Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 2.4 Are You Worth It?

What are you worth?

Nothing broadcasts what we think of ourselves more than our personal appearance. Didn't we all get that message when we were growing up? "Comb that hair. You look like______." Fill in the blank. (Mine would be "a tramp") or, "You're not wearing THAT are you?"

And the message is refined and relentless in the media. Or it was. Riding the wave of feminism for years and years, L'Oreal ran a successful campaign for colouring your hair cleverly styled into a message championing self-esteem. Now it seems, they're equating hair style with cultural identity. Clever folks over there. But I digress.

I chose not to dye my own greying hair precisely because I didn't want to buy their orchestrated equation--that how I look tells others what I think about myself.

But, as is always the case in these things (else why would the campaigns be so successful?), there is some truth to it.

So, what am I worth?
I'm priceless, as the folks at Mastercard would say.

And while I can easily reject the notion that my worth is not established by my personal appearance (or the toys I buy) it is harder to reject the converse: that my sense of self-worth is reflected by my appearance.

I once knew a woman, back when we were both still girls in our 20's, who consciously and deliberately wore the ugliest clothes in the worst torn, stained and ragged condition she could find (or create). She'd had the misfortune to be a model in her teen years and did not want anyone to see and judge her by her natural beauty. So, she did her best to be ugly. While I admired her bravery for making the personal into the political, it seemed to me even then that her severe and total reaction hadn't quite divorced the equation between her sense of self and her appearance.

I'm not sure that one can make the divorce. And I certainly don't know what the appropriate response to the equation might be. All I know is that I'm tired of dressing as if I don't care. Because, I do.

Whatever that's worth.


zooza said...

Excellent post, Alana. So far I have been unable to blog much about Wardrobe Therapy because it has brought up lots of confusing thoughts and feelings. I seem incapable of writing coherently about this topic.

I seem to have difficulty reconciling the fact that I don't want these things to matter with the knowledge that we live in a world where they do.

Added to that is the fact that I think we're in the same boat where budget is concerned. A new top from a standard clothes shop (i.e. one where a magazine might show it as the 'cheap' option) is a big purchase for me - thrift shops are more in my range and, even then, often only for a treat.

Its hard and I'm stuck. I admire you for keeping going forwards with this and I'm with you all the way.

drwende said...

An eloquent expression of the ambivalence that goes with the whole getting-dressed problem...

A while back, I went to a conference for people in my field. The handful of women looked as if they were struggling with the need to look authoritative and their own desire to measure up to the "have to have" hairstyle (the blown-out look that takes forever to do). The men all had their neatly pressed shirts and very short hair cuts. The guys had had an extra hour for reading the news and cutting deals every morning of their lives, and then we wonder why they're still the alpha dogs.

I have very short hair today, as a result of that experience.

The point, ultimately, of Wardrobe Therapy is to find our own positions on what makes us feel pulled-together, but yeah, I've been surprised at the feelings it drags up. No wonder just doing the occasional shop-and-cull wasn't getting me quite where I wanted to be.

smallcitybeth said...

Wow. this is an excellent post, Alana. Lots of food for thought.

I particularly liked the fact that you separated the "your clothes are your worth" message of the media, and "your clothes reflect your own sense of self-worth", which is definitely true, I think. You said it so much better than I, I got all muddled in the middle there.

I do feel better about myself when I know I look good -- and I look better and dress better when I feel better about myself, and around and around and around she goes, and where she stops...

I think I shall do a post about this, in some fashion (pun intended) today some time...

Alana in Canada said...

Well, zooza, even if I don't buy a thing during this round of WT, it'll still have been worthwhile to think it all through. So do that. You don't have to post your thoughts, but do your sorting out in your head, definitely.

Funny about your hair, Wende. I grew mine out so I wouldn't have to shell out $20 for someone to hack away at it. (No cut, for me, is/was better than a cheap one!) I don't style it in any way, really, except for a bun 'cause I hate it on my neck! But it's a huge pain to wash (literally) so I'm hoping a friend will be brave enough to blunt cut it just below my shoulders for me--as a start. I'm glad, many days, that I don't have to go to work. It complicates life a great deal.

I hope you do that post, smallcitybeth. Looking forward to it.

drwende said...

Oh my word -- I hadn't clicked the L'Oreal link before.

"Every hair care decision sends a message" -- ack! Way to tell women to obsess about issues beyond the point at which anyone notices.

I forgot to include the ending to my conference story. I remarked in front of the boss about how I was the only woman there with casual hair... and he hadn't noticed that I looked any different from anyone else. So whoever the gals with fancy hair were dressing for, it wasn't the men who decide their year-end bonuses.

This is the point at which I concluded that as long as a person registers as being dressed for the correct occasion and reasonably tidy -- and carries himself/herself well -- quite a lot of details don't matter to anyone but the Glamor Don't team.

Alana in Canada said...

Oh, good ending to the story! And isn't that L'Oreal message just unreal?

Forever Chic said...

Interesting post! I feel that no discussion of fashion is complete without a discussion of these issues.

Wende, I absolutely think women dress for other women. Men register that a woman is attractive or tall or busty - they really don't register the minutiae of their appearance. As soon as women stop judging other women and women stop judging themselves, I would guess that a lot of this "gotta be perfect" bullshit would fade away.

Lastly, I think that 20 or 30 or 60 minutes getting ready in the morning is worth it, as long as you aren't dressing for other people or trying to meet some artificial standard of beauty or fashion. For me, the process of picking an outfit, doing my hair, etc., is a meditation - a time when I go over problems in my head, replay experiences, and meditate a little on how I feel that day and what I plan on accomplishing that day. I don't think it's wasted time at all. Plus, polishing myself up in the morning means I FEEL better and perform better - and I'm more likely to take risks in life (go join a new social group; ask that cute guy out), which tend to pay off in spades.

drwende said...

One of the troubling myths that the fashion industry promotes, though, is that if you don't spend an hour in front of the mirror, you're not "polished."

I tend to work on the theory that it should be possible to get out the door, fully made-up, in 20 minutes or less, and that packing for anywhere short of a trip to Antarctica can be done in a backpack. A lifestyle that involves curling iron, blow dryer, eyelash curler, multiple specialized moisturizers, etc., is not for me. You're not saying that I'm therefore by definition an "unpolished" schlub (and I don't think you're trying to imply it or anything like that!) -- but Glamour would say exactly that.

smallcitybeth said...

I just posted a "something" -- I'm not exactly sure what...

Forever Chic said...

Whoa, whoa. If you don't spend an hour and a half getting ready each morning and need 42 beauty products (plus a dye job, a little nip and tuck and all the latest overpriced fashions) to feel human, you won't buy all the crap that magazines push. What are you, un-American?


I stopped reading beauty magazines years decision I ever made.

Alana in Canada said...

Forever Chic--your morning time sounds wonderful--like a great big pampering session before you face the day.

But notions of "womanly" are so completely cultural (and in ours, that translates into "media-driven") that is can be extremely difficult to sort out what one does for oneself and what one does because one feels it's expected. And as both forever chic and drwende point out--expected by whom?

I have come to the conclusion that I am most definitely a luddite.

When I found out that blow dryers can dry out your hair and give you the frizzies, I stopped using mine--at 15. Curling iron? Burned myself on a cousin's once. I do use an eyelash curler when I put on mascara, but that's because I wear glasses...and I don't want mascara streaks on them!

Wende--we aren't going to go into hair and make-up are we? I'd be happy if we just stick to clothing.

Forever Chic said...

Lest you guys get any ideas - I usually roll out of bed late and cranky, take a two-minute shower, and don't wash my hair.

It's only when I'm getting ready to go out in the evenings I really pull out all the stops - but at that point it's 10% getting ready, 90% psyching myself up (because I'm an anxious mess about, well, everything).

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