Tag Archives: essay

Princess Margaret: Patron Saint of Doing Whatever You Want

Looking back on my childhood, my obsession with the British royal family seems almost inevitable. I grew up on a steady diet of all things princess. This is typical trait of any young femme raised during the Disney Renaissance, but the basement of my childhood home was particularly chock-full of all things pink and sparkly. I dreamed of something more spectacular than my reality of multiplication tables and waiting for my parents to pick me up from after school programs. I wanted to wear fancy dresses and fall in love and save all of China.

As I grew older, I started to search out the stories of real royals in my elementary school’s library, desperate to find some way into a royal family myself. It wasn’t enough that I was already a privileged white girl living a comfortable life in suburbia. I needed a crown, too.

When I was 10 my parents took me on my first trip to London. Our trip was full of visits to historic sites, but I was particularly invested in any stop on our itinerary that happened to involve actual real life royalty. I stared up at the gates of Buckingham Palace, willing one of the Windsors to come out and invite me in for tea. I feigned disappointment when we learned that we couldn’t visit the royal apartments at Windsor Castle, as they were in use. The trip happened to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, and every gift shop in town offered some kind of commemorative trinket. My parents still have a small teapot commemorating the occasion.

My feelings on the royal family have shifted over time, and I often question their relevance in today’s society. But I can’t stop reading about them. They wear pretty things and hold lavish weddings and hang out with corgis and occasionally do some good in the world. The head of the family is a 91-year-old woman who a) still makes public appearances and b) still has all her own hair. I don’t know what kind of blood oath she made when she ascended the throne, but I want in.

I started watching The Crown on Netflix in the hope that I would learn that secret to longevity. Instead, I became hopelessly enamored with Princess Margaret, the queen’s younger sister, as portrayed by the gorgeous and talented Vanessa Kirby. Margaret, or at least The Crown’s version of her, is everything I’ve ever wanted out of a princess, real or animated. We see her fall in and out of love, chain smoke to her heart’s content, grow bored at stale parties, and listen to music written after 1900. Though she was free from the pressure of being the one chosen by God to be Britain’s head of state, she was still a Windsor and had to make several heartbreaking sacrifices in order to protect her family. Instead of just wiping away a single tear and moving on with her life, we see her react to heartbreak like a normal human being. I mean, who among us hasn’t gotten drunk and ugly cried while listening to Ella Fitzgerald after a bad breakup?

One thing I came across about real life Margaret has elevated her to icon status in my mind. It’s this photo of her truly indulgent morning routine circa 1955.

Now, it’s pretty easy to get away with a two-hour breakfast and one-hour bath when your job is, you know, just existing. I don’t know if a day that starts at noon is totally for me, as I’m someone who loves having things to fill up my day. But there’s something so aspirational about Margaret’s schedule. The woman knew how to take care of herself.

There were plenty of times when Margaret had to compromise for the sake of the Crown. She ended her relationship with divorced RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend to save her family from scrutiny (and her own spot in the line of succession). As a very public member of the royal family, her daily life prior to her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones was fairly prescribed. But, within those confines, she did what she wanted. She smoked and drank and partied with artists. When her fiance, Billy Wallace, turned out to be a total fuckboi who used their engagement to get attention from other women, she dropped him like a hot plate (as portrayed in this stunning moment for which I hope Vanessa Kirby wins a million awards). She ended up marrying a bisexual (allegedly) polyamorous (allegedly) photographer, but wasn’t afraid to actually divorce him when the marriage fell apart in the 70s. And she actually, you know, expressed emotions on occasion.

We all have responsibilities. Even members of the most famous family in the world have limitations. I see Princess Margaret’s life not as an excuse to stay in the bath all day and start drinking vodka first thing in the morning, but more as inspiration to do things for myself. This year, I want to make more of a conscious effort to check in and ask myself if I’m doing a thing because I want to or because I think it’s what I’m supposed to do. When I’ve done this in the past, the answer is always a little murky – there’s always some sense of responsibility or social pressure driving my decisions, even if they’re things I’m very passionate about. What can I say, I’m an anxious Virgo. But I’m working on flipping that ratio this year. Because I deserve to do more stuff that makes me happy, even if it’s indulgent, or imperfect, or pisses off the Prime Minister.  

So did Princess Margaret. So do you.

Roaches are a Metaphor

A few months ago, my brilliant and talented friend Carl stayed at my apartment for a few days while visiting New York. Though we don’t see each other all that often, we have the kind of friendship where we can be honest with each other, even when things aren’t so pretty. It’s something I value and am incredibly grateful for. Most of the time.

On the last day of his stay, I had some errands to run, so I left him at the apartment to do his thing. A few minutes later, I got a Snapchat from him – it was a picture of a dead cockroach on its back, a few inches from my radiator.

“KILL IT WITH FIRE,” I responded, as any completely sane person would.

Roaches are just a fact of life in New York. No matter where you live or how long your apartment building has existed, you’re going to deal with them at some point. They’re gross, but I’ve kind of just accepted the fact that I am invading their turf. They were here first. And they’re probably not going to kill me. Probably.

Still, it’s embarrassing as hell to have a guest find one in your home.

I live alone, so when it comes to my apartment, I don’t really have anyone to answer to but myself. No one’s nagging me to wash my dishes, or take out the recycling, or clean my refrigerator (seriously, who has the time?). I keep the place as clean as possible for myself and try to get in a good deep cleaning session at least once a month. It’s not always easy, though. I’m a busy person – some weeks I’m only home long enough to get in a good night’s sleep. This was more or less the norm back when I was working 50 hours a week.

I let things pile up. I hide my messes when people come over. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes the cracks show.

Despite being a Virgo, I am far from a perfectionist. I know that I can’t control everything. I know that I can’t make everyone feel safe. And yet, when someone finds something off about my home – a leaky faucet, an unclean glass, a roach carcass – I feel like they’re seeing my truth. That I am a messy person who can’t take care of herself. Someone who enjoys living in filth. Someone who just doesn’t care.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I can’t wallow in that feeling. I can listen to it and acknowledge its presence, but I can’t let it control me. That just leads to more hoarding, more ignoring, more surface-level cleaning. If anything, that Snap was a wake up call.

Last night, I finally had some time to investigate the problem further. It turns out that my sink has been leaking for…who even knows how long. One thing roaches love more than human food is damp spaces. And I gave them a nice place to play.

It feels shitty to acknowledge the fact that I’ve been ignoring this problem for so long. I feel like I lost all my “cool girl who lives alone” cred in that moment. My apartment can look cool as hell, but what’s even the point if things don’t work properly?

I took a second to wallow, and then called my super. He’s looking into it today. It may take a few days to fix, but we’ll find a solution. And who knows? Maybe someday it’ll start leaking again. At least I’ll know what to do.

Oops, I’m Addicted to Gel Manicures

My name is Charlotte Dow, and I’m addicted to gel manicures.

Now’s the time when you all say, “Hi, Charlotte.” That’s how these things go, right?

I honestly can’t remember my first manicure. I was probably way too young, and I probably messed it up two seconds later. Such is the way with children, particularly those with no fine motor skills. I do, however, remember hanging out in the local nail salon while my mom had a perfectly work-appropriate shade of beige applied to her tips. She’d chat with the manicurists and the other local ladies in the salon, listening to their family and work drama and sharing her own. I would sit in the corner and stack the Essie bottles like they were Legos.

As time went on and I became more interested in beauty, I’d join my mom in the salon every couple of weeks. Nail polish became my way of expressing myself without totally freaking out my parents. I’d try out bold colors – fire engine reds, deep navy blues, sparkly purples – in an attempt to show the world that I was edgy and cool. In truth, I didn’t know who the heck I was. Those nail colors were just another piece of the costumes I tried on while I tried to figure it out. Mom was always encouraging. She’d tell me when a shade didn’t quite match the dress I planned to wear to a bat mitzvah, or if it was too harsh on my essentially translucent skin. For the most part, though, she let me pick whatever I wanted. Nail polish comes off pretty easily – it wasn’t like I was dying my hair magenta.

Once I got to college and started managing my own money, I realized that I needed to learn how to do my own nails if I wanted to keep them colorful. Again, my fine motor skills leave something to be desired, and I don’t really have an eye for the visual arts. Manicure nights in my bunk at summer camp would usually end with Sally Hansen spilled all over the floor, my fingertips covered in black, chunky varnish. I was a mess when it came to the DIY manicure. But, with a little practice (and several bottles of $2 drugstore polish), I learned how to do a decent enough job of painting my own nails. My collection of (now dried out) colors aside, I managed to save myself a fair amount of money.

Trimming your nails over a trashcan in front of your TV just doesn’t quite compare to the real nail salon experience, though. There’s something comforting about the bright fluorescent lights, the TV that’s tuned into CNN at all hours of the day, and someone massaging your hand hard enough to pinch a nerve. In a way, it feels like home, which is probably the bougiest sentence I’ve ever written.

When I moved to New York, I started visiting the nail salon more often, when I had the time and money. They’re ubiquitous around here – there are literally three salons within steps of my apartment – which drives down the cost of a standard mani a bit. The New York manicure is famous for a reason. Our technicians will get you in and out and looking fresh in no time. This isn’t without controversy of course: a 2015 piece in the New York Times exposing harsh working conditions and underpayment of nail salon workers led to stronger government regulations of city salons.

Despite this, nail salons are more popular than ever, and one recent innovation has truly changed the manicure game: the gel manicure. I had heard about these longer lasting manicures when they first became popular a few years ago. They sounded perfect for me, but I was hesitant to try a $35 treatment I could more or less do at home with stuff from the drugstore. I also heeded the warnings of nearly every women’s magazine that the process could lead to premature wrinkles and weakened nails. I’m trying to live forever, y’all, and I want my nails to be nice and strong for the whole ride.

My mind changed when it came time for my first barbershop contest. My group has very clear guidelines of what we can and cannot wear onstage for contest, right down to the color of our nails. I wanted my nails to look polished and natural, and I wanted them to last throughout the contest weekend. With my habits, a regular manicure only lasts a few days before it starts to chip. Since I didn’t have much time right before the event to get my nails done, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and try gels.

Not every gel manicure I’ve had has been perfect. Some last longer than others, depending on the color, the salon, and what I’m doing that week. But I’m completely addicted to the feeling of having fully polished nails for more than a few days, without having to worry about chipping or peeling. Once the manicurist is done, I’m done – no sitting under a lamp for 20 minutes or more, constantly checking to see if my nails are actually dry. They’re goof proof. And I am very prone to goofs.

There’s also something very meditative about the nail salon experience. They’re not particularly relaxing by nature – they’re often crowded and blasting music, or the aforementioned constant feed from CNN. But it’s nice to just sit down and have someone take care of you for half an hour or so. It’s a time for me to sit still, which is something I’ve always had trouble with. I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the salon on my lunch break, when time and money allows, and it’s the perfect little break in my workday. I try to space out my manicures and give my nails some time to breathe. But I enjoy it as a little treat from time to time.

So here’s to you, fellow gel addicts. May your nails never chip, and may your wallets always be full.

My Post-Election Dive Into Astrology

Throughout much of high school, before 3G networks and touchscreens, I checked my horoscope every day through a primitive app on my flip phone. It probably cost my parents an arm and a leg in data charges, but they never said anything about it. I just had to know what the stars had in store for me, an awkward Virgo with bad skin and a crush on every boy.

Things seemed so uncertain back then. Despite the routine of school and extracurricular activities, I worried constantly about what the next day, week, or month might bring. Would I pass the math test I definitely didn’t study for? Did the boy I kissed several states away still think about me? Would I get into college? Were my parents really healthy? Would my Max Crumm win Grease: You’re the One that I Want?!

I now know that these questions stemmed from a greater anxiety that I did not yet know how to control, but it was easier to put my faith in something mystical than actually listen to my therapist. Those four or five line horoscopes gave me a bit of comfort and hope, enough to quiet my mind, at least for a little bit. Of course, if the stars called for more chaos, I’d dwell on this for for the rest of the day. I’d read and re-read each line, trying to interpret just how these vague predictions applied to my life. More often than not there was no correlation, but any hint at something negatively relevant would send me into a tailspin.

Once college rolled around, I stopped keeping up with my horoscopes. I started hanging out with skeptics who ridiculed the practice for being, you know, not real, and mostly a “women’s interest” thing. College wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for me, but I didn’t feel the need to rely on some astrologer with an internet connection and too many pashmina scarves to tell me what planets might throw a wrench in my month. Plus I just didn’t have time for anything that wasn’t schoolwork, theatre, or subtweeting people on Tumblr (sub-tumbling? Is that a thing?).

Suddenly it was 2016. I was in a new city with a job in my industry and some sense of stability in my personal life. I’d occasionally look to my horoscope when I had something big on the horizon or flip to the forecasts in the backs of women’s magazines while waiting for a train home to Philly. I was always a little curious, but careful not to put too much stock into things that may or may not happen because Mercury happened to be spinning in a different direction. But it made for a good way to pass the time.

And then the election happened.

Looking at the history of our country and the events leading up to the 2016 election cycle, I can’t say I was completely blindsided by the fact that America decided to give the nuclear codes to an anthropomorphized bag of Cheetos. But I had been optimistic. I was so excited to FINALLY have a capable, brave woman lead our country and I really believed it was going to happen. Nothing made sense after that night. I’ve been fearful for our future, for my own future since November 9th. At this point, that fear is part of my baseline. I’m getting used to it.

Around the same time I decided to kind of blow up my life. I figured I might as well stop ignoring the things that were bothering me while I still had time. My relationship ended. I started looking for a new job. I toyed with the idea of moving to LA. I got highlights.

With all this chaos, I once again turned to the stars. I now regularly read reports from three different astrologers, with others thrown in for good measure. Tweets from Poet Astrologers are regularly in the “While you were away” section of my timeline, because the algorithm knows what I want. I spent hours studying my birth chart, trying to figure out the intricacies of each planet and what my moon sign says about my personality. I still don’t fully understand it all, but I know that I’m a Scorpio moon with Libra rising. I’ll let you all dissect that information as you will.

The skeptical side of my brain that stores all my deep trust issues keeps screaming that all of this is fake and everything is just a big coincidence and nothing happens after we die. But the closer we inch towards nuclear winter, the more I want to tell that side to shut up and let me have fun for once. I’m not alone in this. I’ve seen more and more of my friends and Twitter acquaintances embrace astrology in the age of Trump. Sites like Bustle and Refinery29 are full of astrology-related content. We’re looking for comfort and guidance wherever we can find it. Maybe the planets aren’t pulling the strings and everything is just a random coincidence, but right now I’d rather blame the eclipses. Sure, I haven’t gone full woo-woo, and I probably only half-heartedly believe in every word written in my horoscope. But who am I to make fun of something essentially harmless that gives someone comfort?

We all need something to look forward to, and Mercury comes out of retrograde on September 5th.

Finding My Personal Style | BEDA Day 28

When I started this project, I made a list of topics I could touch upon over my 30 days of posts. One of those topics was “forming my aesthetic.”

Past Charlotte, what does that even mean? How does one fit such a whopper of a topic into one 500-word post? And which aesthetic are we talking about? Fashion? Literary? Home decor? Tumblr? Every time I return to the list, I’m not quite sure where to start with it. So I guess we’ll just go with some free thoughts on finding my personal style.

My style was pretty much the same throughout middle and high school. I was a standard t-shirt and jeans girl, particularly if those t-shirts were of the graphic variety. I’d mix it up occasionally with “punk” elements like Chuck Taylors or a studded belt (woof), but the general vibe was pretty casual. As time went on I softened up my look a bit, embracing cardigans and empire-waist tank tops with a dress or two to mix things up. My shops of choice at the time were Delia’s (RIP), American Eagle, and The Gap.

I was more willing to experiment in college, but tended to revert back to my denim comfort zone. If it took more than five minutes to get dressed, I wasn’t having it. Dresses and skirts made more of an appearance in my wardrobe, as I was more willing to embrace my femininity. Once I started to move out of the juniors department and into the world of Big Girl Clothes, though, I realized I was in a whole different category of customer, one that didn’t cater to my age group. I wanted to try crop tops and rompers, but the options in Forever 21 looked silly on me. Gaining the Freshman 15 kind of wrecked my self-esteem for a bit, making shopping even more difficult.

Something changed when I went to London, though. I stepped into a Topshop in Kensington and found that their petite section had a lot more than frumpy pantsuits. Finally, I could try out the styles I’d seen in magazines and style blogs. I’ll be honest, most of them still looked kind of silly, but just seeing that I could actually wear trendy pieces opened my mind up to new options. I started to wear brighter colors and pieces that didn’t always work, but made me feel good in the moment. For a second, I finally felt like one of the cool girls.

I now face a new dilemma as a post-grad working full-time in New York City. I can shop for work clothes without a problem and find outfits that look professional and comfortable at the same time. But part of me still wants to be “trendy” during my limited time off. I have very few “going out” outfits as I can’t find any that suit me (and I rarely “go out” as it is). I’m also just generally dissatisfied with the options available to me. The recent fare available in stores like Topshop and Zara kind of look like costumes you would find in a sci-fi movie. Culottes? Really, y’all?

I guess the key is to keep trying things on until something feels right. Or just keep perusing fashion blogs until I find a look to emulate. For now I’ll stick to my new uniform: LOFT blouses and black jeans.

Image via Enis Lebelici

The One About the Jacket

My leather jacket is filthy. I’m pretty sure it’s never been cleaned in the year I’ve had it. Frankly, I’m not even sure how to clean it. I don’t even know if it’s real leather (I know it’s not, but part of me wants to keep the dream alive).

I found it at a Bloomingdales outlet in Miami’s infamous Dolphin Mall (is it infamous? IT IS TO ME.) I saw it as an inferior replacement to my Topshop jacket, which I foolishly left behind on a plane coming back from Los Angeles the summer before. The cut wasn’t quite as trendy, the sleeves were too long, and it kind of felt like plastic. But every good city girl needs a cool leather jacket, so it made the trek back to Philly with me.

Of course I needed to get the sleeves hemmed in order to not look like a tall baby in it. I took the jacket to my usual tailor. She was out, but her partner promptly remedied the issue. Sure, one sleeve was a little longer than the other. Nobody’s perfect. You can really only notice it when you squint. Right, guys? RIGHT?

I wore that jacket everywhere that spring before it got too hot. It kept me warm through debauched college parties, study sessions, play rehearsals, concerts, the whole nine yards. I pulled it out once again this fall when I moved to New York. Maybe it’s not the most on-trend, but it makes me feel like I actually belong here. It’s the finishing touch on any hard-femme look I try to pull off. It’s even pretty work-appropriate (for my office, at least). It makes me feel like one of the Cool Girls, even if I am such a dork that I dedicated an entire blog post to a dirty “leather” jacket.

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Did this sound weird? Probably. In an attempt to kick my creative ass back into shape, I’m doing BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo challenge (yes, I’m aware that I’m starting late, why would this project be different from anything else I’ve done). Check out this month’s prompts here! And if you want to keep up with this nonsense, follow me on Bloglovin.