My last blog post was about women who have “let themselves go” and I challenged the idea that this was a bad thing. Maybe, in fact, letting yourself go is a step towards freedom and something to celebrate in one another? (If you missed it, scroll down and see Let Yourself Go: The Last Makeover You'll Ever Need). But something is still bugging me. There is still a piece I need to Spill. So for the next few paragraphs, please imagine me getting up on my soapbox and using lots of arms gestures when I say...
Why?! Why are so many good well meaning women sending out ‘positive’ messages for other women that basically say; "look your best and dress well in order to feel good about yourself."
Why?! I hear messages like "take time to dress well and put on make-up because you are worth it.” And ones like "reflect who you are on the inside by the clothes you wear.” And “take time to pamper yourself by shopping, plucking, moisturizing, blow drying, etc…"
At first glance these messages appeal to me, in that I want mothers (all women) to take time for themselves and to feel good in their skin, but something about how the focus of women’s self care is still fixated on outward appearance bugs me. Just really really bugs me.
These messages accept our image driven culture and urge us to show up as contenders, with our images ready, to jump in the ring. But these "self care" messages do nothing to look at the big picture or to challenge the core beliefs our culture places on appearance (especially especially for women). What if I don’t want to put on any image to get in the ring? I think most of us have gotten on board with challenging the media and it's picture perfect image of women in hollywood and in magazines. It is relatively easy to get on board with this because it is just so obvious. But the more subtle message that "self care = taking time for your appearance” is a little more sneaky. It’s a watered down version of the over the top hollywood message, but it’s the same message. At the core of the messages is this:
“You are deemed worthy or not worthy by how you look. Accept that and make yourself the best looking version of yourself that you can. Only then will you feel good in the world and be accepted. Only then will others be able to hear your words, give you credibility and accept your ideas"
That’s crap. That's not empowering to women. I’m ready to pause and challenge it. Will you join me?
Ok, so help me down from my soapbox…thank you...I feel a lot better now. If you made it through that and are still reading, then here are some of the tricky bits that I brush up against in real life while I balance precariously between buying into the hype and resisting it.
Tricky bit #1. I respect women who have transformation (make-over type) stories and who feel rejuvenated by new clothes and new hair cuts. They’ve come from frumpy, and giving there all to others, and have decided now to take time for themselves. And that is a good thing. A very good thing. I want women to feel good about themselves. But maybe I also want to remind us that this type of image self care is only satisfying because we live in a culture that is consumed by appearances. What if we didn't have to spend so much time (and money) on our appearance at all? In the busyness of creating our image let’s also make time to stop and challenge the world we live in. So carry on and do the makeovers, and the capsule wardrobes, and the pedi/mani’s just don’t forget to also pause and reflect on the big picture and question it and challenge it sometimes too.
Tricky bit # 2. I want it…the nice clothes and the great hair cut…I do want it. If someone had a magic wand to grant me a fabulous wardrobe I would take it. I’m not above it. I just resent the fact that I feel I need it in the first place…and I double triple resent the time that it would take for me to actually go out and build it for myself.
Let me leave you with this. I have experienced first hand great wisdom from the mouths of frumpy moms in sweatpants. I have seen creativity and passion from messy women wearing clothes from last decade. I have read intelligent academic studies by women who are pale and have greasy hair. I feel like these contributions are so valuable to us and the day to day appearance of their creators is just not that important. Imagine if these women spent more time on their image and less time being their creative, smart and innovative selves? What a loss for all of us.
Maybe I’m just defensive because I don’t want to spend time shopping or grooming in order to feel present in the world or to be taken seriously. As a Mom with very young kids I’m lucky if I get an hour or 2 to myself a week. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend it shopping or organizing clothes or getting my hair done. I’m going to walk near the sea or have a nap or head to the library to write. Like I am now. With my jeans that are too big (and maybe a little too short) and my slip on runners from Payless Shoes.
"She's really let herself go."
It’s meant as an insult. It’s said in the workplace, the sports bar, the mommy play group and to your own reflection in the mirror. It's said by men and women about other women. Whenever a woman gains weight, or stops dressing in a particular way, or wearing make up, or styling her hair then "she has let herself go." Like she's not taking care of herself. She's sloppy and lazy. But what it really does is call out a woman for not living up to very particular standards of what she should look like: thin, well groomed and for gods sakes 'put together.' I mean, if she does not care enough about her looks, then she really can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to share with the world.
But hold the phone here one second...let me get this straight…letting yourself go would mean breaking free of all of that? The judgement, the standards, the pressure? Ummmmmmm, let me think on this REALLY hard here…
“Hell ya, I'm letting myself go!”
Whose with me?!?! I’m done with Let Herself Go as an insult. I’m ready for Let Herself Go as a celebration!
Let’s use our imaginations for just a couple of minutes (the minutes I have in between putting on under eye concealer and waxing my upper lip, cause right now I’m only halfway there) and dream of this:
Next time we hear "she's really let herself go” let’s think "oh yes, thank God, another one is free! she has let herself go! We should have a party for her and celebrate her new freedom!"
Maybe we could even actually throw a party for her? Imagine throwing a “Let Yourself Go” party for every woman who crosses that marker to freedom? Wowza. What fun would that be!?!?!
At the party we will say things like:
"Wow. Look at you! You've really let yourself go! Congratulations! How does it feel?"
"Do you know it took Susan 3 babies but she's finally let herself go! We are so proud of her!"
"I hear Dana is thinking about letting herself go. Wouldn’t that be amazing?"
And what exactly will we do at this party? Now that we have so much more time because we’re not shopping, grooming and cleaning out closets? Well, here’s what I want at my “Let Yourself Go Party:"
And really lets think about this. What’s the opposite of “letting yourself go?” Holding it together. Towing the line. Maintaining the status quo. Pffffft. I'll choose letting go over that any day.
Let yourself go. Whatever that means for you. Go! Go towards what makes you feel whole, brings you peace and brings you joy.
Next time you overhear “she’s really let herself go” can you celebrate for her? I know I will.
**Here you can see I've chosen to "let myself go" in order to spend more time cleaning my kitchen and spending quality time with my children**
Karen Barré is an accomplished mom of 3 that can make snacks ALL day long and still find the time to make light-sabers out of paper and duct tape. As long as the conditions are perfect. And everyone slept the night. And we have groceries in the house. Or paper. Okay, I did it once, it was a highlight.