Women, What We Wear & How the World Sees Us

I caught an episode of Trinny & Susannah this past weekend and watched with interest as they waved their magic wand over the women of Australia.

For those who’ve never watched this show it centres around two posh Brits, Trinny (tall and skinny) and Susannah (shorter and curvy) who tell it like it is. They find people (normally women) in desperate need of a physical makeover and proceed to transform them. Although they do go shopping, cut hair and poke and prod these women through a bra fitting, they also go into the emotional reasons behind that particular woman’s lack of self-confidence.

And boy, it’s a minefield. Although there is the odd woman who is confident and happy within herself, even if she doesn’t make much effort with her appearance, these are few and far between. The majority dress to hide away from the world, to remain invisible and the myriad of reasons why will make you weep. Some have left abusive relationships, some have beaten illnesses and most are trying to be so many things to so many people.

These are amazing, strong, beautiful women, but they’re mothers, daughters, wives, partners and workers first – and women second.  They’ve lost all confidence that they are sexy, vibrant and strong, but most importantly, that they are unique. And when they see themselves in the mirror after their makeover, most of them cry. As did I. Because this reaffirms what we already know: that society has conditioned us into believing that physical appearance is key in how the rest of the world sees us, and this makes it intrinsically linked to our self-worth.

So yes, we have to be amazing at EVERYTHING and then look amazing too. WTF?!  As far as I know, men don’t suffer from this affliction. Sure, they may know deep down that they’re 10kg overweight and are rapidly going bald, but it hardly ever affects their sense of self-worth. They still think they’re fantastic and that anyone would be lucky to have them.

When did we lose this ability? Did we ever have it or have we always beaten ourselves up about our appearance, no matter what century we’re living in? And does it fundamentally go back to biology and cavemen times: that men were the ones who hunted and provided for their families and women were only there to bear children (and we better look damn hot while doing it?!).

One thing’s for sure: I’m nervous about navigating the choppy waters that is body image with my daughter. I’m so aware of the self judgement that goes on amongst my girlfriends, the constant inward dialogue, the premise that because we don’t look a certain way, we’ve somehow failed. In the midst of all of this, how do I give her that confidence, that she can walk her way in the world with a sway of the hips and a smile on her face, because she is the best version of herself that she can be?

She’s only two so I’ve got some time to think about it, but I doubt I’ll have all the answers by then. All I know is that anyone who tries to tell me that physical appearance is irrelevant needs to see the look on those women’s faces when they caught a glimpse of their made-over selves in the mirror. They might have already been amazing but most of them needed physical proof in order to show them that.

If it’s true that we are our own worst critics, then we need to come to terms with our appearance and celebrate it. If all it does is give us one less thing to worry about, one less item on our never-ending to-do list as women, then that can only be a good thing.