The Changing Room: Getting Your Beauty Back

08/24/2010 11:23 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who knew a simple home video could rock my world -- and rock it as badly as it did? That's what happened when I, the mother of a little girl, was watching family films: Flickering past me were images of my adorable daughter during our earliest years together. There she was when she had just been born, when she first learned to walk, and then when she finally began to speak. When a woman I vaguely recognized appeared on the screen, I pressed pause on the remote and leaned forward in my chair.

Who was that overweight, unkempt, tired-eye, blotchy-skinned woman holding my child? Even sheathed in a billowy housedress you could still make out the outline of her generous stomach - one that had just carried a baby or was on her way to delivering one, it was hard to tell. Her smile-less face and uncombed hair spraying out of a loose ponytail told the story of a woman who was merely trudging through each day; a woman who rarely looked in the mirror; a woman who had thrown up her hands and admitted defeat.

Friends, that woman was me.

Saddened by my physical deterioration, I searched a stack of photos I keep on the living room coffee table. There I found another image that shook me to the core -- only this time in a life-affirming way. This snap was from my pre-baby career days and I looked every bit the beauty professional that I had been for more than 20 years. Here was a 39-year-old charmer who was toned and fit, beautifully sheathed, and beaming a smile that said, "Yes, I feel really good today." This was a creature that clearly had monthly mani-pedis, regular haircuts and indulged in the occasional spa retreat and mountain hikes. The lady I saw in these photos even wore matching lace lingerie -- you just knew that much from looking at her. She appreciated herself. And it showed.

Why couldn't I see what I looked like then? I asked myself, my head slowly shaking. Why did I let that beauty go? Was this the price of baby bliss?

I carried on in this overwhelmed state for another year until I reached the age of 44. I still remember the morning when I stepped on the scale and -- life quake! - saw that I now weighed more than I had when I was pregnant. Even my ever-adoring daughter noticed.

"Mommy, your tummy is really big," she said in innocent observation. I stood still for a moment, a swirl of emotions -- embarrassment, shame and, yes, even guilt. My girl was now four, and she was already taking on so many of my perspectives on the world -- from my daily desire to appreciate beauty to my endeavor to show kindness to everyone I meet.

And then I realized it: Maybe I need to show my daughter that I choose to be kind to myself.

A wise old saying that goes like this: As is the mother, so too is the daughter. Whatever I did my little girl would one day do as well. How I viewed myself would, in part, shape her view of herself. If I didn't value me enough to invest in how I felt about myself, what message did that send my little one? I loved my daughter and, when I took a moment to probe deeply into my soul, I knew I fully loved myself, too. It was about time I showed that person - me -- a lot more care and appreciation. And that was the moment the recovery -- my recover of my beloved self -- began.

Here's what I did to get my most beautiful me back, as well as some advice from my friends about their daily self-care favorites.

Cristina's Tips for Getting the Beauty Back:

1) Invite your little one to join the self-care fun. My daughter and I have a great time together putting on our after-shower body cream, brushing our hair, and brushing our teeth. Once a month, we also have a standing date for a monthly pedicure -- a special outing for just the two of us.

2) I use my shower time as my daily vacation time! I make it special with affordable but delicious bath, shower and hair products. I personally love yummy food-scented potions -- philosophy's Cinnamon and Pink-Frosted Layer Cake line my bathtub.

3) I am a huge fan of a quick weekend peel. But sometimes we moms don't even have time for that. So pick up a cleanser that also has great exfoliating benefits. In one step you can cleanse, smooth and prep your face for hydrating lotion. Believe me, it makes difference -- especially over the years.

4) If you are no longer breastfeeding, you must use a great retinol or retinoid at night and a good SPF cream in the morning. These are the two most important steps in skincare.

5) At night, I indulge in a skinny dip -- right in my own bathtub. The deep, silent warmth gives me an instant calm. Afterward, I slather on a fragrant cream and I allow myself a moment to massage it on my hands, legs and feet (don't forget the heels!). Then off to bed -- and sweet-smelling dreams -- I go.

Dana Wood's Six Big Beauty Boosts:

Dana Wood is the author of the fabulous new book, Momover: The New Mom's Guide to Getting it Back Together. We met years ago in New York when she was W magazine's beauty editor. She's so stylish and vivacious -- I swear she's the real inspiration for Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw. She's also a great example of someone who somehow balances motherhood and selfhood. There's a reason Dana gives her appearance and health so much attention. "My own mother didn't take care of herself and she died early because of that," she told me. "So I'm a bit obsessed with the whole mama-care thing. Feeling beautiful is such a confidence booster -- completely worth the investment of time and effort." What does Dana do to feel lovely?

1) Celebrate beauty everyday: "Even though I recently started working from home, I always wear my diamond earrings and light makeup. I might be in a t-shirt in shorts, but I still look polished."

2) Sleep, sleep and more sleep: "It's the key to mental and physical health, and by extension, good looks. We all need to prioritize this. And if that means no Facebook after 7, then no Facebook after 7.

3) Reach for what's natural: "Tons and tons of fruits and veggies. Preferably organic, but frozen is fine."

4) Make sure her bras fit correctly -- yes, really!: "Everything you own will look better when your undergarment is the right size. Most women make the big mistake of buying bras with cups that are too small and bands that are too big. Something to consider next time you're prowling through Target."

5) Keep her closet lean and mean: "I always carve out hours to declutter my closet. I'm ruthless and toss out anything that doesn't make me feel and look great. It's been estimated that we only wear 20 percent of what's hanging in that wardrobe. Make that 20 percent sing!"

6) Laugh. A lot. "I instantly look five years younger, and so will you," says Dana.

When I take care of myself, I know I am being the best I can be -- and that translates to every part of my life. These days I look in the mirror and, guess what? I smile. I see a woman who's not only revels in her own beauty, but one who values herself, too.

Cristina Carlino is a mother, poet and the founder and creator of philosophy, one of the most beloved brands in the cosmetic industry. Her new book, The Changing Room: A Mother's Journal of Gratitude to Her Little Girl is available at 100% of proceeds go to Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation, which supports survivors of rape, incest and abuse. Please visit Cristina's fan page at