...although I'm not sure if it counts as a babe if it's my 18 year old daughter. Well, she's MY babe, as in baby, so I guess that works.
Anyway, had a very edifying conversation with said daughter a few days ago and even though it was shorter than 5 minutes it created a paradigm shift in my head that I'm hoping will last forever.
We were packing for our upcoming trip and I was mentioning that I really didn't want to have to wear my big running sneakers to walk around San Francisco, even though I knew they were a better choice for my back and feet than my cute little Converse that have zero arch support. She was like, "Wear the sneakers, who cares?" And I responded, "Well, I don't want to look like an old lady." And she was like, "First of all, you're not wearing orthotics, they're Saucony running shoes. Second of all, you need to take care of yourself and your back, third of all, WHO CARES what you're wearing on your feet?"
She was right on all counts. But I didn't get the lesson yet. I pressed on further.
Me: "Well with the way my body is right now I already have a matronly type look and I don't want to be perceived as old and matronly and if I wear the sneakers with my capri pants I'll look like all of the old lady tourists who walk around the mall before it opens, talking about their hip replacements and their medications and all of that stuff."
Her: Audible sigh. Pause. Then, what came of her mouth were, in my opinion, words of wisdom far beyond her years.
"Here's the thing. You're so concerned about what everyone else is thinking. Well no one else is thinking ANYTHING! Not to mention, who cares what anyone else may be thinking - BE COMFORTABLE! Wear what you want to wear! It doesn't matter! Life is too short to worry about these things!"
Of course she was right. And I agreed with everything she said 100%. In fact, I have given her the same exact advice many many times throughout her life. But isn't it true that we're usually great at giving the very advice to others that create roadblocks in our own lives?
I nodded silently, agreeing with everything she said in my head. I was almost convinced, but decided to try one more tactic just to see if I was indeed correct in my thinking and could stay tethered to the bonds of insecurity from my youth.
I said, "I agree with everything you said. You're SO right. But what about those makeovers on TV where they give people a new look which gives them confidence and sets them on a road to a new and happier life. What about the 'What Not To Wear' ladies?"
She thought for a moment and replied, "Well, the makeovers are a bit different. It's true that they give people confidence, which I'm in favor of, but those people aren't able to maintain the hair and makeup that an entire team has spent hours working on. I think it's good to give the people a glimpse into what they 'could' look like, if they are dissatisfied with their current look, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all that the shows try to make it seem like." Pause. "And I have a REAL problem with those 'What Not To Wear' people. I don't think they should exist. Who are they to tell you what to wear or what not to wear based on a look that society thinks you should adhere to. It's YOUR LIFE! If you want to wear a muumuu because it's comfortable for your life, then wear a muumuu. If you want to walk around in skinny jeans and high heels because it makes you feel attractive then wear that. But nobody has any right to tell anyone else how they should or shouldn't dress and how they should or shouldn't look. Their opinions are based on what THEY think you should look like according to often unattainable standards. Wear what you want and who cares what anyone else thinks about it."
I was silent, taking in all that she said, and after about 10 seconds I realized something:
She rocked my world.
While on some level I already knew everything she was saying, at my most conscious level I always envied the makeover people on tv and completely subscribed to the "What Not To Wear" people's advice. I saw the transformations and wished that someone would come to me to help make me the most beautiful and I could be, or at least acceptable to the world because I was now dressing in a way that most flattered my body shape.
But now as I think about it, what does that word "flattering" even mean? In my life it has always meant, "makes me look thinner." But the dictionary definition of "flattering" is: Complimentary, favorable, pleasing, becoming, and enhancing one's appearance. It also means: To praise or compliment insincerely, to gratify by falsification. Very interesting. To me, "flattering" is all about how you appear to others and what those others think of your appearance.
As I have said here before, I was raised with the tenet that other people's opinions were more important and significant than my own. If the scale didn't read society's acceptable level of weight I was ugly and a failure. If I was rejected by someone then it was futile to try again because those rejectors must be right. If someone ridiculed me about what I wore or the way I walked or looked, those comments were to be believed and taken to heart because what others had to say was always more important than the quiet voice inside of me that was trying desperately to disagree. (Very early on that voice learned to stay silent because it knew speaking up was futile.)
To that, about a year ago someone told me that I had a matronly style. This opinion was furthered shortly afterwards after I saw 2 women, one over 70 and one clearly in her 80s, wearing the same shirts that I had recently purchased. (as an aside, I LOVED these shirts! They were color blocked and striped and they actually looked really good on me, even with the previously expressly forbidden for 35 years horizontal stripe pattern. For some reason these shirts just resonated with me and I absolutely loved them.) They were on sale (plus I had discount coupons) and I liked them so much that actually bought 2 of them in different colors. One woman was in the blue one, the other was in the pink one. Needless to say, I returned both shirts to the store because that person's words rang out in my head and did not like being viewed as having a matronly style. (Especially with my ample curves I have been made to believe from a young age that I appear more matronly than someone with a flatter chest and narrower hips.)
That particular comment, which I viewed as an insult, has stuck with me like Krazy Glue. It wasn't until the conversation with my daughter that I realized that I had been taking it to heart every time I got dressed to leave the house. I've said things to myself like, "Ok, this shirt is from Old Navy, these pants are from H&M, there's no way anyone could consider this outfit matronly." It became very important to me to be more cognizant of what I was wearing and how it could be perceived.
This also made me realize that how we believe we are perceived by others goes beyond our outer coverings. Many of us walk around clothed in shame first, and the fabric we choose to cover our bodies often reflects how we feel underneath them. And the shame can come from more than our appearance. It can come from holding onto mistakes we might have made, or accomplishments unfinished, or dreams unrealized. I know someone who walks around attired in defeat and regret every day because of her divorce. It's been 15 years and she still can't get over what she considers to be an enormous failure in the eyes of everyone she meets. I know someone else whose daily wardrobe consists of humiliation and self-degredation because she had plans for a certain career and then didn't get into the schools and programs she planned on. She's ended up working a series of random jobs with no real focus because she can't get over her disappointment and find a new path.
As much as we try to hide our true feelings about ourselves, they come out loudly to the world regardless of what clothing we choose to put on top of them. If we're happy and content and confident and grateful, then that is what shines forth beyond the comfortable non-designer clothes. If we're morose, angry, dispirited, and pessimistic, that energy is what comes through, regardless of the trendy, high-end fashion we've using as an attempt to cover up our broken souls.
My point is, as my daughter put so eloquently, wear what you like, wear what makes you feel good, spend less time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, and don't worry one bit about what it might look like to someone else. Life is too short to be a slave to what some random marketing machine deems stylish or appropriate or flattering. The only thing "Not To Wear" I think, is a frown or a negative attitude. Have you noticed that when you're smiling everything looks good on you?
P.S. For those of you wondering, I brought my running sneakers on the trip, but for Day #1 of strolling around the city I wore my cute Converse with the minimal arch support. My feet and back paid for it the next day and I've been sporting my Sauconys ever since.