How should I present myself to the world?

When you’re insecure about your appearance, trying to make yourself look better is a fraught endeavour.

(Kate Bolick, Spinster)

I spend a lot of time thinking about clothes. You’d never guess this to look at me. I don’t exude chic or fashion sense – I dress like someone trying not to be looked at.

I have always been excessively self conscious, worried about fitting in but more importantly, about not making a fool of myself. I’m not attractive in any conventional sense (or any unconventional sense either, I’m just forgettably plain), and making an effort to look better calls to mind silk purses and sow’s ears. Instead, I strive to not call attention to myself so I cannot be accused of – what? Being delusional? Having tickets on myself? Thinking that making an effort is going to make me beautiful when it is laughably obvious this is impossible? Having ideas above my station? Any and all.

Blending into the wallpaper seems the safest strategy.

But even blending takes work. I observe others intently, which may well cause them to think I am a stalker (not helped by my aloner status, naturally). The difference between stalking and intense observation, in my mind at least, is that I am not treating my ‘subjects’ as prey. I am studying them, to learn from them. It’s science.

How do confident people move? What makes that woman pretty and that one beautiful? How come that man looks arrogant and stand-offish while that other man looks approachable, even though they are dressed nearly identically?  Why does what she is wearing seem so inappropriate for work? How is it that those two are wearing almost the same outfit yet one looks pulled together and the other looks thrown together? What is it that makes that woman look so hard and cold?

People watching is endlessly fascinating because these and similar questions present themselves in a never-ending stream. I rarely arrive at definitive answers. Some things I have developed strong opinions on (cleavage at work, for example: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no-one should have to confront a woman’s breasts in the workplace). Other things like leggings in public I am still developing opinionated opinions on.

But in the end, all this is really about how I present myself to the world: how to achieve some degree of congruity between the inside and the outside. I feel a disconnect, yet I wonder if my clothes are in fact speaking truthfully and the disconnect is not between how I see myself and how I present myself but between how I want to see myself and how I present myself.

My clothes give the lie to my aspirational self image. They stubbornly say “this is who I really am” when I’m trying to pretend otherwise.

This is an act of sabotage. If I dressed the part, would it not be easier to act the part and slowly become the part? There’s something in the adage, “fake it til you make it”. At times we all fake being confident when we’re not feeling it, and that’s usually not a bad thing. If I dressed as a confident, approachable, friendly, professional woman, would I start to act like one and eventually become one? I don’t know, but surely it’s better to do that than dress as if going to work were a burden, something I am forced to do against my will and where I advertise my resentment and lack of interest by turning up wearing clothes that scream “I don’t give a rats”.

Rather than thinking of dressing with care as faking it,  perhaps I could consider it acting and practising: a true dress rehearsal.

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