style and body image

A few years ago, a dear friend came home to visit from where she was living in Boston, and we cooked up a big, messy, Mexican casserole and ate ourselves silly whilst gabbing and laughing and catching up. After a couple of hours of letting Husband Mike in on the fun, we kicked him out of the room so we could jaw about girly stuff.

This blog came up, as did another style-related project I was working on at the time, and my friend said, “I never realized you thought about clothes so much!” She quickly amended this so it was clear she didn’t mean, “I never realized you thought about clothes so much, you vacuous bimbo!” It literally hadn’t occurred to her that matters of the wardrobe took up so much real estate in my brain.

And it’s true. I think about clothing and shoes and accessories for a sizable chunk of every single day. Writing my thoughts here fuels that fire, as does reading the fabulous ideas, comments, and questions that my fellow style bloggers launch into the blogosphere every day. But even before Already Pretty was just a twinkle in my eye, I allowed myself loads of brain-space for clothing ruminations. And here’s why:

Looking stylish takes work

Like so many smart women, this took me a while to grasp. In high school and college, I hid my figure in loose, shapeless clothes and let my wild mane of hair go prairie. I figured hey, if it didn’t come natural, it wasn’t gonna come; might as well focus on other stuff. But a few years and a steady personal income later, I saw that it WOULD come if I put some effort into understanding what truly worked with my unique figure … and I realized that it was learning worth doing. In fact, it’s unreasonable to just throw on any old thing and expect it to work. No one can successfully and beautifully wear every available style, but we can each allot some energy to researching our own best looks. (OK, I suppose there are a few women out there who could wear swimfins and a tiara and look positively ravishing. But could and do are different things, and even the most naturally lovely and easy-to-fit of us typically puts some effort into her looks. )

Many of us aren’t happy with our bodies

I wish this weren’t true. Wish it with every fiber of my being. But it is, and I am reminded of it by practically every woman I chat with about matters of personal style. We focus on what we perceive to be our physical “flaws,” and ignore our natural assets. We work ourselves into fine froths trying to lose weight, alter our natural hair colors and textures, or drastically change our body proportions. We want to be shapes and conformations that we cannot easily or naturally be, and this makes us miserable.

And – possibly more significantly – this struggle can make us feel out of control. Even the most intelligent, successful, otherwise put-together woman can be brought low if she focuses on some aspect of her physical self that she cannot accept and cannot change. We can change careers, change lovers, change locations, change nearly every important aspect of our lives with relative ease. But sometimes our bodies fight us and win, and we feel horribly, wretchedly powerless.

Looking good can help us feel good

When we aren’t busily focusing on the negative – when we can momentarily quiet the body image demons – we often feel simply MARVELOUS. I’m not going all Fernando Lamas on you, promise; I don’t believe it’s better to look good than it is to feel good. But I do believe there’s an undeniable connection between looking good and feeling good. A stylish, compliment-provoking outfit can do wonders for mood and mindset. And even though it’s tough to do, motivation-wise, putting some extra effort into looking gorgeous when you feel like a steaming pile of smelly garbage can truly turn the tides on your frame of mind.

Clothes are powerful self-esteem tools

Although keeping your body healthy and strong is a must, you can be “healthy and strong” and heavier, shorter, or differently-proportioned than you wish to be. Clothes that fit and flatter THE YOU THAT YOU ARE RIGHT NOW can help you find your emotional happy place. Not permanently, of course; few of us are ready for nirvana. But perhaps long enough to start chipping away at any feelings of self-loathing or powerlessness that might be slowly crushing your glowy inner awesome. When we learn which clothes emphasize our natural assets and dress in outfits that highlight the bits of ourselves that we love the most, we feel powerful, in control, and utterly, undeniably beautiful. We may occasionally wonder if over-the-top exercise regimens, scary surgeries, or chemical barrages are necessary to change ourselves … but I created this blog to remind everyone who reads it that a quick trip to the thrift store or mall might have the same effects. For less money, with less pain, and in less time. We focus on changing our bodies, but changing how we present our bodies is a great way to shift mindsets without reinforcing the idea that there is only one “right” or “good” size and shape of body to have.

My own self-esteem ebbs and flows, and my body image shifts and changes on a near-daily basis. But I have finally accepted that I will never get rid of my spare tire or my broad hips. I will never have skinny arms or big boobs. And I have learned to buy clothes that will draw the eye to my waist, my shapely shoulders, my delicate ankles – the places where I want attention focused. I have learned the wonders of a fitted jacket and a cinched-waist dress. I have learned that I am a TOTAL HOTTIE even if I don’t look like a lingerie model. And learning to dress to my figure was the key to embracing my hottie-dom.

And that, my friends, is why I think about clothes all the damn time.

Image courtesy Boden

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

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