How to look good and feel great

(Note: This is an excerpt of a speech I gave before the Association of Special Librarians of the Philippines last week at SMX. The topic assigned to me was “Look Good, Feel Great.”)

Some of my happiest days as a schoolgirl were spent in the library of St. Peter’s College in Ormoc City. It is a Benedictine school, it still exists today (I am proud to say that the number of enrollees has more than doubled, maybe even tripled) and all throughout my elementary and high school days I wore that white starched blouse tucked into the navy blue jumper.

There was a narrow concrete staircase leading up to the library on the second floor of the elementary wing. It was a sunny room that always had sunlight streaming through the glass jalousies; I remember Ma’am Nida who was stationed at a desk by the door — she was the pretty and a bit stern but kind-hearted librarian who I knew loved me (maybe because I always returned my books on time). I remember the shelves that held the promise of every dream that could play in my mind, the many pages that unlocked even more questions after all the answers. I remember the wonderful smell of paper, the library cards that almost read like little diaries. Even in my innocent little world I could already grasp how wonderful it all was; how utterly magical that one book could actually travel from home to home like everybody’s favorite guest and still find its was back to the right shelf.

When I moved up to high school there was a different library altogether. There, it was Ma’am Obejas, she who allowed me to borrow more books than what the rules allowed. She, too, loved me. And more than just a librarian, she became a friend. She was a working college student, but our age gap did not get in the way of how well we got along.

I think of the libraries I grew up in while I was in school and I am brought back to a happy place. So when my good friend Rowena Tomeldan handed me the invite and asked me to speak before all of you, I said yes right away. I would not pass up the chance to be amongst some of my most favorite people in the world. I am very happy to be in your company — custodians of learning, books being the repositories of knowledge. Even before I actually got the chance to travel, the books in the library allowed me to not only reach faraway places but also to shape the quality of my dreams.

My task today is to talk to you about looking good and as a consequence of that, feeling great always. I do agree that those two go side by side naturally. So I will officially begin my speech today with random questions.

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Why do we spray on perfume even when no one is around?

For us women, why do we wear the prettiest underwear even when no one else can see it?

Why do we appreciate flowers in a vase even though we know they will not last forever?

Why does coffee taste better in a prettier cup?

Why do we color our hair, have a manicure and pedicure, put on lipstick?

All these I know we can live without. But we embrace them anyway, some more than the others, because beauty and the pleasure it brings is something that resonates well with all of us. It is something we can all relate to very well, regardless of how we define it.

For many years now, I have been blessed to write two columns for The Philippine STAR: my Sunday column is free-flowing, just basically whatever feels right for the heart at the moment, but my Wednesday column is all about fashion and beauty — and there I get all sorts of questions, the most popular of which include how to cure dark underarms, how to lose bilbil without giving up food or going on a healthy diet (there is no magic trick to that, sadly), or what is a universally flattering shade of lipstick. The sum of all those questions, as they pour into my e-mail box on an almost daily basis, give me a sense of just how important being beautiful and, consequently, feeling good about it is, whether we care to admit it or not.

Is there anything wrong with that? I ask that question because being vain is so easily tossed aside as though it were some evil that should not be dealt with. I don’t agree. I feel that we all should have a measure of vanity about us, within is. It is a sign of respect to the self; it is a sign of respect to others. It is also an integral part of how we celebrate life as a gift.

But it’s unfair, we always hear those words said. Not everybody is born beautiful. But we are. Really, we all are. In ways that can be quantified both on the inside and out. There is a measure of beauty in each and every one of us and our individual uniqueness highlights that all the more.

In this day and age, with so much information out there, and with an assortment of products available at various price points, kasalanan mo na kung pangit ka pa. There is no such thing as pangit. Why do you think makeovers are popular? Because it is based on the premise that something is already there to begin with. The prospects are wonderful, especially in this day and age.

I am hard pressed to share with you all that I want to on the subject, there’s just so much, so I’ve broken them down into quick 10 tips to looking good. I hope you enjoy listening to them.

Lesson 1: The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Growing up, I knew someone who was morena and chinky-eyed. There was a time in her life when all she wanted was to be as fair as my sister and I were. She wore the same colors we did, fought her wavy hair, bought the same styles. One day she became good friends with someone who was also morena who, by example, taught her to embrace her own kind of beauty. All of a sudden she was wearing orange lipstick and bronze eyeshadow, and instead of taming her hair she celebrated it by getting a perm. She wore cut-off shorts and showed off her tanned legs and nice arms. The boys started flocking to her. What did she do differently? She found herself, claimed her own identity, celebrated her choices.

Lesson 2: Kilay is everything. Look in the mirror now. You might have existed all this time in the world with strange eyebrows (read: too thick, overplucked, meeting in the top part of the bridge of your nose like two valleys or the Levi’s logo, or worse one eyebrow shorter than the other). Go to a pro. And keep going to a pro for maintenance after that. It will make a world of difference. Your face will look different. It will look, well, right. Hairworks Salon right across Greenbelt 5 has a bunch of girls that can fix your eyebrow woes.

Lesson 3: Master a five-minute makeup system. Learn from the pros. Go to makeup counters, allow the experts there to show you how it is done. Keep practicing until you get it right.

Lesson 4: To look young or young-er, wag ayos na ayos the hair. The hairstyle has to be a little soft, a bit mussed up, perfectly imperfect. Nothing that is overly teased, nothing that suggests you have way too much faith in hairspray.

Lesson 5: For ladies, if you had to buy just one kind of nice, real jewelry, let it be pearls. My lola Carmen used to say that pearls can make anyone look even more beautiful; they reflect on the skin and make it glow.

Lesson 6: Don’t just work out a sweat, find a physical activity that you really, really enjoy. That way, you are able to stay on track because you will actually look forward to instead of dreading exercise. Just make a go of it — whether it is sports, pole dancing, yoga, running; find that activity that will give you a natural high. I remember when I was doing yoga, after each session I felt that I could take on the world. Another plus to this? A good sweat opens your pores and makes your skin better. Plus it releases toxins from stress we have to deal with from different fronts.

Lesson 7: Eat with the seasons. Eat natural, eat fresh. But feel free to indulge every once in a while. I repeat. Every. Once. In. A. While. You do not have to finish the entire loaf of banana bread, or two plates of chicharon bulaklak. Even if you can, even if you want to. May bukas pa.

Lesson 8: Always have blotting paper and buy nude shoes. The first will keep your skin clear (sweat can really clog pores) and the latter will make your legs look endless.

Lesson 9: Celebrate what you have, enhance your assets, be the best version of yourself. Curl your lashes before stepping out, wear a dress as often as possible. Both will make you look and feel pretty.

Lesson 10: Have a good life. And what is a good life? A good life is a happy life, where you love a lot and get loved right back. Where family comes first and friendships are real. The people in your life are very important. When your smile reaches your eyes, when you can sleep peacefully at night, when you foster a magnanimous spirit no matter what wave life throws, you are beautiful. Make no mistakes about that. Live your life in such a way that only good karma will chase you. Surround yourself with everyday little pleasures, be mindful of everyday blessings. A grateful heart is the foundation of a beautiful life.


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