As I was reflecting upon my frumpiness recently and suddenly feeling a newfound desire to become more stylish, several things occurred to me. First, it has been ages since I have felt that way. Years since I thought about clothing and accessories as a way to decorate myself, to express my individuality or my personality in an outward fashion. Dare I even go so far to admit, even to myself, that perhaps I would actually like to reclaim some of the sexiness of my twenties? This epiphany prompted my interest in what really happened in the ten years between my having children and my current less-than-glamorous self.
Around the same time, I also read an extremely insulting passage in a text that implied that stay-at-home mothers (like myself) were completely insignificant in the big scheme of things, because they tended to morph into lesser versions of themselves, putting everyone else’s needs above their own.
I will be bold and actually admit that when I honestly hold myself up to that analogy, I have to agree with the morphing part of that equation. I am not jumping up and down in agreement, I confess, but more grudgingly opening my awareness to it and more importantly to what I can do about it. Yes, it is true that I have put others’ needs above my own.
When you have a baby, your body and hormones are out of whack and then you actually have to put your needs second to take care of your helpless, vulnerable newborn, who depends on you for everything. You may really require sleep, but your baby needs fed. Since your baby can’t feed himself, you put your needs second, as it should be.
I think the problem arises when, as our babies grow, we don’t find a way to take back some of that balance. When we continue to put our children’s needs above our own, when taking care of ourselves would actually benefit our children more than our catering to their every whim.
Socially, many of us are often praised and sympathized with when we exhibit that martyrdom behavior. In contrast, oftentimes we are scorned or even ridiculed by loved ones who might think we are selfish if we aren’t mired in the needs of our children and might actually want to reclaim some of our own life for ourselves. This creates a negative cycle for so many women.
I have heard it so many times and it really is true, happy women make better mothers. When you feel good about yourself, when you take care of yourself, you are setting an example for your children to follow, you create a home environment that is enriching and you teach your children the importance of taking care of themselves and that they aren’t the center of the universe. This does not mean that we always put our needs above our children, it simply means we work towards finding a balance. And if you aren’t even on the map, then you really have a lot of work to do.
The second thing that occurred to me as I considered my newfound desire to be stylish once again, was the dynamic of appearance and what our appearance actually says about ourselves. More to the point, what mine was saying about me. If I could come up with the best descriptions of how I objectively saw myself, words like non-threatening, chubby, round, neglected and middle-aged soccer mom came to mind. I assure you those were not the words that I want to use to describe myself, but there they were. Also, I love being a mother and coincidentally, my daughter does play soccer, but I just don’t want to project an image that screams “I take care of other people, but obviously not myself”.
Non-threatening is the one description that really hit me, because I realized that I was subconsciously making an effort in that department. It occurred to me that some of what we file under the category of “dress appropriately” actually hides so many categories like “don’t look like you are trying too hard”, “don’t look like you think you are younger than you are”, and “don’t look like you are trying to draw extra attention to yourself”, just to name a few.
It is as if we recall the petty jealousy of our youth and we want to eliminate any version of that which might manifest itself in our grown up lives. Be honest, how many of you have worried not only that you sometimes don’t look good enough but also that you sometimes might look too good? If you can relate to that statement at all, then you probably understand the point that I am trying to make here. I think, sometimes we tend to hide the best parts of ourselves in an effort to avoid inciting the jealousy or envy of others and having to deal with those dynamics.
Which brings me to my conclusion, looking good really does make you feel good. It makes you feel more confident, more self-assured, more pulled-together and often it increases your willingness to put yourself out there, to fully participate in social situations. My daughter has just started Girl Scouts, at the kindergarten level and the first thing she was taught was to respect herself and others. Her troop leaders explained that washing their faces and brushing their teeth was a way to show respect for themselves. I will go a bit further and say that as adults, fixing your hair in a flattering way, wearing a little lipstick or highlighting our eyes with makeup, dressing in a figure-flattering way and taking pride in our appearance should be thought of in the same way.