Who Are You Dressing Up For?

Can it be my inner paradigm of being rejected, outcast and criticized is so strong I completely distort any reality that contradicts it?

I used to never wear skirts. I guess I was just too much of a tomboy. Also, I was raised to believe one should never wear a skirt without pantyhose and dress shoes, and I despised pantyhose and dress shoes! One advantage of being a middle aged woman is I’m no longer as concerned about how people perceive me. Or at least I didn’t think others’ opinion of me was so important anymore. 

I rarely wear makeup, sometimes will go weeks without shaving my legs, and—after discovering how cool and comfortable skirts can be—will wear them with my Merrell barefoot trail shoes. I am fortunate to be self-employed as a caregiver at places where there isn’t any pressure to dress a certain way. Most days, I can pretty much wear anything I want.

In winter, that usually means jeans and a comfortable shirt. Since my main elderly client likes to keep her house at 80 degrees, I usually wear a lightweight shirt and layer for the trip to and from her place. Warmer weather finds me dressing in shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt, and Keen sandals. It’s been nice to let go of my “corporate world” wardrobe and relax into more comfortable garb.

Twice this week, however, I’ve chosen to dress up a little more than usual. I shaved my legs, donned a cute skirt and matching t-shirt, pulled my hair back in an attractive style, and even added a bit of eyeliner. I still wore my Merrell trail shoes but otherwise felt I looked rather spiffy.

Perhaps because it was a deviation from my usual way of presenting myself, I expected some compliment or comment from the people for whom I work. As I brought the empty trash can up the long driveway—one of my Friday morning tasks for my likes-the-house-hot client—I found myself thinking about how no one had said anything about my cute periwinkle skirt and adorable colorful cat t-shirt. I was halfway up the driveway when it hit me I had been looking for external approval. A simple “You look nice today,” would have been good to hear. Of course, I wasn’t initially conscious I was looking for this external approval. But I sure noticed it was missing.

I slowed down and asked myself: “Who were you dressing up for? Were you doing this for someone else, or where you doing this for yourself?”

I thought just the realization of how I was unconsciously seeking external validation was a big “ah-ha”. I had recently been reading Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, so I was tuned into the how unconscious I have been of my own internal shame. I had never previously identified with feeling shame, but then I read her definition: “shame is intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Okay, so maybe there isn’t a real obvious connection to not getting a compliment on how I’ve dressed to feeling shame. But for me, it was an understanding that on some level, external appearance was a part of being loved. As a child and young adult, I was constantly criticized for my external appearance. So, my subconscious equated looking good with being lovable.

However, the true kicker to this story isn’t this trudging up the driveway “ah-ha” moment. It came only when I was sharing my story with my best friend and partner. Apparently, I HAD received a compliment on my outfit that morning, but I absolutely don’t remember it.

Can it be my inner paradigm of being rejected, outcast and criticized is so strong I completely distort any reality that contradicts it? I honestly have no memory of an entire exchange said to have happened. I don’t doubt the truth it happened, I am just shocked to discover my consciousness blocked out the whole thing. Whether confabulation or cognitive dissonance, it’s more to ponder in my ever growing awareness of the ways we navigate our internal landscape.

The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to uncover on this journey of self-discovery, self-healing, and self-love. With so many gems for contemplation in Brown’s book, I’ll probably be exploring them for quite some time. One of the many things, however, which was a welcome reminder, was when she said: “Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate towards ourselves.”

Can it be my inner paradigm of being rejected, outcast and criticized is so strong I completely distort any reality that contradicts it?

I am grateful for the opportunity to grow, and grateful for my courage to share it with you.

With warmth and love,