Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reba: Fashion layers

Reba and me dissentegrating in Africa.

I knew it was going to be a great trip when the text chimed in, "I can't wait to disintegrate with you."

The love note came from my childhood friend, Reba, just hours before we boarded planes from opposite sides of the United States to meet up in a cockroach-infested airport in Africa.

The text was referring to our impending hygiene decay. The refugee camp where we were headed had no running water or electricity. Getting ready came down to digging under your black nails with moist towelettes and splashing in a bucket of sub-zero rainwater. (Repeatedly shouting "Water World" helps. Water World's slides are always cold and people pay good money to splash in them.)

My dad calls the refugee camp "low-tech camping." In other words, it makes two weeks in a tent in the Rocky Mountain National Park look like the Hilton. In fact, after I tried but could not shake the ants out of my green breakfast bread, I began daydreaming about dehydrated backpacker's chow; just add water and the prepackaged powder transforms into a steak. Creepy, yes. Not crawling? Also, yes.

Most people back home are flabbergasted when I tell them about my annual refugee excursions. How can a fashion columnist handle the deepest and dirtiest ditches of humanity? Joyfully. But how can I survive without dresses and lipstick?

I don't.

I don't have to.

That's the thing that really freaks people out. You see, it turns out women are complex, multi-dimensional beings. We do not have to be either/or. We are all (seeming) contradictions in one way or another. And it's these opposing features, placed side-by-side like gold eye shadow with blue eyes, that make a woman stand out.

That is my justification for packing lipstick, mascara and one beautiful necklace -- a pick-me-up for those extra-rough days. Simple pleasures gain a new value after sleeping in an orphanage for orphans of war and AIDS. Happy thoughts become the only lifeline back to sanity.

But not too happy of thoughts; those hurt even more. Just something cheery and misplaced, like a fresh coat of "Amplified" pink M.A.C. lipstick. As Plato said, "The good is the beautiful."

Sure, it's taken out of context to prove my point. And I have no doubt Plato would have laughed at me when my backpack of beauty supplies tipped over in the graduated-floored latrine, sending my "lifelines" to the bottom of Bog of Eternal Stench.

It's all about balance -- in this case literally, but also figuratively, says Courtney Allen, a marketing intern with Boulder's Women's Wilderness Institute.

Allen, a University of Colorado graduate, rocks hiking boots, as well as stilettos. She just knows when to wear which.

Allen admits she hikes with make-up on. She shops at the Nordstrom Rack, Common Era in Boulder and Pink, a boutique on University Boulevard in Denver. She knows the best spa to get a mid-day mani/pedi (Fingers and Toes in Denver, because they also provide a boxed lunch).

She also adores her vintage outdoor clothing her parents passed down to her. Allen wants to start a blog called "Waterproof Mascara, " sort of a support group for outdoorsy girly girls.

She says too many women limit their style, and with that, their capacity for self-expression, personal growth -- and fun.

"It's about learning to appreciate different parts of who you are, " Allen says. "If you're comfortable throwing on make-up before you hike, that's fine. It doesn't take away from the hike at all."

No more than it diminishes a night on the town for an athlete who feels like wearing a twirly dress but doesn't want to wear glow-in-the-dark lipstick.

Just don't forfeit the breathtaking hike because you don't own Patagonia like the rest of the hikers. And don't forfeit that rooftop cocktail because you only wear Patagonia.

Allen says she hears too many women say the evil words: "I wish I could pull that off." What does that even mean?

"You can pull it off, " she says. "If you really want to, you can. You can be whatever you want."
Which is the heart of the Women's Wilderness Institute ( The institute helps local women uncover their inner outside-self in a safe, personal and fun environment.

"Everyone comes from different backgrounds, but you're all dirty, slimy, sweaty girls three days into the course, " Allen says. "The course peels away the first level, and you grow from there."
Or disintegrate from there, as it were.

Maybe Plato was off. I don't think the good is the beautiful.

The real is the beautiful.

Whatever shade of pink or mud-brown or ant-covered-green your personal reality comes in.

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