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Wardrobe Strategy #1: Please Yourself First!

Just in the past week alone I have had several (not just one, but several) women call me saying something like,

“I didn’t really think my style was that bad but my ____________ (teenage daughter, husband, boyfriend, mother, best friend, sales woman…) keeps telling me that my _________ (hair, favorite outfit, what I’m wearing to work, what I’m wearing to a bar mitzvah) doesn’t look good.  At this point I’m afraid to get dressed!”

Not only do they have to ponder the ever-changing world of fashion as it relates to their body, personal style and lifestyle, but they have to ward off negative comments (whether well-intentioned or not) from others along the way.

For some women, creating a wardrobe has been a constant source of frustration while for others their discontent has evolved as their bodies have changed.  Add to that the bombardment of messages that how they look is not okay, and you have a big giant mess!

Believe it or not, when it comes to how we feel about how we look, more harm is done by those closest to us than strangers or acquaintances.  In today’s technology obsessed world we are overwhelmed with makeover TV shows, fashion magazines and celebrity style updates.  As a result teenagers know a lot more about fashion than those of us over 40 did when we were their age.

Unfortunately, while some of their information might be helpful and enlightening (not all of it, though…remember, they are teenagers!) it’s the delivery that is often lacking in tact.  Sadly, mothers are equally culpable and because their comments often come at an earlier age when we are most vulnerable the ramifications are longer lasting.

Several years ago I surveyed women about what “hurtful comments and unwanted advice” (now a chapter in my body image, style and self-esteem home study program “Who Taught You How To Dress?”) they still carry with them.  Yikes!  The input was overwhelming and often heart wrenching. Here are two simple examples:

“When I was a teenager, my mother looked down towards my feet and said, “My ankles are thinner than yours!” I didn’t even know what my ankles were supposed to look like, but interpreted her remark to mean mine weren’t as good as hers.”

“I’m constantly being told how tired I look.  While it may be true, do these supposedly well-intentioned people not realize that if I WERE tired, I would be the first one to know, and really not need them to point it out???!!”

The comments range from simple seemingly benign comments like those above to much more insidious and mean-spirited like this one:

“I had spent the previous year since my third baby arrived getting back into my pre-babies body shape.  Through diet and a serious exercise plan, I’d lost 15 pounds, was down to about 107 pounds, back into a comfortable size 4, and feeling really great about myself.  I actually went and bought my very first bikini for a vacation, and some form fitting (but still conservative) clothes to highlight all the good parts of my body.  Everybody had been complimenting me on how great I’d been looking.

“When my family arrived for Easter, I was wearing a cute, flirty little skirt (just the type of thing Mom would pick out for me, too!) and she immediately pats my belly and teases me about looking like I’m pregnant!  I have long since thought that I was immune to my mother’s criticisms, but that day, I cried. Couldn’t she have pointed out how great my hair was?  Or how nice the outfit was? (She did like the outfit by the way.  It’s just that for whatever reason, she just can’t resist making some kind of negative comment, even in jest.)”

Does this strike a chord with you?  Have you experienced something similar?  Does it still influence your feelings about your body and your wardrobe?  The truth is even when you are very insightful and logical about it, it can still have emotional impact as the woman from above went on to explain:

“I am rational enough to recognize that my mother has her own inferiority issues that she has obviously struggled with throughout most of her life (the stories I could tell!), and feel pity for her about that, but the fact that she feels the need to make herself feel better by always (and probably unconsciously) belittling me is awful.  I know it’s more about her than it is about me, but I still bear the marks of it all. I have struggled with my own inferiority complex all my life – probably inherited from her – and have finally reached a place where I feel like I’ve made real progress to overcome it.  But it still doesn’t make those hurtful comments any less painful when they come, even though I can rationally talk myself through them, and have a network of wonderful friends and husband to provide positive reinforcement as well.”

I know this is a huge, often very charged topic (which is why it has its own chapter in my home study program).  I also know it is important to address the hurt so you can move forward and feel good about how you look.  That is a very necessary step to unburden yourself and truly delight in who you are.  Whether it is a good therapist, energy healing or some other personal growth work, the rewards are great.  It is a way to bring your psyche (and your personal style) back to a heart-centered place and truly enjoy who you are and how you express yourself in the world.

Once your awareness has set this journey in motion and you have a newfound sense of empowerment, there are 3 things to remember:

1.    Please Yourself First. What you wear and how you present yourself visually is a very personal decision.  You get to choose – not your daughter, your husband, your best friend or your mother!  And, here’s the clincher: Generally speaking when you feel fabulous about how you look (even if others do not totally agree), their unsolicited comments have much less charge to them. When you reconnect with your personal power and can honestly experience that special part of you that makes you you, discovering your personal style will feel more organic.  Whether you do it on your own or with support, this step is critical to disarming the hurtful comments.

2.    Just Say No! First of all, who gave these people permission to comment on how someone else looks?  Some people have a bad habit of imposing their personal views on others and think that being a family member or close friend gives them free reign.  It does not! When you are the recipient of one of these hurtful comments or unwanted advice, let them know (with grace and love) that this is not acceptable.  If you are having trouble verbalizing this I highly recommend reading books by Cheryl Richardson or Louise Hay (and now they’ve written one together called, “You Can Create an Exceptional Life.”)  They will guide you in setting boundaries so you get what you need AND feel good about it.

3.    Surround Yourself With Support. You deserve to have your life filled with people who cherish you for who you are and are not trying to change you to fit their mold of what is right and acceptable (on their terms).  When you have this kind of support you can also feel comfortable being vulnerable and are more likely to ask them for advice because you know it will be given with kindness and love.

Lastly, I cannot stress this enough.  The premise for much of this unwanted advice is that “I know better” and so they feel like it is their right and duty to impose their views.  Bottom line: the end does not justify the means – no matter what we see and hear on reality TV shows!   Yes, you might go ahead and make the changes they suggest or bully you into, but will it be from a place of inspiration and excitement or sadness, resignation and self-loathing?

Life is too short to spend every day feeling disempowered each time you get dressed.  Your wardrobe is meant to be a source of joy and personal expression not a source of aggravation.  Take it one step at a time as you move yourself in a direction that will make YOU happy every morning.  Whether it means setting boundaries with others, making changes to your wardrobe or both, be sure it comes from a place of genuine delight and a love of beauty motivated by your own self-confidence.  Make peace with your body and with those who criticize you.  Then, allow yourself to explore your style from a heart-centered place.  When you please yourself first, you won’t believe how this will transform your state of being and silence your critics (both inner and outer!).


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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.