This year has marked the beginning of a change in lifestyle, a change that's been a long time coming.
Some of the changes have been small: doing less laundry, reusing shopping bags, walking whenever possible. And some have been larger: getting rid of our second car, switching to a mostly vegetarian and vegan diet, shopping secondhand or sustainable whenever possible.
I know that these changes came about because of the election, but, recently, as I've been thinking back over this past spring and how different (and better, kinder, more textured, richer, happier) my less materialistic, greener life already feels it made me wonder what brought about the environmental movement in the larger society.
Of course, as all things in my life seem to link back to, it has to do with the 70s.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on in 1970. A year before that...
"...a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out."
Almost half a century later, in 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed on Earth Day by the U.S., China, and almost 120 other countries.
I fear that half century of hardwon progress is about to be rolled back again.
And so I do what I can... I walk. I learn. I share. I celebrate the Earth. I celebrate life.
Please join me!
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Dress by sustainable designer Kelly Love. Sustainably designed clothes are costlier. This was the only new dress I bought this spring, and I spent my whole spring budget on it, but it was worth it! The expense reflects fair labor practices and ethically sourced fabrics, but the cost is also reflected in the grace and quality of the garment. I got married at City Hall, so I don't have a wedding dress to pass along to my daughter. But I can imagine passing this silk dream of a dress along to her one day. My bag is secondhand from one of my favorite consignment stores: Bring N Buy in Ridgefield, CT. You can shop them on their Instagram feed now!
Yoga wisdom can sometimes come across as a little fortune-cookie-ish to the outside observer.
"Breathe out through the top of your head," a yoga teacher might command you in class.
Um, what now?
You can go with it or you can let your intellectual mind take over and scoff. I find going with it easy when I'm in great shape, but considerably harder, when, like I am now, I'm struggling to get back into the flow of things after a long, stressful winter. For the past week, I've been taking advantage of an unlimited pass at Rebel Yoga in Chestnut Hill, and both loving and loathing the unusual amount of practice. Usually, it's a pleasure to test my own gains in strength and flexibility. But when you're experiencing the opposite-- how you've weakened and softened-- it's hard not to get into your head in the afore-mentioned critical way.
In short, it's hard not to get competitive, when you're feeling insecure. I realized the broader implications of that feeling, when the teacher commanded us not to breathe through our skulls but to take what we had learned on the mat and apply it to life.
"That's ridiculous," I thought. "I don't act this competitively in real life..." Oh wait.
I was aware of my yoga class competitiveness, and I was already ashamed of it. There's nothing worse than another student beside you, radiating tension, shaking with effort and rage.
Effort and rage are not what yoga is about to say the least.
It's so much better to move gently through poses, breathing, and enjoying yourself. But when you can't flow where once you could, it's hard not to become the very, uncool fire-breathing version of a yogi yourself.
"Am I being this competitive because I'm... insecure?" I mused for a while after our teacher spoke her yoga Yoda piece. It certainly helped explain why I was suddenly not enjoying myself, because yoga is usually a chance to reconnect with the 9-year-old inside of me who spent an ENTIRE SUMMER UPSIDE DOWN.
I was never a great gymnast, but dang if I was not an enthusiastic one.
In how many other areas of my life, I wondered, had I spoiled my own enjoyment, measuring myself against others instead of being in the moment? Of course, physical stuff came to mind immediately, because 1. and 2. I live in a world that never stops messing with women's heads.
I'm happy to say that in becoming a mother I have become considerably less competitive in that category. I'm not 100% immune to the advertising, because I'm not blind, deaf, and dumb/ liar, but after having experienced gaining 70 lbs, losing 65, gaining another 70 back and then losing 60 in the course of two pregnancies in less than three years, I'm much kinder to myself about my shape. Partially, I'm just grateful my shape-shifting days are over.
It was also interesting-- like being the heroine of a sci-fi story-- to be all these different sizes. However, it was disconcerting to change that dramatically that swiftly. It wasn't a process I had a lot of control over, but it did leave me feeling more body-positive. After all, when you've experienced your body making people and then shrinking back down to your normal size as if nothing happened, it's hard not to be a bit in awe of a wisdom that surpasses all rational explanation. It's hard on days like today when I step on the scale, and it tells me I'm still 20 lbs heavier than when I was modeling in New York, but I mostly win that battle. I mostly feel good about myself.
It's the not feeling good that mostly fuels the worst aspects of the fashion industry, I think. And that's unfortunate. There's no reason the silly, vain, sweet art of self-decoration needs to be despised by some or honored by others the way it is. Go with me here as I metaphor, but if your body is like your mat, really your experience there should be your own. For me, to be happy, I need to be gew-gawed, bedazzled, and spackled to the tee. However, a problem arises, I think, when we women let the world make us insecure, when we look around at other mats, and wonder whether their gew-gaws are gooier.
When I think of how happy I am to inhabit a healthy, fit body, I am content. When I weigh myself and begin to think critically or compare myself to others, I become less so.
I become a shopper. I become compulsive. I help fuel the world's second most polluting industry after big oil. The silliest part is beauty truly does come from inside. I never felt beautiful when I modeled. Never. But I feel beautiful now. It's the feeling inside your own self, on your own little mat that counts towards happiness more than any other factor, and finding that flow in any way you can is your own wonder and work.
The more I learn about the fashion industry, the more I want to define my own ideal of beauty and living. To my great surprise, I have not had to give up style to do so. There are SO MANY gently used clothes out there. Did you know most garments only get worn FOUR TIMES?
So that's my struggle at the moment: defining my own sense of style and fashion, finding my completion within myself, instead of comparing myself to others, and letting those cracks of insecurity crack open all my happiness and cause me to contribute to a global epidemic otherwise known as fast fashion. For example, the dress above does not fit me. I bought it on ebay. My very first auction! And I usually always wear a size 4, but at the moment my body is still shifting and changing.
I'm selling the Self-Portrait dress here, rather than hoarding it-- my preciouses, sigh!--soon to be listed in the shop section of my site! I'm 5'9", and it's a bit too short on me and won't close up the back. I bought it from another new mother, and I understand now why she was selling it brand-new. (It's still got its tags. I just wore it for this blog post before I gave up the good fight.) It would suit someone a bit shorter and...er... not a mommy (to use a euphemism for my still heavy, breast-feeding boobs. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me through the site if you're interested in learning more.
Thanks for reading! I'm always curious what people think of these essays, so be sure to let me know your thoughts below. Do you think insecurity is the contributor the world's great ills or do you think that's a bit of an overstatement/ yoga fortune cookie?
For a while after the election, every morning I'd thumb through the news, absorbing one shocking story after another, until they merged into one huge, overwhelming ball of bad vibes. I knew I had to make a change in my life to combat how helpless I felt, and that's part of what this blog is about. However, in that time, one piece, an obit, stuck with me, even though I hadn't heard of the French designer Emmanuelle Khanh before her death. (It's sad how often that happens!)
Emmanuelle Khanh, whose name caught my eye first, resonating as it does with a postcolonial, global vibe, was famous for reinvigorating fashion in the '60s. Her specialty was quirky, wearable clothes for young women. Not only was she ahead of her time, freeing women from the ongoing rigidity of girdles (boo Spanx!), but she was already aware of a creeping modern malignancy: disposable, cheap trends.
What she said that stuck with me was this:
“In the 1960s and ’70s, it really was all about ready-to-wear, clothes designed with women in mind, because there hadn’t been anything like it before,” Ms. Khanh told the magazine L’Express in 2016, when she sold her private collection at a vintage-clothing auction. “In the ’80s and ’90s, it was ‘ready to show’ — runway fashion. In the 2000s, it’s ‘ready to throw away’ — you buy it to wear it for one season, and that’s it.”
Ready to throw away.
If you think about it, that phrase is almost the foundation of our modern culture. For example, before the blizzard hit last week, I made a semi-reluctant trip to Target to stock up on essentials for me and the toddlers. I actually found some great DIY and art projects that occupied us very nicely through the biblical plague visited upon us-- whoever heard of a snowstorm so loud it kept us awake all night, hailing and icing!! While I was standing in the long line of freaked out Philadelphians, waiting to check out, I paged through StyleWatch Magazine. My eyes lit on this passage:
It sent a chill down my spine.
We must stop normalizing a culture that uses 400 gallons (2700 liters) of fresh water to make ONE t-shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink for 900 days! Almost three years of drinking water that we're planning to throw away BEFORE WE EVEN BUY IT. Jeans are even worse. They require almost 4 times that amount of water to grow enough cotton to produce a pair. ONE pair requires 1,800 gallons of water. That's more than a decade of drinking water, and I don't know about you, but I have so many jeans I couldn't wear them all in a month. (Most of mine are from Housing Works, Life, Vintage, and Thrift, etc., but still.)
We have to stop normalizing the concept that we can just keep making more of the stuff we already have, while throwing out 65 lbs of textiles every year! (What the average American throws away without including other textiles like sheets and bedding.)
Rant over. Sorry. Here's the good news.
The good news is that an awareness is growing, and since we have a lot of stuff already, changing shouldn't be that hard.
Reusing, recycling, thrifting, upcycling, sharing, giving away, trading, donating.
Those are all easy, quick ways to make a huge difference in terms of your personal footprint. But... we need to do our part to help the concept catch on, because we have been conditioned for a while to think new is better than old. For example, the same day I made that Target run, I stopped into Millay Vintage, where I found the beautiful, sustainably-designed and produced dress I'm wearing in the first picture along with the vintage cashmere shawl. I got to chatting with the owner and mentioned I was starting a sustainable fashion blog. Inserting my foot in my mouth, I then mentioned an observation, that I haven't noticed a lot of interest in thrifting or vintage in Philly compared with New York-- the city where I'm originally (kind of) from.
Millay Vintage is a beautiful shop, like an exquisite little boudoir of some sci-fi geek's idea of a time travelling femme fatale from the 1930s, stopping in the '90s, and remaining in 2016. I apologized profusely for my faux pas.
"No, it's okay," the owner said. "It's true. A lot of my clientele seem to be from New York."
I think that's a good sign, actually. New York City has tended to be America's trendsetter, and if it's cool in New York, I guarantee you it will be cool soon enough elsewhere. For my part, putting all these pieces together, I realized the reason Emmanuelle Khanh's words stuck with me is because they align so closely with my own feelings on the subject. I want to continue her legacy. I both love fashion and loathe fashion's footprint. I want to help redefine what a cool girl is just as Emmanuelle herself did, and I think a cool girl should be a sustainable one, not a trendy one. As Coco Chanel said anyway, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman." Dressing well, shouldn't be dressing in the latest disposable trends.
Doesn't that make us disposable in a sense as well?
In that spirit, I'm giving away a bunch of my own things, donating them and sponsoring this gently used bag (and my book!!) giveaway here and on Instagram. To enter simply follow @IsabellaMDavid on Instagram and comment either here (mentioning which bag you're interested in 1,2, or 3) or under one of the pictures on my IG!
Outfit & Giveaway Details
Giveaway 1: vintage Italian leather satchel with crossbody strap. Kelly Love dress and vintage shawl from Millay Vintage in Philadelphia.
Giveaway 2: vintage black leather backpack with extra side pockets and a drawstring closure. Marc Jacobs blazer from Shop Greene Street in Manayunk, Swedish Hasbeens Boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Celine micro bag from eBay (not for giveaway yet, sorry!)
Giveaway 3: Tylie Malibu fringe, crossbody bag from Buffalo Exchange in the East Village, Hasbeen Swedish boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Paige jeans from Twice As Nice in Ridgefield, CT
Two events triggered changes in my life, changes that have expanded concentrically like stones in a pool sending ripples through my present life, triggering even more changes, and both occurred a scant handful of years ago, just before I became pregnant with my first child.
More to the point, both events made me want to live a more ethical existence.
1. The first life-changing-little-did-I-know-it-then-event:
It was 2012, and I was driving cross country with my sis, helping her move from her graduate housing in Colorado to her new professor-ship (that should be a word) at Bowdoin College. My sister is a... wait for it... fluvial geomorphologist. Try saying that 3x quick. Mostly that's a fancy word for saying she studies human impact on water and eco-systems. Anyway, back then I'm ashamed to say my bottled water habit had gotten pretty bad, but that was after living in NYC for almost a decade. My scientist sister, as I like to call her, pointed it out to me plenty on that long, long, long cross-country drive. (Jesus, America is yuge. Yuge.) NYC actually has great water piped down from the Adirondacks, but I'd been living in old buildings with lead-lined pipes...according to one landlady who was potentially insane, but. When you're landlady tells you there's lead in the water, you tend to put principles aside and pick plastic, so I sympathize with anyone who doesn't feel comfortable drinking their tap water. However, as my sister pointed out, tap water is often excellent, even preferable to what you're buying in the bottle.Plus, the waste caused by bottled drinks is horrific. Did you know there's an entire soupy island of our junk now in the Pacific? It's called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Check it out. Bottled drinks make up some of the most frequently found items in the soup.
Around that same time, I encountered the delightful Rosalind Jana's blog, Clothes, Cameras, and Coffee . Her writing and her blog were a revelation to me. She was one of the first truly intelligent women I'd encountered who also reveled in fashion but tempered any charges of vanity by taking both an ethical and highly creative approach to her self-decoration. Since then, I've added Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michelle Obama, Louise O'Neill, Natalie Kay, and Katie of Sustainability in Style to that roster.
Which brings me to the present!
Recently, I watched The Minimalists on Netflix and immediately longed to carry out their Thoreau-like dictum, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." For one thing, in 2016, we moved three times-- THREE times with TODDLERS--and it was galling carrying junk we didn't use from one location to another. I nearly destroyed my right shoulder in the process. Then, one day, it occurred to me: what's stopping me from living the way I'd like to live?
Two babies, a voice deep inside me snidely replied.
Okay, touche, deep voice. But!... That brings me to my greatest source of inspiration: my children. I want to provide them with a better example than the one I grew up surrounded by.
Instead of the mantra consume, consume, consume, I want to encourage them to live, live, live! Tempered of course by a bit of collect, collect, collect. As the Minimalists point out, if a collection brings a lot of value and joy to your life, that's not the same as hoarding. (Er.. right, Minimalists?) With that said, I'm going to be offering a curated collection of books for sale on here that I loved but don't think I'll read again and clothes that I've been carrying around for years but haven't worn, including some beautiful children's clothes. I'll also be sharing my research on ethical brands and companies and posting outfits of my beautiful, old clothes... Basically, my new mantra will be to live the simple way I imagined I'd always like to live, but always felt I'd have to wait to achieve, or...
Vive la Résistance!
Outfit details: Elizabeth and James dress from Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea, brass necklace from Second Time Around in Center City, Philadelphia. Two poems about my trip with sister & my first exposure to the world of sustainable living were published at Every Day Poetry, which sadly no longer exists but are both available in my collection on Amazon.
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.