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Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman

What do you do to look good when you feel like crap?

Migrane Awareness MonthWhen I was in high school, some of my friends and I had a tradition of wearing our flannel pajama pants and loose T-shirts on exam days. We were comforted by our relaxing-at-home outfits, convinced that feeling cozy and warm would give a signal to our brains that we were not at school to socialize or look nice but to be one-woman studying/testing machines.

This tendency has stuck with me over the years.  When I am feeling especially tired or—as is often the case—ransacked by a migraine attack, I tend toward homey, comfy clothes and a loose ponytail in unwashed hair.  I might smooth the tiniest bit of powder on my face, but any further efforts go unmade. I want to be retreat into myself even as I have no choice but to go out in public and face the world.

But guess what?  Dressing as if I’m about to crash for a nap makes me want to crash. And not washing my hair on sick days makes me feel grungy. And skipping the little bit of eye makeup that actually helps me appear awake and alert tends to give me a gaunt, sick look. No wonder people notice my illness more quickly on days when I deliberately dress down.

A few years ago—I can’t remember when—I tried something new.  I woke up with a migraine episode and had to go either to class or to work.  I took my Imitrex and yearned to go back to bed, but that was not an option on this day. I wanted to trick myself into feeling a little better. I took a nice shower and, instead of my everyday jeans and T-shirt (and instead of my “sick day” outfit of even older jeans and grubbier T-shirt), I put on a skirt and a shirt. I wore my cute-but-sensible flats.  I put makeup on and pulled my hair back in a low ponytail (one that would not trigger the infamous ponytail headache!).  I went out into the world.

Let me tell you this:  I felt like I was able to trick myself into feeling a little better.  Making more of an effort allowed me to feel more energetic and healthy, at least for a brief period of time.  And I’ve been employing this trick ever since.

I don’t meant to suggest that you force yourself out of your home and go through hours of prep work to beautify yourself when all you really need is to sleep and recuperate. All I want to point out is that, on certain migraine days, this trick works for me:  an outfit that’s a step above my normal wardrobe, some light makeup (and—miracle of miracles—an actual attempt at brushing my hair!), and a little extra effort can allow me to have a better migraine day than I would’ve expected.

Have any of you ladies practiced being a Pretty Woman even when your instinct is to climb under the covers and hide?  How have different outfits, makeup, and hairdos either helped or hindered your migraine?

Learn more about the 2013 MHAM Blog Challenge and other MHAM events by visiting: 2013 Migraine & Headache Awareness Month Information Page

June, Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, is dedicated to Unmasking the Mystery of Chronic Headache Disorders. The Migraine and Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge is issued by

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Crystalrz4
    5 years ago

    I have found that dressing a bit nicer, hair coiffed, some make-up, does “Make a Difference” when having to go to the E.R. I have Chronic Daily Migraines, and have since around 1989, I have found that “most” of the doctors tend to be more attentive, and treat you with a little more dignity if you present yourself in slightly better attire with make-up. I actually heard a doctor tell his daughter, during a “Bring your Child to Work Day”, (Yes! He did ask if it was alright for her to enter the cubical). As they stepped out, he said to her, “Now we’ll treat her differently, because she’s a Lady.”

    Though I can’t always manage this, I do try when I can. However, due to the severity of my migraines,including migraine induced Epilepsy, Prinz-metal’s Angina, and four small Hemorrhagic Strokes (the strokes came later) I was retired and have been on permanent Disability for them since 1990.

    I had my first migraine at age four, and I still remember it vividly. I became chronic around 1989-1990, and I’m now 62yrs. Migraines run on both sides of my family, my older sister has them, all four of my adult children have them, and a few months before my grand daughter turned four, this past January, she had her first migraine.

    A never ending story.

  • TheKimberly75
    5 years ago

    crystalrz4 – I’m afraid I must agree with you on this topic. It’s a double edged sword at best! The premise sounds reasonable but the results can go against you just as easily as work for you! There are many Drs who would take one look at me in the ER at 2am and, while there’s absolutely No Difference in the effort or time required to get dressed whether you slip on a T-shirt & jeans or a shirt and dress pants (socks and shoes are a given), and if I’m dressed well and wearing makeup then they too may unfairly judge me as “too composed” for the pain “I’m claiming”. It can work for or against you – if, if, if – especially with my extensive history of trying everything and also having many meds I cannot take due to other health concerns. For the most part when I’m in so much pain that I have to visit the ER, then that mainly leaves me with the only thing that will work: narcotics – which they are loathe to dispense even with my transparent and available information they have access to! The DEA has everyone so concerned about narcotics use it just scares them I may be a “drug seeker”. Of Course I’m a drug seeker! I’m in the ER with severe pain I haven’t been able to get rid of any other way and I’m now turning to the last option I have for pain relief! Yes, I want the drugs! I am not looking to get high!
    I once went to the ER with a solid 10 on the 10 scale and the Dr told me – in No Uncertain Terms – that Couldn’t be true because if I was Really at a #10 I wouldn’t be able to talk with him at all! Of course he didn’t process or even consider the fact that I’ve had migraines ever since I was in my teens and they had already become chronic for many years at that point. Over the years I’ve learned to try and stay calm, meditate, and deep breathe to help me tolerate the pain just enough to get through the all too often Lengthy, anxious, and even sometimes argumentative experience of negotiating a visit to the ER.
    I mean, what am I supposed to do? I have to communicate a certain amount of information no matter how bad the pain is because what’s the alternative? Front Desk, Intake personnel, triage, nurses, IV tech, & Drs All want info from me!
    ER’s around the country have a lot to learn about treating conditions that can’t be “seen”. Some will act on the whatever they believe they “know” about migraines regardless of what your own Dr recommends for you and others won’t deviate from the protocol even an inch! So much for a Drs autonomy!

  • Hope
    5 years ago

    More often than I want. Yes, the alarm goes off but I throb and feel weak and smell, sight, sound sensitive. I have a loving husband who brings me my coffee and try’s to help. I take a hot shower, wear a pretty skirt and top or dress and put on make up so I do not look dead but he sees the hurt in my eyes. My son drives me to work and I “play the game”of tenacity that I can get through this next few minutes all day. My bosses know when they see me with my sunglasses on it is a bad day. Some days I call in, some days I call home for someone to get me then crawl in bed and sob. But you are correct, it is invisible to most people who can not comprehend the effort it takes to try to function. If I do make it through the full day at work I pay for it later with even worse exhaustion.

  • Shirleyanne
    5 years ago

    I applaud anyone who can leave the house and look half reasonable. I have been described as looking like a corpse by my husband and daughters. I have a very pale and slightly sallow complexion and I can’t seem to hide the pain from my eyes. I am 57 and have migraine since 8 years old and they have progressively become worse and are now chronic for 15 years. I rarely get one that lets me feel at a level to make the effort to leave the house.

  • PaulaJan
    5 years ago

    As for other people noticing when I’m really hurting, forget it. So many people think that, because there are no big telltale signs, I must be feeling great. I’m not, but it’s gotten tediius to try to explain.

  • PaulaJan
    5 years ago

    I TRY to get up, get dressed, put makeup on and get out of the house every day. Some days I can’t because the pain is too great. On days my pain is 7 or less I feel some better by going to lunch with a friend, getting groceries, running errands, etc. The fatigue factor enters in then, as I tire sooner than I’d like. Then it’s back home to the couch.

  • Robin Gayle
    5 years ago

    When I’m not having a horrific migraine n I’m able to get up n get dressed n actually leave the house I always wear make-up n have my hair done…. Doesn’t mean I feel great or even ok. My biggest problem with this is that people assume because I look good I must feel good! Migraines don’t change the way you look even though u can look rough after a 2-3 day migraine. Sometimes I wished people could SEE my migraine n somehow understand what I’m going through n know that just because I take care of my appearance doesn’t mean that magically my migraines have disappeared. Also makes me feel good to look good especially after being stuck in bed 4 days at a time…..I think most uneducated ( about migraines) people assume if u have migraines you can’t be pretty or look nice….wish people could see past my looks n understand the pain I feel almost 100% of the time is real! 🙁

  • Sheila K.
    5 years ago

    I came out of high school wearing heels and I have always enjoyed taking care of my appearance. Sadly, since I have become disabled from Classic Migraine with Aura, the pretty face and sharp clothes have made it difficult for the “uneducated” believe a disease they can’t see. I am blessed with beauty and it is a curse at the same time. Now, I will be indigent soon as a direct result of family who could not believe in a “silent” migraine diagnosis. I lived undiagnosed for most of my life. I can’t afford to leave the house any more, so how I dress for myself doesn’t matter. I believe in the effort of doing it for yourself. I did, but it has some drawbacks too.

  • Mayar
    5 years ago

    I have tried this trick, but I noticed that once take a rest from whatever I’m doing the pain hits even worse than before. So I don’t use it anymore.

  • DebbyJ56
    6 years ago

    I can completely relate. As an executive assistant with chronic migraines here were plenty of mornings I woke up barely being able to lift my head off of the pillow. But I had to go in. I would dress up, high heels, sometimes my hands would shake so bad I could barely put eye make up on. I had to keep sitting on the bed as I got dressed. Shouldn’t have driven to work but I did. My saying was “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look dahling”.
    The headaches became chronic daily migraines and I had to go out on permanent disability, but I still do the pretty lady routine if I have to leave the house. I also have fibromyalgia, so lately is is more difficult to wear high heels because my feet are used to slippers, so it is either flats or flip flops these days. None the less, I look much better than I feel.

  • elynn
    6 years ago

    Hi , for sure a little self care sprucing up can get us through the day ! I practiced this while working as a hairstylist … Got through the day and went home to pray over the toilet and go to bed … But it worked. The big issue was no one really got how sick I felt … Cause I looked ok and was able to work . I just refuse to let migraine take away my whole life ! Ya gota do what ya gota do ! Today a bad one , took my meds … Hubby stayed home with me till the worst over … Then I spruced up took a shower and off to babysit 3 little kids and take them to school… Now a day of errands … I’m pretty lethargic now though I will be putting my best face forward !

  • Jacqueline
    6 years ago

    I can definitely relate to this post. As Heather says too, there are definitely days where this “trick” doesn’t work because nothing does. However, as a chronic migraine sufferer, I have migraines most days and in my profession as well as on off days, I can’t just dress to accomodate my pain. I always looked pulled together no matter how I feel. As I tell people who tell me I look great for being in as much pain as I am, I always respond by saying “just because I feel like crap, doesn’t mean I should look like it too”. I’m beyond dressing up to trick myself into feeling better but if it works, that’s great!

  • Franerella
    6 years ago

    As a decades long migraine sufferer, I know those days all too well when climbing back into bed is not an option. There are of course those migraine episodes when that is the ONLY option and only a true migraine sufferer would understand this, but I’ve found that it does help sometimes to try and perk oneself up by making an effort at appearance despite the fact that a migraine might bring on feelings of trainwreckedness. I think sometimes our attire and messy hair are a constant reminder that we have a migraine. When we look in the mirror and see ourselves dressed nicely and well groomed, it’s easier to go with the idea that we just might feel OK and can get through another rough day.

  • jazzymom
    5 years ago

    As a nurse, this “practice” is taught in nursing school. Anyone who is “not well” (pneumonia, surgery, etc) should change their “gown”, wash their face and get out of bed (even if it’s only 15-20 mins in an entire day!) It has less to do with “feeling” pretty and more to do with routine and self esteem. Just like a “sleep” routine can help a person fall asleep easier, getting up and doing the “normal” routine CAN (not WILL) help. Sometimes it’s just so you can point out you made it further than you thought (out of bed), sometimes it’s because combing your hair helped soothe SOME of the discomfort. However, I also agree with those that say that “getting dolled up” won’t fix a bad migraine. When I feel “crappy” I just want to be comfortable. Looking fashionable means uncomfortable heels and wearing something that will probably pinch or bind to “help my figure”.
    Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE remember that medical people are just that…PEOPLE. Some of us are less observant at times because we are caring for others and might have our own problems or discomfort (a “creeper” coming up) but wouldn’t want to be unprofessional and say “we don’t feel good” (and we CAN’T leave most of the time short of vomiting on the supervisors shoes!). Others might be unsympathetic because they actually haven’t really experienced long term chronic pain in their life, so they can’t understand something inconceivable like pain with no real apparent cause (broken leg is understandable or gapping gunshot wound). Add onto that the people who complain of pain at a “10” when they can’t keep their eyes open or finish a sentence and it’s enough to make even a migraine sufferer cynical.
    So, as usual, take care of yourself in the way YOU know best. Look to the PEOPLE (medical, loved ones, neighbors) as a “buffet of help and advice”…lots of choices (but not always exactly what you want. so only take what you LIKE and walk (unapologetically) away from the rest!

  • heather
    6 years ago

    I can relate to the need to feel “better” during a migraine. But most of the time, I need to give myself that recoup space to not feel like all pretty on the outside while inside im still suffering pain, dizziness and mood disorganization. I spent almost a decade trying to pretend that the whole process wasn’t as bad as I felt. Afterward, I would congratulate myself on getting through another day of hell, while knowing the pain was going to be twice as bad for pushing through it. Anytime the preventative didnt work, which was 99% of the time when I cleaned up and present a pretty face to the world, only made the come down off the migraine 10x’s harder. I agree that a shower, especially during a rough patch predrome, works wonders, when you can’t brush or touch your head or hair. But, the thought of stuggling into “pretty” clothing and putting on makeup when i can’t see straight,…is for me….laughable.
    So, it would have to be ‘no” a pretty presentation works for maybe a mild headache or a tension headache, not for full blown migraine in my world. A shower, a nice shirt and neat workout pants and clean hair is about all i get to when im out of it.

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