You Can Do It

“The most common way people give up their power
is by thinking they don’t have any.”

~ Alice Walker
Quote shown at the beginning of “Miss Representation”

Last week, I attended a screening of Miss Representation, an amazing and heartbreaking film about how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in the United States. The film touched on body image, sexism, racism, the systematic demonization of feminists, the nauseating objectification of women, and many other issues that outraged and sickened me. Images of high school girls crying because they hate themselves, political leaders being dismissed for their fashion choices,and bikini-clad body after roiling bikini-clad body made me dizzy with dismay. And, if I’m being honest, it made me call into question my work, my writing, and my goals. I want women to be empowered, and in a moment of panic I questioned the value of style advice as a tool for empowerment. After all, the problem is that women are increasingly taught to believe that the ONLY thing that matters about us is how we look. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to contribute to that insidious lie.

Luckily, as I began to hyperventilate, my friend Susan reminded me that, no, I wasn’t a cold-hearted, woman-destroying villain. She said yes, it’s complicated and yes, you’ve got to be very careful about what you say and how you say it, and make sure you understand why you’re saying it. But we’re a social culture, a clothed culture. There is value to looking amazing primarily because looking amazing can help you FEEL amazing. Feeling amazing can fuel amazing feats. The feelings and the feats are the point, and the looks can contribute to the process.

However, I realized as I walked back to my car with my head abuzz and heart thundering, that I have made some assumptions. And they are huge. And they are based on my own experiences and privileges, so I hadn’t realized I was making them. But now I do, so I’d like to explain:

I can do anything I want to. I have always known that. There has never been a day in my life that has extinguished that faith, or a crushing event that has defeated that belief. I am in an extremely fortunate position in that I’ve never been directly discriminated against for reasons of sex or gender, or if I have I have absolutely bulldozed whatever or whomever tried to stop me based solely on my anatomy. And that privileged combination has helped me to continue believing that I can do it. Any of it. And I mean ANY OF IT. I can do emotionally, intellectually, artistically, scientifically, and psychologically challenging tasks, and I can do them all spectacularly well. And there are billions of things I haven’t tried yet, and I can do those, too. And you can bet your sweet life that anyone who says I can’t is going to get an earful. And you can bet your sweet life that anyone who says I can’t because I am a woman is going to rue the day they challenged me so brazenly.

The primary assumption I have made is that you feel this way about yourself, too. I’ve always, always assumed that you all know you can do anything you set your minds and hearts to. I’ve assumed that you feel sure – right down to the marrow in your bones – that you are capable, strong, smart, brave, creative, valuable, and phenomenal in every way. You’d better believe I’m sure of that. Even though I’ve met only a handful of you, I know that you can do it. ANY OF IT. And I don’t mean “within your social station” or “if the stars align” or “probably.” I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. It may not be direct or easy or quick and it may not look how you’d expect it to, but there is always, always a way to meet your goals. Whatever they may be. And I’ve assumed that anyone who tells you you can’t do exactly what you’ve always dreamed of doing because you are a woman is going to rue the day they challenged you so brazenly.

Based on this assumption, I have sought to arm you. I consider style, fashion, body image, and everything that contributes to how we feel about personal aesthetics to be mere tools. These things are meant to help you with whatever you’re doing with your life: Lawyering, mothering, running governments, farming, writing, cooking, teaching, innovating technologies, making art, doctoring, building businesses, and on into infinity. Whatever work you’ve chosen, whatever opus you’re creating, whatever battle you’re fighting, I want to arm you with confidence in your body and your style. Why? So you can stop worrying about your outward presentation and focus on what’s important.

Women are taught that our value is linked to our looks. Even that our power IS our looks, and everything else is secondary. And after that, we’re taught to worry and obsess about our looks and spend huge amounts of time, energy, and money attempting to maintain or preserve or improve our looks. Because otherwise how will we remain valuable and relevant? And that is one hell of an oppressive and screwed-up system for keeping women’s power in check. But we can find ways to subvert it. If we can reclaim the process of playing with our looks and transform it into a highly personal, customized, creative act, we can jettison some of that manufactured, superimposed obsession. If we make choices about what we wear and how and why and when, and make those choices mindfully and for our own reasons, we can take something oppressive and make it marvelous. When we love ourselves and love our looks, we are free to get on with the work of our lives.

The point is not to feel beautiful. The point is to feel powerful, capable, invincible. The point is not to feel pretty. The point is that you’re already pretty, and once you’ve accepted that, you free up an enormous amount of mental space for other things. And, in the vast majority of cases, those other things have nothing to do with shoes or moisturizer or nipped-in waistlines. Tools. They’re just tools. Weapons, even. They help you build and craft the external you, so that the internal you can do her work unimpeded.

I’ve never said any of this because I assumed you knew it. I assumed it was clear. But being reminded – in no uncertain terms – that women are being slowly but systematically stripped of power, stripped of influence, stripped of everything save sexual and aesthetic value prompted me to clarify. I want you to feel fabulous about how you look. But the reason I want that is not related to beauty or clothes or makeup or any of that. The reason I want that is because I want women to feel amazing about themselves – mind, body, and soul. I want women to love themselves, no matter what they look like. I want women to feel empowered, and I believe that empowerment follows confidence.

For years, I spent an appalling amount of energy actively, exhaustively HATING my body. When I stopped doing that, my own confidence grew exponentially. I want you to stop hating your body so that your confidence can grow exponentially, too.

And once you have that confidence, I want you to go out into the world and do what you’re meant to do. Because you can do it. ANY OF IT.

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  • I gained consciousness in the relatively feminist 70s, raised by liberal parents. My mom worked at Planned Parenthood when I was a teenager. I did well in school, no one tried to discourage me from being a scientist, quite the contrary. Well, except my dad, he wanted me to go crack the corporate glass ceiling. Anyway, I got all the “you can do what you want” messaging.

    I have experienced being with nice, decent men — and with jealous, controlling men who tried to sabotage my work or my self confidence. When the going got rough I always had my own way to earn money, and I never felt obligated to stand for mistreatment for long. (Of course now I’m not married and I don’t have kids, so I’m sure there’s a large component of our society that would judge me as a failure.)

    I’m watching what’s going on with the Republicans nationwide and how they are working hard to restrict and oppress — with restrictive abortion and contraception laws, by attacking organizations that work on behalf of women and minorities, by trying to make it legal for hospitals to just decide to let a woman die based on abstract principle, decriminalizing domestic violence, etc. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to have to do more than just love ourselves and hold our heads high. If we want this to turn around, we’re going to have to take to the streets and to make real sacrifices (like pursuing political office on behalf of women and busting our asses for progressive female candidates, like creating “underground railroad” type networks to help women get away from abuse or get health care they need, like maybe going to jail). We totally need a reawakened feminist movement. But the time’s apparently not ripe yet. It hasn’t gotten quite bad enough, at least for those of us who are relatively visible and privileged and can pay for our own birth control. The economic situation finally did get bad enough and, look at Occupy Wall Street!

    • Sal

      For the record, I’m not saying that loving ourselves and holding our heads high will fix everything. But if we don’t believe in ourselves and feel confident, it’ll be a hell of a lot harder to make bigger changes.

      • Oh, I realize that Sal — I just get so combination enraged, discouraged, and energized watching what’s going on politically that I got on the ol’ soapbox a bit.

        • Eleanorjane

          I loved your soapbox. Go you!!

  • Sally,

    One of the many reasons I love your blog and tell everyone I know about it, is because you have made those assumptions. You and I do not share the same style, but we do share an outlook on life and even though we may not pick the same clothes in the shops, I can relate to everything you write.
    I too have led a life that has been largely unchallenged – I can and will do anything, and the last person who tried to challenge me on my gender and my age got a cutting remark back and I made sure that never happened to anyone else. When you have been in that position for so long it is sometimes hard to step outside of that and realise that for women it is a pretty hard position to achieve. But understandable that sometimes you can’t, because life is what we experience.

    Personally I can’t stand writing that makes the point that women are subjugated and repressed but that offers no practical ways to beat it. I much prefer the no frills approach that you have 🙂

    • Hetty

      Have to agree with you, Natalie. One of the reasons Sally’s blog is so good is that she does make the assumption that you (the reader) can do or be anything.

      It’s a positive message, especially when it’s assumed into the writing instead of having to make it a special point.

  • Heidi

    Wow.

    Sally, I don’t comment here often- ever, really- but I read your blog every day because even though you may not have stated this before, I believe it comes through in everything you write. And I love it. Yours is a message every woman needs to hear and be reminded of and work to live.

    Thank you!

  • PBfromMN

    Ah, but with your assumptions you have raised the bar high and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. One thing that I have noticed is that you do not allow women to destroy other women over their choices and that is so important in an age when women do not trust each other and we must trust even when we have differing opinions. We must believe in ourselves and you put that across your blog loud and clear and for that I thank you.

  • I really want to see this movie! Sal, I think style is just ONE aspect of who we are, but it can be such a great vehicle to feel confident, and yes, powerful. That doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t exist and that we don’t need to periodically stop and examine whether we’re buying into cultural messages of “less than” and whether our choices are coming from a place of action or reaction. It took me a long time to reconcile my love of style and makeup and shoes with a feminist consciousness, but I’m now in a comfortable place with both.

  • Hope

    Rock on with your bad self, Sally. Keep putting it out there.

  • Elin

    Sal,

    I LOVED this post. I love it because I feel you coming at me full force and with a big open heart. I share your assumptions, too. I was raised the same way (in MN, no less) and I believe that there is no reason to buy into the belief that we, as women, are any less than in any way. But, without that foundational belief many women flounder and lack confidence. And those of us who have that confidence flounder sometimes, too. There are so many messages to the contrary that it becomes easy to stop believing in yourself and start believing what your told. Thank you for the reminder to us all that those messages aren’t worth listening to – and are, in fact, incredibly damaging.

    Keep doing what you’re doing! Your blog is wonderful. As a young feminist, I personally battled with my interests in fashion, which battled with my interests in empowerment for women. Your blog is a reminder that the two interests do not have to be at war. As I got older, I learned that, but your blog has served to remind me of this important lesson a lot in the past year or so that I have been reading it.

    Thanks, Sal!

  • You’re my hero, Sally! We are so lucky to have you in the world, and I’m grateful to call you friend. xo

  • I so want to see this film too, Sal. I grew up in a time when girls were told they could be mommies, nurses, or teachers. So I *have* come a long way, seen a lot, and yes, I’ve been discriminated against b/c of my gender. But it’s a new world; my nieces are told they can do and be whatever they want!

    Looking and feeling good are inherent parts of my feminism. Slavish devotion to style or fashion will never be part of me.

  • Concerning what you said about assuming we (your readers) are starting from your mindset of strength and empowerment: this is something I’ve appreciated that about your blog. You don’t cater or hedge around your opinions and what is right, and by not doing so you bring your readers along on the self-help journey.
    I love your blog because it is so positive and because it (you) expect(s) something of your readers – moving forward. It’s not wallowing in self-pity and it doesn’t encourage me to do so.

  • Humans are the only animal species in which women are to adorn themselves to please males. And we’ve grown up with a stereotype that if a woman is not graceful enough then she is worthless. I live in Argentina, in a sexist society in which there are still men who think of us as something beautiful, fragile who they have to protect, manage and master (ok, not ALL men think so, but there are), but our biggest problems today is called Tinelli, this “man” took an idea like “Dancing for a Dream” and turned into a live show in which starlets and models, dance naked, trying to pretend as many sexual positions as possible as the song lasts. They took a dance competition to fulfill a dream of someone helping or supporting an ONG or a school, for soft porn. The damage that this objectification of the female body does to our society is alarming. Women, men and even kids! (although this show is broadcasted very late at night) every night turn on the TV to watch naked people dancing, fighting, making accusations of any kind (drugs, AIDS, promiscuity, etc.) and take as an ideal of a good social status power to participate in this pseudo tv show. Our reality is very sad, saw 5-year girls imitating the movements of pole dancing. Not to mention the constant double moral standard, Act like a Wh… but not too much or people will talk on your back!. In the background we still are in a society that wants to convince us that our power as females passes on being naked TV.
    We are not just something cute, fragile who have to protect, manage and master anymore, now we are also now a nice sex object.

    So sad, so true. But the last thing we lost is hope.

  • Rachel HB

    Great post, Sal. Exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  • Awesome post, Sal! I think I am guilty of making those same assumptions, because I feel like you – I can do anything I want! Keep your chin up and stay real, hon. You’re awesome!

  • Aziraphale

    Thank you for this post, Sally. Well said.

    For the record, it has always been clear to me that this blog is about empowerment and not beautification.

    I don’t have time to write what I’m thinking here, but I’d like to offer my wholehearted agreement. I was brought up in such a way that I was blissfully unaware of sexism (and racism, too, but that’s another topic), and when I finally learned about it, it was a shock.

    We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. And now I have children to raise, and I’m even angrier.

  • stephanie l.

    Timely post. I ,too, have always had an absolute belief in my ability to do whatever I wanted or needed to do, on my own. I hope I’m instilling that same belief in my two young daughters, as well as my son. As far as the nauseating objectification and over sexualization of women in our culture goes, nowhere has that been made more apparent to me than every time I’ve stepped into a Halloween costume store lately. My oldest daughter is 12, too old for candy corn witches and ragdolls. So why are the only choices in tween/teen sizes in the vein of sexy referee, sexy cop, sexy witch, sexy Spongebob, for God’s sake??!! Why is this okay? And why, WHY do I see moms with the costume bags in hand buying them for their girls???? All I can do is refuse to shop in these stores, and make my small protest with my wallet. But it saddens me.

    I want my girls to know that their fashion choices can tell people about who they are by how they present themselves. It’s their choice. But they deserve better options.

    • Jocelyn

      I was thinking this same thing. Halloween costumes for women (and even teens and tweens) are disgusting.

      • Eleanorjane

        There’s an idea for a post, Sal – how to do Halloween costumes with dignity or fun or appropriateness or whatever… I guess how to do costumes thoughtfully and teach our daughters to do the same.

  • Nebraskim

    I LOVE this. One thing to add is that denigrating or belittling “style” and peoples’ interest in it is another way of stealing power and putting/keeping people down. I’m not saying that women who are obsessed with looks in a bad way (like Hollywood starlets who seem to exist solely to be looked at) are powerful. But when someone belittles someone else for trying to look good and feel good, or for merely having an interest in “shallow” things like fashion (or food or a zillion other things that women tend to enjoy), the belittler (is that a word? OK, let’s call them a BULLY) is robbing you of your inner awesome.

    I read this blog because I find posts like this to be amazing and eye-opening. Thank you.

    As an aside, over the weekend I got into an argument with a hyperconservative white male about the concept of White Privilege. He said that’s a construct promulgated by people with “victim” mentality and that it doesn’t exist. He.Just.Doesn’t.Get.It. And never will.

  • Lisa W.

    Yes! I read your blog because these assumptions of yours come through in your writing every week if not every day. My views align with yours even if my style of dressing does not and I appreciate and support that you walk your talk— in fabulous boots! Some of us need all the encouragement we can get to hold our heads up and walk out the door in to the world each day and that’s one thing your blog promotes: acceptance, confidence, love of self. Knowing our selves, what we want to be and being able to express it— that makes our world better for all. Thank you!

  • I watched a 10 minute extended preview of this movie and I was livid. I need to go watch the whole thing!

  • Laney

    Thank you. So much. Needed this today.

  • Sydney

    Amen, sister-friend. Amen. This is a beautiful piece. I too rarely comment but I follow your blog because you make the very assumptions that women are indeed strong enough to do whatever it is they NEED to do. You encourage women to find the tools they require to feel their best and keep their spirits high. Positive thinking is powerful thinking, and feeling your best and knowing you can harness the tools you need to face the world with your GAME-FACE shining is absolutely, positively priceless. Thank you for restating your assumptions and helping many a woman nourish her own powerful, delicious confidence. I’ll be sending a lot of women to your post today!

  • Tara

    I think there are some mixed messages here. You wrote this, “And after that, we’re taught to worry and obsess about our looks and spend huge amounts of time, energy, and money attempting to maintain or preserve or improve our looks. Because otherwise how will we remain valuable and relevant?”

    But don’t you (and many of your readers including myself) spend huge amounts of time, energy and money on your looks? You also say that you want women to love themselves no matter what they look like, which seems to imply that looks are completely irrelevant. And if you believed that, it’s hard to imagine why you would write a blog devoted to looks and fashion.

    This isn’t meant as an attack; I just want to point out the the contradiction and what I think is at the root of the issue. You LIKE fashion/looks/aesthetics and there is NOTHING wrong with that. As a woman, there is no need to apologize for taking pride/interest in your appearance. That’s the awesome thing about being a woman in today’s world, we have choices. We can spend time/energy/money on our looks or we can invest those resources in other things…or both! We can be feminine and “pretty”, dress butch and edgy or not give our looks a second thought – it’s up to each of us to make that choice and each choice is equally valid.

    As grown-ups, its our individual responsibility to filter the messages that barrage us on a daily basis (including those from blogs) and apply what is relevant to ourselves and our lives and discard what isn’t. I don’t view it as a blogger’s responsibility to be careful in giving fashion/style advice that she take every possible feeling/lifestyle/need into account as that is not even possible. Anyone who has read even an entry or two of your blog knows you have nothing but the best of intentions. I think you can own your love of looks/fashion without feeling like you’re part of “the man” that’s keeping women down. Just like I think we can each own our femininity, love of shoes/hair/make-up/whatever without feeling like it’s some betrayal against feminism. Having the choice to like what you like and be who you want to be is the whole point of feminism – or should be.

    Sorry for the long post. I have a lot of thoughts running around in my head on this subject, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

    • Sal

      Good point, Tara. Or points, really. Yes, I and many of my readers spend huge amounts of time, energy and money on our looks. But I never said anything about looks being completely irrelevant. In fact, my point here is that when we look how we want to look, we feel strong and powerful. How we look is very often linked to how we feel. And we can let that control us, or we can choose to control it ourselves.

      I’m not apologizing for writing a style blog. I love what I do, I’m lucky to be able to do it, and I’m thrilled that others enjoy what I write. I just want to make it clear that I don’t think that women have a duty to look pretty, or conform to the socially-sanctioned beauty standard, and I don’t want what I do to be misconstrued. And, above all, I write about style on a daily basis, but my hopes for women are not encompassed entirely by a desire for them all to feel as pretty as possible. Style is a means to an end, in my opinion. Thankfully, it can be a REALLY fun one.

      • Tara

        Well said, Sally. Aesthetics are their own end to me, whether it comes to fashion, art, music, etc., At the same time, there can be a deeper more all encompassing goal for each, but I don’t find it to be a necessity.

        • Hetty

          I read Sally’s blog but I don’t spend a lot of time or money on myself. This blog helps me reconsider what I already have in my closet and cosmetics bag and do more. I don’t wear cosmetics every day, but when I do I want to feel confident that I am accenting myself not attracting negative attention. The same goes with my clothes. I don’t want and don’t like to spend hours trying on different things to see how they work together. By reading this blog and some of the links I learn about coordinating virtually. Thank goodness for the women out there that like to try out different things and then post pics! It makes my decisions so much easier.

  • Jen

    Oh wow, Sally. This was so powerful and raw and amazing and it punched me right in the gut (in a good way). This was the first thing I read on the internet this morning and it’s going to set the tone for my entire day. I’ve spent sooooo long despising myself and trying to “fix” myself based on what I thought other people wanted of me that I’m just exhausted. I’m 41 years old and finally, FINALLY, beginning to believe that my life is mine, and that no matter what comes at me I can handle it. I just loved this piece, thank you so much for doing what you do.

  • Thanks for this post today Sal. Yes, I (we) know that we’re already pretty, and can take on whatever challenge comes our way. However, sometimes I just need to hear that, especially on days when I start to hate my body.

  • I’m coming at style from a different and yet similar angle. I spent my childhood actively deny everything “girly”. It was only in college that I started to be willing to embrace the “girly” things I liked simply because I liked them instead of listening to the social messaging that insisted that if I liked (fashion, clothes, being neat, whatever) that I was not serious, not capable, and not able to do everything the boys could do.

    I’ve never had body image issues, but I definitely struggle with recognizing and accepting my own success (look up the Impostor Syndrome some time) and with setting and defining reasonable goals (ie: something less than perfection.)

    Trying to be more stylish is a great way of showing the world that I respect myself and it gives me a less demanding thing to feel good about.

    • kathy

      Brava Sal! You had me at “hello” but now if I read only one blog per day, it will surely be yours.

  • Harriet

    Yes, I’ve experienced sexism and discrimination. Most of it I’d say is done not on a conscious level, but it’s there. If you are a woman the only way to be super-successful is to act like an aggressive man (same for nonaggressive men, actually). At least in today’s world in general people pay lip service to the idea that women can do anything they want, whereas in the past they would openly say we couldn’t. But if you are competing with a man for the same job, unless it is a typically feminine job, how often do you think the man will win the job rather than the woman?

    And fashion/style: I have been appalled at how the current fashions fall into the objectification category — the very high heels, the tight, short skirts or skin-tight pants, the push-up bras — all clothing that causes physical discomfort and detracts from one’s dignity as a human being. For all that people mock the styles of the 1980s, I remember that fondly as a time when styles were comfortable and played up the face and hands rather than T&A. Those dresses and jackets with the big shoulders were empowering. Skinny six-inch heels — not so much.

  • Isobel

    Oh, oh, oh. I’m sixteen, and this is one of the most moving, inspiring, heartbreaking things I have read online. Thank you so much.

  • Stephani

    Here here, Sal! To all of it.

  • I love this post, but I’m glad you used the word “privileged” for the assumption that you (and we) can do anything and everything we ever want to do. Of course you must know that this is not true of millions of people. In the history of this country, and even now, there are frameworks and ceilings and hiring practices and promotional practices and silent (and not-so-silent) prejudices and foster care systems and educational systems and prison systems and legal systems and banking and mortgage systems and credit card ratings (etc) in place to be sure that this is not true. Race, class, and gender all intersect to tell you how much you can achieve — and while of course many people burst free of those barriers, many more don’t, and it’s not for lack of trying, or for lack of being brave or creative or valuable. It’s largely a systematic problem — systems made up of individuals.

    I’m so thankful that you can do whatever you want. All of it. And that you’re using that privilege to help people who are a little stuck, in not being able to do quite all of it.

    • Sal

      Indeed. My hope, overall, is to inspire hope. Race, class, gender, weight, age, sexual orientation, and countless other factors can conspire to prevent achievement, but if no one is willing to push forth messages of hope and encouragement, why even try to achieve? It’s a broad message with some pretty big holes in it, but I’d rather put it out there – flaws and all – in the hopes that people all along the gamut of privilege might hear it, and take what they need from it.

  • A.

    I like reading your blog even though my mind is set to the opposite of everything you believe in right now.

  • Glamdoc

    Am not all there yet, but thank you, and AMEN.

  • Well said, Sal. Like you, I came from a background that prepared me to conquer the world, and it always catches me off guard a bit when I meet someone who doesn’t feel that they can do the same because they’ve been taught differently. Fashion, style and beauty are all fun things, but it’s sad when they become less-than-fun, victimizing, constraining things because women feel that outward appearances are all they have to offer to the world.

  • Aisling

    Hey sal, long time reader first time commenter! I just had to comment on this. You made the point that women are slowly and systematically being stripped of our power but I fundamentally disagree, women are less discriminated against than ever before, there are more women in government, in commerce, in science etc. Etc. Than ever before! It is getting better and sitting around believing and being enraged by the notion that big bad men the world over are out to oppress us is just a waste of otherwise positive energy, energy we can use to do all the things we’re telling ourselves that we’re being told we can’t do… If that makes sense… Anyway that’s my six pence worth, love the blog!

    • Sal

      Thanks for weighing in, Aisling. I definitely agree that tremendous strides have been made in the realm of equality, but think there is still a lot of work to be done. There may be more women in government than there were in the past, but there are still very, very few. And the women who are in politics are constantly belittled for their fashion choices, family choices, and other issues that never seem to arise for their male counterparts. Women still earn far less than men, and are promoted less often. Things may be better, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop fighting. Especially when society increasingly depicts women as sexual objects and teaches us that we must look a certain way or be dismissed as unacceptable on every level.

      I don’t believe all men are bad. Some of the most important people in my life are men and feminists and amazing human beings. But Western society is, undeniably, a patriarchy. Men hold more power, have more money, and exert more influence than women on almost every level.

      Finally, I would never encourage anyone to sit around and feel enraged about anything. That doesn’t do the individual or the world any good. Either use your rage to create change, or examine where it’s coming from and find a way to redirect it.

    • Eleanorjane

      I think it might vary a bit by country. From what I’ve been reading, it seems there’s a bit of a gender war going on in the states at the moment.

      Things are just as unequal over here, but we don’t have the heated rhetoric and religious issues, really.

  • Lynn

    I love this post. I grew up in the deep south when girls were told to be pretty, and, at best, be the power behind a man. We were never, ever to seem smarter or better than the boys or look anything other than our (defined by others) best. I still struggle with this and know we have to work hard to ensure that girls and young women today do not get the same message. It sometimes scares me how much we take for granted today, and how much could be taken away (Cynthia’s message).

  • You almost lost me at “blackhearted,” (please consider how your metaphors may reinforce racism) but I’m glad I stayed with you. I write an image and appearance blog for clergy that assumes the exact same starting point, and I could have written this! Thanks for saying it for me.

    • Sal

      Not a word I had known to have racist roots. I’ll re-word.

      • Tara

        Sally, I hadn’t either and can’t find any reference to this term having racist roots anywhere. All standard definitions are the same on every site I’ve checked –

        adjective
        black-hearted adj. Having a wicked, malignant disposition; morally bad.

        I really don’t think you were in the wrong here – just an FYI.

        • pope suburban

          I think perhaps the issue here is that way back when, when people started coming up with the words to hang on skin colors, they did not pick those words by accident. Despite being a light pinkish color, for example, I’d be called “white,” which has connotations of purity, goodness, light, and virtue. These people in varying shades of brown, though, we called them “black,” which is a color associated with evil, wickedness, sorcery, untrustworthiness and dirtiness. “Yellow” went with cowardice and weakness, and red with blood and savagery. The colors we ascribe to people’s skin nowadays might mean nothing to us; we think of them as rough descriptors and that’s it. The history is a lot nastier, though, and once you’ve heard about that it’s hard to go back to the place where “black” and “white” were just vague and non-charged terms. I don’t think “blackhearted” is racist, but I did want to throw my little micro-history lesson out there for anyone who is interested.

  • Sonja

    I was educated to believe that I could do and be whatever I wanted to.
    But in adult life, I have started to believe less and less in this maxim. I struggled very hard to be able to work in the field I wanted to, and still have difficulties to earn my life by it. In the city I live, it’s practically impossible to pay the rent or mortgage of a really nice flat, and I’m still struggling with many fears and insecurities. And often I see that those a fears and insecurities that are more usual in women than men. For example: I’m absolutely terrified to drive, although I have a license, and I hate mathematics and natural sciences, because they make me feel helpless and stupid.
    What you have written today, Sal, has been a wonderful reminder. I’m in such a privileged situation, just by living in the first world, I have all those possibilities and I can reach whatever goal I can, if I just work hard enough. It’s good to hear those things again and again. I know they are true, but I still have to regain my confidence and internalize that.
    But at least I have done something practical: After reading this article, I’ve written an email to a friend who teaches maths and asked if she might consider giving me some lessons.
    I’m decided to fight more actively against my fears. So for me, the message of your blog entry has been totally positive!

  • Tiffany

    Amen.

  • Elizabeth

    This rocks!

    Awesome!

  • Mandy From Oz

    Sal, I’m sure others have already said so- but you don’t ever come across as valuing womens looks over their intellect.
    If anything you have provided an excellent example of how women are allowed to look nice AND use their brains.
    Your buisness ventures have seen to that. You are sharing a positive message, so please don’t worry you’re contributing to the myth of women being beautiful and stupid.
    You remind people there are options! You aren’t responsible for everyone’s interpretation of what you do. If they mistake your intention it’s down to their own thought processes.
    Keep being you, Sal.

  • Gayna

    AS I read this post a bubble of excitement rose in my chest and burst in my head with the realization that “I KNOW!” ” I CAN!”
    I started reading blogs because it excited and empowered me to see women dressing to please themselves, what a powerful thing and I started to buy my clothes in a more thoughtful way, thinking ” how does this item make me feel” not ” what will other people think of this?”, this carried over into other areas of my life, my actions, my surroundings, the people I spend my time with, my job. So I started working at it from the outside in, I still got there. ( Ahem, am getting there!) Ahh, a life lived with integrity, richer for knowing that I CAN, so I go forward knowing I WILL!
    I am sitting here with my morning coffee, I have just woken up, what an awesome way to start my day!
    Thanks Sally, for this post, for doing your bit, for giving us a bit of YOU to empower us to get to I CAN!

  • Sally, certainly the overall ethos of Already Pretty has this sentiment beating throughout, but to see it laid out with such force and eloquence is a rare treat–one that’s giving me the chills (in a good way!).

    >I want to arm you with confidence in your body and your style. Why? So you can stop worrying about your outward presentation and focus on what’s important.<

    That is exactly it. That thought has been dancing around my mind but I've never pinpointed it, and that's exactly it. That, to me, is what separates beauty and style work I look forward to and enjoy versus the kind I don't, or even the kind I'm "meh" about. (And, for the record, that's also what sets apart the fashion people I enjoy working with versus those I don't.) Without an inherent understanding of this it all falls to pieces. But with an understanding of this, regardless of whether it's been articulated or even consciously recognized, style becomes what I feel it should be: a recognition and a vehicle, not the destination.

  • – Tessa

    YAY! Well done!!!!!!!!!

  • Elissa

    Wow, Sally, this is one of the most outstanding posts you’ve written, and I’ve read them all. I hope that your message of empowerment and self love spreads all across the world!

  • Kathryn

    Wow Sal, this is bringing me right out of Lurker status. I’ve been loving your blog for several months, and I think this post clarified what I couldn’t quiiite put my finger on: that you DO assume we’re powerful, sovereign, and capable. It’s an empowering message and it keeps me coming back each day for more.

    I watched this documentary over the weekend, and it also stirred up some questions with my own behavior. I still need some time to meditate on the answers, but I really appreciate hearing your perspective. Keep up the amazing work!!!

  • Word. All of it. Just, wow. I really needed this today, Sal!

    Also, my new favorite quote: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

  • Nadia

    Hi Sally,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I just wanted to say that you are amazing and please don’t stop doing what you are doing. I was having a really terrible day yesterday and have been feeling underwhelmed and down ever since. Reading this has fired me up again and just made me feel a whole lot better about myself.
    Thanks you,
    Nadia

  • no

    I don’t understand your reliance on factually incorrect beliefs to create self-confidence. Perhaps you don’t mean “I can do anything” (and even, do it “spectacularly well”) literally; then what exactly do you mean? If taken literally, it is the most outrageous lie.

    You can do some fine number of things, but there are things which are physically impossible, like breaking the speed of light, and things which seem unlikely, like tackling the most difficult outstanding problems in mathematics, or cooking better than a certain famous cook, or running a marathon without training.

    You may be great, but if you don’t understand the nature of your own greatness, it is a lie, a shame and a waste.

    • Sal

      What an adamantly literal interpretation of this text!

      • no

        Yes! I think literal understanding is important too. Because making yourself clearly understood is difficult but important!

  • Hear, hear, Sally! Wonderfully, powerfully, fabulously said. Two of the things we have talked about in my women in the media and body image classes are that before the media can change, we have to change– we have to make different media choices and not reward (by viewing) the shows that subjugate women and that exposure absolutely matters- much like the tag line for the movie and your post so eloquently says. What you see as possible makes infinite difference. Thank you for this post, yes, but thank you for having this essence about you!

  • Funny how much unnecessary misdirection we have to slog through to get to your very simple revelation.

    Thank you for sharing this. I am raising three daughters and trying to balance being assertive in keeping them off the path to confusion and not going so far overboard that they grow up resenting society.

  • Luna

    Sal, fear not, your work is all about affirming and celebrating the physical bodies we are blessed with, and with which we interact with the world. And that is a very positive thing 🙂

  • Jenny

    This is a great post. It reminded me of this exchange about fashion and feminism in Tavi Gevisen’s interview with Leith Clark, the editor of Lula magazine:
    T: I read that when you were starting Lula, you felt that there was this kind of “middle man” type of sexualization when you read some other magazines.

    L: Yeah. I call it an invisible man in the room, where you’re making a fashion magazine that’s supposed to either make women buy clothes or tell them about beauty or give them a means of expressing themselves, but it becomes about sexualization, and it becomes about nudity rather than the actual clothes, and it becomes quite hard, and it’s quite intimidating. It’s definitely not what I find beautiful, and it makes me think of high school and the girls who started to wear things that were too tight and trying really hard to be overly sexual and get attention from men when the men that I know don’t want women to look like that. So I’m not sure where it came from or why it’s there, but for me the reason I wanted to work in fashion had nothing to do with that. It had to do with when I was little how important clothes became, and not in the kind of, “oh, I want to be so pretty” kind of way, but in the way it could make you feel.

  • Sandie

    I’m grateful for your wonderful work, and for your critical reflections on it. We need both!

    All the best,

    Sandie

  • JI

    My truth is that
    1. we cannot do whatever we want
    2. we are not spectacularly wonderful in everything
    3. there is enough that we can do (we, meaning humans)
    4. the pleasure is in the doing, not in the achieving.

    This article is very middle and upper middle class, Sal.Of course, I relate to it, but most cannot…I dress down at work, because I work with the poorest of the poor. They all have IPODS and cellphones, few have jobs, enough food, or hope. Is fashion relevant? I don’t know, but I appreciate the article.

    • Sal

      Right. Hence the multiple mentions of privilege. But the thing about rhetoric is it’s meant to be inclusive, inspiring, and uplifting, not purposely narrow in focus. Which is why sweeping statements like these may rub you the wrong way, but, in my opinion, still need to be made. Some people need to hear someone else tell them that they can do anything before they can see it as even remotely possible, just like some people need to hear that they’re beautiful before they can see it as even remotely possible.

  • I keep hearing about this film and have been dying to see it. It’s definitely a topic I’m passionate about! Also, have you ever seen “America the Beautiful”?

  • Anonymous

    My take on your initial question is thar your blog sure is empowering to women!
    I try to challenge myself to wear more colours and patterns to work, but often, before an importaint meeting, I grab the safe, formal blazer and wear conservative colours/style. Your blog helps me se the alternatives, inspire me to see how I can use the feminine in my wardrobe to look powerful and confident instead of choosing the obvious, masculine garnmrnts (i.e the woman-suit).

    You go girl!!!

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