How to Give Yourself a Makeover -- and Boost Self-Esteem -- after the Divorce

When you're going through a divorce, your self-esteem can be at an all-time low. Stress and strong emotions can cause you to eat and sleep poorly, unintentionally lose or gain weight, and generally lack the energy and motivation to pay attention to personal grooming. "I feel terrible, so I might as well look terrible," you think. Your ex isn't around to complain about how you look in that red sweatsuit, and your kid is going to love you whether you wash your hair today, so what's the big deal?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with spending a lazy Saturday in your PJs from time to time, and there's no earthly reason why a woman should have to wear makeup or spend an hour styling her hair to go grocery shopping. The problem arises when chronic self-neglect starts to cost you -- everything from a promotion at work to the respect of friends and colleagues to the possibility of a new relationship.

Whether it's human nature or societal conditioning, people -- and this includes you -- will judge you on your appearance. You can boost your self-esteem by taking pride in rather than being ashamed of how you look. I'm not suggesting that you become obsessed with your looks, spending hours a day and large sums of money to look your "absolute best." You shouldn't try to look like a model unless you are one. (And they generally have to be bulimic or work out four hours every day of their lives to look like that. Who needs that grief?) Once you've acquired "the basics" -- flattering hairstyle, clothes, and a positive body image to go with them -- an attractive appearance takes relatively little effort.

Here's how you can look beautiful and boost your self-esteem to boot:

Hair: The Kindest Cut

A really good haircut is the determining factor for how your hair looks. Forget those expensive bottles of designer hair products -- unless you hair is cut well and in a style that flatters you, you're going to experience frequent "bad hair days."

So your first assignment is to find a good stylist you can trust. He or she will take into consideration your type of hair (curly, straight, limp, fly-away, etc.) the shape of your face (round, oval, heart-shaped, thin, etc.), and your lifestyle (indoor or outdoor job, amount of time you're willing and able to devote to styling your hair on a daily basis, etc.) before suggesting a style. Feel free to clip pictures of styles you like from magazines and ask the stylist to be honest about whether they will work for you. Here are some tips for finding a great stylist:

  • Ask your friends who they use. Of course, only ask friends with good haircuts, and preferably those with similar hair -- a stylist who's great with straight hair may be hopeless with curly hair and vice-versa. If you can, make an appointment with the salon owner. He or she will probably have the most experience and the incentive to please you.

  • Ask the stylist these questions: How long have you been working? How long have you been with this salon? Have you taken any courses in new techniques for cutting/coloring/perming (whichever applies to your needs)?

  • Arrive with your hair "au naturel." Don't curl, straighten, or apply styling products to your hair. The stylist needs to see and feel what it really looks like to evaluate your hair. Tell the stylist how much time you can spend on your hair every day. If you're a busy single parent with a demanding job as well as kids, you need "wash-and-wear hair" -- don't choose a style that's going to take 45 minutes to arrange.

  • Also, if you can't afford to have your hair cut every six weeks, stay away from short styles. A good medium-length cut will look good as it's growing out, so you can get away with four haircuts a year.

  • Some people like to save a few bucks by having their hair cut but not dried at the salon. The flaw in this plan is that you can't evaluate a cut unless you see the final result. After the stylist dries your hair, if you don't like the style, speak up then and there. Tell him or her what you don't like, and ask him or her to fix it.

  • Ask the stylist to explain what and how she or he is doing so you can learn how to achieve the same result at home. Are there any special techniques (like blow-drying hair upside-down), brushes, or styling products you'll need to create this 'do?

  • Once you have a great cut, take care of your hair by avoiding excessive blow-drying, damp combing, or curling -- all of which can damage your hair.

    Choose a shampoo and conditioner based on how your hair looks after you use it, and whether you like the smell. Expensive is not necessarily better when it comes to hair products.

  • About once a month or so, you should use a "clarifying" shampoo to rid your hair of excess conditioner buildup. And if you swim regularly in a pool, you may want to use a shampoo specially formulated to remove chlorine and other minerals from time to time.

  • Most shampoos are 70 to 80 percent water, 10 percent detergent, and 10 percent other ingredients (such as fragrance). A word about "vitamin-enriched" shampoos: since your hair is dead once it leaves your scalp, it's a waste of money to "feed" vitamins etc. to something that isn't alive. There are vitamin and mineral supplements you can take to improve the appearance of hair, skin, and nails -- look for one containing vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E, Beta Carotene, and Biotin -- but you swallow them rather than rubbing them on your hair.

  • Conditioners are meant to fill in the missing pieces of cuticle that have broken off because of processing (everything from brushing to perming).

    Now that your hair's under control, let's move on to your wardrobe.

Out of the Closet

If you spend 15 minutes standing in front of your closet every morning, you either have too many clothes, the wrong kind of clothes, or a mixture of the two.

I'm lucky enough to have a close friend who has been the editor of such prestigious magazines as Toronto Life Fashion and Marie Claire, and she went through my closets one day and told me what to keep, toss, and what I needed to buy. That was 10 years ago, and some of the purchases I made with her guidance are still in frequent use (or have been replaced with similar items if they started to show excessive wear). And before starting this magazine, I spent five years working for a bridal magazine that featured a large section devoted to non-bridal fashion and beauty. Here are some of the best secrets I've learned from fashion-industry professionals over the years:

  • The first step is to organize your closet. This will require a chunk of time (two to three hours) and a couple of large boxes that you'll fill with clothes to go to Goodwill, a women's shelter, or your little sister. You're going to have to be ruthless here: the fact you've kept a bridesmaid's dress for 15 years and that you have happy memories of wearing it that one time 15 years ago aren't good enough reasons to keep it any longer. As you place each item in the box, think of how much use someone will get from your castoffs -- it'll make the process much less painful for you hoarders. If something is too small for you, think about how committed you are to losing the weight that would enable you to wear it. "Commitment" here means you're already taking action to lose weight, not just thinking about it. If something is too big for you, decide whether it's worth getting it tailored to fit. If something is too young for you (I'm sorry, but highschool fashions are just plain embarrassing when worn by women in their thirties and forties), give it away. If you bought an expensive mistake (an article of clothing you never wear because you don't like it or it makes you look like a house), give it away -- or sell it.

  • You may be able to recoup some of your losses on costly mistakes by taking them to a consignment store. These stores will display and try to sell your clothes, taking a cut of the sale as commission.

  • Unless you have empty closet space all over your home (as if!), the bottom line is that the only clothes that should be hanging in your closet are ones that fit you, look good on you, and that you love.

  • The same rules apply to footwear: too small, big, age-inappropriate, or uncomfortable shoes have to go. If your absolute favorite pair is damaged, ask a shoemaker if he can repair them (replace a sole or heel, for instance). If not, throw them out.

  • After you've pared down your wardrobe -- and you may have to repeat this process two or three times before you're truly finished -- the next step is to choose your basic color, which will be black, brown, or navy. You can have more than one basic color, but you'll need all the same items in each color you choose. This will get pricey, so I suggest you choose one color to start with.

  • Unless you work for Outward Bound, you'll need clothes that can work at the office and for evenings out as well as casual-wear. Buy the best quality you can afford, because these items are meant to last for years -- if you wear a $200 jacket 600 times over five years, its "cost per wearing" will be much less than a $30 jacket you wear 20 times then toss because it looks threadbare or has lost its shape).

  • If you have the time, energy, and experience to judge the good, the bad, and the ugly, you can find some great buys at warehouse and end-of-season sales. There's a lot of junk at these places, however, so you'll have to develop an eye for quality and know what you're looking for before making any purchases. Consider only buying clothes you can return until you get the hang of it.

    Click here for 5 Shopping Tips To Save You Time, Money, and Aggravation

5 Shopping Tips To Save You Time, Money, and Aggravation

Here are 5 shopping rules that should save you time, money, and aggravation:

  • Shopping Rule #1: don't buy clothes that are much too small or too big for you, no matter how much they've been marked down, who the designer is, or how much weight you intend to lose or gain. They'll look awful on you, or they'll hang in your closet reminding you of the New Year's resolution you failed to keep until you donate them to Goodwill.

  • Shopping Rule #2: don't buy anything you don't love (or at least really, really like). You just won't wear it, or if you do, you'll feel unhappy and badly-dressed.

  • Shopping Rule #3: make a list of what you need, rearrange this list in order of priority, then buy only those items on the list (one at a time if you can't afford the whole shootin' match right now). Keep this list in your purse to remind you not to buy the fuschia print when what you really need is a crisp white shirt.

  • Shopping Rule #4: never shop at the last minute. You'll spend too much and probably end up with a clothing "lemon."

  • Shopping Rule #5: take a friend along (this is mandatory if you're going to a warehouse sale). Choose a friend whose taste you admire, and give her or him permission to be absolutely honest about whether something makes you look like the Michelin Man. Your friend can also look for different sizes while you stay in the dressing room.

    Click here to learn the basics of looking chic every day.

Learn the Basics of Looking Chic

The basics are the clothes you'll wear every day. You should love them, they should be comfortable and easy-care, and you should feel confident that you look great wearing them. If you don't know which styles flatter your particular body type, pick up a book such as Presenting Yourself: A Personal Image Guide by Mary Spillane. Of course, you'll also have many other articles of clothing to suit your personal tastes and lifestyle, but these Basics should form the foundation of your wardrobe. Here is what you need to know:

  • Your jacket should be plain (stay away from this season's "hot" new styles), single-breasted with a plain collar, and made from a mid-weight fabric that will take you through at least three of the four seasons.

  • Your pants should be comfortable, but not sloppy. Choose a washable fabric that holds its shape (check out the wrinkle-free, tailored pants that you can find at most department stores).

  • You can wear the crisp white cotton shirt to work with your suit (women can wear it with a skirt), or with jeans for a casual but classy look. Make sure it's made of good-quality, washable cotton, and that the style is simple for easy ironing.

  • If you're struggling with a weight problem, you should know that wearing clothes that are either too loose or too tight will not improve your appearance. Again, buy clothes that fit you now, and look for articles that are tailored (this doesn't mean skin-tight) rather than sloppy.

    Click here for the keys to looking marvelous.

You Look Marvelous!

You need to be realistic about what an attractive appearance can do for you. It won't make you happy, or successful in life or in love. What it can do is give you a little extra self-confidence, which might be the boost you need to get into action somewhere you've been stopped -- whether that's looking for a new job or a new relationship.

Since separation and divorce is such a challenging experience, anything you can do to lower your stress (drug and alcohol abuse aside) is a good thing. By using these tips, you can roll out of bed in the morning, spend less than a minute in front of your closet, minimal time in front of the bathroom mirror, and emerge to face the day confident that you look your best.

Divorce Magazine provides advice and support for those coping with separation, divorce, and remarriage. For more tips and stories, visit

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