One Tool of Many

style collage

In my very first conversation with Carly, we talked about how some people scoff when we tell them what we do for a living. Writing about style, working with women on their wardrobes, and hiring yourself out for personal shopping strike many people as a shallow, frivolous, even extravagant group of activities. But just like me, Carly said she has gotten a hug from EVERY client she’s worked with because at the end of the session, that woman feels more confident, more stylish, and more like herself. That woman feels braver and more empowered. She has spent time and energy tackling an aspect of her self-presentation that she felt wasn’t quite right, and having done so has learned about her body and her self. We both agreed that we love our jobs because we help women feel like better, stronger versions of themselves. The fashion and style aspect is loads of fun, sure, but at the heart of the matter are self-esteem, pride, self-awareness, and security.

For me, doing this work has reinforced my belief that body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style can foster self-love and self-respect. I want to continue to have conversations about how style impacts body image, and how dressing well expresses self-respect and self-understanding. Because over the years, my own experiences and the input I’ve gotten from readers, clients, and students has shown me that style can be an important and valuable tool for cultivating self-love. A surprising and unexpected tool, in many cases, but often a remarkably effective one.

That said, I don’t think style is the magical body image cure-all for every woman currently walking the planet. I know that some women prefer to address their own body-related struggles through writing, discussion, reading, therapy, or more physical endeavors like yoga, strength training, or sports. Or through work and contemplation and activities that are so specific and personal that I couldn’t even begin to imagine or describe them. We are all unique individuals with unique needs and perspectives, and every one of us who battles with body image must choose her own path. The reason why I write about style is because my own journey involved using clothing to gain a better understanding of my body, and because changing how I dressed was the only thing I’d ever discovered that alleviated some of my own self-loathing. Dieting didn’t do it. Exercise didn’t do it. Ignoring my body and hiding it in big, oversized garments didn’t do it. Waiting to get older and hoping it would matter less didn’t do it. For me, it was style. And having had countless conversations with the women in my life about their own body image hangups, I determined that the more options we have for understanding, accepting, and feeling positively about our bodies, the better. The more tools we have in our self-love toolboxes, the better our chances of learning to love ourselves. Style is my chosen tool, and one that I like to encourage other women to consider using because it can have very quick, very tangible results. Because we have to get dressed anyway if we want to go out in public, and learning to do it in ways that bolster our confidence is a wise and valuable practice. Because you can change how you dress and shift your feelings about your body without actually changing anything about your body.

Style is the means through which I aim to help women heal their body images. Style is my chosen tool for confidence, empowerment, and understanding. I am fully aware that it is just one tool of many. But the way I see it, the fuller the toolbox, the more prepared the woman.

Originally posted 2014-07-10 06:37:07.

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9 Responses to “One Tool of Many”

  1. Ailyn Koay

    i always wanted to get one of those sessions but too afraid to because I don’t know how to ask questions 😛

  2. Linda B

    So well said, Sally! In my case, though exercise, keeping a journal, and losing some weight through eating more healthily (not dieting, per se!) have also been very important tools in strengthening my body image, it was not until I started paying more attention to creatively dressing myself that things really changed. Finding one’s personal style and having fun with it are extremely powerful tools!

  3. walkercreative

    Those who devalue what you do may not fully understand the potential life-changing impact. I started reading this blog and Courtney Carver’s Project 333 blog about 1 year ago. These articles, your book and the lovely links started me thinking about self care, and the messages I am sending to those around me. Even though I haven’t had a personal session (but the scarf workshop was great fun!) I have learned soooo much about accepting and dressing MY body! After being near tears every time I opened my closet back then, I now work with a streamlined wardrobe of only things I love and make me feel great. Shopping is tenfold easier because I don’t devote my attention or resources to things that won’t work for me. I am exponentially happier and more confident. I stopped hating my body and started working with it. I also learned the magic of tailoring, once I figured out that “it’s not me, it’s the clothes!” I also learned that being stylish doesn’t have to break the bank. Most of my old staples are still staples, they are just styled in more exciting way. I really appreciate you and other bloggers who share so much of their skills and self with us. In the last year I have not lost a single pound, yet many people have told me I look younger, slimmer, more confident, more competent, and happier now on regular basis. That kind of impact is nothing short of amazing!

  4. Shawna McComber

    Well said, Sally! I have always struggled with my body image, and while I think the tools that are helping me best are several, style is one of them. And being someone who has gone through a very radical life change style is a big part of that. When you ask the question who am I? It seems to follow that you ask, what do I want to wear? Or at least for me it does. I believe all clothing choices are saying something, even if they are saying “I don’t think much about my clothes.”

    With regards to the is it shallow question, I have to say I struggled with that. I felt guilt for caring about my clothes, because it seemed like it was a shallow thing. I certainly can’t argue that I need to hone my professional image. While the response to the accusation of style being a shallow thing does seem to me intuitively to be that it is about self confidence and self love, there is a little voice in the back of my head that says seeking self confidence and self love is also shallow. Just get on with life and be selfLESS. Do for others and stop thinking about yourself.

    It’s an evil little voice. I fight it constantly and believe I am winning.

    I would like to add that something I find interesting in my journey to finding myself through my style, is that I resisted my natural style for a long time because I was afraid to be noticed. Not only was I afraid to look good, I was afraid to look like myself because my instinctive boho style is not very typical for where I live. I knew that if I dressed the way I wanted to I was not going to blend in and blending in had been my goal.

    It’s a circular sort of thing, where dressing the way that is true to me, helps me to feel stronger and more confident about who I am, which in turn makes me more able to not care if I stand out.

    Thanks for your great article and your wonderful blog!

    • Charlene

      Shawna, you and I follow several of the same blogs and I see your comments frequently. I’m wondering, Do you have a blog? If so, I would like to follow!

      • Shawna McComber

        Hi Charlene! Yes I do. I am at I’d love to see you there. And I must be tired because I first read that as “Do you have a dog?” LOL

  5. Allison

    Thank you so much for articulating this, Sally. Perhaps it is frivolous to let my clothing affect me so much, and yet, and yet, I feel so much better in nice clothing than I would in sweatpants. Also, I find that people treat me very differently, so I’m apparently not the only one affected by my attire, superficial or not. I think we really only get into trouble when we start to judge other people negatively for their clothing.

  6. Jo Walker

    Sally, your blog has been so helpful to me personally. I have seen my style develop over the years while following you and I know for a fact that you have been a major reason for my growth. I LOVE your attitude and the way you articulate your beliefs about fashion and style – and just want you to know that I am grateful. I feel like I have a much better understanding of what I want out of my clothes, and I no longer blame my body when things don’t flatter as I would like them to. Your blog has been the catalyst to helping me to learn to love my body by dressing it well. Don’t let anyone’s scoffing ever get you down.

    • Sally McGraw

      Jo, thank you so much for this. I am honored to know that my writing has been helpful to you in your journey. Truly! Thank you for reading and for your support and kind words.