The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.Doris Kearns Goodwin
“I love that dress, where did you get it?,” Elizabeth asked.
“My sister,” I replied.
She politely paused.
“Ann Taylor,” I said.
She smiled. “I love Ann Taylor,” she said.
We exchanged our mutual love of Ann Taylor, and I went on to tell a story about a pair of black slacks that I bought there in 2002. Just last year I donated the slacks to Goodwill. I could have had them tailored. My 31-year-old body that purchased those pants needed more than a nip and a tuck from the tailor. We parted ways on good terms. I felt that I’d received an adequate return on my investment and I let them go.
We agreed how American women love a great ROI on our clothing. Elizabeth shared how she bought a pair of gym shoes from Payless Shoes 15 years ago, and she still has them today. She said she loved the look, she still does, they fit her well, and they always make her feel good.
Our conversation went into clothing, makeup, and self-image. I explained how I didn’t intend to wear a dress last night, but I never finished the laundry, and found myself asking myself why not?
The conversation in my head went something like this, wear something that makes YOU happy. Don’t wear jeans because of everyone else. If you want to feel pretty, then you need to put clothes on that are pretty.
We talked about how our wardrobe choices often reflect how we feel about an event before we even arrive. The voice in our head shouting, “Nobody else cares, so why should I?” as we make our wardrobe selection. And then we arrive and we should hardly be disappointed when a special occasion, is not special because everyone is wearing their Sunday worst.
We concluded that we need to stop caring what everyone else thinks about our wardrobe choices. I told Elizabeth about Christmas Eve two years ago, a month after my ex-husband and I separated, and I struggled not to feel dumpy on the exterior because inside I felt so ugly. I pulled out the dress I bought in Paris years before. It was my favorite dress. I recently looked at pictures from that night, and in spite of all the emotional turmoil, I enjoyed myself. And the dress helped.
A friend recently shared with me that when she shows up to work looking spectacular it’s to offset other negative feelings. Last night, I understood why? And talking to Elizabeth last night helped me realize how we are our own worst enemies.
My conversation sounds like this: Who’s your nemesis, Karen?
No, Karen, I’m asking you, who is your nemesis?
No, Karen, you don’t understand
Yes, Karen, I understand too well
Karen, It can’t be you
It is me, and it’s you, too, Karen
This conversation applies to so many things. Elizabeth is 35, I am 47. I told her when I was 35 I used to think I was fat. In fact, I was so thin and so unhappy that I saw myself as something that I wasn’t. I constantly wore clothes that were too big, because I felt I needed to wear those larger sizes because I was overweight. Such ridiculousness! Our minds and self-image weave these hallucinations into illusions that we make factual.
I looked for a quote this morning that framed my thinking. And I was grateful to find this one from Doris Kearns Goodwin; “The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.”
I appreciated the quote because clothes are a mental barometer. Your wardrobe is an extension of yourself. By not expressing who we are through what we wear, we aren’t revealing our true self. Every time we are dishonest, our self-esteem takes a hit. I’m understanding how so much of my wardrobe has been about wearing what won’t make a statement, and what will conform to others expectations and standards. That approach is completely contrary to who I am. And it’s exhausting. I don’t want to stand out but I don’t want to blend in either. And that’s ok.
Unlike Christmas two years ago, I didn’t get any pictures with my party dress on. Instead, I did get a good laugh. At the close of our set for the anniversary show at Westside last night, I walked on to the stage and announced, “You requested a virgin.” The audience laughed, the lights went out, and I hugged my fellow players. This morning, I thought, it was all because of the dress. I entered and I delivered the line because I wore the dress. I’ll be wearing it again, soon.
Note: This conversation occurred at Westside Improv, which celebrated its 4th-anniversary last night. We had a marathon show, with some 15 teams performing over 2.5 hours. For context, a show is usually 90 minutes, includes three teams performing 20-minute sets, with members of the Players Workshop opening the show with a 10-minute set. One of my fellow players recorded the whole show. You can find it here. I selfishly queued it to when PW’s set began.