Most people come here and see a fashion blog. And there’s a lot of fashion and shopping and personal style-related discussions here, so I get that. But I truly hope that a segment of you comes here and sees a women’s empowerment blog. Because – and I know I’ve said this 70 jillion times, but it bears repeating – I see style as just one of many ways to help boost your body image and self-confidence. And I want to boost your body image and self-confidence so that you can feel happier and express yourself more freely and begin to love yourself just as you are.
I am starting to work on some side projects that feel more directly related to empowering women. I am on committees and in touch with visionaries who are actively working to give women the tools they need to acquire positions of leadership, and to lead effectively. And I LOVE this work. I get so jazzed that when I talk about it that I talk very quickly and loudly and gesticulate wildly until the person listening starts to giggle a little. And as I become more invested in these groups and conversations and do more of this work, it causes me to give my style-related work the side-eye. Not always, but occasionally. I have received countless humbling and heartwarming e-mails from you amazing readers telling me that I have helped you improve your self-esteem and boost your self-respect, and I treasure them. Truly, I do. But even though I, myself, champion style and fashion as non-frivolous interests I sometimes feel like work that is more closely tied to supporting, helping and empowering women could have more impact.
And then a dear friend of mine – a colleague in this other work I’ve been doing – said something that stopped me cold. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Sally, do you know why I don’t run for political office myself? It’s because I could never handle the scrutiny and criticism I’d take for how I look. Women in politics and power are constantly under the microscope for their bodies, grooming, and style, and I just couldn’t take it.”
My friend – from what I can tell – is afraid of very little. She has told me that she truly enjoys conflict resolution and adores speaking in front of large crowds. I can quite easily imagine her fending off rabid wolves to protect her young daughter. She has also worked in politics for years and is incredibly informed about public policy and remarkably passionate about her beliefs. So I was shocked to hear her say that the prospect of dealing with press and public critiques of her looks has prevented her from campaigning.
We talked a bit more about it, and she pointed out that helping women feel confident in their looks removes barriers. We live in a world that frequently evaluates women based on our looks and, if those looks are found to be somehow lacking, dismisses us. We know this. And many of us hesitate to step up to positions of leadership, or speak out against actions we question, or put ourselves in the public eye for fear of censure and dismissal. To help women have one less thing to worry about as they chase their dreams, rise to power, or express their creativity is to help them tap a vast reservoir of potential. To help women see dressing as a creative, helpful, important means of expressing self-respect is to give them the ability to move through the world with a little less weight on their shoulders.
And yes, the system should change. The system that dismisses us should be overhauled and turned inside out until women in politics and power and the public eye can be heard and respected without needing to be seen and judged. But I’ll be damned if I know how to tackle THAT task with my specific skill set. And I feel like a possible long-term plan would be to infiltrate that system with women who are so confident in their facades that no amount of jibes will deter them. Arm more women with confidence in their bodies and their personal styles so that they feel strong and capable and immune to irrelevant, appearance-related criticism. Teach them to dress strong, dress fearless, and dress as themselves so they can express what’s in their brains to an audience that has been trained to focus on their bodies.
This conversation with my friend lasted less than three minutes and took place more than four months ago, and it is still reverberating through me. I’m thrilled to be working on projects that connect directly with women’s empowerment and leadership, and hope to incorporate that work more and more into my life. But I see now that empowering women can take infinite forms, and that helping women remove barriers to action and change can be vital. Style and body image may seem low on the priority list, but if you don’t start at the bottom, how can you get to the top?
Image of Hillary Clinton – a politician who has been relentlessly scrutinized and dismissed for her style and grooming choices – courtesy NPR