What happens when we get over the need to look perfect all of the time and see that we are enough, we are (imperfectly) beautiful, we are (already) pretty? Is that the destination, the end game? Actually, I think it’s just the beginning.

Once we accept that we are worthy, regardless of what our body looks like, then we can turn our attention to the real business of appearance authenticity. A different set of concerns start to surface. Questions change from “Do these jeans make me look fat” to “Do these jeans look like me? Do they reflect my style or what I truly value? Do they reflect on the outside what I think and believe on the inside?

You might not want to hear this (especially if you spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money exercising, dieting, buying the latest fashion trends trying to “look good”), but it is actually much easier to accept the world’s view that we must look a certain way to be attractive and have worth. At least the world tells us exactly what this looks like and how to get there (if you doubt this, just open a fashion magazine – although on the surface the models may be different shapes and sizes, there is actually very little latitude in terms of what is considered beautiful in our culture). You need to be thin –diet and exercise. You need to dress fashionably – spend your money buying the latest fashion fads. You need to erase any signs that you are a human being – all hair (accept on your head) must go.

If we just listen to the world, then we don’t have to do the soul searching that might reveal our appearance authenticity – what our unique perspective and experience attracts us to in terms of our appearance. It’s actually very simple, but at the same time very difficult to do. We have to “check in” with rather than “check out” ourselves once and a while. What do you like? What do you prefer? I love turquoise. I hate yellow. Wool is itchy, but warm, so I always wear a cotton t-shirt underneath. I like the one-of-a kind pieces that come from local businesses and vintage stores. I want to buy from clothing stores that support my values. How much of your wardrobe actually reflects your true, authentic appearance?

Another shortcut we might use is to look around and find another woman who is exuding her authenticity through appearance. And we think, I want that. So, we go get her haircut, her clothes, or her bag.  However, playing dress-up with another woman’s authenticity doesn’t work. Once we don her costume, we wonder why we’re not exuding the same radiance as her. If we delved a bit deeper into what that urge really means, we would realize that her specific appearance doesn’t really matter. We don’t want to look like her. We don’t want to be her. But we do want to feel her authenticity. We want the feeling of being alive, being in the moment, of coming back (or going to) our true selves that comes from someone who knows who they are and is not afraid to show it to the world.

We also don’t do ourselves any favors by acting agnostic when it comes to our appearance. In graduate school, I had a consciousness-raising experience and was so angered by the fact that women were constantly judged (and never really positively) by our appearances.  We were judged as unworthy if we weren’t conventionally beautiful and we were judged as incompetent if we were. This was somewhat paralyzing when it came to my own appearance, so I chose to focus as little time as possible on it. However, whether we like it or not, we are always making choices when it comes to our appearance. We choose what to wear each morning. We choose to wear make-up or style our hair. We choose new clothes once our old clothes wear out.

We can choose to play it safe – by accepting what the world tells you about beauty, by trying on other women’s hand-me-down authenticity that will never really, or by acting as if appearance doesn’t matter. Or we can choose to search our deeper selves and start making sure that the outside reflects the inside.

When was the last time you “checked in” with, rather than “checked out” yourself? Does your appearance represent the true you?

  1. I think part of dressing for who we are is knowing who we are – actually being who we are. That means values, knowing what we believe and sticking to them so that others don’t influence us away. It is hard being true to yourself in any community where interaction takes place – but media and peer pressure make it harder. Enjoyed your post. Cherrie

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