We all have it. Sometimes it’s loud, other times it’s quiet. It can be harsh, objective, positive, friendly, critical, negative, calm, impatient, “shouty”, true and false.
I’m talking about the voice inside our head. The inner dialogue which continually chats to you all day long. Whether we like to admit we listen to it or not, there is no denying it exists. It’s the voice talking to you right now saying “I don’t have ‘that’ voice”, “Why is she talking about inner dialogue when she is an illustrator?”, “Who just messaged me?” and so on and so on.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn my voice is VERY chatty. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to call her “Rose”.
Rose is gentle and poised but on occasion, has thorns. One of her core values is quality. She is highly visual, takes pride in her appearance yet doesn’t necessarily judge that in others. Rose weighs in on almost all of my decisions, feelings, actions, movements and creations. Most of the time she is highly pragmatic, cheerful and optimistic however on the days when she’s not, she can be a brute force of absolute, irrational destruction. When she’s operating in this mode, she has the tendency to contradict herself, become a master in analysis paralysis and can be critical to a fault.
We’ve developed a good working relationship, I like to think I have trained her well, having guided her through childhood, puberty and early adult experiences without holding onto too much angst from the past.
At the beginning of my first Consciously Spending Less To Create More project in 2017, Rose was my biggest accountability cheerleader. She repelled fears, limiting beliefs, worries and opinions of external parties with tenacity! Most days she danced beside me, carrying and waving around large, multi-coloured pompoms and performing spontaneous war cries to keep me amused and on track. Her hair was glossy and “done”, her uniform was impeccably stylish and her aura radiated a dewy brilliance. Rose loved me, she loved fashion and I loved her back.
Then, after 4 months of consciously spending less to create more and Rose twirling around me, something changed. Rose lost her pompoms on the first day I found myself standing in front of the mirror, feeling dissatisfied my reflection.
Normally, the daily task of dressing myself is fast, fun and feels good. In a way, it kind of feels like I set my intentions for the day, through my clothes. Creating my own individual style gives me a sense of identity and confidence. Clothes inspire me. Their ability to restore esteem, personal care, posture, self love and send messages to the outer world in a few very short seconds is powerful.
So… to take longer than 10 minutes to get ready in the morning only to feel frustrated and disappointed with the outcome was a new feeling for me.
Rose, despite being pompom less, sensed my mood and kicked into action.
“Get it together! Shake out of this and work with what you’ve got. You’ve GOT this!” I heard her say as she kicked her leg up, high into the air. She wildly flicked her hair back and forth to make up for her lack of a pompoms which was enough of an amusing distraction to break the thought.
Another 15 minutes passed, more clothes piled up on my bed and frustration was beginning to seep from my pores. Everything in my wardrobe looked as tired as I felt. I felt defeated by my ugly, old clothes and it made me feel like S***.
Rose stood behind me, rested her hands on my shoulders, motioned for me to look at my reflection in the mirror and delivered a message to from Mum. It was something I first heard as a young child, before I would ever understand its true sentiment. Mum…
“You are more than your looks, Penny. Beauty is in a woman’s mind. Spend your energy on that rather than your appearance. Stop wasting anymore time on this and get out the door”
So I did. I left the house wearing a black and white striped, linen, long sleeved, collared shirt with royal blue linen culottes and white sneakers. It was ugly and prayed I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew (which, of course, I inevitably did). “This ain’t so bad” said Rose as she bounced along beside me “1 struggle out of 124 days is OK”
This “event” happened 4 days in a row and Rose stepped up to offer words of positive encouragement every single morning. By the fourth morning, Rose had become aware of the impact this was having on my self esteem and mood. She had exchanged her cheerleading uniform for metal armour and for every negative comment about my self image, she shielded it with a positive affirmation. When the critic grew louder, she shouted over the top of them and when they were mean, boy oh boy, did she stand up for me!
“YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR CLOTHES PENNY!” she would yell as she aggressively shoved the negative to the side.
“ This isn’t a reflection of who your are. It’s an external, societal expectation which has been marketed to us. You’re allowed to take pride in your appearance but it doesn’t define you. Go get ‘em girl!”
Looking over her shoulder at me, whilst taking aim at another of my expected missiles, she winked, shook her hair back and let go of her bow’s string, sending a defensive arrow of insults out to the fashion industry. Rose had shown me a side of herself which took even me by surprise. She was SO confident, deliberate and supportive of me. It felt good to know she had no interest in judging my self image and I liked how boldly she shut down some of fashion’s stigmas, connotations, expectations and “rules”.
As the months rolled on and the more tired my wardrobe became, I called on Rose more than ever.
For the first time in my life, I had lost some inner confidence and interest around my personal style. Getting dressed in the morning felt boring and I longed to feel good in my clothes. I struggled with feeling guilt for wanting to look good and began to wonder if I was more vain than what I had first thought. It felt confusing to work in an industry which made me feel distracted, uncomfortable and uneasy around my self image. These thoughts and feelings were completely foreign to me. Never in my life have I scrutinized my own, individual fashion sensibility, know how, style and industry more than what I did over those 12 months.
Rose on the other hand, was ON FIRE! She had morphed into a cross between Jessie from Toystory, Jackie Chan and Anna Wintour. Her sparkly, shiny pompoms had been replaced with a biodegradable and ethically made substitute. They didn’t look as good as her first set but she didn’t care because she was invigorated and on a mission to support me. Her once stylish uniforms had been upgraded to an outfit no less fierce than that of Xena – “The Warrior Princess” and her weaponry was words and pep talks.
She would sit on my bed of a morning and as I got dressed she would chant “YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR CLOTHES, YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR CLOTHES, YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR CLOTHES”! After some time, I started to chant it too:
“I AM more than my clothes. I’m a bright intelligent woman who has got it going on! No one should ever comment on my appearance because HOW DARE THEY? Who are they to think they can offer their opinion to me.”
Some days I had to say it with conviction to actually feel its message.
“Power to you Pen!” Rose would chime in, reaffirming my position on the matter.
For around 7 months, I walked to the beat of Rose’s drum, while she danced freely and excitedly beside me, wielding her organic pompoms like they were nunchucks and dipping her cowgirl hat to anyone who walked past.
One morning, while I was getting ready, Rose, who was sprawled across the bed, said something really bitchy.
“You know what? You ARE more than your clothes. How DARE the fashion industry make you feel less because of how you look.”
A look of entitlement washed across her face. It was like she had taken off one of her Jessie cowgirl boots, used it to deliver a swift karate chop, while under the guise of a pair of Prada sunglasses with no explanation as to why. Her voice changed in tone.
“I mean, what even is THIS industry. It’s frivolous, wasteful and markets to a woman’s insecurities and vulnerabilities”
“It’s making you feel like you’re not enough. That your clothes aren’t good enough, that your style isn’t aspirational or on brand.”
I nodded my head.
She lowered her brow and continued…
“It’s pathetic and full of ego. I hate everything it stands for because it makes me feel inadequate and you should too. We’re above it”
The comment was jarring. It was unexpected and surprising to hear myself say it with such anger and entitlement.
However, it’s not the first time I have heard it said. I have heard it from my friends, family members and colleagues. I have never been able to understand how they had drawn such a conclusion about an industry they know very little about but now I understood.
I looked Rose square in the eye and said “Rose. The only person responsible for how you feel, is You. Get a grip.”
She held my eye and with a gentle smirk she slowly nodded, “It took you a few months but I’m glad you got there in the end”.
Our clothes don’t define us but they do affect our thoughts, feelings and how we see our self. The thoughts we have are thinking patterns we have formed throughout our life, based on positive and negative experiences, internal and external influences. Obviously, I knew “Rose” existed (I hear her all day long) but I had underestimated her strength of thought– both good and bad and the effect this had on me over the course of the project.
Consciously listening to yourself requires practice, patience and honesty. Here 5 ways to help you understand the impact your clothes are having on your self image:
- Time how long it takes you to get ready in the morning. Getting dressed, washing your face, doing your hair and make up. Be aware of this.
- At the end of the above exercise be honest with how you feel when you look in the mirror. Do you wink approvingly at the person staring back at you or do you feel bored, disappointed or critical?
- What are you saying to yourself when you look in the mirror? Are you telling yourself “You are more than your clothes” or “this will have to do” or “I have more important things to worry about than how I look”? Get curious towards the words you are speaking to yourself. Who is speaking them? Are they your words or are they social commentary or marketing messages? How do they make you feel?
- Notice what you think about the people around you based on what they are wearing. Are you critical or judgmental? Do you feel inadequate or threatened? Are you feel envy or jealousy? Do you compare yourself to them? Maybe you compliment them? Do they inspire you? Do you look forward to seeing what they wear each day?
- Are your clothes comfortable to wear? Do you have to re-adjust yourself through the day? Do they feel too tight, too baggy, hot, cold, oppressive, too loud, outrageous, sparkly or ugly?
Journaling these thoughts into words and recognizing any patterns will help you understand your feelings around fashion, clothes, self image and personal style. Recognise both the negative and the positive and understand the impact they have on how you see yourself both personally and professionally. Be honest and open and allow yourself to hear all of it. Your experience and revelations will be completely different to mine. At times they might be confronting but they could also be empowering. What I do know though, is you won’t know what you think until you try it out.
Until the next blog… stay in your magic
I’m a fashion illustrator, designer, storyteller and ambassador who helps brands in the fashion, lifestyle and travel industries, build brand recognition, credibility, loyalty, and trust whilst offering a fresh perspective.