Posts Categorized: psychology

A Pale Girl’s Confession

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So I’ve written about being a pale girl before. And as we head into true summer and the Minnesota air heats up, I watch as the people around me become tanner and tanner while my own skin stays nearly as colorless as it was all winter long. But I will now, finally, confess to you all something that I find both hilarious and shameful:

LAST spring – sometime around May – I began to notice something in my outfit photos. Despite the fact that I slather on the SPF 30 every single day, my face, neck, and arms were looking decidedly browner than my legs. It’s the legs that gets us pale white girls in the end. After six months encased in tights and pants, they absolutely glow in the warming summer sunshine. And I experimented briefly with using a lighter powder on my face to balance out the color difference, but it was no use. So, eventually – right after I’d received a few choice comments from people in my life and read a few beauty blog reviews – I invested in one of those slow-build, moisturizing self-tanner concoctions and began slathering it on my legs. And for a while? It looked decent. Not too orange, and not terribly dark. Seemed to be doing exactly what I wanted: Darkening my legs a little and making me seem like I was one, uniform color all over. Albeit a very light one.

But then? Then, friends, my body realized what was going on. And, as my body is wont to do, it rebelled. I noticed that I had a VERY dark blob/streak along the back of my right calf. The one on my left calf wasn’t quite as pronounced, but it threatened to get worse with further application. Believe me when I say that – in the three week period during which I undertook this experiment – I applied that gunk thinly and evenly over my legs. This was not user error. This was some bizarre self-tanner buildup being caused by my leg cells sloughing off at different rates. This was my skin saying, “Listen, lady. You’re pale. Why on earth are you trying to fake your way into non-paleness?”

I scrubbed and soaked and did everything I could think of to get rid of those blob-streaks, but they stuck around for the remainder of the summer. And that? That spooked me. I had jumped into this little project without giving it much thought at all. I mean really, I did zero research, paid no heed to the fabulous hypocrisy of it all, and failed to consider what would happen if something went wrong. I had willingly embedded molecules of dye into my own legs, and now they were hanging on for their little dye lives. What kind of long-term effects could this have? Would they turn infectious or carcinogenic over time? (Yes, I’m an awfulizer. There is no real evidence these products are harmful.) Would I have blob-streaks on my calves until I was 50?

Luckily, they’ve faded. I can still see their judgy little shadows, but they’re getting paler as time wears on. And I’m (kinda) grateful to them for sticking around in this slightly less obvious form. Because they remind me of my folly. These lotions work flawlessly for many women and are, in fact, a safer alternative to light/sun tanning of any sort and a cheaper alternative to spray tans. I don’t disdain them universally because every woman is different and every woman’s appearance-related priorities are different. For some, products like this mean they can ditch the nylons, feel less self-conscious at the beach, and feel confident about an aspect of appearance that previously caused discomfort or anxiety. All totally valid. The reason I feel this was an important lesson for me, personally, is that I realized in retrospect I’d done exactly what I rail against: I caved to peer pressure, bought something that cosmetic companies were telling me to buy, and never considered why I was doing so. I never asked myself how important this was to me or when my priorities had shifted. I never considered what the long-term impact might be or if opinions other than my own were doing the decision-making. I ran off half-cocked. And I’m thankful that my quirky little body put on the brakes for me.

Who else has played with self-tanners? What do you think of them as a concept? Do you love them for giving you some color without fear of health hazards, or feel like they feed into the pressure for pale-skinned women to be tan all summer long? Have you found yourself purchasing and using beauty products without thinking, only to find yourself questioning your own motives afterward?

Images courtesy

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Shopping Stigmas

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I went to two proms: My own, and my older boyfriend’s. My mom made both of my prom dresses. (See dress number one here.) And despite the fact that I’d spent all of middle and high school acutely aware that the popular kids in my schools were also the rich kids, I honestly didn’t give my homemade prom dresses a second thought. I could’ve cared less that I never got to shop for off-the-rack dresses for these events. I got to pick out the materials and colors I wanted, select the styles and patterns, and get custom-fit dresses to wear. It was ideal! And yet I know that wearing clothes that are mom-created or hand-sewn can cause massive embarrassment for certain kids under certain circumstances.

I’ve been thrifting since I was in middle school, too. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in an affluent suburb, I never got any flak for wearing secondhand duds. If anyone cared, they never had the guts to tell me to my face. And yet I know that wearing thrifted clothing has caused many a young person to get teased by insensitive and unthinking peers.

Many of my younger style consult clients balk a little when I suggest shopping at Talbots, Coldwater Creek, or Soft Surroundings. It’s relatively easy to bring them around when I show them which items I’m thinking of and how I envision them styled, but there’s no denying that younger women hesitate to shop at the same stores as their mothers and grandmothers. There is definite cachet in spending at J.Crew instead of J.Jill.

Over time, I’ve also come to understand that there are shopping stigmas associated with many of the purchasing and fashion-related decisions we make. Although thrifting has hipster cred and artisan goods are sometimes considered luxury items, in certain cases and certain places homemade and thrifted items are associated with lack of money. When a 50-year-old woman shops at H&M she may get the same sidelong glances from the clientele as an 18-year-old at Chico’s. And then there are the size biases. Loads of mall stores make and sell plus-sized garments, but many of them choose to sell those garments online only. Virtually all high-end designers produce their garments in sizes that reach no higher than a US 10 or 12. And while there are myriad excuses related to cost of materials, limited floor space, and whatnot it seems clear that many clothing manufacturers just don’t want fat people buying or wearing their clothes. Or if they do, they want those transactions to take place well away from a busy shopping mall.

I believe that good stuff is everywhere, and the more places you look the more likely you are to find that good stuff. But I also know that plenty of women have more vocal and judgmental peer groups than I do, and that some social climates make broad searches challenging. And further that some women are limited in what they can and cannot buy due to vendor choices that are entirely outside their own control. In a market that claims to be driven by profit, you’d think that all shopper money would be welcomed. But fashion is decidedly social, and its social aspects seep through into our seeking and purchasing behaviors.

Have you encountered shopping stigmas yourself? Which ones? What were the circumstances? Even beyond economic status, size, and age, has anyone gotten pushback for shopping at certain stores because of ethnicity? Sexual orientation? Ability? Other factors? Share your stories in the comments.

Image courtesy Dolly Clackett, who makes MANY of her own gorgeous dresses and probably would laugh in the face of anyone who dared to give her guff for it.

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Reader Request: Insecurity, Jealousy, and Closeness


Reader K e-mailed me with this question:

I’ve always dealt with insecurity issues and some of them go beyond body image into the range of general personality, so I understand that some of this is probably beyond the scope of what you’d write about for the blog. My brother-in-law has a somewhat-long-term girlfriend that makes me feel incredibly intimidated and insecure, but it’s not intentional on her part and the problem lies entirely with me. The fact that it’s my problem and is something I logically know I shouldn’t feel insecure over adds to me feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself, on top of feeling crappy and inadequate as a person. At the start of this year, I decided to work on feeling good about myself so that I can feel better as I go about my life and hopefully have a good relationship with whoever my BIL may marry on down the line. This has manifested itself in a few different ways and directions, one of which is the style angle (and thus, your blog).

My question is this: what does a person do when a source of insecurity/body issues comes from someone closer than celebrities, models, or even people you went to school with? On those occasions where all the positive thinking in the world doesn’t seem to help? Most of the time I’m good, but I still have moments where I feel horrible and can’t seem to shake myself out of it easily. In those moments, thinking positive thoughts about myself doesn’t work, trying to put myself in her shoes (maybe she’s insecure or intimidated by me in some fashion) doesn’t work, wearing a fabulous outfit doesn’t work, and genuine, unsolicited encouragement/compliments from others doesn’t work. Is it one of those cases where it boils down to just trying to keep on keeping on?

A secondary question/observation is that admitting to feeling insecure/jealous of someone else in any way seems to be very frowned-upon. While searching the internet for answers I’ve read different forum posts on this topic, from women feeling insecure of an in-law (usually mother or sister) or sometimes a sister or female cousin. Every time, there would be at least a handful of responses along the lines of: “You’re just jealous and childish and a bad person for feeling that way.” Even if there was no malicious intent stated and the original poster openly acknowledged that they knew feeling insecure/jealous is not a good thing and they wanted to work to fix it. Can there be any meaningful dialogue where these feelings are acknowledged as a legitimate issue for some people, without condoning/endorsing them as a good thing -or- shaming them into being too afraid of judgement to ask for advice to get past it and be happy and confident?

K is dealing with a tough situation. So many fraught emotions, so much stress, and no clear or easy path. I certainly don’t feel like I have a solid, foolproof answer, but here’s what I told her:

Try to remember that if you feel something, it is valid. Just the fact that you’re feeling it makes it so. People get jealous, insecure, and intimidated all the time! ALL THE TIME, I say! It’s completely natural! To shame people for feeling those things doesn’t make them any easier to cope with, and is often just a way for certain advice-givers to make themselves feel superior. I feel jealous myself, and although I try to identify the root of the emotion (which is often related to my own fears and insecurities), I don’t beat myself up for it. Try to give yourself some space and forgiveness around these feelings because loading shame on top of everything else is just going to make it all feel insurmountable.

The idea that has helped me the most when dealing with jealousy and insecurity is this: Often, feeling envious of someone stems from perceiving them to have something you wish you had yourself, or feel they don’t deserve. The fundamental flaw in this logic is that it rests upon the misconception that there is a limited amount of happiness and success in the world. (Or charisma, sex appeal, talent, beauty … any covetable trait.) Without realizing it, we decide that the person in question has it, and that makes it less likely or more difficult for us to get it ourselves. It’s not something most people actively ponder, but it’s at the root of a LOT of jealousy and insecurity. And once you see that and start to move past it, those feelings often loosen. You are an autonomous individual, and your own happiness and success is not contingent upon the actions of anyone but yourself. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also liberating.

I also asked K to consider examining what it is, specifically, about this woman that makes her feel insecure. Does she have something you don’t? Is it something you want? Is it something that has been hard for you to get? Why? Has this always been the case? What can you do to take control of that part of your life? Alternately, does this woman remind you of some other person or relationship from your past? Is it possible that it’s not her so much as what she reminds you of?

Another tactic to consider: My mom once told me that there will be some people in your life who are just “difficult personalities.” And labeling them as such – internally, of course – can be really helpful. It may sound small-minded, but here’s why it’s potentially helpful: You interact with someone, you feel insecure, then you feel cruddy for feeling insecure, then you feel confused, and maybe hopeless. If you enter into your interactions with this person knowing ahead of time that she’s a “difficult personality,” you won’t beat yourself up if your emotions spin out of control. You can just say, “Oh yeah, she’s hard for me to handle. And that’s OK.” You don’t have to change yourself or her, just change how you view the situation and give both of you room to be yourselves.

Finally, if you feel there’s real friction on both sides, you could consider trying to broach the subject with the person causing these difficult feelings. She may be a permanent fixture in your life, so it would help to clear the air. If that’s not gonna happen, you could also consider talking about or even cultivating mutual interests. Do you both like shopping? Love a certain band or author? Or would you consider asking her to join you at an event or for a class? Having something specific in common might make some of the other stuff fall away. You can focus on the places you two overlap, and less on the places where you diverge.

Have any of you ever dealt with a close person causing insecurity and jealousy? How did you deal with it? Would any of these suggestions have worked? Do you feel like there’s a lot of judgment laid upon people who confess to feeling jealous?

Image courtesy Elis W. Alves.

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