I’ve been exploring the concepts of image and identity a lot lately, but today I’m talking about external image. The way you look like when other people see you, and when you see yourself in a mirror.
I’ve come to learn that how you dress is a tremendous representation of what’s going on with you, whether you want it to be or not, and whether you realize it or not.
I’m warning you now that this is a stupidly long introspective post.
As a little girl I remember starting out with the typical little girl life. I had cute dresses and underwear and jewelry and I liked to play dress up and wear the big fluffy dresses and twirl around in front of mirrors like a princess.
Then I started to gain weight, a lot of it, and really quickly.
I started to get really used to my clothes not fitting right and never being comfortable. I got really used to my clothes just being too tight all the time. As in, I thought clothes were just tight and that was the way clothes were supposed to be. Being unable to move around or feeling bad in the clothes I was wearing just became a normal thing. I used to get home from school at 2:30PM and change into my pajamas right away because they were more comfortable. My parents thought it was weird but didn’t question anything. None of us realized it was because my pants were two sizes too small.
As an adult this morphed into wearing “whatever clothes” fit the needs of the situation at the time, without caring a lot about what they said about me, or what they looked like or felt like. The main requirements being “is it socially appropriate” and “do I look okay”. Questions I did not ask myself were: “Does this fit me well?” “Do I feel amazing in this?” and “Am I putting my best foot forward?”
So at my big office job I wore a lot of clothes that were just not right for me as long as the shirt had buttons, the pants weren’t jeans, and there were no major wear issues like stains and holes. I rarely did my hair and sometimes didn’t wear makeup. I wore unflattering and aging clothes. I definitely did not look my best.
I knew I didn’t look my best but it didn’t bother me enough to change. I didn’t feel good about my body or myself so it didn’t seem like that big of a priority. I told myself I didn’t want to spend the money on better clothes and that it was unnecessary. I actually had a subconscious belief that nothing could fit me well and actually be flattering, with how overweight I was, and of course, I was always on the verge of losing weight, so I never wanted to invest in anything. (By the way, I’ve been “losing weight” for about 20 years now.) I definitely wasn’t accepting where I was.
What I didn’t realize was I was telling myself that I wasn’t worth it. I told myself I didn’t have time to do my hair and makeup in the morning, not when I was waking up at 4:30am. I thought doing my hair and makeup was about looking nice for other people, but I didn’t realize is that doing that work on myself is something you do for yourself too.
A couple months ago, this habit really started to bother me.
I was doing a lot of personal work on myself that involved self-worth. Seeing myself as better than I have in the past. Valuing myself more. Allowing myself to develop more true confidence. So I was attempting this upward shift in self-perception, and I realized that my outside image and exterior perception of me wasn’t matching what I wanted my internal vision of myself to be.
Then I thought about it some more and I realized that this could totally be one of those life hack moments where I just dress how I want to feel/act/be and then the internal/inside version of me that no one sees will eventually catch up, sort of speeding up this whole self-worth transition upward and acting as a catalyst.
So I started out with wearing a necklace that reminded me any time I looked at it about the person I wanted to be.
By the way, it’s the necklace Arwen wears in the Lord of the Rings.
(Yes, a part of me wanted to remember what it was like to be 7 and think it was okay to pretend to be an Elvin Princess.)
And actually a ton of people noticed this necklace and complimented me on it.
So that went well. I decided to take another step.
I decided that even though my body wasn’t perfect, and even though it was a little scary, I was going to wear a Wonder Woman bustier to a comic conference, because if someone had the nerve to judge me for wearing a bustier despite being overweight, then I probably didn’t really care about their opinion anyway.
But nothing bad happened. No one judged me (at least to my face) and you know, it was kind of empowering in a way.
Then, the very next day, while I was just wearing normal clothes, for the first time in about ten years, someone actually tried to pick me up. Walked right up to me and told me that I looked good and he wanted to say hello. This little fact is especially relevant because I used to think for years that guys never hit on me, ever. I told myself it was because I was fat. So then I went and lost 100 pounds, and still it never happened. It honestly confused the hell out of me. But I think I’m beginning to understand.
Then that night, I met this lady on a commuter train, and we were talking about tiaras. I told her I really wanted to buy one at the comic conference, but didn’t, because I didn’t have anywhere to wear a tiara. She told me that was dumb (okay, she didn’t actually say that), and that she wears tiaras all the time, even to the grocery store, and she doesn’t care about other people’s reactions.
And then all of a sudden I really wanted to do that just as an exercise in personal freedom, self-confidence and self-expression. Like all of a sudden it became a THING that I had to make a REALITY. But I thought doing it at the grocery store was scary. (Yeah, I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds.) I was worried people (that I don’t care about, and would never see again) would judge me, and I was also worried that wearing a tiara would clash with this whole new image I was carefully trying to craft and cultivate. Tiaras are whimsical and cocky and bridal and fantasy accessories, and I’m practical, lacking in self-confidence (the whole point of this exercise), very single, and down-to-earth. You just don’t wear tiaras to go buy yourself some apples.
So then I googled wearing a tiara to a grocery store (because I’m insane like that), and found some other girl who wore a tiara everywhere for a whole week. And apparently no one really said anything to her all week or even noticed, aside from a couple of compliments and smiles. Super anti-climatic.
I told some friends about how I want to wear a tiara but was afraid to. And of course they all said that was dumb (Okay, they didn’t, my friends are great), and that I didn’t actually need a reason to wear one, and even better, one of them even said that the people I need/want in my life are not going to be the people that judge me for wearing a tiara to go buy apples, and that’s not going to be off-putting to them, and that those people, the right people, the people I want to care about, those people…would get it.
Then… your protagonist… did absolutely nothing. For a while.
A week later though, I decided I was going to wear a bikini out in public at a public pool, and not one of those high-waisted ones that actually give you some coverage, but a legitimate bikini that exposed all of the parts of my body that I hated the most and hid absolutely nothing. A bikini that I got as a gift, that I’ve held on to for four years, never ever wearing it even once, because I never felt I was thin enough. That was a little scary too because I’ve definitely had a recent weight gain and my body is not where I want it to be.
But I walked into the grocery store (yeah the scary one) wearing this bikini underneath a short skirt and a tank top. You could see maybe the top straps of it on my shoulders, but otherwise it was completely not visible and covered up by my outfit. And five men talked to me within five minutes, when I’ve had countless trips there where no one spoke to me at all.
I realized that I have probably been carrying myself “wrong” for my entire life, and wearing something life-affirming and self-worth affirming went a long way toward fixing this weird subconscious thing I have going on that has apparently been repelling people.
And yeah, later on that day, I wore that bikini out in public at a public pool. Warts and all. And nothing bad happened.
A couple weeks later though, on a whim though I decided I wanted to do more and better than I had been in this part of life. So I planned an entire new wardrobe that encompassed a new vision that I saw for myself. Then I went to Goodwill and spent $100 on clothes, which actually bought a ridiculous amount of clothing, that I looked great in, even on a non-sale day.
This day was seriously an eye opening day for me.
That Goodwill had clothes that were better fitting and better looking than most of the things I was wearing day in and day out. Most of the stuff I had been settling for.
I had been wearing shorts that barely fit, and jeans that barely fit, and shirts that didn’t fit right, and even shoes that barely fit me, and why? Seriously, why? Why was I so tied up in forcing myself to wear that stuff? So I didn’t have to go spend maybe $3 on a shirt that actually fit me right and that I actually liked and that I actually felt good while I was wearing it? Clothing exists to serve me, and so why was I tolerating clothes that were bad at that, when fixing that problem only cost me Three Dollars? I had been uncomfortable and wearing clothes that were comparatively awful because I didn’t want to invest the shopping time and THREE DOLLARS to fix the problem. This whole time I thought it would be this huge investment to get clothes that fit me right. Nope. Just THREE DOLLARS per item.
And I realized I was basically punishing myself for gaining weight. And I had been selling myself so very, very short. And it was so unnecessary.
And I came to realize that unless you are in the very basest levels of poverty where you’re struggling to feed and house yourself and your family, that there is absolutely no excuse for wearing unflattering clothes. There. Just. Isn’t. So here’s a life lesson that I’ve just learned: Wearing unflattering clothes is a problem of self-worth. Change your clothes and change your life.
I started experimenting.
I wore evening gowns to do household chores.
I wore perfume even though I knew I was not going anywhere that day.
I started wearing way more jewelry, purposefully cycling through a new combination every single day, when previously I usually couldn’t be bothered to put on anything let alone change it every day.
And then I ordered the tiara online.
While waiting for it to come in the mail, I ran into this girl at my meditation group who brought up to me the concept of clothing as armor, or clothing as a mask, a costume, a game face. Suits can be armor, or goth type clothes could be armor, hair styles and hair colors are all armor too. These are all ways that people put on a mask, to hide what they see as vulnerability in themselves. Using clothes to hide your true self, and project a different self that you wish you had.
That was interesting to me since that was the complete opposite of what I had just come from, thinking that clothes were just not all that important and barely projected anything at all. The concept of hiding behind your clothes was new to me. The idea that clothes had so much power, that they could be so amazing, that you could hide your “not-amazing self” behind them and no one would “see” you.
I think though I’d rather just look great and feel great, and be authentic and transparent about that.
Then the tiara came in the mail.
I wish I could tell you I wore it to the grocery store.
I didn’t. (I already told you; the grocery store is scary.)
But even though I am pretty sure my roommate thought I was being ridiculous, I did wear it to an arcade where I wore it while I cleared a really difficult dancing song 🙂
So, is it working? Did changing the outside change my insides? Jury is still out but… Yeah, I kinda think it’s working, actually.