Among the many "shoulds" in my life, there is the notion that I should not read O, The Oprah Magazine when I could be using that time to read Foreign Policy or National Geographic or something. Like all women's magazines, O is filled with beauty ads and spreads that suggest the answer to so many of life's problems is to buy more shit.
But I'll admit it now: I love O anyway. I have a subscription to O. I love Martha Beck's articles. And I also love some of the essays in there.
The most recent issue has a piece by Lauren Slater called "Getting Lighter". Slater talks about how years of debilitating depression caused her to completely abandon her personal grooming, to the point that she developed a serious infection from dirt working its way under her skin. While my case of depression and self-neglect has never gotten that serious, I could still relate to her talk of skipped showers, unshaven legs (yes, for months at a time), and sloppy clothes.
Slater makes a decision:
"A psychologist by training and degree, I decided to construct an experiment. I was a schlump, a frump, due to my depression, which robbed me of the time to spruce up and the motivation as well. Was it possible, though, that if I spruced up, my mood would follow suit? What would happen if, during my downtime, my depressed time, I put on makeup? What would happen if I got some style? Beauty, after all, is not some trifling effluvium; it's a sought-after state in every culture we know of, this in itself proof of its power."
She hires a beauty consultant, gets a much-needed haircut, and more changes follow from there. And she finds that, as suspected, changing the way she cares for her appearance changes her internal state as well. Her work improves, her libido returns, her confidence increases. And she realizes:
"...entering into beauty did not in any sense diminish me as a woman, an artist, a mother, a wife. I did not become all preen and polish, with nothing of substance to offer. I look people in the eye. I dream I am 12 feet tall."
For so long, I have wanted to improve my appearance. Weight aside, I have wanted to dress better, figure out hair and makeup, all of that stuff. A few things have stopped me, but chief among them are irritation and frustration over how much work it seems to be to figure it all out and make an effort every day--that's probably the depression at work, because others find this easy and enjoyable--and a concern that I would get too into my appearance and become vapid. I'm sorry to say that the most polished women I know are generally not the brightest women I know, and I value intelligence immensely. (I know, I know, there are lots of women out there that have both things going for them. Obviously I need to widen my social circle, because I haven't encountered enough of them.)
I would like to value good self-care more than I do. Furthermore, Stacy London has finally convinced me, via her book The Truth About Style, that there is nothing intelligent about presenting yourself to the world as a slob. In the end, Slater and London have shown me that I've been theorizing about a false choice--looks vs. smarts.
So, for what feels like the millionth time, I have recently re-started my efforts to learn how to dress myself correctly. Every time I do this, even when I end up quitting and going back to men's hoodies and ill-fitting jeans, I learn something new that brings me a little bit closer to putting the puzzle together.
This is what I'm working with: I do have a hard-to-fit body. I am 5'5" and plus sized, but I have a long waist and shorter legs. That means I need petite length pants--most women my height can wear regular length--and I need longer shirts. Maybe even Tall shirts, but I will probably have to get the sleeves hemmed if I start buying those. Plus-size petite-length pants are not easy to find. I have yet to find a great pair of jeans.
I carry fat in my lower stomach, so many shirts fall at the most unflattering spot possible. Shirts need to be long enough to cover my stomach, but not so long that they hit my thighs, because that makes my short legs look downright stumpy.
I have a large bust, and only in the past two years did I figure out that the ONLY kind of bra that works for me is a full coverage bra with underwire support. No demi cups or whatever for me! I can wear sports bras, of course, but I'm talking about what bras I can wear with regular clothes. Prior to figuring this out, I wore sports bras all the time, even with regular clothes, leaving the straps visible and me with a case of mono-boob because I didn't know what else to do.
I have wide feet. Most stores do not carry attractive wide shoes for young women. It has finally sunk in that I need to order my shoes online 99% of the time.
Actually, most of my clothes shopping is done online too. That's where most of the good plus-sized clothes are to be found. I have a few Lane Bryants near me, but I am less than impressed with them. Bless them for their bras, though. Those are the bras that finally worked for me; a small miracle.
Then there is the question of finding items THAT I GENUINELY LIKE that takes all of the above into account. This is the hardest part and the reason that for most of my life, I just bought anything that fit me, whether I liked it or not. Because of desperation and lack of choice. This situation is getting a little better as the plus size market expands, but it's still a challenge.
A separate question from "what do I like?" is "what looks good on me?" I think I need some third party input on this, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get that. I'm thinking about paying for consults with a stylist and makeup artist. (I need help in that area, too.) I've never visited a makeup counter because it intimidates me and I don't want to feel pressured into buying specific products.
I took one tiny step towards change by signing up for something called Gwynnie Bee, after seeing it mentioned repeatedly on Skinny Emmie's blog. I'm glad I did for three reasons. It helped me figure out why so many shirts look horrible on me (The long waisted issue. Somehow, before this, I understood I needed petite length pants but did not understand that I was correspondingly long waisted). It made me realize that I consistently overestimate my size, which is why I often end up with things that are too big for me. And that, in turn, caused me to go to a tailor to have measurements taken by someone besides myself for the first time ever.
I really like Gwynnie Bee. They have excellent customer service. Because I'm at home all the time with the baby for now, I may discontinue my membership soon and then pick it up again later when I'm working or just out of the house more. For now, though, it's an educational experience getting these clothes in the mail, trying them on, and sending them back!
More on dressing myself in future posts. :) Advice is always welcomed!