To say that my skin has endured a Brooklyn-style beat-down would be an understatement. I don’t know whether it’s Los Angeles, growing older, or the fact that my skin is becoming sensitive to everything (cue visuals of Julianne Moore in Safe prattling on about her totally toxic couch), but the past few months have taken a toll on me. During my Great Depression, a time when I ate a whole baguette slathered with butter, frozen “organic” enchiladas and halloumi cheese by the pound, I started to feel sick and then I noticed whiteheads setting up shop all over my forehead. One night I woke to burning raised hives, which covered 80% of my body, and I thought, fuck, not again. I went to a dermatologist who gave me a cortisone shot and prescriptions for steroid creams. The steroid cream triggered my second folliculitis outbreak, and I’ve been on antibiotics for weeks. Finally, the bumps have finally started to recede. And let’s not even discuss allergies so severe it sometimes became difficult for me to breathe.
All because my body reacted to what I was putting in it. Lately, I’ve become hyper-aware of the air I breathe, the food I eat, and the products I put on my skin and use in my home.
I loathe drugs. I only like taking medication if it serves to progress, rather than impede, function. And yes I know that the Felicia of 2001 would find that hilarious, and that’s okay because that Felicia used to subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks and we’ve come a long way, baby. Now I take antidepressants because they’re necessary for me to focus and function. I take birth control pills because I’d rather not lock myself in a bathroom for three days every month. I used to take anti-anxiety medication because I have a crippling fear of flying (I’ve screamed during turbulence more times than I’d like to admit). Only recently did I stop taking Xanax because pills really don’t work when the plane starts shaking mid-flight. Nothing works, really, other than me curling in a ball, doing my deep breathing, and telling myself that turbulence is normal. Even when it feels like it’s anything but. Now I only take medication if it’s completely necessary.
Monsanto, aka Satan, does exist and it’s ubiquitous. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to find food tainted by Roundup or any of the litany of chemicals plaguing our soil in the name of greed and profit (here’s looking at you Koch brothers and shady politicians on both sides of the aisle). I work in marketing and I often joke that my profession boils down to throwing glitter over shit, and that statement couldn’t be more accurate when we’re talking about Big Food. Everyone lies. We know that the term “natural” is obtuse and meaningless, but it makes us feel good much like the cool sensation from toothpaste or the suds from shampoo–both giving the impression of cleanliness when they’re actually just marketing ploys satisfying human behavior. Years ago, I sat in on a case study on Fabreeze, a product that, when launched, was initially a complete failure. Only when marketers conducted at-home focus groups did they learn that people gained a certain level of satisfaction from using the product after they’ve cleaned their space–the product functioning as a kind of digestif. We’re learning that Big Organic is just as shady as conventional, and every day we’re greeted with the news that some food may or may not kill us. Fear drives traffic and lies sell products, so it’s no doubt that we sometimes walk into a supermarket, restaurant or farmer’s market either completely ignorant or violently skeptical.
I don’t even trust Whole Foods anymore, but what can I do? Move to my own private Walden and grow my own food? Drink water from my own well? Sure, if I had Angelina Jolie money, but I live in reality and in this world, I have a budget and a life that is filled with little compromises. Even then I’m acutely aware of my privilege–the fact that I’m now able to afford vegetables and farmer’s market meat, which are often considered frivolous expenditures in homes where people are barely making ends meet, and this financial fragility isn’t getting better anytime soon. And I don’t foresee the lies and big business surrounding food, GMOs, and farmer equities getting better in my lifetime. Until then, I try to buy as much locally-produced food as I could. I try to educate myself on what’s going on with labels and faulty manufacturers.
I would talk about how cutting out gluten and dairy again from my diet have eliminated my allergies and the hives on my skin, but that topic is polarizing. People levy this discussion with that of dieting or food restrictions and let me be the first to tell you that if I could return to a life of eating Sidecar huckleberry donuts, you damn well know I would. If I could put cheese on my fucking bean pasta you know I would. This isn’t about dieting, it’s about my body having an adverse reaction to certain foods. And even that argument is countered with “food sensitivity doesn’t exist” to which I respond, ten years ago doctors were prescribing women antidepressants when they described symptoms that eventually surfaced as celiac disease. In short, I don’t believe long-term scientific studies have caught up with the pace in which our diet, the environment, and our food supply have changed. But let’s not talk about gluten and dairy and say we did.
Living a healthy life is expensive and exhausting.
For the past six months, a few of my friends who are beauty writers were kind enough to supply me with everything from deodorant to toothpaste to facial cleanser because that stuff adds up. You walk into any target and CVS and you could easily spend $50 on items that keep you clean. The irony in this is that these products don’t really serve you regardless of the luxury packaging, the celebrity endorsements or the commercials with English or French voice-overs. Many of these prestige products (ah, the promise of increased efficacy) are manufactured using similar formulas and factories as the “cheap” products. And when I start reading the multi-syllabic list of ingredients, each product listing water as the first and most concentrated ingredient, it reminded me of the time I read an ice cream label and asked, what is guar gum?
What is this shite I’m putting in and on my body? But then again, we live in an age where people are comfortable injecting their faces with botulism. So there’s that.
With each paycheck, I’m slowly making product swap-outs. I’m buying products whose ingredients resemble words in the English language and they’re working. Some of them are shown in the snap above, although some of the products (Caudalie) are mass manufactured–they’re holders from my friends’ extreme generosity, for which I’m grateful. I’m stocking up on more vinegar because that will get out cat vomit in carpet far quicker than some newfangled $10.99 bleach cleaner.
This post started one way and ended differently. I don’t have the answers to the long, meandering post I’m sharing with you, but I’m doing the work of being more thoughtful about what I put on and in my body, what I use in my home, and the environment in which I surround myself. It’s expensive and exhausting to live a healthy life, to cut through the confusing and conflicting news articles. It’s hard finding out what’s true and what’s marketing copy. It’s hard not having the food you crave and want and having to deal with people who sometimes respond to health issues with swallowed laughter and sarcasm. It’s hard knowing things and not having the ability (or the knowledge) of what to do. What do you do when you can afford farmer’s market pork and then you read an article about people who know McDonald’s is unhealthy but what are their options? What do you do when politicians don’t really talk about food or climate change because there’s a host of other ills in our country, but all the way Big Food does little to benefit the economically disadvantaged. What are the small things you can do that allow you to use your privilege to benefit others?
I welcome your insight.