On Mixed Messages About Style and Body Image


Although this post focuses on correspondence between myself and Nichole, she raises questions that I’ve gotten many, many times over the years both in comments on this blog and in a handful of e-mails. I do my best to tackle them in real time, but felt it would be appropriate to highlight them today, too. Here’s what Nichole asked:

So, your blog focuses on body issues a lot. We all know that it’s nice to love our bodies, yadda, yadda. I’m writing this because I notice that on your site, a lot of the body image stuff is about fixing flaws. I was just wondering how you do that. For me, it seems like someone who promotes body image when confronted with someone who needed help on dressing a certain body type or a certain flaw, would just say, “Dress in what makes you happy and comfortable,” and end it at that.

How do you justify being an advocate for body image and simultaneously helping people cover their “imperfections”? Even if someone is asking, I feel like there has to be a point when you just say, “There’s nothing wrong with your body.” Couldn’t people possibly see that and find a “flaw” in themselves that they didn’t even see before?

I used to utilize so much energy hating my body that I exhausted myself into depression. For years I tried to change my body with diets and exercise, believing that its shape and size were the root of the problem, but I just kept on hating it. When I began exploring fashion and style — dressing in fun, flattering and form-fitting clothes — an unexplored universe opened up to me. For the first time, I respected my body. I realized that there was nothing wrong with my body. I saw my body as integral to my identity. I wanted to show it off, decorate it joyously and hone my personal style so that I could understand it on new levels. Shortly after those realizations clicked into place, I launched my blog. Discovering that connection between looking good and feeling good, as it relates to style, is what inspired me to create Already Pretty. Because when I started to dress in a way that made me look amazing and feel amazing, I finally stopped actively, continually, exhaustively hating my body. And I immediately wanted to show other women how to make that connection so they could stop hating theirs.

I write about the intersection of style and body image, and I get a lot of questions about how I can call myself a body image advocate and still dish out advice on how to flatter the female form in traditional, socially sanctioned ways. I understand that many people perceive a disconnect, but there are several reasons I think it’s important to discuss style in this way.

The reader-submitted questions I receive most frequently are about traditional figure flattery topics, and I address them along with all the others. My guess is that just about every style writer, stylist and style expert is plied with such questions almost constantly. Unlike many other style writers, however, I am very careful about how I address these questions. I emphasize choice and encourage people to think about why these specific figure flattery priorities are viewed as important. I never talk about figure “flaws” because I don’t believe that bodies are flawed and loathe that judgmental term. When I offer traditional figure flattery advice it is never couched in terms of fixing things or hiding imperfections, and relatively few of my readers frame their requests in those terms. The dialogue is about choosing what you love about your figure and want to highlight, and also about understanding the challenges you face and the aspects you’d rather downplay. I am yet to meet a woman who loves absolutely everything about her body, top to tail and dresses without giving a single thought to what will be showcased most prominently. And while I completely agree with the sentiment behind “dress in what makes you feel happy and comfortable” — a message I promote myself, and often — I think that the morass of style rules, body negativity and mixed messages that women receive about style and their figures leaves many of them feeling confused about which clothes COULD make them feel happy and comfortable. Hence their questions.

I’ve been writing about this stuff for six years and working one-on-one with style consult clients for five, and I’ll tell you something: Even women who hire me specifically because they love my body-positive stance want my advice about regular old figure flattery. When I work with them, I lean hard on acceptance and ask lots of questions because I want them to understand where those urges to look tall and thin are coming from. But I also give them what they want because I know that feeling good about how you look often begins with conforming to traditional standards of style before branching off into individuality. You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them. And I know for a fact that what I say to them about questioning their choices, accepting themselves as fully as possible and not worrying so much about what the fashion rags say has an impact. Because they follow up to tell me so.

I would imagine that some of my figure flattery posts cause people to view certain figure aspects as “flaws” that weren’t previously worrisome. But those messages come at us from all sides at all times. I never thought my knees were droopy until a friend mentioned hers in passing, never worried about my unsightly underarms until Dove told me to. I don’t think that ceasing to answer honest questions from my readers about their style and body image concerns will protect women from adding to their personal lists of flaws. Neither will responding to, “How do I dress around my broad shoulders?” with, “Wear whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.” I certainly don’t want to generate new insecurities, but I don’t believe that I am doing that for the majority of my readers. More often, I hear from women who say, “I’ve been struggling with this same issue myself, and am so glad to know I’m not alone.”

I think each individual woman is capable of gathering information, evaluating it and deciding for herself how she wants to present her figure and body and self to the world. I understand that many people view my writings about figure flattery as hypocritical, and I’m just fine with that. I don’t think that “There’s nothing wrong with your body” is sufficient or helpful to the vast majority of women who are both interested in style and struggling with body image. Although some may hear that rallying cry and feel empowered to shirk the rules and truly wear absolutely anything that makes them feel fabulous, others may feel like it’s the equivalent of being told, “Just get over yourself and stop whining.” The former group probably doesn’t want my help or input on style or body image in the first place. The latter group, however, is looking for a space to explore style that includes some structure and advice, but remains free of judgment.

These women are learning about themselves through clothing — just as I did — and their questions are valid. They crave something more concrete and actionable than, “Wear whatever you want whenever you want.” I’d rather give them ways to make their waists look smaller presented kindly and with some reminders about socially reinforced beauty standards than have them running to Stacy London or Tim Gunn. (Who, try as they might, always seem to give people the impression that there is one right way to look good). No blogger is going to cure women of their body image issues and hang-ups or have perfect answers to every possible style question. But my hope is to encourage the women who read my writing to begin thinking and talking, give them some new tools to use, offer some supportive language about self-acceptance and provide a place to discuss it all.

Some people who read my writing will never see this, or agree to it. I understand and respect that because I know there are many ways to view the world and parse information. Just as some people will always maintain that if you shave your legs or wear lipstick you absolutely cannot be a feminist, some people will say that if you wear high heels to elongate your legs you absolutely cannot be a body image advocate. Those are opinions, so there is no true right or wrong to be had. I’m a pretty black and white thinker myself, but this is one realm in which I’m happy to live in the gray. Because there seem to be an awful lot of women who are looking for a middle ground between “dress skinny” and “fuck flattering,” and I want to create a safe haven for those women to explore their questions.

Other relevant posts:

A version of this post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

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  • Rita L

    Right on, Sally! Your comments are always kind, considerate, and greatly appreciated. If the “just wear what makes you feel good” advice was right, we’d all inherently know what to wear and wouldn’t have to ask you! Keep up the good work. I just recently turned 69 and am dealing with age-appropriateness issues as well as dressing my short, pudgy body and I always find your advice helpful.

    • I’m so glad to hear this, Rita, and thanks for your kind words!

  • It is amazing that a simple outfit can make or break our day! I’ve dealt with body image issues since I was 13 when I was taller, curvier, and had bigger boobs than ALL the girls in my junior high. It was like no one knew what to do with me. I read teen vogue and teen magazine and didn’t fit into ANY of those outfits. And throughout my life I’ve had body image bumps in the road where I feel really good about my body one minute and the next I’m down in the dumps. It was a vicious cycle and it was rooted in being judged and bullied by kids and then turning it around on myself when I became an adult.

    Here’s what I learned, and you will have to tell me if you agree – every woman I have ever met has the same issues. I was in business with my cousin, a former bikini model for Reef and Hurley and after the birth of her daughter couldn’t go to the beach. But, she looked the same to me as when she had next to nothing on when modeling. But they were her issues! My clients are told to bring 3 of their favorite outfits to my studio. They bring 7 – 10, not because they love all of them, but because they don’t know which ones make them look the skinniest. (one client brought her whole wardrobe….)

    So, to say the least I hear ya sister! I’m a big girl now, have fought my weight demons for almost 14 years and still fighting but am loving my body a little more each day, judging myself less, and making self-deprecating jokes less (for the sake of my daughter really).

    • Rock on, Justiss. And although I don’t think that every woman has the exact same hang-ups, there is definitely a LOT of overlap. And most of us struggle no matter who we are or what we look like. So glad you’re making progress on your own body image journey.

  • Brianna

    Sally, I can honestly say that your site has changed the way I think about myself and my body. I’ve been reading for almost a year, and your insights, web links, and perspective have opened up a new world for me. I have greatly appreciated being linked in to a community of women who find it important to discuss why we all want to look a certain way, or why we feel inadequate, not just how many squats we need to do to achieve happiness. I struggled with body image for my entire life, and you’ve helped me accept myself and enjoy fashion again. Thanks!

    • Oh Brianna, I’m so honored to hear this! Truly.

  • Marsha

    What clothes make me feel good? Ones that I believe look good on me, are appropriate for the situation, and suit my age and size. I’m not particularly looking for ways to look taller and thinner. If I wanted to look taller, I could wear heels, but they kill my feet, so I’m a flats girl all the way. If I wanted to look thinner, I could wear all-body Spanx, but I have this bad habit called breathing that I’d like to continue. The thing is, I haven’t read a post on this blog that advocates either sky-high heels or girdles. This kind of advice is prevalent on some other style blogs.

    I enjoy reading this blog because the message is to accept your body as it is, but it’s fine to try to improve it or to dress it in a flattering manner. I personally don’t see the conflict between these two viewpoints. The more I love my body, the more I want to treat it nicely. This may include making some modifications in diet, exercise, wardrobe, makeup, etc. I don’t watch what I eat or exercise because I hate my body; I do it because I treasure it and want it to last as long as possible.

    • I love this, Marsha, and find it to be true for many women. Self-care and self-love can create a cycle that makes you want to find more ways to treat yourself with respect and love.

  • Your last sentence is perfection. There are a kazillion blogs out there, you provide a resource to those who are, “looking for a middle ground between “dress skinny” and “fuck flattering,” ” Love it, and love you.

    • Thank you, my friend. The feeling is VERY mutual. 😉

  • Brigitte

    I think it’s a complex issue, and the fact that you deal effectively with that complexity is what brings me back to your site every day. I do love myself, and I do lovely body- I truly don’t hate myself. I wish I was thinner for esthetic and for health reasons, but this body is the body I have now and dressing it well makes me appreciate it now instead of in some remote possible future when I or society seems me skinny enough to have value.
    What you say is so true: learning to dress in a way that flatters the body you have now is what typically leads to loving that body, and to then feeling good in that body even when wearing less flattering clothes just because they make you happy. There’s a big difference between wearing unflattering clothes because you don’t care about figure flattery a d just want to wear what makes you happy, and wearing unflattering clothes because you want to hide your body and are ashamed of your figure and just want to not be noticed. In one scenario, the wearer is happy, in the other, the wearer is ashamed: big difference.

    • So well said, Brigitte. And thank you for your kind words.

  • Mel

    others may feel like it’s the equivalent of being told, “Just get over yourself and stop whining.”
    Exactly. And who wants to be told that!

    I LOVE your blog! It’s the first one I read every morning. Not so much for the style advice as for the interesting concepts, like this one. I like the philosophical discussions here. Many of which can be applied to other areas of life. Your blog post topics have so often made a great lunch time topic at work.

    The thing I’ve appreciated the most about your blog discussions is discovering that I’m not alone in things, i.e., why I thought I was the only hairy woman in the world, I don’t know. But I did. Talk about irrational. And then I read all the comments and realized oh, lots of people struggle with this. I don’t need to feel so freakazoid about it.

    You take topics and just throw them out on the table. Good for you!

    • I’m tickled to hear some blog posts here have ended up as lunch table topics, Mel! And isn’t it amazing how powerful it can be to hear you’re not alone in feeling or experiencing something? I think that’s what makes blogs so popular. They give us a space to reach through the Internet and say, “Me too. I understand.”

  • JJ

    I agree with you, Sal. Answering women who ask you style questions with a “Wear whatever you want/makes you happy” seems to me to be very dismissive. I enjoy your approach of offering figure flattery advice, if asked for, but also encouraging women to ask themselves if such figure flattery really is a priority as they express themselves through style.

    • Thank you, JJ. I’m so glad to hear that you feel I’m striking a good balance.

  • Thanks for taking the time to actually feature a post around my question, Sal. Not many other bloggers would consider doing that for a reader.

    • Of course! Thank you for asking a tough but important question, Nichole.

  • CJ

    Brilliant – just, brilliant. Sharing 🙂

    • Ahh, thank you, CJ!

  • Amy

    Very thoughtful! When it comes to style and food blogs, I am very careful about what I read and have cultivated a fairly short list of sites that I check faithfully – this is definitely one of them! Your posts/advice give me something to actually work with when it comes to style versus just feeling overwhelmed. You make an often very unwieldy topic something more manageable and realistic. I’ve never walked away from one of your posts thinking, “Note to self: never try wearing THAT again!” I always feel more open to trying things that I thought were off-limits because of my size, shape, or income.

    On the flip side, there are times when I have to take a little break from even the most body-positive reading. It’s existence alone can be a reminder of how much more is out there pushing on us to hate our bodies. A weird dynamic, but sometimes we just need a break from it all and that’s ok too.

    • So glad to hear it, Amy. And I totally hear you on the weightiness of body-positive rhetoric. It’s so important, but taking a break and coming back can be incredibly helpful.

  • Lynn

    I agree with everyone who has posted. I don’t hate my body, but I do want to look nice and keeping up with the changes that health issues and aging have brought makes that more difficult. I look to your blog for creative ways to be both comfortable and attractive. and you’ve certainly got me thinking more about color! I agree with Mel that it’s also reassuring to see that other women struggle with some of the issues I have like lots of hair (I don’t know anyone else who has to shave her legs every day). Your blog is a safe place to discuss body image and style and a very welcome addition to my day!

    • Thank you so much for saying so, Lynn! I definitely want this space to feel safe and welcoming.

  • Wendi

    I agree that you strike a good balance, Sally! Your outfit photos always inspire me to be more creative and have fun with fashion, as well as to think of myself as “already pretty”. I’m on a weight loss journey, and have a bit more to lose, but I am happy that I have found I don’t have to wait until I reach my goal weight to enjoy dressing myself and be happy with my appearance. 🙂 My husband also notices and appreciates the “new me”. When I try on clothes that don’t look the way I want, instead of blaming my body for not looking good in the clothes, I shrug and say, “These clothes just don’t get my body.” 🙂

    • I LOVE that, Wendi! And since those clothes just don’t get your body, they don’t get the honor of adorning it either!

      • Wendi

        I got that phrase from another blog; I can’t remember which one! But it really stuck with me. A few years ago, I went to try on clothes, they didn’t look/fit right, and I gave up. I thought I couldn’t look pretty in anything, so I just stuck with yoga pants, t-shirts, and the couple of dresses I had. For a loooonng time. Now I’ve changed my thinking. If I try on a dress that doesn’t look good to me, or just doesn’t fit my body shape, I say, “This dress doesn’t get me.” And I keep looking, because I know I’ll find one that does! 🙂 Now I have a closet full of clothes that “get me”, and I love getting dressed.

        • So perfect. I tend to say, “It’s not me, it’s the clothes.” But I like “these clothes don’t get me” SO much better!

  • anotherjen

    I wish that there were more illustrations of people taking some risks, and by this I mean flouting norms. It would be nice to see Sal and some of the other contributors showing some body hair, looking kind of butch, looking less-that-put together, showing more of their process. I’d like more boundaries pushed, because if this is a safe place then let’s use it.

    • Shaye

      There are lots of bloggers who do that! But no particular blogger is obligated to dress in clothes that don’t express their own sense of style, just to take risks or flout norms. Why would we want fakery from people who prefer the feminine side of the spectrum when there are people blogging those outfits you talk about every day? If you want to find them on Already Pretty, well, Sal posts links to outfits that play with non-“traditional” styles or proportions on a pretty regular basis. Or, you, know, there is a whole wide Internet out there to explore…

      • Thanks, Shaye. Since I have a personal aesthetic and enjoy it, I will continue to explore that in ways that feel good to me and, as you’ve pointed out, I link to dozens upon dozens of women who have styles and body shapes very different from my own every week in the Friday links.

        And anotherjen, I appreciate your input, but here’s the thing: I need to pick the boundaries I’m going to push when it comes to my own style. Just as Shaye says, I can point you to other blogs that take the risks you’ve mentioned or push other boundaries, but if I were to undertake those things myself it wouldn’t be genuine.

        This older post talks about process: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2010/09/reader-request-evolution-of-outfit.html I haven’t done another but perhaps I can revisit. You can also see my evolution here and here:http://www.alreadypretty.com/2010/07/reader-request-before.html http://www.alreadypretty.com/2011/07/style-evolves.html

        • anotherjen

          I’m not at all sure why I’ve been accused of asking people to “fake” anything, I just gave examples of boundaries that I’d like to see pushed here (yes they are pushed or disregarded elsewhere, but we are talking about here). Obviously my idea isn’t popular, which is fine, push whatever boundaries you think are “authentic” to you. But the defensive “look somewhere else” reaction should be reflected upon. It doesn’t feel very welcoming, or like you are creating openness and safety.

          • You’re not being accused of anything. You suggested that I and my contributors dress in ways you’d be interested in seeing, and I explained why that’s unlikely to happen, at least for me. I offered to point you to other blogs that might fulfill your request because I want you to get what you’re looking for even if it cannot be from me.

            Oh, I totally forgot: If you’d like to see my body hair, just look closely at any photo showing my ankles. I only shave once a week. 😉

          • Shaye

            What took me aback about your post is that it genuinely sounded to me like you were telling people how to dress, because you’d like to see certain boundaries pushed by specific people. If that wasn’t your intent, I apologize for misinterpreting you!

            I didn’t mean to “accuse” you of anything. I used the term “fakery” because that’s what it would feel like to me if any blogger dressed in ways that they wouldn’t normally choose to because they thought that’s what their readers wanted.

  • Monica H

    ” I think that the morass of style rules, body negativity and mixed messages that women receive about style and their figures leaves many of them feeling confused about which clothes COULD make them feel happy and comfortable. Hence their questions.”

    For me, this hits the nail on the head. Before I started reading your blog I had pretty much abandoned any idea of even having any kind of style. Why? Because the process of even shopping for anything made me miserable and uncomfortable. Nothing looked right, nothing fit, I didn’t like any of it. I gave up going for happy and comfortable and settled for almost fitting and easy. Even though I wasn’t happy with this result, I told myself this was as much as I could hope for given my ‘wierd’ body. The idea of fashoin as self-expression of any kind was utterly beyond me.

    For me, I wouldn’t say that I “had to know the rules before I could break them.” A better analogy for my journey here would be that I had to learn the words before I could hope to express myself in any way. I’m still learning a lot of those basic things that seem to come naturally to some other women, and I’m grateful that you’re here to teach those things.

    One of the hardest things for me to accept is that I’m not a one-dimensional being that’s easy to understand. I’m an engineer so I’m always trying to analyze everything and break it down into understandable chunks. It’s taken me a long time to understand that there are many things about me and about what I want that, on the face of it, seem contradictory. How can I say that I want to love and accept my body just like it is, and also that I want to wear clothes that make it look like I have a smaller waist? I sometimes feel like I have to pick one or the other. This starts little wars with myself in my head, and too often, accepting myself is the aspect that loses. It is extraordinarily helpful and healing to me to realize that, in fact, these two things can exist together. In fact, accepting myself means accepting all of myself, including the parts that seem not to fit with some other parts. i really appreciate that Sally acknowledges that all of these things may be important, and that’s OK. They coexist here in a way that they don’t generally anywhere else, and that helps me accept that they both exist within me as well.

    • I can completely relate, Monica H. It seems like we’re taught that any conflicting desires are signs of weakness or despicable hypocrisy, when, in fact, our lives and worlds are filled with contradictions that can coexist. I’m so glad to hear that this blog has provided some needed acknowledgment and that it has helped you on your own journey.

  • I was quite moved reading this. I think you are extremely good body image writer, and have struck a great balance by focusing on that “middle ground”. I appreciate the care that you take when addressing body type questions. You can’t possibly please everyone with what you write, which as a long time blogger is worth remembering.

    • Thank you, my dear.

  • AlsoTracy

    This is my very favorite post from your blog!! I very much agree and appreciate this balanced point of view. Just because you want to show the world the best version of yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t like yourself. I think that in many cases it shows that you care about yourself.

    I believe that one’s appearance is one way that you tell other people who you are. A few years ago, I returned to school for a career change in my mid-40s. One of my (30-something) friends at school commented to me, “You always dress up.” When I reminded her that I wore (nice) jeans to school about 90% of the time and asked how that is dressed up, she said, “Well, not dressed up, ‘pulled together’. You always look pulled together.” That made me really happy because giving people the idea that I am competent and pulled together (even wearing jeans) *is* an impression that I want to give others about who I am especially in an educational or professional setting.

    • Thank you, AlsoTracy, and I definitely agree: I’m often the most dressed-up person everywhere I go, but I’ve learned to roll with it because – at this point in my life – feeling pulled-together is more important to me than blending in. And that’s definitely something that has come with age and experience!

  • Annabeth

    For me, it was a huge, huge thing when I stopped dressing to “hide problem areas” or “minimize” X or Y and began dressing to show off what I liked about my body, to accept and flatter and feel good about it. Figure flattery works both ways, IMO. And while I think we must remain conscious of how arbitrary and artificial the standards of our society are, few of us are completely free from the desire to adapt to it in some way — and none of us can ever be wholly free from the assumptions others will make based on our appearance. Rather than let that enslave us, I think we have to take control of it and push back.

    • Well said, Annabeth! And it’s fascinating to have in-person conversations with women about figure flattery because SO MANY of them have always focused on hiding and minimizing. When you say, “What about your figure do you want to show off and celebrate?” many of them draw a blank. Because they’ve literally never contemplated that question. I want to change that!

  • Anne

    I have been following your blog for about three years and I love it! When I started reading it, I hated my body. I felt old and dumpy. But as I began to incorporate your advice, something wonderful happened. I started to love my body. I learned how to look better and I began to feel better!

    I knew I had made it two weeks ago when I tried on two ill-fitting pairs of pants and left the store saying to myself, “It’s not you. It’s the clothes!” Talk about women’s liberation! Thank you, Sally.

    • Oh, Anne, I’m honored to hear this! Thank you for letting me know.

  • Becky

    I read your blog every day. The thing I take away from it the most is that I, too, can develop *style skills* that will help me express myself with clothing and style however I want to. For me, body positivity is one thing your blog deals with, and another is how to play with proportion, distraction, line, etc., to enhance our body’s appearance however we choose. One is about the “why” and the other, “how.”

    One of the things Iearned indirectly from your blog is that in order to decorate my body satisfyingly, I have to *know* my body. And that’s where body positivity comes in. There’s a world of emotional difference between dressing to flatter, and dressing to hide. In the same way I can get to know someone better if I approach them with positive regard, I can get to know my body better approaching it with charity than with unkindness.

    Knowing that I’m short-waisted and short-legged, thus, isn’t a negative awareness, anymore than knowing that my best friend is extremely literal is negative. His literalness is part of his charm; short-waistedness is part of my body’s charm. I don’t use a lot of metaphors when talking to him, and I don’t dress my body in a lot of high-waisted pants. These aren’t negative judgements, they’re actions based in love.

    • So eloquently stated, Becky! And gets right to the heart of it: If you approach the task of dressing with knowledge rooted in acceptance and love, it becomes a very different experience.

  • Maggie

    I love all the thoughtful comments above! I also love that you always frame things as “your figure flattery priorities” or whatever that phrase is, which offers each woman room to say what she wants to highlight about her form; you are explicitly and consistently noting that “flattering” is not equivalent to a singular view (like Stacy and Clinton or Tim) but is what we each decide it to be, by occasion, by phase of life, by whatever criteria we care about!

    • Thanks, Maggie, and I’m ALWAYS happy to hear that my decision to always put each woman in control of her priorities is coming through loud and clear!

  • Veronica Combs

    You are awesome and your blog has challenged me and led me to so many new great fashion sites. I think you strike just the right balance of body positive and fashion conscious.
    This is my favorite line. We all need to keep repeating it over and over until it sinks into everyone’s brain and becomes reality in all aspects of life:

    “I think each individual woman is capable of gathering information, evaluating it and deciding for herself how she wants to present her figure and body and self to the world.”

    • Huge thanks, Veronica. And I completely agree: Advice that strips us of our power of choice isn’t really advice. It’s just another form of control.

  • Kara

    While I can see how these issues might seem like mixed messages, I agree with your stance. I’m currently over my ideal weight (i.e., what I weighed in college), but not (medically speaking) overweight. I’ve managed to lose 8 pounds in the last few months, which helps some, but I have a tendency to feel that I can just wait on anything – new clothes, improving my look, etc. – until I lose the other 15 pounds. Reading your blog has helped me see that that’s nuts (especially since I’ve been not-really-trying to lose those other 15 pounds for years). No matter what my weight, or shape, or size, I can look good now! (Or, well, I’m working on it. Somehow I never learned to accessorize properly.)

    • Absolutely, Kara – and something many of us struggle with. Dressing for your today-body can be a celebration, and embracing that can ease some of that weight-related anxiety.

  • Shaye

    Figuring out how to dress the parts of me I liked led me to accepting and loving the parts of me I didn’t. Would I have worn a basically skin-tight outfit today if I hadn’t done that work? Clothes that showed off every little curve, from the top that did nothing to hide the bulges below my bra band to the pants that seriously hugged my ample thighs, booty and calves? Would I have thought that I looked seriously awesome and did a little dance in the mirror when I put this outfit on? Would I have dared put on this skin tight outfit even though the inaccurate gods of BMI think I’m medically obese?

    No. No, I would not.

    Thank you for writing this, Sal, and specific thanks for drawing the connection between questions like this and the bizarre idea that you can’t perform and appreciate traditional femininity and still be a feminist.

    As I told someone recently, even if feminism DID require that I put on a paper sack and shun anyone who dared expect a traditional feminine quality from me, I would still be a feminist because the things feminism has done for women – like the basic right to be a citizen and not someone else’s dependent – are more important than the right to enjoy having pretty hair. But since feminism DOESN’T actually require any of the things that everyone from MRA’s to misguided coeds seem to think it does, why are we even having this conversation? Just like feminism, body acceptance is about having the right to choose for yourself what’s important, to having autonomy over your own domain. NOT about conforming to some ideal that’s every bit as strict as the one we’re trying to cast off. Feminism is more important today than ever. My decision not to get married and my decision to wear skirts and belts that emphasize my small waist are part of the same parcel.

    • Too right, Shaye, and so well said. And I’m in complete agreement about the importance of feminism today and the contradictory nature of certain critiques. As women far wiser than myself have said before me, if you spend your life rebelling against a force, that force is still, in essence, controlling you. Push back against traditional femininity when you wish to, embrace it when you wish to, but always be the one making those decisions.

  • Secret Squirrel

    What a well-written post, Sally. You answered the questions clearly and eloquently (which I feel could have been put a little more politely, since I don’t remember you ever referring to ‘flaws’ for example, before). I am glad to have Already Pretty as a resource to draw on.

  • Kristen

    I think you do a wonderful job of NOT pushing certain body standards while still recognizing that most of us want to make ourselves look better instead of worse. I can be much more comfortable with my soft tummy when I’m dressing it in a way that flatters, and while no, it’s not my favorite feature, I don’t obsess over it. I don’t feel like being roughly pear-shaped is the “wrong” shape, but I DO want ideas on how to accept that shape and dress it accordingly.

    There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging differences in our shapes, and part of this conversation is just that. And yes, we’re often asking these questions from a place of insecurity – and “wear whatever feels good” doesn’t help those insecurities! I understand what Nichole is saying, but I think her ideas work better on paper then they do with real women, at least most of the time.

    Thank you both for being willing to discuss all of these things. My own ideas and thoughts are always swirling and changing, and the more perspectives I can add into that the better.

  • Such a great topic and worth writing about again and again. One of the ways I like to think about the balance of body issues and style is to talk about playing up and enhancing what you love about yourself vs. “fixing” any perceived “flaws.” Maybe it can be criticized as semantics but to me it represents a large shift in perspective.

    And this should be the mission statement for personal style: to “decorate your body joyously.” Yes!

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  • Ann

    Such a good topic. I just did a post about wearing sleeveless dresses. I haven’t worn a sleeveless dress for 15 years because a dermatologist commented on my arms once! I purchased some new shoes, looked in the closet, saw the one sleeveless dress I had and thought “I’m wearing this, it’s 90 degrees.” The comments from is post really changed me for the positive. Women need to hear what you are saying over and over especially as we get older.

    blue hue wonderland

  • Mary Beth

    I just wanted to tell you how much this article speaks to me. You have a wonderful site, with so much relevant content – and yet, there are people all lined up to decry your message, and naysayers who don’t get what you are trying to do. All specificity of the topic aside, I think everyone, in every walk of life, has had this experience at one point or another – having to really stand up for oneself, what you are doing, what you believe in. You express yourself eloquently and beautifully.

    • Mary Beth, thank you so very much for your support and kind words. You honor me.

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  • b.

    Huh. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you use the words “figure flaw” or “imperfections.” I am grateful for your wise, respectful, supportive tone and I invariably find myself feeling uplifted after reading your posts. Thank you for being your awesome self!

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