Kate's Beauty and Fitness Korner

In which I share the very few things I have learned

Since 99% of my readership is made up of people I know personally, it will surprise none of you that I am not well known as a beauty and fitness expert. But like many people with enough financial privilege to do it, I have been staving off the political dread that attends my every waking moment with needless consumption related to personal “self-improvement.” (I joined a GYM, guys.) When the apocalypse comes and we all take stock of our resources and survival skills, I will bring a lot of Sephora points to the table.

As I was going through my hair routine this morning and reflecting on how long it took me to find a routine that actually gives me a greater than 70% chance of achieving the look I want, I started thinking about all the similar basically useless yet hard-won knowledge I possess. I want to share that with you now. Perhaps I can help solve a problem you’ve had your whole life. Perhaps you will enjoy next week’s newsletter more. We’ll see!

(Note: None of the product recommendations are sponsored because, again, I am nobody’s beauty expert.)

Hair

Do you have extremely fine, wavy-to-curly hair? If not, I’ve got nothing for you. If so, read on.

By “fine,” I mean the hair shaft itself is small—I have “a lot of hair” according to everyone who’s ever cut it, but each individual strand is tiny. This means I am extremely frizz-prone, and my curls will go limp if you look at them funny. But when everything goes right, my hair is fucking great. Here’s how to make everything go right:

  1. Pay for a good cut, if you can spend that up front. The more you pay for the cut, the less you’ll spend on products to make your hair behave. Find a Deva- or Ouidad-trained stylist—someone who will cut your hair dry, paying attention to the curl pattern. If you’re in Chicago, go to Lisa Marie at Curls and Company. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting a queer woman-owned business.

  2. Use sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. I use L’Oréal EverPure. You don’t have to wash it every day, but if you actually have my hair type, you will probably never have great second-day hair. Condition it or at least wet it on the days you don’t wash. (Or don’t shower and put it in a ponytail. Whatever.) You’ll know when it’s time to wash it again because your curls will look as good as they ever get but feel heavy and a little greasy. If you try to push it with one more day of co-wash only, it will look just plain greasy.

  3. The only product you need is leave-in conditioner. I currently use DevaCurl Styling Cream, but I am also a fan of Ouidad Moisture Lock. There are probably awesome drugstore brands that would work just as well, but I didn’t have kids so I could afford to spend money on my hair.

  4. Use a detangling brush to comb the leave-in through.

  5. Scrunch with paper towel. Do not scrunch with your bare fingers! You will break up your extremely delicate curls. Just grab a couple sheets of paper towel in each hand, and gently scrunch, removing moisture and encouraging your curls to stay in place. I have tried every kind of microfiber towel, T-shirt, etc., for this step, and nothing works better than paper towel. That said, I own an Aquis towel turban and will often use that to scrunch, then put my hair up in it to speed drying time and help me accomplish step 6.

  6. DON’T FUCKING TOUCH IT UNTIL IT’S DRY. If it’s the dead of winter and you have to go somewhere, you can use a diffuser on low, but your hair will probably still not be great at the end. The path to great hair is letting it air dry while resisting the urge to scrunch more, put it behind your ears, etc. Just do something else and wait.

Foundation

Are you a light-skinned person who’s spent years trying to figure out what your undertone actually is, because every makeup counter employee goes in a different direction when trying to color-match you? Have you looked at your inner wrists 1,000 times, trying to determine whether the veins there look more green or more blue? Have you decided you must have a neutral undertone, since you can’t tell? Are you my actual sister?

Watch this video. The more she talked, the more I realized I am probably at least somewhat peachy. An extremely pale friend, who always just buys the palest foundation—and sometimes finds that too dark—realized she’s actually quite peachy underneath. In addition to being neither yellow nor pink, peachy is different from neutral. Nobody tells you that.

Said friend and I spent an afternoon at Sephora and Ulta swatching every possible foundation. She is pale AF with peachy-pink undertones. I am a notch up from pale AF, with peachy-neutral undertones. Stuff that looked like it should be way too dark for us blended beautifully if the undertone was right. Magic!

Specific Things What I Have Learned About Foundation

NARS Radiant Longwear goes on shockingly thin and is absolutely gorgeous, as long as you don’t wear primer or mineral sunscreen under it. It needs to sink into your skin to do its thing. I almost returned it, thinking it was an expensive disappointment, until I discovered this secret. (By “secret,” I mean “Note that’s right there on the websites that sell it.”)

L’Oréal Infallible Fresh Wear 24HR Foundation is the best deal going. Comes in 30 colors and is beautiful on.

If, like me, you are lazy and would like to spend as little time as possible putting shit on your face, It Confidence in a Compact gives you SPF, moisturizer, and full-coverage foundation in one. I put it on with the sponge that comes with it, like some kind of animal, and it’s FINE. A bit heavy if you don’t like that feeling, but I have acne, acne scarring, wrinkles, rosacea, broken capillaries, random growths that started out as zits and turned into permanent wart-like things, and probably ten other skin issues I’m forgetting right now, so I don’t mind heavy. I love this shit, which means it’s probably about to be discontinued.

Mascara

I am evidently the last person alive to hear of tubing mascara, but it’s the first mascara in 30 years of makeup wearing that does not give me raccoon eyes, even when I get sleepy and rub my eyes, which have been watering because I’m old and have allergies and look at my phone too much.

Lipstick

My entire life, I’ve bought lipstick after lipstick that I end up not ever wearing, because the only color I actually like on my face is some variation on dusty rose/pinky nude/mauve. I was like three-weeks-ago years old when I realized I can just buy nothing but those shades. I don’t have to keep buying pale pinks that make me look embalmed or bright fuchsias and reds that mostly serve to highlight the fact that I definitely do not whiten my teeth. I can buy multiple practically identical lipsticks, in order to try different brands and formulas. It’s fine if only I know the differences between them.

Contouring, Highlighting, and Bronzing

You don’t have to learn. You can refuse.

Brows

I got mine threaded for 20 years and used MAC Wedge eyeshadow, which lasted literal years for this purpose, as brow powder. It was great. Then the outer half stopped growing back, and I became a person who has to draw my eyebrows on before I leave the house. Things they don’t tell you! I really like this $10 NYX brow pencil.

Gym

The rest of this has been frivolous bullshit, but this part is real. I decided I want to make a gym part of my life, which I’ve never really done. Some of you will remember I once had a fairly serious yoga practice, but it’s been a while. I walk a lot, always have, but I want to build some strength in areas other than my calves. I would also like to spend time in a pool. This means gym.

Like a lot of fat people, I have gym trauma. The last time I tried to join a gym for its pool, I went to one water aerobics class, during which the teacher made multiple cracks about people eating too much and not looking good in bathing suits. (Worse yet, she was making them as “inspiration” for us to push harder. I was the youngest person there by 40 years. We all just wanted to bounce around in the water and get our hearts and joints moving a little.) Then, as I got out of the pool at this brand-new place, where I knew no one and did not yet feel comfortable or confident, she cornered me. Without asking me anything about myself or my fitness goals, she just looked at my fat body, made a lot of presumptions, and went into a spiel. Standing on the deck in my bathing suit, dripping, cold, exposed, I listened to her “gently” lecture me on diet and exercise 101 as she wound up to a pitch for her services as a weight loss coach. Then I never went back.

That’s just one story.

This time, I figured I would have to be more assertive about my needs and goals if I wanted to get anything out of this. I shouldn’t have to be—people who work in gyms should not pull that shit on clients, if only to avoid triggering someone’s eating disorder relapse—but at 44, I am generally willing to do more to protect my right to be there, to take up space, to be treated respectfully, than I was 12 or 15 years ago. At the gym or anywhere else.

I signed up for a packet of three sessions with a personal trainer, because it was heavily discounted for new members. The head trainer e-mailed and asked about my fitness goals, etc., so he could match me with a trainer. I said all of the following, in just about this many words:

  1. My main goal right now is to get comfortable using the gym, so I can make it a habit.

  2. I am quite fat but not interested in losing weight or discussing nutrition with a trainer.

  3. I’d like to get stronger.

I dithered for a while over whether I should include some disclaimer like, “If I do end up losing weight that’s FINE; I’m not trying to AVOID it if my body wants to do it,” etc. But I realized that had nothing to do with the question he asked, which was “What are your goals?” The reason I wanted to say something like that was to demonstrate that I’m not, like, some freak, even though I’m not actively trying to get less quite-fat. It was a kneejerk desire to play the Good Fatty and try to make myself seem more socially acceptable, even if I can no longer pretend to be appropriately self-loathing. And that was not the foot I wanted to put forward. So I didn’t.

“I’d actually like to work with you myself,” the head trainer replied.

I met him for the first time earlier this week. He was not only lovely but apparently trained in actual best practices for dealing with people who might have eating disorder histories. He did not try to sell me on any of the extra stuff they offer for people who do want to lose weight. He skipped right over the usual measurement-taking and any services they offer that were related to food—like free blood sugar and cholesterol tests every six months. (The gym is affiliated with a hospital.) He asked if I was interested in doing baseline cardio and strength tests to track my progress, or if I wanted to skip those, too and go strictly by how I feel over time. And here is the thing that almost made me cry: when he was putting me into the system, he said, “I’ll just make up a height and weight to put in here, since it forces me to fill in those boxes.” I told him it was fine to use my actual weight and height, and I told him what those are. But if I were someone for whom knowing numbers at all is a trigger, that small gesture would have made a huge difference. It made me feel like I was in very good hands.

The reason I chose this gym in the first place is that I went there on day passes years ago and always felt comfortable there. The hospital affiliation means a lot of the gym goers are older and/or recovering from injuries; the vibe is about going at your own pace to try to make your body work as well as it can, rather than knocking yourself out to change how you look. So I had good reasons to assume they would be cool with someone who wanted to go slowly, eschew traditional success markers, and focus on protecting my joints long-term without agreeing that yes, obviously, I should try to take some weight off them.

But I was still scared as I sent that e-mail. What if he thought I was a freak? What if he put me with some trainer who used to be fat and so is “empathetic” about “how hard it is to lose weight”—but is sure I can do it, too, if I just put my mind to it? What if every trainer there would say, “Yes, of course, strength is more important than size, BUT ALSO—”?

I was scared, but I asked for what I actually wanted and needed, rather than saying what I thought they wanted to hear. And so far, I’m getting what I want and need out of it. If there’s a lesson in this section (besides “Pick a gym full of old and injured people”), there it is.

This will be the last Kate’s Beauty and Fitness Corner, because I have now told you literally everything I know.

Until next time,

Kate