“The sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of tranquility that religion is powerless to bestow.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I worked at a psychiatric hospital when I was twenty, assisting the nurses. The first week I had to watch a man who was waiting for brain surgery. His condition was such that he was very unsteady on his feet, but he kept forgetting this and getting out of bed. My job was to sit outside his door. If I saw his feet swing out from under the covers, I popped my head into his room, and then he’d remember, “Ah, I forgot, didn’t I?,” he’d say, slightly embarrassed, and lie back down. This went on for days. We needed to ensure he did not break any bones in a fall before his surgery. He was lovely but my twelve hour days dragged on.
When he left for surgery, I was moved to the eating disorder ward. I was told I’d be monitoring the girls at each meal, and was to ensure that each patient ate everything on her (individually proportioned) plate. Looking back, I cringe at my naivety. I was excited I’d be with a group of people close to my own age three times a day!!! It had not occurred to me that meals would be eaten in stony silence. It had not occurred to me that no meal here would ever be a social event.
Immediately after meals, I was to lock every bathroom door for a couple of hours so that no one could secretly purge themselves of their nutritionally calculated meal. I sat and filed papers, and understood more of the girls’ lives. Previous hospital admissions were listed on the inside of each file. Except for one patient all these girls had been hospitalized multiple times. Every two to three years, it seemed – when their weight fell below a certain point, which was also noted. Those that were bulimic had a monetary amount of how much was spent on food every month. I was stunned. And, then… I also felt some sort of kinship with these girls. They were almost all straight A students. They were perfectionists. So was I.
What kept our lives on different paths? My family is naturally slim and taller than average. Did I simply have a genetic advantage to being nearer the “ideal” form of our day and age? My parents have always told me I was beautiful, have never once criticized my appearance. Was that it? Was it that my family ate healthy food as a lifestyle, with no yo-yo dieting relatives in sight? Was my life less stressful? (It certainly didn’t feel that way.) What combination of things was it, I wondered.
These girls were gaunt, but each was pretty. Each came from a family with means. (This was a private, expensive hospital.) This was the best care…yet they seemed to keep coming back.
I didn’t work there long, my position too sad. The man I looked after that first week turned out to be the bright spot: completely cured of his memory loss and balance after surgery and happily back to his family, his job, his life.
Why am I telling you all this? Do I think personal color and style can cure eating disorders?!? Gosh, no. Do I think awareness of how to bring out and showcase a person’s unique beauty can help with self esteem and a positive body image. Most definitely!
What if women and especially the present generation of YOUNG women start to see unflattering clothes as the problem instead of themselves? What if they could simply say, that skirt is not good on me and move on to finding one that is, instead of then thinking negatively about their own appearance in the process? What if education about style as it relates to different body shapes/types promotes mental well-being?
From age fourteen, I envied looks worn by models in the fashion magazines. I tried similar clothes on and they looked terrible on me. I didn’t understand why. I was tall-ish and slim. Wasn’t that supposed to be the ticket? I had no understanding that the models were chosen because they looked the part – for example, dramatic and avante garde; sporty and athletic; or natural and outdoorsy – looks very different from my own. I also had no idea that clothes could look very different photographed, from angles or pinning. I wish I’d known those basics. And I wish I could have learned what colors and styles would flatter me best, in addition to the overall vibe. I simply wanted to be at ease in my attire.
Young women today would similarly benefit from such information. And with technological advancements (errr…I’m not sure that’s the right word here), they also need to know how models are digitally altered so that they don’t start comparing themselves to unreal beings. (Great information and visuals about digital manipulation is here, Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities Pinterest board.)
About Face, a non profit that educates young women about how women are portrayed in the media, posted this image on their Facebook page recently and it delighted me. The personal color/style consultant in me usually wants to alter uniforms, subtlety changing colors and shapes for different people, but this is so celebratory, I love it as is. (If you want to buy a print of this image the creators are here. Let them know that they rock!)
I dream of style and color savvy young women, of overhearing a teenager saying, “This skirt would be great for me if the fabric were crisper, the color deepened, and…hmmm, maybe some trim added.” Or, “Yes, now, we’re talking – this is a great color and a great style for me, I’m trying this on!” I want all women to understand and know how to honor their own unique beauty through color and style. This is not to say I don’t believe in healthy lifestyles – far from it. I am all for eating well and exercising! It’s just that for many women appreciating how they look NOW is the best first step towards that healthier place.
If knowledge is power; if personal colors and styles can be taught; if it’s also fun to learn; and it’s great for self esteem …then shouldn’t all women, and especially young women, be informed? Then shops like Bow and Drape where clients customize their own clothing could be the way of the future!
Look Good, Feel Better is a non profit that helps women with cancer. They recognize that feeling better about one’s appearance boosts morale, that it is health giving. I’m so glad they exist. And, I think the self esteem of ALL women could use a boost, especially young women in our media driven culture. The results? A greater appreciation for oneself and others, and a more positive response in daily interactions from looking and feeling your best. Let’s shift our cultural mindset to value our physical bodies right now, as they are, and to make them as beautiful as they can be through educated choices in color and style. Let’s dress beautifully, for our health.