Striking a Balance

comfort and style

My body requires constant vigilance. At this point in my adult life, if I stop working out for a month, or eat nothing but cheeseburgers for two weeks, or don’t condition my hair for a week, or forget deodorant for more than an hour … things go wrong. My body likes its routine. It demands very specific and regimented sets of care-activities to remain in my preferred version of “working order.” And when I slack off, when I stop paying attention, things change shape and texture. I get stinky and jiggly and sometimes I even get sick. I have to redouble my efforts to reestablish physical equilibrium.

This drives me a weeeeee bit BATSO because, for most of my life, I have been almost entirely cerebral. As a girl, I vastly preferred thinking and writing and talking to moving and acting and exerting. And my default is still to totally ignore my body’s existence. But I can’t. My body is a brat, and it acts out if it is not tended to.

One of the reasons I don’t wear Uggs and sweatsuits every day of my life is that I would be far too comfortable. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to trick myself into being conscious of and attentive to my body is to maintain a careful balance between comfort and discomfort. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t actively seek out confining dresses and itchy sweaters and painful shoes. I’ve also fully embraced the athleisure trend and revel in my fancy sweatpants. But I still do my best to ensure that my everyday garb keeps me aware of my body’s conformation, movements, and needs. I dress to remain aware of my physical self.

I wear tailored and fitted clothing so that I am forced to see what my body looks like when I pass a mirror. I wear heeled boots so that I am forced to pay attention to my own walking and posture. I even wear stacks of bangles and piles of necklaces because the clinking and tinkling keeps me aware of my body’s movements. It may sound ridiculous to resort to such measures, but they truly do prevent me from ignoring my body completely and, therefore, neglecting my self-care routines.

And although I sometimes resent this constant state of body-vigilance, it works out well in the end. I have learned that my enforced awareness engenders respect. I respect my body by remaining aware of it and its needs. My own respect for my body is projected outward. I garner respect from others because they can immediately see that I respect myself simply by seeing how I am dressed and by observing how I hold my body.

Again, I am not saying that discomfort breeds respect. I am saying that by remaining alert to and aware of my body, I can create a state of poise and control that all-engulfing, Ugg-level comfort just can’t replicate. I would never advise anyone to keep themselves perpetually uncomfortable as a means of feeling more present. But for me, total comfort breeds lack of self-awareness which can, in turn, breed lack of self-respect.

So I attempt to strike a balance. I reserve total discomfort for scuba diving, state dinners, and the dentist’s office. I reserve total comfort for movie night at home, working out, and road trips. At all other times, I dress for awareness. I dress in a way that acknowledges my body’s needs, its shape, its natural assets, and its beauty.

I dress for equilibrium, and gain control. It’s a system that won’t appeal to or benefit everyone … but I need it. Without it, I risk losing sight of my physical self altogether.

Originally posted 2008-11-24 07:52:00.

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25 Responses to “Striking a Balance”

  1. La Belette Rouge

    Striking a balance is the hardest thing for me. Looking great can often involve discomfort and then I go to far the other way to compensate. The middle road is that most untraveled for me.

  2. miss cavendish

    It’s challenging, when at *home,* relaxing, not to pull on sports clothes (I love fitted athletic wear, but, still, athletic wear always has a generous amount of *give*). I appreciate what you’re saying here.

  3. kittyscreations

    I find that when I take time with my appearance and wear outfits that make me look good, even if they’re not the most comfortable, I feel really good. Often, if I revert to a comfy stand by (such as jeans, flip flops, and a polo or t-shit) I feel self-conscious and sloppy all day, even if physically I am very comfortable.
    Still, I love my uber comfy clothes for sick days or watching football at home on Sundays.

  4. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    You are brilliant. My comfortable working from home clothes have definitely contributed to the spread of my you-know-what. Maybe I need to rethink this.

  5. lux

    what an interesting insight! as i sit here in my sweats and, literally my boyfriend’s t-shirt, it strikes me that far too often i take the route that keeps me from analyzing my daily needs and appearance – often to the detriment of my own self-esteem. i really love this idea of “forced” consciousness!

  6. a cat of impossible colour

    I completely relate to this – I do the same sort of things, and I didn’t think anyone else did! I’m very excited to find out you do too.

  7. Emily

    i suppose the reason that every spring i emerge with a little extra junk in the trunk now makes sense. the oversized sweatshirts and loose jeans is not my friend. point taken. thanks for your little tip 🙂

  8. Kate Coveny Hood

    This pretty much sums it up for me. Slouchy clothes make me feel slouchy and then everything else follows suit.

  9. lopi

    I totally understand what you are saying here, bt the weird thing for me is that my best clothes are my most comfortable ones too. I feel confined in jeans and hoodies, but I find dresses with tights and ballet flats and a simple knit cardigan the epitome of comfy. Good for me, right?

  10. Kelly

    Love this post! It totally makes sense, too. Plus, just the act of pulling on something that actually must fit you (instead of putting on a huge sweatsuit that could accomodate a much smaller or much larger version of yourself) means you have to take stock of your body every day. I think that’s good.

  11. Make Do Style

    This is a good point – you need to be ever vigilant and your right keeping dressed properly makes you make an effort!

  12. Sarah Von

    You are absolutely right. I have an awful tendancy to create excuses for throwing out clothes that have become a bit too snug, instead of sucking it up (literally), cutting back of the cheetos and admitting that maybe knitwear isn’t *always* work appropriate. 😀

  13. Miss Karen

    Yes! I absolutely agree with you on every point. I really do find that certain outfits and pieces of clothing have a massive effect on my attitude – and most of the stereotypically ‘comfortable’ items make me feel very frumpy and dowdy. While a lovely dress or a perfect shirt and skirt combination motivates me to look my best – and it’s not a vanity issue either, it’s more of a personal best.

  14. valerie

    looking and feeling great comes with a price, comfort sometimes. uggs are so unflattering…i can’t deny that they really are like walking on clouds though.

  15. AsianCajuns

    I’ve never thought about it that way, Sal, but you are so right. I do the same thing, but in addition to being aware of my bodies movements it keeps me awake. For instance, if I wore my suede slouchy boots and ripped, comfy jeans to work (I can- yippee), I would get tired and feel kinda sluggish- so usually I do heeled-boots and a tighter jean.
    Thought-provoking! I like it!

  16. enc

    You’re a strong and disciplined woman, Sal. I like this idea; it could really help me stay aware.

  17. cybill

    Oh my god, this is such a great post! I feel like this speaks just to me, its exactly what I needed to hear and think about today. Thank-you so much, and obviously I agree with you whole-heartedly.

  18. Psyche

    Very fascinating. We all strive for some form of equilibrium. I am really drawn to the idea of striking a balance between comfort and discomfort. I can think of a few things I do that would align with that thinking.

  19. dapper kid

    Lovely post. I totally understand where you are coming from, and my oh my, you must have such self discipline! Ahh I wish I could don sweats sometimes and not care lol.

  20. WendyB

    I’m telling you, if I don’t work out for two days, I fall to pieces. And my consumption of Cadbury MUST be reined in.

  21. The Seeker

    Great post Sal, so insightful. Loved it.
    Somehow I feel connected with what you say.
    I, myself have to do some self discipline, or it’s the disaster.
    I’m already hard with me, if so….
    Take care dear. all the best


  22. Songy

    Sal, those boots are only great inside anyhow. Their soles are not really designed to be worn in harsh conditions.. god believe me when I say this. I’m an Aussie and they are really meant to be worn sockless and inside! I hope Imelda agrees with me.

    oh.. yes I’ve skipped my exercise two days in a row cus I’m massively busy (excuses excuses…) I’m about to fall to pieces..

  23. Spandexpony

    I believe you deserve an award for this post… you put into words exactly why– much to my friends’ chagrins– I feel uncomfortable in “comfortable” clothing! It’s true, I do feel like I’m losing sight of myself when dressed in formless softness. Even at the gym I’m loathe to wear anything too baggy, even a t-shirt, because I can feel myself “dissolving”, if you can imagine, shrinking away. In clothes that are more fitting, I feel myself approaching “ground zero” of physical being. I am a reasonable amount of physically present. Can this post get a “whut whut”?