Tell Me Why

style and body image

Back in June, I grabbed coffee with a friend I hadn’t spoken to in nearly ten years. We’d known each other since the third grade, and I was simply elated to have found her again after such a long separation. We caught each other up as best we could, and much of that catching-up involved me jawing extensively about this blog. Since she’d known me looooooong before I gave a hoot about color mixing or proportion or figure flattery, she asked, “How did you become interested in style, anyway?” And I found myself articulating something important that I’m not sure I’ve ever shared.

How did I become interested in clothes and fashion and style? Well, basically, I got tired of feeling like crap all the time.

I am, by nature, a person who seeks happiness. I prefer to cultivate positivity and live proactively than allow myself to wallow and atrophy. I’m a thinker AND a do-er, and most days I am the pilot of my own destiny. But in my early twenties, it dawned on me that I was pretty well satisfied with everything in my life except for my looks. The me that looked back from the mirror wasn’t the me I wanted or expected … but I had no clue how to change that. And it made me feel like crap.

I had fought with my weight since age ten, and eventually accepted that the more I dieted, the crappier I felt. So I embraced exercise and started actually being healthy instead of simply forcing my body into temporary slenderness. But even healthier, I STILL didn’t feel beautiful and powerful and positive about my looks. And I still had no clue how to change it, and this new level of powerlessness made me feel like crap with a side order of crap.

Quite by accident, I found myself leafing through a Boden catalog at a friend’s house one September evening. I’d never seen their stuff before, and was simply enchanted by the embellished skirts and retro-inspired dresses and punchy cardigans. As I drooled and flipped pages, I realized that the clothing designs I was admiring looked like a version of my own style that had grown up. The models looked like me, but sleeker, funkier, more pulled-together, more stylish. I was staring, slack-jawed, at images of how I wanted to look, now that I was an adult. And it didn’t look THAT hard to pull off. So I plunked down $80 for a skirt – the most I’d ever paid to date for an article of clothing – and entered a new phase of life.

I was on a mission, then. Officially. I began to amass wardrobe items that fit with my newly identified goal-image, and slowly discard my dour duds of years past. The cycle of compliments spurred me on: I wore something I liked, I received compliments and positive feedback, I felt good about my looks, and I wanted to look and feel that way EVERY day. I was well used to receiving compliments on my actions – my intelligence, writing, singing voice, problem-solving ability – but compliments on my physical appearance were brand spanking new. And it felt good to have my body recognized. It felt like a homecoming.

Once I’d figured out what types of clothing I liked, I naturally progressed to investigating which types of clothing liked me. No matter how big or small my butt became, it generally stayed in the same proportion to my waist and thighs, and I finally started to catalog which styles flattered my figure and which styles did not. And this! This was like slaying the nine-headed dragon and making it to the next level of the video game. Upgrading my clothes had been fun and was definitely an important first step, but it wasn’t until I began examining the interplay between my specific body and the clothes I wore that I began to feel beautiful and powerful and positive about my looks.

And I still feel like crap sometimes, as you all know. I still have my days, oh, do I ever. I still curse the mirror, and lament the fact that my favorite pants are too tight in the waist, and pout and whine and grumble. But now that I’ve found a balance between fitness and figure flattery, now that I’ve learned that clothes aren’t meant to “hide a multitude of sins” but instead “accentuate a multitude of glories,” now that I pay attention to my body and my clothes, I feel like crap WAY less.

And that’s what it’s all about. I don’t actually give a flying rat’s ankle about how I look. I JUST WANT TO FEEL GOOD. Not just sometimes, but the vast, vast majority of times. I like feeling good! I like it a lot. More than I like French fries and badgers and Eddie Izzard, even. And once I realized that it’s pretty damned difficult for me to look bad and feel good, and equally difficult for me to look good and feel bad … well, there was just no turning back.

Image courtesy Boden

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  • Anonymous

    Wonderful! Beautifully written. I love "multitude of glories."
    How long did it take me to realize that my proportions would never change, no matter how skinny I got? Years and years and years. But when I got there, it was liberating. Thanks for your blog.

  • Imogen Lamport

    Great post Sal – I love finding out about your journey to style! I grew up being told that caring about appearance is shallow, but I know that it goes way deeper!

  • smaro

    Hello. Great history lesson into how and why you got into this blog and the wonderful journey of discovery you embarked on. I think I am in the middle of that sort of upheaval as well. My main aims for the moment are: to find jeans that don't require a belt so that I can layer tunics and other things over them to balance out my figure and help evoke the slight 50's vintage look I have going (I look like a baby doll-blue eyes, curly hair, oval face, creamy skin, petite). Also I want to find some casual skirts I can wear and find a casual dress too. It is really hard to find these and I find even harder to find slacks that are casual and don't have things like drawstrings and elasticated waists which are the kiss of death for the waistless among us.

    Thankfully I have a good eye for colour, I like things with some panache to them but finding the staples is proving more difficult.

    I also have a good idea how to dress formally for work knowing what sorts of styles of work trousers, suits, skirts and shirts suit me but its trying to get the work clothes to work in harmony with each other that still needs a little tweaking.

    When I feel bad is when I am dressed casually I just don't feel my age. Sneakers, tee-shirts, jeans. I am just not sure how to wear them. I am more comfortable in winter where I can layer a tee with a cardy or wear my fabulous leather boots with everything. I am learning to embrace cute figure hugging tees but then the dilemma becomes sneakers or heels, embellished tee or plain? Skirts with tees flummox me (I rather wear shirts, for more structure but I end up looking even more like a throwback to the 50s than I would like). Bare legs are a big dilemma, (I would rather wear thin flesh-coloured hold ups all year round than bare the pasty white rather shapeless calves I have).

    My final cause for anguish is my hair. I have lovely curly hair which I love, but try getting a hairdresser to appreciate its curls and cut it accordingly….! Requesting things like a cute, tousled, pixie-like, halo-like, short cut..just don't wash with the vast majority of hairdressers and don't even get me started on the amount of disconcerted looks I get when I tell them I don't want them to straighten it!

    In sum. I hope I get to where you are and I hope I manage to reconcile myself to the casual part of my wardrobe. I am planning to try finding some thrift and vintage stores in Dublin, Ireland, but to date the majority of them just have cast-offs and have an overwhelming musty smell that could put anyone off.

    Thanks for the great post. Still loving this blog!

  • Christina Lee

    just lovely, Sal!

  • Cecilia

    What an inspiring journey! I have never really been a trendy/fashionable girl, and I feel that style has more to do with finding that fits and flaunts you best, your appearance, as well as your personality (as you have found and described in your post). Unfortunately, in the past decade, I have let my own sense of style fall overboard. Now that I'm not a teenager/young adult anymore, I have to re-find my stylish balance. Thank you for being a fountain of inspiration, and serving as my own "Boden" 🙂

  • Stefka

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Sal. I can relate, though my own journey has been much less linear…a few blips of style consciousness over the past 15 years, but the major turning point was last August when I stood up for my brother at his wedding. It was a casual outdoor event, and I was stressed about what to wear. I look back and cringe because I know I wasn't comfortable, and I decided I never want to feel that way again. So that spurred me to start finding and devouring blogs like yours!

    Incidentally I was a teenager in the 80's, and despite being an athlete I was SO uncomfortable showing my body – I didn't wear a miniskirt until my mid-20's! – and this just intensified during cycles of weight gain as an adult. I am FINALLY embracing fitted clothes and accepting that I look fantastic just the way I am. (Oh, and doing it on a budget – slowly replacing my wardrobe by stalking the thrift stores, TJ Maxx, and clearance racks…) 🙂

  • Casey

    "accentuate a multitude of glories"

    Sal, this post pretty much sums up exactly why I adore your blog! You always put things so honestly, yet in a positive light! 🙂 Reading about your journey into becoming interested in clothing is so inspiring. I've loved looking good for most of my life, but there is a huge difference between "hiding the sins" and celebrating my body! (The former is what I did for years, and thankfully am moving out of now! It's much more fun and fulfilling to dress for my body, than against it! 😉 Love, love, love this post!

  • Cupcakes and Cashmere

    your timing is always SO right on with what i'm going through. this was going to be an "ugh why have i been eating like a linebacker as of late and not exercising" but now i'm excited to find some flattering clothes and focus on feeling good. thank you! xo

  • Anonymous

    Oh Sally,this was a wonderful post.

    I relate to your journey. I dress the best (and yet most comfortable) I can to avoid feeling like crap the whole day, every day.

    BTW: Tell me about those fantastic shoes! I am having shoe envy over here.

    KillerT

  • WendyB

    You like something more than BADGERS?!? How is that possible? 😉

  • K.Line

    I love your personal story. Very inspiring. I have to be honest, though I would like to care only about feeling good, I also (secretly) care about looking good. Like in some stupid objective way. 🙂 So those bad clothes days drive me nuts! Fortunately, I'm generally pretty "up with me"…

  • Diana

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I think that many of us have had similar journeys. And from now on, I'm going to try to think about getting dressed to "accentuate a multitude of glories" 🙂

  • Magatha-May

    Thank you Sal, I call by your blog every day and thank my lucky stars that I have such a positive role model to look up to.

  • lisa

    That was exceptionally well-written, and it really resonated with me.

    And, I love and adore Eddie Izzard. I squee-d when I read your mention.

  • Clare

    This is a lovely post, and I'm glad you wrote it. I love each of my fellow bloggers, and majorly admire those that do this because they want a career in fashion and style. What a scary way to get into such a competitive market! And I have thought, multiple times, "why am I doing this?" I know that I don't want a career in fashion or style or beauty or photography. And this little post of yours pretty much sums it up. I wanted to stop feeling like crap about myself. I was so nervous at first and thought there was no way that my attitude could change just from posting some pictures of myself online, but lo and behold! I became a part of this unbelievable society of women who are kind, supportive, funny, creative, gorgeous people. And suddenly, I didn't feel like crap anymore. I try harder to pick things to wear that I KNOW will flatter my shapes, colors, and sizes, and I keep in mind what others have said look particularly good on me. I don't do it just for the attention, but I think I do it for the community and confidence that comes with that community.

    Gah. Sorry that was so long. You really struck a chord in me today.

  • fleur_delicious

    Ach, Sal, this made me smile. It's so warm and fuzzy.

    I love it when people ask "WHY" about fashion and style rather than assuming it has something to do with being shallow. For those that pursue it with gusto and personality, there's always more to say than "this is trendy."

    In fact, what about turning this question on your readers? I'd love to hear what people have to say!

  • Christy

    Thanks so much for sharing your story Sal! I loved reading this. And I too remember the first time I saw a Boden catalog. I was in AWE! I still am. And I STILL haven't plunked down the money to buy something from there. I just got something cute at dress barn today – and it's flattering. I'm saving Boden for when I reach my goal size – I am a woman on a mission, after all!

  • Sal

    I adore you all, you know that, right? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and journeys here. Inspiration all 'round!

    KillerT: Those are Vince Camuto Heavens, tres comfy! http://www.solestruck.com/vince-camuto-heaven-black-tone-perlato-patent/index.html

    WendyB: I know! Who'd have thunk it?

  • McKristie

    I heart your blog Sal… thank you for sharing your transformation –

  • Kelly

    I am with you 100%. I used to feel like I had to "sneak" pretty into my life, especially during college. I would only let myself wear eyeliner if I pared it down with a t-shirt, for example. It was so twisted up and crazy. So one day I just decided "eff this, I want to look pretty." I found that 5-year old in me who totally refused to wear anything except twirly dresses and princess skirts (because they made me feel GOOD), and I let her out to play again. I can't imagine ever turning if off now!

  • La Belette Rouge

    More than Badgers and Eddie Izzard? But you still love Badgers and Eddie, don't you?

  • Sal

    La Belette Rouge: You bet your sweet bippy I do.

  • cbowiephotography

    Excellently written. Way to go.

  • lisa

    "And it felt good to have my body recognized. It felt like a homecoming."

    Amen! I think you've written about feeling like this disembodied brain rather than a mind inside a body in previous posts, and I can definitely relate. It's only been the last 5-6 years that I've started to embrace the physical aspects of myself and not just cherish my mental abilities, started seeing myself as a whole person rather than just a brain.

    I'm glad you're sharing what you've learned on your journey from craptacular to spectacular on this blog. 😉

  • Elizabeth Marie

    I love this Sal! So true…I loved learning the history behind your amazing blog. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here everyday but the days I don't blog…I feel something is missing. You touch a lot of people with your posts 🙂

  • Shanna Suburbia

    I totally understand your sentiments. When I've spent a morning looking through blogs that share about fashion, I become inspired and want to put on something pretty rather than just pull on jeans and a t-shirt. It's not much more work to step it up just a little and it does wonders for feeling better about yourself. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • a cat of impossible colour

    This was such a great post, Sal!

  • Nadine

    I think 'accentuating a multitude of glories' should be your website tagline.

    And . . . badgers?

  • Melissa

    You're so inspiring! 🙂

  • AsianCajuns

    Loooove this post history, Sal! It's basically a summary of what makes your blog so freakin' amazing!

    I didn't start thinking about clothes as tools until I started reading your blog. I had a closet full of trendy pieces and nothing I really loved. It's a process, but I think my sense of style (not to be confused with following trends- which I did before) has become much stronger. So thanks, Sal!

  • Bethany

    "I don't actually give a flying rat's ankle about how I look"

    Girl, I love you! LOVE YOU!!

  • Sal

    OK, I don't usually do this (for lack of time, not lack of wanting!) but I feel like I should reply to all the amazing comments here today. All the ones that haven't already gotten a reply, that is!

    Anonymous: You are so welcome, my dear!

    Imogen: Does it ever. My gosh, I hate to think of anyone telling you that caring about appearance is shallow. Ouch!

    smaro: Thanks for sharing YOUR journey.

    Christina Lee: Thanks, doll!

    Cecelia: Oh my gosh! Am I really your Boden? I'm just floored, lady.

    Stefka: Right ON! Glad you're finding ways to show off your figure and let your body's beauty shine.

    Casey: Yes! Dressing for your body, not against it. Exactly. And I am totally stealing that phrase (and crediting you, of course).

    Cupcakes and Cashmere: Oh hon, I hate to think of you feeling so low. But I've certainly been there … glad this post was so well-timed!

    K.Line: You know, I realize in retrospect that it may sound like I'm saying "caring about how you look isn't good" or "isn't as important as caring about how you feel." That's not it, and I hope you don't feel judged for caring about how you look! (I'm sure you don't.) I just know that, for me, the POINT of looking good is feeling good. Yeah, I love looking good … it's fun and empowering and a fantastic way to express my creativity. But the main thing I like about it is how it boosts my confidence and strengthens my self-image.

  • Sal

    Diana: You bet, lady. Glad to hear you'll be keeping YOUR glories in mind!

    Magatha-May: Eesh, you're making me blush! Thank you, lady. I'm so touched to hear that.

    lisa: Eddie is pretty much a demigod in my world. Is there a funnier human? I think not.

    Clare: It's so true! Style bloggers are such a supportive and nurturing community. I'm THRILLED to hear that posting has turned your self-image around, darlin. Seriously thrilled.

    fleur_delicious: That's a great idea! I'll put it in a poll.

    Christy: Oooh, do let me know when you reach your goal and give yourself a Boden reward. It'll be well worth the wait!

    McKristie: THANK you, my dear!

    Kelly: Don't you DARE turn the pretty off, lady. Or you'll have me to answer to.

    cbowiephotography: Thanks!

    lisa: Doesn't it feel amazing to finally connect mind and body? I can't believe I let the two remain so disconnected for so long.

    Elizabeth Marie: Ach, you big sweetie. Thank you!

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    So inspiring Sal!
    I FEEL GOOD just reading this post…I FEEL BETTER infact! …that I'm not alone! ~XO*

  • Sal

    Shanna Suburbia: So true! That bit of extra effort pays off.

    acoic: Thanks, beautiful!

    Nadine: Hah! Maybe so. And the North American badger is my totem – I've got one tattoed on my back.

    Melissa: Awww, thank you, lady!

    AsianCajuns: WOW, I'm floored to hear this! Honored, too. Both of you ladies are so naturally stylish, I'm amazed to hear I've influenced your clothing-related thinkings!

    Bethany: Right back at ya, kitten. 😉

  • [LA]

    BEAUTIFUL WRITTEN!

    LOVE YOUR ACID BLAZER!

    lainarollercoaster.blogspot.com

  • KIRAFASHION

    You are so right…sometimes when we feel good, we look good…but more than clothes, we must seek to feel good…
    although, we all have our ups and downs….once in a while …

  • laurabrownart

    sigh. what a great history lesson. sometimes i wonder why i love your blog so much when we are so opposite when it comes to what we wear (or want to wear). and this is one huge reason. i feel like i can learn so much from you! it's true. i have a lot to learn about how to dress myself and feel good about myself–but it's true. it's hard to look good and feel bad. hmmm. . . i can tell there is some pondering ahead of me. . . .

  • eednic

    this: "I feel like crap WAY less."

    really speaks to me!! hahahha. your entire entry did actually. i like how positive and uplifting your blog is! thanks so much for sharing.

  • Barb

    Wonderful post.

    I was just watching yet another episode of What Not to Wear in which it became apparent (again) that the real issue was self-esteem.

    Focusing on being healthy and dressing in what looks good on YOU is the best attitude.

    "Multitude of glories" – I'm putting that one on my wall along with the quote from Mary Kay Ashe.

  • Anonymous

    Such a great post! It reminded me of why I subscribe to your blog. Except for our shoe preferences, our figures and style and yes, "shape struggles" are quite similar. Now I'm an even bigger fan than before!

  • Rosie Unknown

    Awesome post! I find that since I got into fashion, I am slightly more compelled to be healthy. Seem weird? It isn't. When you find that simply perfect skirt/blazer/whatever, you want to stay relatively the same size, so that you can keep wearing it forever. And while I accept that size fluctuates, and that I will probably get a bit bigger, then maybe a bit smaller, I want to stay generally the same.

  • Spandexpony

    Great story! Would make an excellent magazine article, lady!

  • dapper kid

    What an incredibly beautiful post 🙂 I can definitely relate to how you view fashion. I think that everybody feels fabulous in well fitting and flattering clothing, regardless of body shape or figure. Fashion has that wonderful sense of empowerment, once you unlock the initial mystery of it.

  • Kari

    Sal, you are so refreshingly honest AND positive. I just love reading your posts about body image and self-confidence and style. Thanks so much for being open about what makes you tick.

    Quite honestly, I think my interest in paying more attention to what I put on my body started when I would leaf through photographs from trips or with friends and wonder why my body looked so bad. After a while I started to realize it was because I had no concept of how to dress it, so I started paying attention and trying out new things (or discarding old, bad habits.)

    And then about a year and a half ago, something clicked and I started to actually have *fun* getting dressed and trying new things, even if they didn't work all the time.

  • Make Do Style

    The uneven blue tee is fab!

  • Andrea Jo

    Hey Sal! I've been enjoying your blog for about a month now, and I love how you evolved into your personal style.

    I'm 21, from Wayzata & starting to develop my own style, but man is it hard! I've been unhappy with my body and image for a while–I'm sick of looking like an awkward, slightly chubby teenager! Knowing that a woman that I consider very stylish like you has gone through some of the same things is very heartening to me.

    On another note, I'm pretty broke right now, but I have a major taste for designer labels. Where in Minneapolis/the Suburbs do you find your fabulous things on a budget?

  • Sal

    Andrea Jo: Feel free to drop me a note, but the short answer is most of my stuff is thrifted, nabbed at Opitz Outlet in St. Louis Park, or bought at local boutiques on sale.

    For a little shameless self promo, check out my shopping guide to the Twin Cities here: http://shoplocalshops.com/

  • Jennifer Nicole

    Yes! Yes yes yes! I wish every woman could get to this place – the place where they recognize the connection between feeling good about yourself and projecting that feeling to the world.

    There's no shame in wanting to look good if it's for the right reasons.