Discover more from Beyond with Jane Ratcliffe
A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies
The Body, Brain, & Books: Eleven Questions with Beauty Critic Jessica DeFino
What are you reading now?
A Life of One’s Own by Joanna Biggs, No Meat Required by Alicia Kennedy, and All Night Pharmacy by Ruth Madievsky. I just finished my first Colleen Hoover book, too — It Ends With Us — because I needed to see what all the hype was about. I hated it, and I WILL be reading the sequel!!
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
I loooved a YA series. I went from Nancy Drew to Baby-Sitters Club to Sweet Valley High. Then there were all the Princess Diaries (anything by Meg Cabot, really), and the Sloppy Firsts/Second Helpings books, and — my favorite — the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series. I’m sure I hid that last one from my dad.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
It’s strange — the two books that come to mind are not by traditional authors but actors. The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin is probably my favorite book; I’ve read it six, seven times at least. And when I’m going through a tough time creatively I always pick up Little Weirds by Jenny Slate. I find her writing style so odd and compelling and it really inspires me when I’m stuck. I think it reminds me to stop writing like “a writer” and just write like a person.
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
I have this vintage 1970s muumuu that’s the shape of a small circus tent and made of heavy cotton that falls to the floor in vertical waves, like a sheet. It’s bright green covered in a kaleidoscope of blue, white, and moth-brown butterflies. (Did you know that’s what a group of butterflies is called? A kaleidoscope?) It renders my body invisible and shapeless — freedom! Every time I slip it on, it’s as if I am the muumuu, and the muumuu is me, and I feel exactly as beautiful as this swathe of fifty-year-old fabric (very).
What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
During our last session my Jungian analyst told me, “The gold is in the shit.” I said that made me feel better because my life has been feeling rather like a large load of shit lately and she said, perspective shift: What if it feels like fertilizer?
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
The house I’ve lived in for the past three years is on a lagoon, and I love to take care of all the lagoon creatures: ducks, swans, geese. One pair of ducks in particular really took to me and started waddling up to my back door every day for food. They’d literally knock on the glass door with their bills and I’d open up and throw a handful of waterfowl feed outside! The female made her nest in my garden this spring and laid 11 eggs. They were born on the Full Moon in May and I watched it happen. Seven hatched, one died in the nest, the mama led four to water, and one got left behind. I named him Hot Leg and he slept in my bedroom with me and I took him to a sanctuary the next day and cried for a week. The whole experience made me aware of both the miracle of life and the meaninglessness of mine!!
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
My marriage. (I’m divorced.)
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
Singing in the shower, for sure. Or in the car. Or in the kitchen, on the couch, at dinner, in my sleep. I never stop singing. Ask my siblings!
What are your hopes for yourself?
I hope I finish my book. I hope the ducks come back next spring. I hope I start the Jim Croce cover band I’ve been saying I’m going to start for the past couple years. I hope I find community. I hope I have people who will care for me when I get older. I hope I go gray soon (so chic). I hope I’m loved as hard as I love.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
He didn’t know it was a kindness, but when Elon Musk took over Twitter, he gave me the push I needed to leave. My account is deactivated! My brain is healing! My skin is glowing! (Less blue light exposure.) My life is better.
What’s a guiding force in your life?
Truth and beauty! Same thing maybe?is a beauty reporter whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and more. A former editor for the Kardashian-Jenner apps, she now writes the beauty-critical newsletter and has been called "the woman the beauty industry fears the most" by the Sunday Herald.
For more bite-sized questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and transformative essays, subscribe to Beyond.
Meet me in the comment section
Did you love a good YA series as a kid? Does your shit feel like fertilizer? What are your hopes for yourself? Have you ever rescued wildlife and then been heartbroken to part with them? Are you guided by truth and beauty?
I’d love to hear about it!