foods (see list below). I don't want to focus overly on the negative, but it often does happen that once you cut certain foods you end up replacing them with healthy alternatives. Start craving your veggies.

Junk and Gross Foods
French fries
Soft drink
Pork rinds
Chicken-fried steak
Deep-fried Twinkies
Root beer float
Chips that leave colored powder on your fingers
Potato chips
Whipped topping
Things that come in boxes from the cookie aisle
Frosted cake

That's the end.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A lady should never diminish her confidence and sparkle for a man, nor for any other reason. For some, this principle need not be stated. Many women, however, find it a struggle to maintain their confidence amid difficult situations and emotional pulls. Confidence indeed is an elusive quality. You cannot gain it by trickery or by a handy mnemonic device (believe me, I've tried!). Nevertheless, confidence is a quality most central to our feminine vocation.

We can never stand still--we either progress in our lives or regress. For that reason, ladies must pay special attention to their own dignity and important role. A friend of mine remarked, "I'm so sick of all those femininity talks; all they do is say, 'You're a woman, yay!'" While it is true that we have to be careful to keep our reflections on femininity taut and to-the-point, at the same time there's a real sense in which repeated affirmation does help us. We need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how lovely and wonderful we really are. Of course, this means seeing ourselves from God's perspective, a difficult task.

Once we have that vision, however, confidence follows. Confidence follows from prayer. Even if we could have confidence without God, it would be vain. We would rush to build and to preserve vain things. We would easily be trapped in pride of material possessions and physical beauty. This is not true confidence. Confidence means to confide, to confide in God. From Psalm 83 we read, Beatus homo, qui sperat in te--blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.

Coming back to how we live out confidence, we can remember that we are not frustrated. At some point, everyone feels a bit frustrated. When this happens, we see that some people are ready to play to our weaknesses. We must resist these people--true friends play to our strengths--and pray for them as well as for ourselves. Confidence is all about retaining control: not control of a situation, for that is almost always impossible, but self-control. To stay confident, simply keep in mind these words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." You have been given the abilities to enact beauty, to bring peace, to shower love; these tools are at your disposal at every moment, like arrows in the archer's quiver. Once you realize your gifted power, and live and breathe as God's precious one, you can exude the confidence that will make God and man alike smile for joy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ladies' Dress: The Color Spectrum

In this last of a three-part series on dressing not just with dignity but with downright beauty, we come to the most difficult topic of the three: color. I find it difficult to talk about color and matching because even up to a few years ago I still found myself struggling to resist the urge to wear colors that I knew didn't match. I don't think I'm the only one, though a lot of fortunate young ladies learn at an earlier age. It's almost like the moral life: first you learn what is right and wrong, and then you have to train your will to become sensitive to the least wrong thing.

The Color Spectrum

One of my co-workers believes that extremes serve well to illustrate a point, so I will begin with something tacky:

If you see nothing wrong with this combination of colors, please do not read on. The rest will not make sense. I want to give some hard and fast rules so that, not only clothes, but also other things in your life will not look inharmonious in hue.

Rule #1: Do not wear different pieces that are very similar in shade but do not match exactly.

I think 90% of color ugliness could be eliminated by adherence to this principle. (In fact, one of the main problems with the ensemble above is that it violates this rule.) I want to be clear: I am not saying that you can't wear light green with dark green or lavender with purple. I am saying that if you are considering pairing a pair of mid-range green checked pants with a mid-range green blouse that is not the exact same shade--and that generally means the two pieces are different brand names--don't do it! Wear a neutral instead. Examine this color wheel:

Neutral colors are those not found on our color wheel: black, gray, brown, navy, khaki, beige, silver, and white. What I'm saying in this rule is not to wear two shades that touch on one spoke. For example, the two outermost yellow shades or the two innermost violet shades. They may look good as a spectrum, but we must learn to avoid looking like a spectrum!

Rule #2: Do not pair two different bold, dramatic colors.

You will just look better all around if you follow this rule. If you wear a vivid purple top and a kelly green skirt, these two colors will technically match, because they are opposites on the color spectrum (see wheel above). Nevertheless, all that color is a bit hard on the eye. For that reason, we don't wear colors from two different spokes that are on one of the two middle grades of the wheel. This rule does not generally apply to pastels or to dark, wintry shades. Here is one tough case:

Rule #3: Do not wear too many different colors.

When I say don't wear too many different colors, I want to focus especially on limiting the use of non-neutral colors. It's usually a good idea to pair non-neutral and neutral colors rather than using all color spectrum shades (on the other hand, a tasteful outfit can consist entirely of neutral colored pieces). Perhaps three could be our perfect number here: for an outfit, do two non-neutral pieces and one neutral or two neutrals and one non-neutral--or just three neutral colors. All things in moderation. This brings up a question: what if I'm wearing a blouse, skirt, or dress with a multi-colored pattern? It's always safer to pair with a neutral! You may wear a color but it must match the pattern fairly exactly; but for heaven's sake, don't ever wear another pattern! You will not go astray by following these guidelines, but by defying my advice you may end up like the unfortunate people below:

Rule #4: Wear colors that look good on you.

This rule is so important, it could have been placed first. Each of us has our own particular skin tone, hair color, and eye color which makes the range of colors that look becoming on us unique. There is a well-known "seasons" classification that you can use as a guideline of what colors look best on you: here's a straightforward guide. Apart from that, a little artistic vision and psychology can help you find out even more quickly. You already probably favor the colors that look good on you and avoid the ones that don't, because when you wear the latter shades you look at yourself in the mirror and think, "Eh, not quite." This is your natural artistic vision. Also, your motivation to wear certain other shades might be that you have received compliments when you wear those colors--these compliments reinforce your psychological feeling in favor of those colors. All you have to do, then, is tap into that sensitivity to continue wearing the hues that you feel good about and shunning the undesired colors. Here is an example of an autumn-toned ensemble:

That's just about all the rules and advice I have on color. Of course, no rule is an absolute. Nevertheless, as with English grammar, you have to know the rules very, very well before you dare to break them. Working within some guidelines actually makes choosing outfits easier and faster. I hope this series has been helpful, and feel free to comment for more discussion!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ladies Dress: Texture Recognition

In part two of my three-part series, I will talk about the importance of texture in addition to shape and how to recognize appropriate textures.

Texture Recognition

For the most part, the discussion of texture relates to making the fabrics in an outfit harmonize with each other in order to achieve a beautiful effect (though I have come across a discussion linking fabric texture and modesty, I don't think you can make an argument that certain textures are inherently immodest). Usually, you don't have to worry about texture if you choose a dress or suit with only one type of fabric, as shown above. There are exceptions, however . . .

Granted, this dress has shape problems as well, but the point is that some textures are just not going to look fitting for an entire outfit. Another example is that feathers, except as a costume, do not achieve a serious effect:

Now, one might think that recognition of the texture of clothes relates to the sense of touch. Actually, the feel of the fabric is largely irrelevant. What matters, as always, is how it LOOKS. Congruity is the main point. That doesn't mean you can't experiment with textures, though. Sometimes a bit of texture will make a gown exquisite:

Generally, we know that silks, satins, sequins, and chiffons go together: we see them ubiquitously on formal wear. What about more everyday choices? Again, the textures must harmonize. Here's an example of a slightly incongruous fabric pairing:

Yes, the colors and shape aren't the greatest either, but what makes it look especially odd is the heavy textured dress against the silk printed blouse. Are there hard and fast rules in this area? Probably not. Nevertheless, you can develop a sense of it from the bad cases. I just can't resist giving you another texture nightmare:

Resist dressing in rafia and popsicle sticks! Other than that, don't be afraid to be creative. Maybe a couple general rules could be not to pair two "loud" or heavy/prominent fabrics with each other and not to pair a more formal with a more casual fabric--like cotton jersey with chiffon, for instance. In these cases, I'm talking about the two main fabrics used for an ensemble; oftentimes, an accessory or accent in an oddball or not strictly matching fabric (maybe even feathers, who knows!) may work. For ideas, you can look at reliable catalogs or online shopping sites. This one and the one at the top of the post come from j jill:

As you can tell, the suggestion of texture does a lot for overall effect. Whether soft, smooth, shiny, nubbly, lacy--one can't ignore the textural quality of the fabrics of dress. Here is a final example that brings together shape and texture with very appealing results:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ladies' Dress: Spatial Reasoning

In this first segment of a three-part series, I hope to get the creative and analytical juices flowing with one of my new favorite topics: how to dress! I truly believe that it's not rocket science, but it does take some thought. Specifically, an analysis of the knowledge necessary to dress well reveals three primary factors: Spatial Reasoning, Texture Recognition, and the Color Spectrum.

Spatial Reasoning

The first kind of knowledge you have to have to dress well is spatial reasoning. You have to know what fits where, and to know this you have to know the nature of the thing you're dealing with: the female body. The shape of a woman's body is a unique one; thus, the dress used to ornament such a shape must harmonize with its underlying structure. That is, a woman is not a rectangle:

She is not an oval or blob shape either:

Finally, though having natural curves, a woman's body does not have bulbous growths:

Sorry for the immodesty of that last picture, but that brings up the point that, once we recognize the basics of our body shape, we also have to recognize that dress serves to camouflage a bit as well as to reflect reality. It basically covers up but this cover has to be in keeping with the thing. Luckily we don't have to start from ground zero, because the earliest forms of dress necessarily had more to do with function than anything. We can use traditions of dress to find out what shapes really work to highlight natural beauty.

By now, you are probably asking, what are the concrete rules of this spatial reasoning game? Well, rule number one has got to be that the shape should draw the eye to the face. This is because the face, especially with the eyes, is the window to the soul. There are various ways to do this, and you can experiment for yourself what works. It can be anything from this

to this

Rule two is that your waist should look smaller than your hips, because that's how it really is. The two above dresses are also good examples of that. Why, one might ask, are we trying to end up looking like a triangle from waist to ground, when we are not really shaped like triangles? Well, the triangle shape is one expression of dress that goes in at the waist, but you can also use tailored, straight skirts to achieve the same effect. It's also important to remember that the rule does not work in the same way for everyone--one person might emphasize the waist by wearing full skirts that come in at the waist, while for another it might be more effective to wear a straight skirt with a tailored blouse. Again, this is where experimentation comes in.

Finally, as a third rule, dresses should not be too short--and not only for reasons of modesty. Too-short clothes result in the strange shapes seen on the models above. It's hard to create smooth, clean lines without a space to work with. Some dresses I look at in stores just seem abridged: I wish there were more to them. For thin people, they also emphasize the legs in a way that can make them seem boyish. For not so thin people, it's just a bad idea all around. Here's a reasonable, mid-length dress that bridges the gap:

There's a lot more that could be said, and the discussion can definitely become a lot more particular, but I hope these are some good starting points to muse upon. Basically, I think a lot of fashion designers out there don't exercise responsible spatial reasoning when it comes to the female form, and I think it's something we should be cognizant of in our attempts to look beautiful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Creative Genius

An important aspect to the feminine character is our need to create. All people have the impulse to participate in God's creative work, but women desire not just to make something new but to make something beautiful. Throughout the ages, women have put their talents to good use in making clothes, accessories, and objects for the home. Now, however, we see a crisis in which shopping rather than crafting is the default expression of our urge for loveliness. There are entire stores built on this principle alone: it would never occur to men to shop here!

Nevertheless, along with men, we do want the satisfaction of making something with our own hands, of producing out of a lesser form something greater and more perfect. And it's not simply our desire but our duty that we carry this out. This doesn't mean that anything we make must be solely ornamental, nor does it mean that all women are called to be exceptional seamstresses, knitters, painters, upholsterers, sculpters, embroiderers, beaders, spinners, crocheters, quilters, pastry chefs, decoupagers, paper mache artists, typographers, and jewelry-makers. That list is as exhausting as it is exhaustive. It does mean, however, that as women we should fulfill our desire for realizing beauty by exploring a creative outlet: we all have the ability to do this, and the only thing that prevents us is a lack of proper motivation.

For instance, as of this moment, I can type, I can organize, I can put on jewelry--and that's about it. I see my friends envisioning, designing, and executing the most lovely and important work for themselves and each other, and I have no place in it. I want to recapture that ability to see and to make, to give something I myself made; and, recognizing this want, I will proceed in that direction.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rules on Whom to Marry

I have finally found it, a gold nugget, another's wisdom distilled into relatively readable form: The Rules on Whom (Not) to Marry! (thanks to feminine-genius)

It could also be entitled, "Who Are Ready to Marry?" or even (if I had had the life experience to compose it) "Signs of the Lower Echelon." Some of you may remember my musings on what I termed "lower echelon guys"--and I hope, as you read it, you realized I did not mean any slight to guys in general. The problem with marrying, or seeking to marry, those who are not truly prepared for marriage is that, like in public school education, the focus tends to go towards the lowest common denominator.

I especially liked these "Rules," however, because though in list form they eminently are not a checklist. They don't tell you what you are looking for, because you should know that yourself. You should know yourself well enough to seek a partner who complements your strengths and abilities. The list serves to provide general guidelines, because as they point out in #18, "People in love are about the most gullible creatures on God's green earth." I liked the bit about sisters too--and that may even apply to extremely close girl friends who, if allowed to speak freely, will often voice similar insights and intuitions.

Finally, I liked the nod at normality (the introduction to the rules part reminded me a lot of my own alma mater as well). We should be normal--even if no one else is. Now, it is uncharitable to characterize others as abnormal to their faces, and to some extent to dwell on it interiorly is not always helpful. Nevertheless, finding a spouse is about reaching a norm, a place in your life that you can be comfortable in for years to come. That is why you cannot give yourself in marriage unless you have "achieved normalcy," in some sense. Be normal, and be well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Can shorts be feminine?

Too much of the dialogue concerning femininity centers upon matters of dress. On the other hand, since women love dress, perhaps it's not too much per se, but it does have the tendency to continue ad nauseam. The feminine spirit cannot be distilled into a skirt, long, short, soft, flowy, or otherwise. Yet, to truly imitate Our Lady, a woman must understand and live modesty as part of her specific mission. A lot of that has to do with dress. Therefore, the question of this post is one of a practical nature that could be discussed with profit. Is there a place in a woman's wardrobe for shorts of moderate length? Under what circumstances can this garment be employed (and enjoyed) by ladies? :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Ladylike Blog

Of all the blogs I look at and check frequently, Tea at Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal ranks high on the list in both content and style. The author is most definitely a lady, and the topics she chooses to discuss are varied yet always of interest. Moreover, she chooses lovely illustrations for her posts and keeps the layout of her online journal clean and elegant. If there can be said to be an art to blogging, Ms. Vidal has proven a master artist.