Self-Care: Putting on My Makeup {Guest Post by Lily Ellyn Dunn}

Hello, everyone! Kelsey here. I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care since I wrote about how important self-care is now that I’m a caregiver. Plus, I tend to think about it during January with all the “New Year, new you!” talk that can be highly problematic for everyone, especially people recovering from eating disorders. It made me realize just how much I need to start prioritizing little moments of self-care again in my own life. So I’ve decided to run a 12-week guests series on self-care.

Some of you long-term readers may recognize some of these posts because I originally ran the series few years ago. But a lot has happened in my own life since then, and I feel like I could use the reminder. Plus, we have new followers who never got the chance to read them! So every Friday for a little bit a writer I know will give us a peak at what self-care looks like for them.

Today, for the first installment, I’m happy to introduce all of you to my friend and fellow blogger, Lily Ellyn Dunn. One of the things I like best about this piece is that it focuses on a self-care ritual and an artistic expression that can so often go overlooked, but it’s something that clearly is so meaningful and enjoyable to Lily. I hope it encourages you to find your own sacred self-care in ways that are uniquely, beautifully you.


Flickr cc Sodanie Chea

When I have to be at work by 8:00 I wake up before the sun. I feed my cats in the fuzzy gray light of the kitchen and brew a pot of coffee. Then I carry the steaming mug with me into the bathroom where I sort through my makeup collection, pick out what I want to wear that day, pull out my brushes, consider the blank canvas of my face, and start to paint.
My interest in makeup began a little over a year ago. For my entire makeup-wearing life before that my routine had been the same – foundation, powder, blush, brown mascara – maybe some brown eyeliner. On very special occasions I’d pull out my single gold eye shadow or one of my two lipsticks – both hand-me-down gifts with purchase my mother had received at a cosmetics counter years before. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

My makeup routine wasn’t any sort of conscious, minimalist choice – I just never thought about it at all – until one day when I was looking for a video on youtube and stumbled onto a makeup tutorial. From there, I discovered there was a whole community of people making beauty videos. These girls weren’t just “doing their makeup.” They were true artists. They were taking powders and creams and liquids and transforming the raw materials into something spectacular. I was intrigued. After watching dozens of videos, I decided to experiment a little bit.

I quickly discovered two things about me and makeup: First, that makeup is a great creative outlet for me—the way that painting or sketching are for more artistic people. And second, that I might just have a knack for it. I spent time researching products and brands, invested in higher quality brushes, and practiced new techniques. I started waking up earlier in the morning so I could take my time getting ready, excited to try something new every day.

And then I discovered the downside of being into makeup. When you wear glittery eyeshadow or bright lipstick, people tend to assume things about you. Mostly, they assume you’re insecure, obsessed with appearances, shallow, vain, attention-seeking, and inauthentic. I understand where they’re coming from, I really do. The world is saturated with fake images of perfect faces and bodies bearing the message that beauty is limited to one certain set of ideals and that we should do everything we can to change ourselves to fit into that box. I don’t believe in this. Nobody needs to wear makeup to be beautiful. Nobody should feel inadequate without it. But by the same token, nobody should feel like a little bit of glitter makes a person shallow or that red lipstick makes a woman fake.

Sometimes people say to me, “Your makeup is so pretty, but I would never take the time to do mine like that. I just can’t be bothered.” That’s perfectly fine, and I get that. But I feel quite the opposite. I feel like I can’t not be bothered to do my makeup. The time I spend playing with my makeup is time I make in my day to care for myself.

Music and art are widely recognized for their therapeutic qualities. They engage a creative part of your mind and help you relax, rest, and recover from stress and trauma. I’m no good at painting or drawing and I’m not especially musical, but I love doing makeup. I do it because it’s fun. I do it because it’s art. I do it because it reminds me that I have the power to create, and that transformation is possible. And if that’s vain or shallow, then I suppose I’m just vain and shallow.

Maybe one day putting on my makeup will feel like a chore, and if that day comes I can guarantee you that I will stop waking up early to make time for it, but right now it is one small thing I can do every day for no other reason than that it brings me joy. And joy is always worthwhile.


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Lily Ellyn Dunn is a teacher, a freelance writer, and (most importantly) an ice cream connoisseur. She and her husband have recently relocated to Columbia, SC after two years in South Korea. Lily wrestles with her faith on her blog, You can also find her on Twitter @lilyellyn.

Note from Kelsey: If you enjoyed Lily’s post, leave her some comment love and check out her blog. One of my favorites: “But You Don’t Seem Bipolar” And Other Things You (And My Gynecologist) Shouldn’t Say. I appreciate Lily bravely and openly talking about bipolar with her readers (in addition to talking about faith and books, all the books).

The importance of self-care when you’re a caregiver


Two-years ago my life changed completely when I became a full-time caregiver to my sister. As a result, I stopped blogging. I wasn’t sure how to talk about my life when it meant talking about my sister’s, too. But I’m learning how to walk that line. And I’m finally starting to write about where I’ve been all this time and what I’ve been doing. For everyone who has stuck around even when it’s been quiet on the blog, thank you.  

Thanksgiving Day marked the two-year anniversary of when I became a full time live-in caregiver. On that chilly November morning two years ago, while I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV with my husband, Ian, and the smell of turkey drifted in from the kitchen, our life was about to turn completely on its head.

Not long after the pumpkin pies were finished, Ian and I learned how unsafe my younger sister’s living situation had become. My sister is disabled and unable to work, and the family member she was completely dependent on was stealing her money and neglecting her needs. It was clear she needed to move out immediately — so she moved in with us that night.

[Continue reading at HelloGiggles.]

Resolved: A no-diet new year starts now

lightstock_342678_download_medium_user_3645479.jpgThis article originally appeared on Salon January of 2017. And I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you here!

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained a little weight,” Mom said as we sat in the car. I was 11 years old and my body was just beginning to hint at hips. She reached over, tugging on the new roll of stomach fat that was hiding under my t-shirt. “Getting a little pudgy,” she teased.

I’d been too busy feeling awkward that I was morphing into what adults called “busty” to specifically zero in on what my stomach had been up to — no good, as it turned out. I crossed my arms over my stomach, feeling the soft roll of skin and fat that was just above my jeans. I sat up a little straighter, hoping that would flatten things out a bit. I tried to suck it in.

Mom talked about how unnecessary weight gain can make parts of your body pudgy, flabby. “I guess I have noticed that my legs have gotten more jiggly,” I said, looking down at my legs self-consciously.

“If you start dieting and exercising, you could get attractive, toned legs,” Mom said. She told me how a lot of adult women struggle with weight management, herself included. She hoped she could save me from the pain of yo-yo dieting as an adult by teaching me how to maintain my ideal weight while I was still young. If we’d asked a doctor, they likely would have said dieting for an 11 year old was a health risk. But we didn’t ask a doctor. My mom’s own body-image demons clouded her ability to determine what was truly best for my body.

After our conversation, Mom put me on a diet. She began monitoring what I ate. “Kelsey,” Mom said disapprovingly, “that’s too much ranch dressing. You won’t be able to lose weight if you eat your salad like that.” And she made sure I didn’t have seconds after dinner.

“But I’m still hungry,” I protested at first.

“You’re not really hungry,” Mom replied. She said I’d stretched my stomach out through overeating, and it would eventually shrink back to its right size. In the meantime, I was going to be haunted by phantom hunger pangs.

The fake hunger felt awfully real, and it seemed only get worse as more time went by. When I saw a celebrity on TV who had had her stomach stapled, I asked if it was something I could get. When I was told no, I decided that I’d get it the moment I was an adult. Maybe if my stomach was surgically corrected I’d finally feel full again.

When I lost weight, mom celebrated. She encouraged me pull out my flatter-stomach clothes that I’d banished to the back of my closet. I’d pull out my white form-fitting polo shirt and smile at my reflection. Mom would tell me how flattering the shirt was on me “now.” But then I’d gain a few more pounds and the moment would be gone.

When I hit middle school I worried about my weight more than I worried about boys. I didn’t understand that curves added weight — healthy weight. As my body began to shift into a curvier mold, I frantically tried to diet the weight that came with boobs and thighs away. I thought I was trying to manage my weight, but what I was trying to manage was puberty.

When I was diagnosed with asthma and given a daily inhaler, I didn’t take it. My parents couldn’t figure out why. I let them think I was an absentminded and irresponsible pre-teen. I was too embarrassed to tell them the truth: Being thin was more important than breathing. I didn’t take my meds because I had heard steroids could cause weight gain. I knew this wasn’t something other people would understand, so I kept it to myself.

How little I was eating became my biggest secret. And at some point my body and food anxiety crossed the line into abnormal anorexia. I started secretly skipping meals on a regular basis, cutting my food into tiny bites and then counting to twenty before swallowing so eating would take as long as possible. I tracked the most minor fluctuations in the numbers on the scale. Eating became more and more complex and anxiety-causing as I continually added self-induced restrictions to my already limited calorie intake. My obsessive eating-disorder-induced dieting sucked not only the calories but the joy out of life.

When I was in my early 20s I had a revelation about dieting after being very sick with the flu. I’d dropped several sizes. When I stood in the dressing room I was shocked that I’d lost so much weight. I had been pining after my dream size for years, and now I was smaller.

I’d thought about dieting more than anything else for 10 years: This is what I’d been living for. But the gratification from achieving a decade-long goal didn’t last a second. My first thought after realizing the number on the tag: “Maybe I could go even smaller!” Maybe that would be it. Maybe then I’d feel comfortable in my own body. Maybe then I’d feel happy and beautiful and sexy. Maybe . . .

But then I came to the sad realization that the game was rigged. The elusive, arbitrary numbers I’d been chasing — pants sizes, dress sizes, numbers on the bathroom scale — would always be replaced by a different, smaller number. When you have an eating disorder, you never reach your goal weight.

A new year is supposedly a time for fresh starts, but it always feels like the same old thing: Everyone is bombarded with fat-shaming and promises that we’ll finally feel happy and whole in our bodies if only we buy the new latest and greatest dieting or fitness product. All of the magazine covers at the checkout stand will showcase new diets with claims that these are the magic tricks you’ve been looking for all these years. The local gyms will advertise specials, claiming “New Year, New You!” With all that diet talk, if I’m not careful I could have a relapse, which is why celebrating how far I’ve come in my eating disorder recovery is a necessary part of surviving January.

This year I’m celebrating that I can now eat a bowl of potato chips without crying afterwards.

I’m celebrating how last summer I wore a bikini for the very first time in my life, and I didn’t go on a diet first.

I’m celebrating that I’ve gotten to the point in my recovery that I’m able to work out without weight loss being the goal.

I lived on a diet for years. Dieting has controlled so much of my life. It’s been the haunting, nagging, lying voice in my ear. This diet season, as others are setting New Year’s resolutions, I’m celebrating recovery goals. I’m celebrating that I learned how to eat again because life didn’t finally start when I reached my goal weight. Life started when I finally told dieting to fuck off.

You don’t have to

You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to emotionally flog your tired soul
when you don’t meet your own definition of perfection.
You don’t have to be right.
Your theology doesn’t have to pristinely answer
all of your lingering, haunting questions.
You don’t have to be certain.
Your waves of doubt aren’t going to drown you;
they’ll help you to finally begin to heal.
You don’t have to be pure.
You’re not some white gown that can be spoiled;
you’re an enchantress, a body, a soul.
You don’t have to be devout.
Your beautiful life isn’t measured in how many
holy books you chant or prayers you whisper.
You don’t have to be tame.
You’re wild like the wind and fierce as fire,
you just don’t know it yet.
You don’t have to be selfless.
You’re a creature of worth and dignity,
and you deserve your care and kindness, too.
You don’t have to save the world.
You’re not responsible for saving more than one person,
and that person is you.


The first line, “You don’t have to be good,” was taken directly from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem “Wild Geese.” After reading the first few line of her poem, I felt like I wanted to make a list of what I don’t have to do or be; I so often need to be reminded.