My dog has made me a better human being. Cliche, but true.
Before I adopted him as a half-starved stray from the shelter, I was kind of closed-off. Stuff had happened, and life had hardened me in a lot of ways. And then there was this bundle of exuberant joy in my life--a Minpin/Jack Russell mix who wagged his tail so hard when he saw me that he almost lost his balance.
If you haven’t met him yet, xoVain, please meet my pup, Oliver.
Before Oliver was Oliver, back when he was just a no-name breeding dog kept in a little cage, he had a rough go of it. He was neglected. He was abused. He was starved. When he got an eye infection, he was thrown out of a moving car onto a busy street instead of being taken to a vet. He was never loved or cared for. He was never played with or treated well.
Despite all the horrible experiences he’s had, this dog STILL has a heart full of love. That love has done a lot to smooth some of the sharper edges of my personality, and it’s made me a much better, happier person.
And he’s taught me a lot of lessons, too. Most of them are practical things like how high terriers can jump (very high), and how quickly a dog bred for hunting can kill a mouse (quicker than you could ever possibly imagine).
But some of the lessons that he taught me are about beauty, and those are the ones I’ll be sharing with you today.
LESSON #1: Eyebrows are everything.
It’s a fact: Oliver’s ginger eyebrow-dots are THE CUTEST. They give so much character to his face, it’s unbelievable. Sometimes I come across people who don’t think that dogs really have facial expressions, and it’s like...come on, dudes. You’re kidding, right?
I pride myself on taking care of my eyebrows, because even though mine aren’t quite as adorable, they work on my face. They have a nice shape and a good natural arch, and they’re really expressive--sometimes they give away what I’m really thinking when I’m trying to keep a straight face.
My brow-maintenance routine is pretty simple. I use Tweezerman tweezers twice a week to grab any strays in the middle or stragglers under my arches. To keep my brows looking good, I spray a tiny bit of hairspray onto a clean mascara brush and brush them into shape, then fill them in with an angled brush and light brown shadow.
I’d rather have my brow game on point than almost anything else. After concealer, it’s a must on my five-minutes-and-out-the-door makeup routine.
LESSON #2: Get more sleep.
I was really nervous when I adopted Oliver, because even though I work from home, my hours are LONG. Friends had given me the impression that a dog was like a really mobile toddler--you can’t leave them alone, and you can’t let them get bored or they’ll destroy everything you own. I was worried that by adopting a dog, I’d need to provide said dog with super-fun entertainment 24/7.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that even high-energy dogs like mine SLEEP FOR LIKE 18 HOURS A DAY.
Oliver loves long walks. He loves playing fetch and being chased by scary bananas around the dinner table. But when he isn’t doing that? He’s on my bed or under my desk, sound asleep. By 9 p.m., he’s crashed out in his crate--where he stays until I wake him up at 6 or 7 in the morning.
I should learn from this. When I’ve got a lot going on, sleep is the first thing to get sacrificed. Not getting enough sleep reduces cognitive functioning, which is bad enough, but it can also mess with your prettiness. When you don’t sleep enough, your body reduces extra cortisol, which is popularly called “the stress hormone.” Lots of cortisol can break down the collagen in your skin, leading to fine lines, extra-sunken dark circles and dull-looking skin.
I can’t have that! I need my sharp brain and nice skin for work! I solemnly swear to aim for eight hours of sleep a night (and probably get seven), which is way better than aiming for six and getting five if I'm lucky.
LESSON #3: Contrast is everyone’s friend.
Oliver’s black and tan colouring really shows off his Miniature Pinscher heritage. But he has a surprise on his belly, which is where you see his Jack Russell ancestry...it’s almost totally grey and white.
I remember when Marci wrote about how as we age, the contrast of our facial features lessens, and this is one of the ways our brain processes how old we think someone is. It’s no wonder we make our eyelashes darker, our lips brighter, our hair more vibrant--all things that up the contrast of our features, and therefore make us seem younger.
My makeup “uniform” relies heavily on this, even though I never really thought about it--my black winged eyeliner with loads of black mascara contrasts with my fair hair, and my favourite lipstick colours are intense and stand out against my light skin. Not to mention that my glasses always, always have dark frames.
The question is, do I like these things and think they look good on me because they’re high-contrast, OR am I responding to cultural conditioning and internalised attitudes about youth and beauty? IMPORTANT THOUGHTS TO THINK.
Lesson #4: Have a signature colour.
Okay, a confession: I am one of those jerks who has clothes for her dog. Before you all roll your eyes, let me explain--I bought him a coat for the winter because he shivers fit to break your heart in the snow, and he has a Rolling Stones t-shirt for when we go on hikes in the forest preserve. It helps keep bugs from biting his tummy, because that's gross for everyone involved.
All of Oliver’s stuff is red: his shirt and coat, his collar, his harness, leash and Gentle Leader. Everything. It’s his signature colour. This is more for my benefit, of course--it’s much easier to find his stuff and keep it organised if it’s all one colour. But also, I can’t deny it...the pup looks good in red.
You guys might not believe this, but I have a signature colour too.
Pink makes me feel confident and pulled together. It looks amazing on my lips. In a sheer wash, it makes my green eyes extra lovely. It’s my favourite blush. It’s my favourite bag. It’s my favourite winter coat, too. Though I love ALL colours, pink makes my world go round.
This particular shade is Lovesick, and it's a Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Lipstain...ie, one of my new FAVOURITE products.
Looking for your signature colour? Ask yourself these questions: What shade are you most drawn to? Do you like bright or light colours? Deep or pastel? Shades of grey? What colour makes you feel the most like YOU? How can you incorporate that into your beauty routine or your wardrobe? Can you wear it as a lipstick? A blush? A nail polish? What about a pedicure?
Life is too short to waste stuck in barfy colours that you hate. Find something that makes you feel powerful and awesome, and then find a creative way to wear it! Oliver know it’s a good idea.
LESSON #5: You are what you eat.
Oliver had a terrible skin problem when I got him. It was so dry and flaky under his coat, and he scratched constantly. His fur was dull. It was terrible.
Along with a special grooming regimen, his vet told me to change his diet. Oliver has what is called Stubborn Jerk Disorder, characterised primarily by sudden refusals to eat the food that only that morning was delightful to him. I started feeding him Blue Buffalo Chicken and Rice, and not only did his SJD clear right up, his skin has calmed down and his coat is MAGNIFICENT now. You’ve never seen a shinier dog!
I think almost everyone who writes for xoVain has said something along the lines of “What I put in my body shows on the outside,” and I think it’s really true. When I eat crappy food, my skin looks blah, and I’m more prone to breakouts, my hair isn’t as nice as it normally is; I have less energy, which means I’m less likely to work out, which means I’m not taking care of myself the way I should, which means I feel crappy, which means I eat crappily...it’s a vicious cycle.
I’m not saying not to EVER eat anything gross/delicious. Just be moderate! Eat mostly healthy food, whatever that looks like for you and your body. Eat a little bit of stuff that’s not-so-healthy but fun. Your coat will be shiny and lovely in no time!
My coat is really nice!
LESSON #6: Black and brown look awesome together.
After reading Hannah’s article about mixing metals, I was thinking about other style rules we’re not meant to break--in beauty and in fashion. Not wearing brown and black together was one of them that was mentioned in the comments section, and I think we all roundly agreed that was rubbish.
Guys. I did some research and found out who was behind the “brown and black are awesome together” movement.
Even though I like brown, I don't usually wear it myself. OR SO I THOUGHT. Imagine my surprise when I looked back at my writing this year and saw that these are the eyeshadows I use the most often:
Who could have possibly inspired such a revolution? I WONDER…
LESSON #7: Always wash your face.
Oliver’s morning routine goes like this: Wake up. Go outside to pee. Come inside and have breakfast. Sit on couch and stare intently while yours truly eats her breakfast. Lick paws and wash face like a little kitty.
Yep, you read that right. My dog washes his face every single morning, but he is so shy about it that I have never once managed to get a photo or video. It’s like the Bigfoot of adorable gestures.
I’m pretty sure you know what I’m going to say here, but I’ll say it anyway: If my dog, who sometimes jumps headfirst into walls, can wash his face regularly, you can too. It’s never too late to establish good skincare habits!
LESSON #8: Be a total jerk at the nail salon.
NO WAIT, DON’T DO THAT.
Oliver hates getting his nails done. Haaaaaaaaates it. It’s the only grooming that I can’t do myself--his nails are black and I can't see the quick--but it’s really necessary. He tends to jump when he’s excited, and he also hugs with his front paws... add in sharp dewclaws to that equation and you have scratched and bloodied human legs.
The people who groom Oliver know him pretty well, so they’re prepared. And even though he gets treats, he still cries and howls and screams and tries to wiggle away while they’re tending to his manicure. Afterwards, he won’t so much as look at me for at least an hour. That’s how you know a dog is mad at you.
Believe it or not, this represents a marked improvement in his behaviour.
It probably does without saying, but DON’T DO ANY OF THIS. However, you should really take care of your nails in a way that works for you. I spend an hour each week giving myself a manicure because being at the top of my beauty game is part of my job now, but I realise that doesn’t work for everyone. Here’s my thirty second, super-basic nail care guide:
- Don’t bite your nails. I bit mine for years and it’s terrible. Not only does it look bad, it’s really germy and you can do permanent damage to your nail beds.
- File your nails in one direction only, don’t saw back and forth. Never file them when they’re wet; wet nails are fragile nails.
- Keep them all the same length and shape.
- Get a good strengthening base coat. Apply this whether you colour your nails or not.
- Apply two to three coats of polish, if you’re doing a colour. Avoid glitter if your nails are super fragile, because it’s hard to get off and that can damage nails more. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next one.
- Get a good top coat. I sing the praises of Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, which some of you have since tried out and LOVE. Yay!
- Be comfortable with the length of your nails. They have to work with your life, not the other way around.
I’m working on a more detailed nail care guide as we speak, but these are the basics.
Also, please never pee on the person filing your nails. That’s just terrible.
LESSON #9: If you want to do a questionable beauty treatment to someone, wait until they’re sleepy.
Now that you know how little Oliver enjoys having his nails messed with, I present you this picture:
He was napping (naturally) while I was doing my nails, and I thought, “I wonder if I could paint one of his nails without him noticing…”
And I did. He didn’t even wake up. Once he was awake, he didn’t even notice anything was different, and the polish wore off completely in about two weeks.
This works on humans, too. I’ve only ever had good results when asking half-asleep boyfriends if I can file their nails or put a mask on their faces. They agree because they’re too drowsy to argue, and once they’re a little more awake, it’s too late! They’ve agreed!
Lesson #10: Accept yourself (and others).
Oliver is short with a terrier’s build--stocky, muscular, and longer than he is tall. His ears are bigger than his entire head. He sometimes has no idea what his tail is doing. Some people think he’s funny-looking. Other dogs sometimes don’t respect him right away as the alpha dog he so completely knows that he is.
Oliver does not care. He’ll wrestle big dogs to the ground, he’ll charm the pants off of anyone who might be tempted to turn their nose up at his short legs and non-purebred status. He is perfect and adorable exactly the way he is.
He’ll never be built like a Greyhound, and he wastes no energy wishing that he was. Outside the parameters for his weight set by his vet, his little nugget self isn’t going to change much--he’s not a bag of diet dog food away from looking like a Whippet. And, except for occasionally getting frustrated when he’s too short to look out a window, Oliver likes how he is, and he’s bigger than squirrels, which is all he cares about.
It’s harder for humans. I know that it is. But I think a lot about Oliver when I’m tempted to get down on myself about the way I look or am. I don’t get cross because he isn’t built like a bulldog, or because he isn’t a prizewinning Crufts champion. Why is it so much easier to accept him--and other people--than to accept myself?
I don't have the answers to this. I'm still figuring it out myself. But one thing I do know is that you shouldn't waste your time wishing that you were something you’re not, or judging yourself (or others) based on impossible criteria. Instead of stressing because you don’t have the thighs of a teenage gazelle, as yourself: Am I healthy? Am I taking steps to becoming healthy? Does my body do what I ask it to? Am I taking care of myself as best I can? And instead on focusing on the things you’re bad at, think about all the stuff you’re good at--I bet it’s a longer list than you think.
You are awesome just the way you are--anything on top of that is just gravy. Amazing, fantastic gravy. And you know that’s true, because these are not faces that would lie to you.
Have you ever learned any essential beauty and life lessons from animals? What's your signature colour? Post any and all cute pet photos in the comments, please! And if you have any questions for Oliver, sing out, Louise! The pup will be on my lap all day answering questions; think of it as a Reddit AMA, only easier to keep track of.