Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dressing to impress myself

I feel pretty in my nursing bodice, geeky glasses,
self-made butterfly hair clip, and long hair
that most women would've cut short by this age.
If you disagree, please don't tell me.

Someone I love has a long, sleeveless green hippie dress that she once felt comfortable and pretty in. It gets hot here in the summer. She was happy to have found that dress and asked my opinion and I said to wear it. It looked nice. Then someone else told her she shouldn't wear that dress anymore because her arms are too fat. This same person has told her other things, too, for many years, and thinks she is helping.

Well, now the dress is the "dreaded green dress." It may not have been said in so many words, but the main point of you should be ashamed of those arms; cover them was received, loud and clear. If this is the type of advice you are in the habit of giving, please stop. You are not helping.

This morning I read a mind-stretching post over at about her rejection of the flattering outfit and it got me thinking. I am ashamed to say I have rolled my eyes at the fashion choices of women on TV and on the street. We live in the south and there are rules about what to wear here. You can't wear white shoes until Easter, for one. Tedious, silly little rules like this abound--and all probably to force women into buying six of an item they really only needed two of. I followed obediently and my bland wardrobe reeked of fear that I might wear something too out-there and, as Natalie puts it, "make too much of a spectacle of myself."

Around the time I started college, I saw Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine on television, literally chasing unsuspecting women down and berating their choice of clothing in an effort to "help" them, because you see, they needed it so badly. I am embarrassed to say I went out and bought their book. I am even more embarrassed to say that I didn't even have to look hard to find it on my bookshelf this morning after I read Natalie's post. Because at 18 years old and 115 pounds, without a speck of cellulite on me and nary a stretch mark, I just had to know what I should not wear to look pretty. The book told me all that and more. I learned, of my small boobs, "a low scoop neck accentuates a bony chest which looks more like a DEFLATED BALLOON than a swelling cleavage." It said that "skintight on a skinny top half isn't sexy, it's a DISAPPOINTMENT." It even went so far as to liken my breasts to "RAISINS AS OPPOSED TO PEACHES." Ouch, ouch, and ouch. As much as they claim to disparage only clothing choices and not one's body, those are my boobs you're talking about! I worried that I might look ridiculous in some of the clothes that I loved, and not even know it.

They handled other bodily "problems" in the same way, repeating to women page after page that certain unsightly areas NEED TO BE COVERED. They even talk about women "unashamedly baring huge arms" as though these women darn well should be ashamed. Looking at this through the lens of a few years of experience and just having read what I did this morning, I have a problem with this. And they just go on and on: "Do you really want the world to see your most HIDEOUS PHYSICAL DEFECT? Hide the buggers, for goodness sake."
"Elastic sleeves will create TWO VERY FAT SAUSAGES as opposed to one." "Anything too tight will clutch around the butt giving away the TERRIBLE SECRET of having a butt that almost drags along the floor."

I just want to cry after reading all that. Why not love the body God gave you? Why not accept the stretch marks and fat and whatnot as signs that your body has faithfully taken you through life's ups and downs? My stretch marks are reminders of two beautiful little girls I am extremely proud of birthing. A little extra fat is because I ate what I wanted, and liked it just fine, thank you very much.

I have been thinking about this a lot today and am committed to erasing the remnants of this bad habit from my life. Here are my three top reasons in no particular order:

1) It's not sexy. I asked Jordan, and together we decided that negative talk about one's own body is about the furthest thing from sexy. Nothing you can wear or not wear could possibly be less sexy than this. So what's the point?
2) This is not something I want to pass onto my girls. I want them to go shopping and see a dress they think is beautiful and buy it, and wear it like a queen. I don't want them to look in the mirror searching for something wrong, or second-guessing their beauty or style. For them to be confident in their bodies, I need to be confident in mine.
3) It's hateful. Just refer back to the bold-printed phrases above. If you look closely at a woman who is ridiculing another woman's body or fashion choices, you will see she is insecure. What Not to Wear claims that "in matters of style, you have to be cruel to be kind." No. You have to be cruel because you feel inadequate yourself, and it makes you feel better if you can project a little of that onto someone else. We scold schoolchildren for it and yet fail to recognize it in grown women.

I am looking forward to taking compliments from Jordan at face value. Smacking down my inner critic who tells me no one wants to see me in such-and-such an outfit, even if I love it. Having fun with brightly colored clothing and accessories I make myself. Wearing lipstick that's a slightly different color from my actual lips. It may seem like it's just about clothes, but these negative notions touch so many areas of life, and rejecting them for the truth will improve so many things.

Have you struggled with this? Do you still? Do you always wear what society dictates and don't mind at all? I'm curious what others think.


Anonymous said...

I am in my mid-30s now. And I am becoming less and less concerned with what others think all the time. It's one of the upsides of aging, for me it really does bring confidence. For the first time in my life I'm playing around with fashion. I'm shopping at second hand stores and buying quirky things that are fun and cheap instead of sticking to Old Navy and whatever the mass market is telling me to wear. I like it.

Julie said...

Thanks, Jenny!
I will wear my green hippy dress more often and wear it proudly. Mammie wore sleeveless dresses and always felt the need to say, "If only I could be as thin and beautiful as Virginia." You made me feel like a queen yesterday.
Love you,

Natalie said...

I think it's a marvelous reflection, and a brave commitment to make a conscious decision not to pass these practices on to your kids!! Horah!

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