Black Lives Matter

I do not believe I am a racist. I certainly am not a hater. The events of this past week have awakened me to the fact that not being racist, not hating, is not enough.

Racism is not only conscious hate. “Racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.” Scott Woods.

I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, a white city in a country where neutrality and diplomacy are national hallmarks (indeed, a country that has its own struggles with racism). I am a conflict avoider. Privacy is one of my core values. I am a “glass half full” person and always give others the benefit of the doubt, to the extent that some have called me naïve.

I have always known that my life as a white woman has been easier than the lives of so many – yet I have never asked myself specifically about white privilege. As a child, the extent of race conversations I had with my parents was limited to asking what “macaroni” meant when someone called me this in middle school. My Italian father explained, I ignored the slur, and that was that.
I realized this week that I have been so blind to the perspective of people of color that I have never had a race conversation with my oldest, bestest of friends – whom I have known since the age of 12. She is Indian. She and I have over the years spoken about everything, yet we have never spoken about race. Probably because I have never asked, because I didn’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation. For that same reason, I have been silent when my white girlfriends have said things (about politics, about race, about other topics not in the news today) I did not agree with. The events of this past week have awakened me to the fact that my silence is compliance.
I must speak up. Yet I have been paralyzed about what to say. I am afraid to say the wrong thing. I am afraid to sound tone deaf. I am afraid to offend. In a way, I am also afraid not to offend. The events of this past week have awakened me as to how much more I must do, as a human, as a white woman, to work against racism and hatred, to work for equality and opportunity for all. I must do better. I must be better.

These are my commitments.

I commit to recognizing my white privilege.

I commit to educating myself. And yes, it is a privilege to be educating myself about racism instead of experiencing it. To start, I commit to reading How to be Less Stupid about Race (Crystal M. Fleming), White Fragility (Robin Diangelo), Me and White Supremacy (Layla F. Saad) (including doing the 28-day workbook), Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

I commit to listening. Including to listening about why the violence and destruction of the past few days is necessary to bring about awareness change.

I commit to evolving my social media feed to be more focused on race issues, more inclusive. Here are some accounts I am now following.
@naacp
@aclu_nationwide
@eji_org
@colorofchange
@bailproject
@blklivesmatter
@fairfightaction
@campaignzero
@mspackyetti
@blackwomensblueprint
@colorlinesnews
@theconsciouskid
@civilrightsorg
@tembae
@reneesrh
@meena
@ijeomaoluo
@rachel.cargle
@mvmnt4blklives
@laylafsaad
@munroebergdorf
@nowhitesaviors

I commit to donating regularly to associations that fight for racial equality. This week, these include NAACP, ACLU, and Equal Justice Initiative.

I commit to using my voice. This blog post is a start.

I commit to making my brand Alchimie Forever more inclusive.

I commit to voting. Locally, nationally.

I commit to doing the work. To doing better. To being better. Not just today, not just this week. But for however long it takes.

I commit to being anti-racist. “It is not enough to be quietly non-racist, now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.” Angela Davis

My Mom, Superwoman

I always knew my Mom was Superwoman – Superwoman of the mind. When I get stuck with my thinking, she has answers. When I get stuck with my writing, she has solutions. When I get stuck with my emotions, she has advice.

I never knew until this week that she is, simply, Superwoman. Not “just” Superwoman of the mind. She had COVID-19, and she beat it. Alone. Without doctors (except for herself, she is an MD after all). Without hospitals. Without “bothering” anyone about her condition.

When I realized that the novel corona virus became a threat, I worried for many of my family and friends – but most of all for my Mom. She splits her time between Paris and Geneva and travels a lot. She is in the high risk COVID-19 group, due to her age and her delicate lungs and asthma. She is a free spirit and I doubted her willingness to abide by the confinement rules. I worried that she would contract this virus (and I was right) and that it would beat her (and oh was I wrong) and that I would not get back to Switzerland in time.

Over the last two and a half months, she experienced many symptoms of this virus, one after the other. Terrible cough. Exhaustion. “COVID toes.” She followed the confinement and mask-wearing rules to the letter. She told my three sisters and me that she was doing this for us, so that we did not have to worry about her getting sick on top of all of our other COVID-19-related worries.

On Monday this week, she received the results of her anti-body test. Very, very, very positive. Of course, Barbara Polla has never failed an exam or test in her life… why should I be so surprised that she would pass this one with an A+?!

Thank you Mom for being Superwoman. In all ways, and always.

Self care and silver linings

Self care is having a moment. Some even say that the COVID-19 virus is transforming the “lipstick effect” into the “self care effect.” 

I was raised to believe in self care, and specifically in self care through skin care with my brand Alchimie Forever. But what exactly is self care? Over the past couple of weeks, I connected with Britta Cox, the founder of Aquis hair, about beauty, hair care, skin care, and most recently self care. We shared our respective ways to care for our selves, in general and more specifically during this time of confinement. Here are the highlights of our conversation. 

Britta’s self care wisdom: 

  • “Being in nature, moving and breathing deeply clears my mind and rejuvenates me. It’s also when my best ideas come, it’s when my subconscious and thoughts can float freely. 
  • Sleeping with the windows and doors open and breathing fresh air makes a big difference in how my skin looks and how well I sleep. It makes all the difference to feeling well-rested and fresh in the morning. 
  • Dry brushing. It’s a Swedish thing. Use a dry brush on dry skin, brushing towards your heart to keep lymphatic fluids and blood flowing to enhance circulation, remove toxins and keep skin healthy. Sunday is my self care day when I’ll dry brush and exfoliate from head to toe before taking a nice soak in the tub, with a few drops of oil in the water to replenish moisture. 
  • Detoxing my scalp. The scalp also develops sebum build up. We have a wonderful Detoxifying Scalp and Hair Wash with charcoal. It cleanses deeply without stripping the hair of natural oils, and is pH balanced for the hair and scalp specifically.
  • Spending time in the garden. I love spending time in the garden which is abundant with life, learnings and miracles of nature. I’ve been a certified organic gardener for 14 years, living on almost two acres, which brings such joy. You can just step outside, close your eyes, and experience life and nature everywhere. It makes you appreciate and tune into the small things in life and be in the moment. 
  • Beauty is all about what we put inside. I saw my first aesthetician at age 21, she got me hooked on fish oils. All of the omegas they have are one of the best things you can do for your skin, hair, and mental clarity. And I eat smoked salmon as another source.
  • Drinking water and tea to stay hydrated. Warm tea at night helps with digestion. Chrysanthemum tea is amazing for skin and reducing inflammation & the warm tea water is cleansing. 
  • Music. A good playlist can help you find your Zen, and completely change your mood.” 

I shared some of my current self-care rituals as well, which include: 

  • Stepping outside and breathing  fresh air. I try to spend part of every day outdoors, for my mental and emotional well-being.
  • Exercising 3-5 times a week. It has a positive effect on my skin. Exercise activates blood circulation, it’s good for my mental state, and for my physique. Normally I’m a morning exerciser but had a challenging day and decided to go for an evening run. I needed to shift my mental state and sometimes to do that I have to engage my body and shift my physical state.
  • Masking it up. I sleep with the K18Peptide™ Masque overnight. It’s so good for my hair and amazing at mending split ends. 
  • Scrubbing my body. My alternative to dry brushing (although I may have to embrace this technique) is Aveda’s Beautifying Radiance Polish. When we’re young our dead skin cells naturally fall off. As we age, those natural processes get a little lazier and don’t function as well. The older you get the more important it is for you to help your body naturally shed dead skin cells. Be super gentle with the skin on your face and neckit’s delicate, but the body benefits from a good scrub. Always scrub against gravity, so from the feet up your legs, from the hands up your arms, it’s good for lymphatic drainage. 
  • Smelling the roses (or magnolias in this case). My husband brings flowers into the house. We’re in Louisiana right now and he brought in a magnolia from our tree.
  • Soaking it up. I’ve been taking baths almost every night which I don’t normally do. It feels so good for my head, and I love the feeling of weightlessness. Kneipp bath salts make the baths feel like a real treatment.  
  • Being mindful of what I eat and drink. What we eat and drink is reflected in our skin. I’m trying to eat extra healthfully, and be very diligent about going three days each week without alcohol. A trip to the fridge is the most tempting trip. My girlfriends and I joke about the COVID-19. I don’t want that.
  • Taking care of others. The other aspect of self-care is care of others, your children, your spouse, your partner, care of people who can’t care for themselves.

 Last but not least, we both agreed that gratitude is a powerful form of self care. To read more about our respective silver linings, click here

How are you taking care of yourself during these times? 

 

On Willpower and Habits

I like to think I have pretty strong willpower and self-control (I am defining both as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals”, per the American Psychological Association). Yet I must admit that the past six weeks have challenged both. 

Case in point: I had decided after my January 21-day cleanse that I would not drink three days per week and “forever” give up carbs (in particular carbs with gluten). Instead, I have not been drinking two (not three) days per week, and two weekends ago, I “fell in a jar of carbs” and could not help but eat bread (albeit, home-made by my husband) all weekend long. 

So I have been thinking a lot about what is “wrong” with my willpower and self-control. 

Fact 1: My non-drinking days have been Mondays and Tuesdays.  

Fact 2: My carb black hole happened over a weekend. 

Conclusion 1: I have a limited supply of willpower. My willpower bucket is full on Monday, and little by little this “store” of willpower decreases as the week goes on. 

Fact 3: I have also come to realize that the current world situation is impacting my willpower and self-control. Indeed, my willpower “store” is being depleted more quickly than “during normal life” And I have been wondering why… 

Conclusion 2: Managing a brand during a global pandemic means that I have been doing extra (hard) thinking and having to make a million extra (hard) decisions. Apparently, hard thinking and decision-making depletes willpower. 

I know that willpower is like a muscle and can be developed. I also know that willpower is a renewable resource. But I have not been able to “get more” willpower. So instead, I have developed strategies to “help” my willpower and self-control. 

Strategy 1: Sleeping more. 

I pride myself on not needing much sleep and usually sleep five to six hours per night, but these days, I am utterly exhausted by 9 pm. I still wake up by 5 am, but I am needing seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Instead of fighting it, I have given in and have been sleeping more. 

Strategy 2: Transforming decisions into habits.  

Making a decision takes willpower. Living a habit does not (or takes less). So I have made a habit that Thursday is my third non-drinking day every week. Now I wake up on Thursdays and know this is a no-drinking day. I don’t have to make a decision about it. It just is. Which means it’s ok if by Thursdays my willpower is depleted. 

Strategy 3: Organizing my days accordingly.  

I have been leaving all “menial” tasks for Fridays. Things that need to get done but do not require a lot of creativity or thought. Things like paperwork and Quickbooks reconciliations. 

What do you do to help your willpower and self-control?

What we are doing right now, right here, to help

Two weeks ago, my youngest sister Roxane, a Medical Doctor at the hospital in Sion, Switzerland, asked a very pointed question on our Polla sisters Skype: “What can our beauty businesses do to help during this time of crisis?” I did not have an answer, but I did hear her question. A few days later, I saw on LinkedIn that Mathilde Thomas of Caudalie donated products to numerous hospitals in France. And I thought, well, we also have products that help with chapped hands and irritated faces… 

So I began my week with a donation of products to Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, the hospital that is affiliated with the business school I went to and that is less than one mile from my office. Similarly, in Switzerland, we donated products to my sister Roxane’s hospital (in Sion), the one affiliated most closely with my heart since she works there every day. 

In speaking of this with my sisters and my team, I was amazed to hear about their own initiatives to help and contribute to their communities. Here is what they are doing: 

Angie (NYC): “I gave a donation to New York’s Food Bank last month. This month, I am donating to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. I like that some restaurants are feeding healthcare workers and that also helps support the restaurant during these times.”

Emma (Arlington, VA): “I am buying books (used and new) from eBay US sellers instead of Amazon. It makes me feel better that I deal directly with real people and contribute something to them instead from big companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sellers that I’ve dealt with so far shipped everything from their house which is listed on the shipping label of the packages that I received.”

Jenna (Reston, VA): “I baked assortments of cookies and sent them to friends and clients to cheer them up. Also, I live across the street from a trauma hospital so every night at 7 pm people in my building and surrounding buildings go outside on their balconies to cheer for the hospital workers at shift change. A small gesture, but it makes everyone (including myself) feel good.”  

Kelli (Charleston, WV): “I have compiled lists of local restaurants offering delivery or carry out and local businesses doing online sales or online classes that I share regularly on social media.”  

Mandi (Washington DC: “I have been ordering food from all of my favorite local restaurants and taking classes from my favorite yoga instructors (some donation-based and some free) and posting pictures to my social media to help build their client base.”  

Rachel (Geneva, Switzerland): “I have been buying groceries for a few older women who are high risk and should not leave their homes, both among my neighborhood and among my Forever Institut teammates.” 

Roxane (Sion, Switzerland): “I have been extra ‘gifty’ to my friends who have had birthdays in the last few weeks, since they can’t celebrate as they usually would. I have been having cupcakes delivered to them (from a brand called Melazic, a business owned by two sisters) as well as personalized cookies with positive messages from the brand Bobiskuit, also a woman-owned brand.” 

There is no right or wrong way to help or contribute. There is no act of kindness too small or too insignificant to matter. And it makes me so proud to be a part of a family, a team that instinctively takes care of their communities, of their world, of our world. 

 

A Well-Timed Virtual Book Club

Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually. 

For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring. 

This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award. 

The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between. 

While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts. 

Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful. 

PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read.