Chapter 1 STEP ONE
“Like anyone else, there are days when I feel beautiful and
days when I don’t. When I don’t, I do something about it.”
“Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, committed decision.”
It was my son Tony’s ninth birthday party and I remember feeling excited and a little giddy because I was throwing the party at a local amusement park. The gathering was going to be small, just my immediate family and a few friends, so throwing on a pair of shorts and tennis shoes was an easy decision. As I pawed through my dresser drawers looking for my favorite, comfy khakis, I smiled in anticipation of the time off from work to ride a roller coaster or Ferris wheel with my boys. I enthusiastically stepped into my shorts, pulled them up to button them. Looking down, I could clearly see the two-inch gap between the button and the buttonhole. Hmmmm. I pulled the waistband up higher, and sucked it in. With great determination and effort, I managed to secure the button and hoist the zipper up halfway. I heaved in a heavy sigh. My zipper had been flying at half-mast for the past few months. But I had a party to attend so I shook it off with my old standby thinking that the washer had caused the garment to shrink. Yeah, that was it. Next time I’ll remember to wash with cold water! I grabbed a baggy sweatshirt and a jeans jacket to cover the gaping zipper and hurried off to celebrate.
My boys and I arrived at the park before the rest of the family in order to set the table and decorate. As I watched my two young sons pass out plates and cups, pride swelled up in me; I was impressed with their helpful nature and pleased that they were bright, polite, and handsome little boys. Soon, bits and pieces of my very large family trickled in, including my parents, Grandma and Grandpa. As my dad got closer I could see his frown and his stare just above my forehead. He was trying to size up the way he felt about my hair color. It was canary yellow. My natural color was a deep brown. I had just had it bleached at my salon, thinking that it would make me look chic, fashionable, and hip. The cut was new as well, very short and kind of spiky, another brainstorm of mine to make me look modern.
My father, being a very honest and passionate man, has no problem expressing himself. “What have you done to your hair, and why did you do it?” I felt as if I was in an I Love Lucy episode, only Ethel wasn’t there to share the humiliation. “I decided to go blond!” I declared proudly. I looked from his scowl to my mom, hoping to get some encouragement or approval. She looked as if she was in pain, not knowing whether to soothe me by contradicting my father’s opinion or to be honest and hurt my feelings. She took the diplomatic route, “It’s a change . . . uh, something different!” Dad’s scowl turned into a roll of the eyes. Again, I brushed off the sinking feeling of self-doubt and attributed the remarks to Dad being a fuddy-duddy. (Anyway, I thought, men like blond hair!)
The afternoon proved to be a blast as twelve wild kids scurried around the amusement park with nine parents in tow. Eventually we all ended up seated around a big table eating cake and ice cream. As I enjoyed my second serving of cake, I felt the eyes of one of my brothers upon me. I looked up to find him staring blankly at me. “What?” I asked. John shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen you fat; you don’t even look like you.” My brother is not a mean person so his comment didn’t impact me at the moment. I just smiled and began cleaning up. Even with three strikes against me that day, I sluffed it off. To me, I was okay, fine, perfect. I had no clue about how I looked to my family or anyone else. I quite frankly was too busy to notice or focus on my reality. The only conclusion I arrived at was that my pants were too tight, especially after my cake feast. I made a mental note to shop the next day for some shorts that would fit. Perhaps I would choose a size larger so the washer wouldn’t play that evil game with me again.
Tony’s birthday party should have been an awakening for me because of the bombardment of negativity, but I had been perfecting the art of ignoring myself and making the best of things. For seven years, I’d been raising my children alone and devoting my days (and nights) to running my own business, focusing on making a living for my family, not the reflection I saw in the mirror. Deep down, I knew that reflection had undergone some dramatic and negative changes from head to toe, but I had become an expert at denial and self-neglect. Why should a frown from my dad, a negative comment from my brother, or a pair of tight shorts get me down? My standard MO was to simply ignore it and press on with life. Solve the problem. Buy new pants.
There was nothing on my agenda the following day, a Sunday, except to be a couch potato and shop for pants that fit. In the late afternoon, I headed out alone to the Target store a few blocks from my house. In the past, I would shop for 8’s or 10’s by holding the garments up to my waist and guessing if they would fit. (I despised trying on clothes in the fitting room.) After surfing the racks for some size 10 jeans, I quickly assessed that they were not even close to reaching across the front of my body. Next I tried 12’s, then 14’s. Wow, I thought to myself, their sizes must be really screwed up! I headed into the dressing room with the evil size 14 jeans. I grabbed the 12’s as well . . . hoping . . . praying. Before I slipped out of my shorts, I made sure the curtain was completely closed, determined to keep secret what I was about to find out. Even before I could get the size 12 jeans up past my knees I knew it would be impossible to zip them up. I kicked them off and quickly tried on the 14’s. The pressure of the denim on my thighs was almost as humiliating as the flattening of my beefy tush. I looked in the mirror and realized what my body actually looked like. Puffy, swollen, lumpy, and just plain old HUGE. Slowly I turned around, bent over slightly, and looked over my shoulder to get the real view of my backside. My neck got warm and I started to feel the panic. Swiftly, I scrambled out of the jeans as if they were on fire and left them in a heap on the floor. As I left the store I began comparing myself to all the other women who were strolling the aisles. Many of the others looked the same as me, plumpish and plain, some in sweats and baseball caps. That didn’t make me feel any better. They made me see more clearly what I looked like. My pace quickened as I headed for my car, and it was as if someone or something was chasing me or attacking me. The hot feeling at the back of my neck turned into a full body sweat. I was having a panic attack. Fear and dread washed over me in a flood. I pointed the car toward the freeway and headed to my parents’ house. I would seek comfort and approval from my mom.
The thirty-minute drive out to my folks’ house was agonizing. I bit my lower lip and stole glances at myself in the rearview mirror. My brother’s words from the day before haunted me—he didn’t recognize me anymore. The mirror reflected the image of my chubby face, my double chin, and my freaky-looking haircut. My complexion appeared dull and colorless. My eye color used to be a brilliant blue. Now, it was a faded gray. I looked completely washed out because of the peculiar, baby-chick-yellow hair color. My brother was right. I didn’t look like myself. Not at all.
“Stop looking in the mirror,” I told myself and pressed on. I needed my mom. My mother is the sweetest person in the world. Just being around her makes people feel good. I didn’t forewarn her that I was coming; I just showed up in her kitchen. As she turned to me I asked, “Mom, do I look like a size 14?” (I didn’t really want the truth; I just wanted her to make me feel better.) Her hesitation was all the information I needed. She gazed down from my face to my body and back up again. “Yes, sweetie, you do.” It was at that moment, I had my epiphany. I gave my mom a hug and headed home. It was a long, quiet drive.
If you are like me, you may not have realized how far you slipped off the beauty path until you get back on track to the radiant beauty you used to be. It took trying to squeeze into a pair of tight jeans to snap me into reality. Prior to that day, I was blazing through life too busy to look at what I was presenting to the world. Perhaps you have already had your “tight jeans” moment. Or you developed a roll of film and were aghast at what you saw. Perhaps you’ve received a comment or nudge from your family and maybe the remarks caused you to feel hurt. What was your epiphany?
Many women I have counseled experienced a panic attack based on a moment or event such as I did. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, “appearance.” A realization. An acute awareness. The epiphany marks the point of no return. Enough is enough. Experiencing your epiphany may have taken place in a blink of an eye, or it may have involved a slower process of realization. In either case, recognizing or experiencing this pivotal moment can swiftly turn into motivation.
j COLLEEN’S STORY
Colleen Morgan remembers her epiphany, the exact moment she realized she had to change her life. She and her family were watching their video of Easter morning. Looking at herself on the TV screen gave Colleen a perspective of how others viewed her. Colleen saw a 475-pound woman who did not match her self-image. She didn’t feel that big. But that picture was burned into her mind, and for two days she felt unhappy and ashamed. On the third day she was tired of feeling sorry for herself and decided to take action. Colleen met with a personal trainer and they developed a plan: “I was a woman who needed a change, and I changed my life for the better.”
The change took Colleen from the couch where she faithfully watched soap operas every day to a swimming pool where she faithfully exercised three days a week, sometimes five hours a day. As large as Colleen was, walking without the aid of a swimming pool was difficult. She began walking laps in the pool. As the pounds started to melt she advanced to swimming laps and water aerobics. Colleen’s confidence was being restored as she shed about five pounds a week during the first few months of working out.
Over a seven-year period Colleen lost 230 pounds. “I’m very happy. I wish I would have done this earlier in my life,” Colleen told me. Exercise and diet were now priorities—remarkable commitments from a woman who was afraid to go out of the house after her first child was born. Feeling out of shape after a pregnancy, Colleen found comfort in food. After a second child there was more weight gain. Overcoming her fear to change, this proud mother is now a role model for her children. “Both of my boys are proud of me. My oldest even works out with me at the gym, and my youngest can’t wait until he is old enough to work out with Mom. I’m very proud that I am a healthy role model for my children,” Colleen says with a big smile.
Dramatic changes occurred in her social life. To avoid seeing the stares of others, the old Colleen would keep her head down during her rare shopping trips.
The new Colleen feels no embarrassment as she shops for clothes with girlfriends once a week. Head held high and looking me directly in the eye she beams, “I am more confident and more outgoing and not afraid to live my life anymore. My husband brags about me. My message to anyone who reads this book is that you’ve got to change everything. It is a total lifestyle change.”
Enjoying a more shapely figure at age forty, Colleen looks and feels better than she did in her twenties. And now she has set new goals. “I accomplished something I thought I could not do. I enter walk-a-thons now and in each one I have improved my finish time. Now my goal is to compete in a triathlon.”
Colleen’s message is to change everything. Like Colleen, you may be fed up with your current situation and are prepared to completely alter your lifestyle. On the other hand, changing just one aspect of your life—such as eating healthier food or taking one hour a day to go to the gym—may be the key. It could be something very simple, like spending a half hour uninterrupted doing your hair or makeup. Whatever the case, I bet something stirred inside you that prompted you to consider changing something. I will continue to refer to that pivotal moment as your epiphany.
When your epiphany happens, one of the most important things that occurs is that you are suddenly willing to put your own needs at the same level as the demands of your job, or the needs of your mate or children. You realize that it’s okay to devote time to yourself, even though it might feel selfish. It’s not. It is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and for everyone who loves you. So many women come into my salon and spa and say things like, “My husband doesn’t want me to cut my hair” or “I don’t have the time to fix myself up” or “It’s frivolous to spend the time and money on myself.” These women haven’t realized their self-worth. They haven’t decided that they are valuable enough to make the effort to change. The reality, however, is that they obviously want to look terrific; otherwise they would not have made an appointment.
If you are reluctant to value yourself and realize your own self-worth, don’t worry. You are not alone. Women notoriously are self-sacrificing. In the pages ahead, I will help you re-create yourself from the inside out. In six steps, you will rediscover the new beautiful you.
Excerpted from A Beautiful New You by Laura DuPriest. Copyright © 2005 by Laura DuPriest. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.