Elements of Self

Your style does not define you. Not alone. People look at you every day, whether you want them to or not, and the choices you make about clothing and grooming and accessories contribute to the overall impression you give. You can tell the world about your favorite colors and textures, about your favorite era in history, about your favorite aspects of your figure through the dressing choices you make. What you wear contributes to the first level of your public identity, and you can exercise some measure of control over that identity. But you are more than just your style.

Your body does not define you. Not alone. Your height and weight may provide information about your genetic makeup, and your proportions may convey information about the center of your physical power, and your hair and eye color may tell stories about your ancestry. But you are more than just your body.

Your smarts, your personality, and your life experiences do not define you. Not alone. What you believe and the relationships you forge and the places you’ve been shape your essential self, and the thoughts you think and decisions you make guide you. But you are more than just your smarts, personality, and life experiences.

It took me a long time to accept and embrace that last one because I felt that my smarts, personality, and life experiences WERE me. Everything else was just trappings, storage, miscellany. I kept my brain inside my body for safekeeping, and dressed my body to keep it warm and dry. But the real me had nothing to do with the physical world. The real me was ephemeral, lofty, philosophical, and intellectual. My body was merely a vessel.

When I began to accept that my body was as essential to my true self as my intellect and temperament, I accessed a whole new level of self-acceptance. My body had always been a second-class citizen, and I’d scorned it and treated it badly. Welcoming it into the fold and assimilating it into my concept of self meant that I wanted to care for, nourish, groom, pamper, and maintain it in ways I’d never wanted to before. I wanted to keep it strong and healthy, clean and in good working order. I wanted to adorn it with pride as an expression of my respect. I wanted to be as proud of my body as I’d always been of my disposition and intellect. I truly felt more whole.

In my opinion, no person can be defined simply. Everything about us is interconnected, and embracing that interconnectedness helps us to flourish. Don’t let your body or style or personality become the tyrant of your sense of self. All three contribute, all three deserve your attention, and all three make you who you are.

Originally posted 2010-08-09 05:18:00.

Next Post
Previous Post

20 Responses to “Elements of Self”

  1. Emily Rose

    This is absolutely beautiful!

    I'm just now coming to this same realization, and I'm happier than I've been in a long, long time 🙂

  2. La Belette Rouge

    It is hard for me to imagine you ever JUST dressing for warmth. Your passion for style seems to be a big part of your personality, it tells me you are creative, colorful and have multi-facets. What we wear and how we chose to present ourself is an undeniable narrative. Maybe you can't tell a book entirely by its cover but you can tell a lot.

  3. Clare

    This is beautiful, and will be bookmarked in my "to read when I need a Sal-induced pick-me-up" folder.

  4. Lauren

    This is a really great post and reminder. Sal, you would probably also appreciate the book I am reading right now called "The Thoughtful Dresser" by Linda Grant. I'm in the middle of it right now and it has some really interesting thoughts on dressing, fashion, and our relationship to clothes.

    Small Time Style

  5. Tiffany

    Great post – and so true. I used to think about my body as separate 'bits', never as one entity, and always as something separate from the 'real' me. Through time and a commitment to yoga, I've learnt to live in my body and respect it as an integral part of who and what I am (regardless of how I might feel about the bits!).

  6. Peter

    Excellent post. This reminds me of the famous Latin saying, "mens sana in corpore sano" (had to look that one up) — a healthy mind in a healthy body.

    But there is no clear mind/body separation. We ARE our bodies, our minds, our experiences, everything.

    Our consciousness does not only reside in our brain — it's throughout our body: you've heard the term "muscle memory" right?

    So we do want to treat our physical self with as much care and love as we do our emotional/mental self.

    This also relates to the expression "you are what you eat. What we eat becomes us, literally (as our cells reproduce) and there's a difference in how we look and feel and even how we THINK depending on what we're feeding our bodies. Eat McDonalds and that's what you become. Eat organic, fresh, home-cooked meals and you become something altogether different.

  7. latoyaaka10

    Sal, you are an excellent writer! Your ideas AND the way that you express them are so meaningful and so eloquently stated.

  8. Brenda

    Wonderful post, every word rings true. I grew up in a deeply intellectual family where I felt ashamed to be interested in style or focus on my physical self, that all seemed shallow. Now, I embrace style and enjoy it, and exercise and take care of my body. And amazingly, one enhances the other. Running relieves stress, which makes work go better, I have a spring in my step when I like how I look, which gives me a positive outlook on the whole day. You are a great inspiration for tending to the various sides of oneself, I look forward to it every day. Thank you!

  9. ***

    Last week I had some very close ideas. It's probably why I started my blog: trying to see myself with the eyes of others and create "some room" for one more part of me in my life, though "it doesn't define me"… but it does as much as others do.

  10. The Paper Blog Princess

    Sal, I have been reading your blog for years and am always left inspired and empowered. I'm juuust barely still a teenager, and your words of self-acceptance and self-love were exactly what I needed to hear when I was in the throes of teenage body-angst. And this post reminds me that those words still ring true! I think your blog should be required reading for anyone between the ages of 9 and 99 🙂
    I just started my own blog (which is why I can finally comment on your lovely and uplifting posts!), and I know that your blog definitely let me feel empowered enough to go for it and finally make one myself! So thank you for your years of inspiration, Sal! You are truly wonderful.


  11. The Waves

    I still struggle with the third part occasionally. For such a long time I used to define myself on the basis of my mind, it is almost second nature. I have to remind myself every day that I am a whole package!

  12. dawn s

    You wrote a very nice piece but you left out the largest and truest aspect of self and that is the soul. The soul is the only piece that is not transitory and it is the only piece you never lose due to illness, injury, or death. Perhaps that is too Judeo-Christian for you but that is the way many of us see our whole identity, person, or self.

  13. Georgie

    one time when i was freaking about being not pretty enough while simultaneously insisting that my boyfriend love me for more than my body, he said that he loves me like cheesecake, that he wouldn't eat base on its own, its all the parts altogether that make it his most yummy, most favourite desert.

    ahh, swoon!!! <3

  14. Liv

    This really resonates with me- for ages I thought it silly to focus on my physical body and then like you I realise I need to connect all three elements to make it work.