Feeling happy is probably my number two goal in life. (Number one, you’ll recall, is empowering women!) I’ve struggled with anxiety for over a decade, and as such I find it fairly difficult to feel happy. But I strive for it, mull it, try to find ways to grab little bits of happiness whenever and wherever I can. And I do my best to remind all of you lovely readers that looking great is only important insofar as it makes you feel great. That serenity, confidence, and happiness are the real endgame here.
So when Britt Reints contacted me about her new book, An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, I had to bite. I’ve read scientific studies and therapist-penned tomes about happiness, but I feel like the concept is so personal and ephemeral that clinical expertise has somewhat limited utility. Britt’s voice is honest, friendly, kind, and welcoming as she unfurls her own story and encourages you to start drafting your own. Today, she’s generously offered to share her own style and body image journey with us.
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Fashion and beauty had always been important to me. As a kid, I sketched pictures of dresses and dreamed of being a fashion designer. I convinced my mother to let me wear makeup in sixth grade by explaining that I wasn’t too young to feel attractive. My personal style was a significant part of my personal identity as an adult, too. It thrilled me when my mother referred to me as a fashionista or my friends called me for shopping advice. Once upon a time, I even had a shopping blog.
And then I got rid of all my shoes and all but my most functional clothes. At the time, I saw my shoe-shedding as proof of personal growth. I no longer needed a pair of red heels to make me feel bold, strong, or beautiful. I was better than that.
The decision to let go of my wardrobe was also a practical one: my family and I were moving into a 24-foot travel trailer and driving around the country for a year. I didn’t have room to be stylish, and I was certain our adventure was a much more enlightened pursuit.
Within a couple of weeks of moving into the RV, I stopped wearing makeup. What was the point when the only people who would see me were my husband, my kids and a bunch of strangers in a campground? A few months later, I decided to chop off my long, curly hair; I was going to save so much time and money. I told everyone it was “just hair” and I had better things to invest myself in.
And then we stopped traveling and eased back into normal life.
I went shopping with my beautiful friend Courtney and was struck by how lost I felt standing next to her in the mall. It wasn’t so much that I felt unattractive as I felt muddled and unsure of myself. I cringed every time we passed a mirror. I was featureless and shapeless with no makeup or accessories. I missed my beautiful hair.
I tried not to think about it.
I told myself that vanity was a sign of screwed-up priorities.
The truth was more complicated. I missed using fashion as a form of self-expression. I missed the beauty I would create and then get to enjoy in the mirror. I missed feeling beautiful.
It’s not that I spent my days feeling ugly or unattractive. Mostly, I just didn’t think about how I looked. But when I did, I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions about how I should feel and how I did feel. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to throw myself back into creating a beautiful exterior, but I also felt like I’d lost something in my obsession with practicality, utility, and sparseness.
I decided to spend some time being honest with myself. What did I want? What was I really feeling and thinking – and what was I telling myself I should be feeling?
I had to admit that I wanted to play dress up once in a while. I wanted to feel beautiful without makeup, but I also wanted to remember how to use makeup to enhance my natural features.
I wasn’t entirely sure where to start. It had been so long and I had gotten so far away from my comfort zone, I felt like a complete style newbie. I turned to the Internet for advice and paid for a professional color analysis. I began restocking my closet with items that were in my palette and was delighted when my husband and kids started to notice.
“That looks good on you; that must be in your palette!” my husband says.
Now, I buy something new for myself about once a month, but it’s almost always from a thrift store – and in my personal color palette. My shoe collection is growing, but manageable. I do wear makeup for most occasions, but I’m also not afraid to run to the store or have coffee with a friend completely product free.
Living without a focus on external beauty helped me to break the connection between image and self worth. My weight doesn’t impact my mood and the clarity of my skin is not a measure of my value as a person. I am grateful for this separation of soul and surface.
But I’m also grateful for my beautiful curls and my sparkling blue eyes. I’m grateful for purples, blues, and pinks that make my skin radiant, and I’m thrilled for what the right shoe can do for my butt.
After spending some time at both extremes, I feel like I’ve finally settled at a comfortable middle place where I can embrace both my inner and outer beauty. And I’m no longer afraid to feel pretty.
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