What message do you send with your appearance and should you care?+comment
If you’ve ever watched an episode of What Not To Wear, you know that a great many people out there are functioning in the world with a giant gulf between how they think they look and how they actually look. They might think they look like someone who has better, more substantive things to focus on than fashion. They might actually look like a psychotic librarian who has fallen on hard times.
Even those of us who are not fashion-blind can be a bit myopic to how we look and what our appearance communicates to those around us. Go around in sweats and no make-up for too long and the folks in your life might think you’re getting lazy or depressed. A tank top wore by a thin, small chested girl might be read as fun and flirty but that same shirt when worn by a curvy, busty lady might read ‘street walker’. Going full Kardashian to a bar might be read by the male clientele as a sign you’re looking to take someone home when you may, in fact, be looking for a love connection… or not be looking for anyone at all.
Like it or not, what we wear and how we present ourselves does factor into people’s perception of us. We communicate to the world at large by what we put on our bodies. I was reminded of this the other day when I was walking to the post office.
Let me back up a bit. Many years ago when I was a semi-employed actor, I had a lot of free time. Much of that free time was wasted being angsty about having too much free time (i.e. not working enough), but some of it was spent developing new hobbies. One of which was designing clothes and screen-printing T-Shirts. Most of my shirt designs were snarky literary puns (hence ‘hobby’ and not ‘business’, since the market for shirts with snarky literary puns isn’t exactly going gangbusters) but a few of my shirts weren’t literary… just random things that made me laugh.
Okay, so back to my post office sojourn. I passed a guy who smiled and nodded a greeting (I live in Atwater Village, which is a very neighborly neighborhood in LA, so nothing odd there) but as he was just about to pass me, he busted out laughing. I was pushing my baby boy in the stroller, so I thought maybe he’d done something adorable and the guy was laughing at him, but no. My kid was kind of zonked out staring into space. I had a brief flash of panic that I’d forgotten to but on a shirt (when you’re nursing constantly and sleep deprived, this is an actual possibility. I once opened the door to the FedEx guy in my bra and didn’t realize it until after I’d already sign for the package) I looked down and was relieved to see that I was, in fact, wearing a shirt… one of the shirts that I made years ago… so basically I was walking down the street, pushing my son in his stroller with the words ‘Cynically Promiscuous’ on my boobs.
How to feel about this? I’d thrown the shirt on without even thinking about it. And if I’m honest, I still think the shirt is really funny. I like it because it is weird and obtuse and not the kind of saying normally found on a T-shirt. I had to admit to myself that, as a mom, it might me time to retire that one. Granted it’s not like my 10 month old can read, and I was never actually that promiscuous, cynically or otherwise, but still… What kind of message do I want to put out into the world now that I’m someone’s mother?
Part of me rebels against the idea that I should change anything about my appearance just because I’ve reproduced. I’m thrilled to be a mom but I certainly have no intention of starting to wear Mom-jeans. That being said, considering I spend most of my waking life on the floor chasing after my kid and trying to stop him from electrocuting himself, it’s probably time to pack up the low-rise skinny jeans so that I’m not flashing crack at my next play-date. And though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a mom and a smart-ass, nor with being a mom and being a bit edgy, perhaps there is a line that should be drawn, and that line is somewhere in the vicinity of not having the word ‘promiscuous’ written across one’s boobs.
Going through a huge life change – be it a break-up, a career change, a marriage or having a baby – can bring on a mini identity crisis. And sometimes that crisis isn’t so mini. Often as we try to navigate the inner journey from who we were to who we’re going to be, we struggle with how to reflect that change on the outside. This is one reason I highly recommend never making a big hair change right after a break-up…. Getting used to big life-changes takes time. It is a process. So I’ll retire up my ‘cynically promiscuous’ shirt for good. But I’m still wearing my ‘Miss Havisham is my mentor’ shirt whenever I feel like it.