A few days ago my eleven year-old son told me that I don't dress "like a mom should". Ha! I asked him to elaborate and he pointed to the cropped sweatshirt and leggings I was wearing. He told me that moms can't wear "belly shirts" and that I was dressed "like a teenager". I calmly explained to him that I dress the way that makes me feel good and that there is no specific way that a Mom or anyone else should dress. AND, it is not your job to worry about what anyone else is wearing, okkkuuuurrrrr!?
What I didn't tell him is that I haven't always felt this way.
As I've mentioned before I was once trapped in this constant battle of who and what I should be. A lot of this had to do with growing up brown in a predominantly white state. I always felt like I stood out like a sore thumb (ah, because I did), so I came up with ways to make myself blend in. Without much effort or conscious thought I could change my body language, speech and even clothing to assume a role. Doing so made me feel safer and I hoped made the people around me feel safe too. Though I wasn't always conscious of this behavior, I certainly internalized it and it crushed my sense of self worth. It was also exhausting, suffocating and anxiety producing because I, like everyone else, want to be seen. But how can you be seen if you do everything you can to blend in? Sigh. After years of stressing about who to be and not to be, I ended up with a major identity crisis.
"Dressing the Part" took on a whole new meaning after I gave birth to my first child. At the age of twenty-five I gradually began trading in all of my trendy and/or form fitting clothing and created a new wardrobe of chinos, clogs, cardigans, button downs and pashmina scarves. Let me just say I was not feeling myself in this wardrobe. (But if that's your style go on with your bad self!) When I turned thirty I removed my nose ring because I felt like I was too old to continue wearing it. And man do I want that nose ring back so badly! Still to this day I have a pathetic shoe collection because I got rid of all my heels at some point (insert face slap emoji). It seemed that none of the things which represented the old me could translate into my newest persona of "perfect mom".
I don't think I'm the only person that has struggled with their identity and done things to fit in. I mean, creating our identity is a life long process as literally and figuratively we try things out to see what fits. But there is a huge difference between constantly worrying about what everyone else thinks and flowing with the season of life. It takes a CRAZY amount of courage and self awareness to not allow the media, our loved ones, communities, and own lofty expectations cloud our identity. Our desire to belong to others most often outweighs our need to belong to ourselves. Because, if we choose to claim space for our individuality then we are opening ourselves up to being scrutinized and potentially ostracized. This fear causes us to lash out and treat others in the exact way we're hoping they won't treat us.
How many times have you ridiculed a person wearing all black, with multiple facial piercings or rainbow hair? Or a woman wearing a dress "too short" and "too tight"? "You have to choose: cleavage, short or tight, but not all, ugh." Or how about a non gender conforming person? The guy with the baggy jeans and underwear hanging out? We scoff at these people because it makes us feel better about who we have chosen to be. Seeing them in non-conforming fashion challenges our own choices and makes us feel uncomfortable. So, what do we do? We look to others to validate our insecurities by engaging in trash talking. We assume all kinda' thangs about who they must be. We disassociate from them.
As I've come to a place of self awareness I recognized these patterns in my own behavior. What I learned is that projecting my insecurities onto others never alleviated any of my own uncertainty. If anything it probably made things more confusing because it's extremely stressful to you see yourself as a good person, but behave like a jerk. This is called "Imposter Syndrome" and many of us are suffering from this or have before. Essentially, it's an imbalance between who we want to be and who we actually are. Often the struggle arises because we don't take enough time to work on ourselves and live life by our own design.
The human brain is hardwired to crave belonging. This dates back thousands of years to when being a member of a tribe meant survival. A sense of belonging contributes to a whole host of positive psychological benefits. It's only human to want to belong! But in this modern world, the tribe has grown exponentially and the social rules have become so much more complicated. It seems that expectations have shifted from how we participate in our community, to how we look while existing in our community. Most people dress in a way that they think represents who they want to be in their community and attracts the people they want in their lives. I would argue that most people don't actually feel like they belong even when they are dressing the part though. This is because most people don't belong to themselves.
So I wonder, how do we feel about the clothes we wear when we choose to belong to ourselves first? How do we feel when all of our choices align with our values and our sense of self?
I don't have an answer for YOU... I don't care what you or anyone else (ahem, except my children) wears. So please know, that there is at least one person who will not judge you for how you dress. And know that you don't need to be concerned with how I dress either, because I belong to me.
Thanks For Reading,
There's a Song For That: "Vogue", by Madonna