Truth or dare: Answering your questions

L’Oreal Color Riche Lipstick in Wisteria Rose

As I get older, I’m both more and less forthcoming. I’ve learned that some things are better left unsaid, while some that were formerly too humiliating to talk about I now share freely. I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people who follow me on Instagram and I thought I’d answer them here. Some are about makeup, others are about my weight loss, and still more touch on personal topics. Here we go:

Q. If you could look like any woman in history, dead or alive, who would it be?

A. At one time, I would have said Grace Kelly because she was true perfection. Now I’d choose someone else — someone sultrier and sexier. That’s because I’ve never considered my appearance sexy. Everything about me screams “girl next door” and always has. And although I love makeup, I have one of those faces that looks silly in a large wing or dramatically smoked-out eyes. For these reasons, I’d choose to see what it would be like to ooze sex appeal, like Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor.

Q. If you were going out for the evening and could take only one makeup item, what would it be?

A. I used to say mascara, but I finally found a mascara that doesn’t disappear on me in Benefit’s They’re Real. I’d go with concealer because I detest dark under eyes and they always eventually peep out, no matter what I do.

Q. What was your most disappointing makeup purchase?

A. Recently it was two mascaras — the new Charlotte Tilbury and Marc Jacobs ones. They smeared and had no staying power on me, although I’m a big fan of both brands. My most expensive mistake was the Temptu Airbrush System.  You have to wear the foundation that comes in their pods and it wasn’t for me.

Q. Do you have a favorite foundation?

A. I always seem to go back to Koh Gen Do’s Aqua Foundation. It gives me a nice, natural, realistic glow. I’m currently trying out the new Urban Decay All Nighter Foundation and the Hourglass Vanish Seamless Foundation Stick. So far, I prefer the better staying power of the Urban Decay. I’m always looking for the latest, greatest foundation. I can make my foundation look almost perfect, but it only lasts for a few hours. Two recent foundations that didn’t work for me? Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Foundation and Too Faced Born This Way.

Q. What’s your favorite lipstick?

A. I have several: L’Oreal Color Riche Lipstick in Wisteria Rose, Marc Jacobs’ Le Marc Lip Cream in Clara and Melted Strawberry by Too Faced. They’re all fairly bright and I prefer brights with my skin tone. (My favorite non-bright is Tom Ford’s Spanish Pink.)

Q. Have you had a nose job and, if so, who was your doctor?

A. This is a surprising one that I’ve received several times. No, no nose job. It’s my original nose.

Q. How much weight have you lost? How did you do it?

A. I’ve lost 54 pounds and think I’ll switch to maintenance after another 30. I did not have weight-loss surgery, but would have if my insurance company covered it. I eat healthfully and never go over 1,200 calories per day. I walk 3-4 miles daily on a treadmill and take adult dance classes twice weekly. I also use two products by Hum Nutrition: Flatter Me, which reduces bloating, and Skinny Bird, which purports to reduce stress eating, boost metabolism, curb appetite and control blood sugar. Since losing weight, I no longer have high blood pressure or diabetes.

Q. What does your husband say about your weight loss?

A. Honestly? He doesn’t mention it often, other than to say I look nice. He’s not particularly effusive and never has been. He has mentioned several times that he’d love me at any weight, which is incredibly sweet.

Q. How is your son?

A. My son, James, was involved in a serious head-on collision a month ago. He was in a coma for awhile and there was concern about brain trauma, but we were fortunate. He does have numerous contusions and cuts, as well as broken ribs on both sides. He is healing well, but is in lots of pain. He has been a difficult patient because he suffers from severe anxiety and depression. We will get through it all together.

Q. What makeup trend do you dislike?

A. Instabrows — the large, overdone brows that have been in for awhile. This is partially because I’m a little sensitive about my own brows. I don’t have any, because they didn’t grow back after I had chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. I have tattoos and it looks ridiculous if I try to draw in bigger brows on top of them. I’m also not huge on a lot of highlighter. I just don’t think it’s particularly flattering on older skin. I try to use it judiciously.

Q. Are there any new products you’d like to try?

A. The new Anastasia Beverly Hills Stick Foundation. And some of the new Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks. Her mascara and foundation didn’t work for me, but her lipsticks are spectacular, as are her eye products and blushes.

Q. You’ve added quotes and poems to your Instagram page. Do you have a favorite?

A. I’ve gotten incredibly good feedback — and a lot of new subscribers — since adding quotes and outfit of the day photos. I try to choose quotes and poems a lot of people identify with, and most of us have either been in love or been hurt in love. I also like inspirational quotes, as well as sharing the poems of talented Instagrammers. Here are a couple items that got great response, followed by my favorite. I hope they inspire you. 

The (s)ex files: weight loss and body image

As almost anyone who’s overweight will tell you, feeling fat often puts the brakes on sex. It’s a body image thing: You don’t feel sexy and that affects your behavior in the bedroom (or the kitchen, or the shower, or …. let your imagination run wild). Oh, sure, there are some super-confident women who embrace their curves and feel sexy at any size, but for most of us it’s an issue.

As some readers of my blog already know, I embarked on a lifestyle change in February. Through a combination of healthy eating and exercise, I’ve been able to lose 48 pounds and want to lose about 30 more. I realize that’s a lot of weight, but in the scheme of things it’s not an incredible amount: I read stories almost every day about women who’ve lost two or three times as much.

Still, the nearly 50 pounds I’ve lost has had positive effects, both physically and mentally. Physically, I’m more comfortable than I’ve been in years. Why? Because in the past, I’ve lost weight with diet alone. This time, I added exercise to the effort. I walk three to five miles on a treadmill five days per week. Last night, I set the speed at 3.5 miles per hour and put in four miles. Now that might not impress some people, but consider that I was a non-exerciser. At first, 1.5 miles at two miles per hour was an effort. Now that seems like a cakewalk.

There’s another element to my exercise routine: Two nights per week, I take an adult dance class. On Tuesdays, it’s a ballet barre/stretch class. On Wednesdays, it’s tap — sometimes one class, sometimes two. I took 17 years of ballet and tap when I was young and love to dance, so the classes are a treat. Ballet and stretching elongate the muscles, while tap strengthens my leg muscles and my mind, the latter because of the long and intricate combinations of steps we learn on the spot.

The weight loss, dance classes and treadmill hours have transformed my body. I’m fortunate –some people who lose weight, particularly at my age — replace their concerns about fat with concerns about loose skin. I don’t have that issue; my skin has reacted well and seems to have retained much of its elasticity. Of course, I’m keeping it moisturized with bath and post-bath products that help.

Though my weight loss journey isn’t over, I feel stronger, more flexible and more sinuous. I move more easily. My body is less cumbersome, less clumsy. It’s easier to bend, flex, contort. And when I run my hands down my body, there’s a new sleekness.

That leads me to the sex part: I feel good. My body feels good. My skin — rid of sugar, preservatives and other toxins — is soft, smooth and glowing. I can feel my ribs, my pelvic bones, the muscles beneath my skin. I’m a breast cancer survivor who had double mastectomies with reconstructive surgery. When I gained weight, my stomach got bigger but my breasts didn’t. It gave me an odd, pregnant-looking profile. Frankly, my breasts look great with my flat stomach (thank you, Dr. Alfredo Villarreal Rios).

All of these things combine to make me more aware of my body, in a positive way. The new physical me has affected the mental me. Result: I feel sexy. I’m good with the way I look naked, and that’s something I haven’t experienced in years. A heightened sense of my own desirability and confidence in my sexuality are welcome side effects of weight loss I didn’t anticipate. I’m not saying that every woman who’s overweight should lose pounds to feel sexual — as I said, heavier women who feel hot can be incredibly sexy. But for me, losing the equivalent of two toddlers has done wonders for my sexual confidence and desire.

Let’s talk about your breasts … er, chest

Summer is here in full force — at least in North America — and that means a lot of people are spending time either poolside or at the beach. They’re working on relaxing as well as their tans, and they’re sharing their fun-in-the-sun moments on social media.

Those bronze glows often look perfect from a distance, but if you’re a woman over the age of 40, try enlarging your photo. You might see something like this:

Sun damage on a woman’s chest. (Note: not my chest.) 

Full disclosure: That’s not my chest. It’s the chest of a woman whose skin is prematurely wrinkled due to sun damage. This isn’t even a worst-case scenario. I’ve seen Facebook and Instagram photos of women whose entire chest areas, from armpit to armpit, look wrinkled, dry and — frankly — old.

The truth is that a bronze glow can be gorgeous, but also (in the not-unlikely event of skin cancer) scarring or deadly. As tempting as it might be to bake your way to brown, it’s smarter to slather yourself in sunscreen from forehead to neck to chest. And the higher the SPF, the better. Not only will it protect this delicate area from the sun’s harmful rays, but it will also help keep wrinkles at bay. After all, a wrinkled neck and chest — as well as the sagging skin that’s also a sunshine side effect — are extremely aging. My personal choice when it comes to face, neck and chest protection is Shiseido’s Ultimate Sun Protection Cream, which has an SPF of 50. It hasn’t failed me yet!

My go-to sunscreen: Shiseido’s Ultimate Sun Protection Cream

I personally don’t mind having a peaches and cream (translation: very pale) complexion. But if you can’t face going to the beach or pool with a “ghost tan,” give self-tanners a try. The newest versions are l0ng-lasting, streak-free and minus the distinctive chemical odor that accompanied earlier concoctions. I usually reach for Vita Liberata, which elicits an olive cast instead of the dreaded orange tone.
So remember: Protect your face, neck and chest from premature aging with a powerful sunscreen. Your skin will thank you.

False alarm and feeling sunny

 Phew! Some of y’all know I’ve been down in the dumps and fighting insomnia. I never sleep well when things are bothering me. My poor pillow knows. He’s been punched, pummeled, pounded and cried upon.

Anyway, the past month has been an ick-fest: My son was in a serious car wreck, I felt abandoned by a good friend who happens to be the best boss ever, and I found a lump under my right armpit — the same side on which I had breast cancer.

Did you know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? I, like my grandmother before me, was one of those eight. I found the lump at age 40 during an at-home breast check. I had a mastectomy with reconstruction followed by six months of chemotherapy. For 16 years, I was cancer-free. When I found a new lump, I immediately assumed the worst due to my medical history. And though it was probably a mistake, I kept the news to myself because I didn’t want anyone to worry. I confided only in my poor, afore-mentioned pillow.

The good news? I learned today that the lump was merely a small, harmless cyst. The other good news? If it had been cancer, I would have caught it early because I do regular self-exams. So, please do me — and the people who love you — a big favor and start doing breast checks today.

Oh, and the other good news? My son is going to be just fine. And I’ve decided that as much as I hate losing the best boss ever, Robie and I can be better friends without the boss part getting in the way.

Summation? All is great in my world. I hope things are great in your world too. But seriously, do your breast self-check. Like right now.

How cancer gave me better skin (and a better life)

 No one wants to find out they have cancer, especially a mother with one child starting high school and another in elementary school. I had just turned 40 when I got the bad news. I’d found a lump in my right breast. It didn’t show up on my mammogram and my doctor told me to stop worrying. It was just fibrocystic lumps, he said. Go home and relax, he said.

I knew I couldn’t relax with a lump the size of a cat’s-eye marble just behind my right nipple, so I demanded a biopsy. A few days later, my doctor called to deliver the news that I, indeed, had cancer. I met with a surgeon that very day. The verdict: a mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy.

A half-year later, cancer-free and with tufts of hair resembling the fuzzy down of a baby duck, I took a good look at my skin. It wasn’t good. I looked older, drawn and somewhat gray. I was still 40 years old but I looked a good 10 years older. The survivor in me said, “This will not do. I am not dead. I’m alive and want to look like it, damn it.” In that instant, my skin-care journey began.

I can’t say my skin is perfect today, but people tell me it doesn’t look 56. I have a few fine lines, but nothing that gives me pause. How did I go from gray and lifeless to vibrant and alive? Quite simply, I never skip my skincare routine. I don’t care whether I’m tired, sick, cold or sleepy, it will be done. I have it down to a science: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, eye cream, eyelash serum, lip balm.  Sometimes I use a face mask while I’m writing or watching television. Many nights I wear one to bed. I exfoliate to remove dead skin cells and promote turnover. I wear sunscreen and avoid the sun.I apply firming cream to my neck and décolletage. I take skin-care supplements.

Would I do all of those things if I hadn’t had breast cancer? Maybe. Eventually. I probably would have waited until wrinkles and lines appeared. And really, that’s a bit late. It’s always better to prevent the signs of aging than to deal with them once they’ve taken root. So my advice to women, all women, is this: Start taking care of your skin right now. Today. Baby it. Pamper it. Show it some love. It will love you back.

Speaking of showing love …

I mentioned that having cancer gave me a better life. It’s true. It did. At the back of my mind every day is the knowledge that breast cancer isn’t like other cancers. There’s no magical date upon which you’re considered cured. It can come back one year, five years, 15 years, 20 years later. When it does, it’s often with a vengeance.

Every day for me is a gift. Every person I love, friend or family, is a gift. The number is limited, just like our time on earth. I love each member of that elite circle fiercely and irrevocably. I tell them so, often. And I know, without a doubt, that my love is returned.