Unsurprisingly, this post on self-respect and dressing with care generated some FABULOUS discussion. One of the threads that sprung up pretty quickly in the comments touched on dressing for oneself as opposed to dressing to please the observing world. I don’t usually do this, but I wanted to highlight this side conversation by calling out some of the thoughts you folks contributed. To kick things off, Ally Bean said:
I dress with care in a way that pleases me. I do my best with the funds that I have, but I don’t worry about how others will perceive me. If I did that would I not be giving my power away to the opinions of others? Allowing them to judge my self-worth based on their pre-conceived idea of who I should be?
I responded by saying that in my opinion, projecting your best self is the most important action but that I don’t think caring about how you are perceived is some great surrender or crime against the self. No person is an island, and the perceptions of others shape our realities whether we like it or not. They influence our careers, our social and love lives, our daily interactions … we cannot escape the influence of public opinion, and we cannot make all of our choices as if we were isolated beings.
Problems arise when the opinions and perceptions of others begin to rule our feelings about ourselves, when what others think erodes our self-worth and self-confidence. Anything in extreme will eventually become unhealthy, and that includes giving too much weight to the preferences of other human beings.
But I believe that any person who participates in society DOES care about how she is perceived. There are levels, of course, but we all do it. And it’s not bad or wrong unless it begins to unduly influence emotions and behaviors.
There’s a difference between “worrying how others will perceive me” and “caring how others will perceive me.” Worry leads to bending backwards to meet arbitrary standards, like buying designer clothes or trying to be painfully thin. Caring is the acknowledgement that you are participating in society and want to be seen as a worthy of respect.
Which I think is an important distinction: One path is fraught with anxiety and may lead you to make choices that align more with external pressures than your own desires, preferences, even health. One path is influenced by societal norms and does contain elements of conformity, but still allows for personal expression and individuality. Care, don’t worry.
Alice then added:
The point Sal is making has nothing to do with fashionable or trendy I think, it has to do with presenting yourself outwardly in a manner that is consistent with how you feel inside. For example, if you show up for an interview dressed in a t-shirt and gym clothes, it will be very difficult for you to demonstrate that you do in fact care very much about getting the job. Everyone uses these superficial ways to make initial judgments, so if you can’t escape them, it seems reasonable to keep them in mind so they don’t cost you opportunities. Clothes will never be enough by themselves to get you through life, but they shouldn’t hinder you.
So well put. Our society is a clothed one, and the first level of judgement is attached to appearance. Since you can’t throw up your hands and refuse to participate in that social norm, you’re best served to utilize it to your advantage. And that doesn’t mean being trendy or shelling out for designer duds. It just means dressing to show that you like, know, value, and respect your inner self.
In my opinion, everyone is influenced by the opinions of friends and peers and the outside world. I don’t think it’s truly possible to “not care what anyone else thinks” about you, your choices, your image, body, and style. To truly not care about style and dressing, you’d have to join a nudist colony or live as a hermit. I know those are both cliched examples, but I stick by ’em: Dressing is a social action, and to strip it of its power you’d need to go to some real extremes. We all dress ourselves, we all make decisions about how to do so. We have taste, likes, dislikes, physical needs and preferences, and all of those things are expressed in our stylistic choices.
And none of that is BAD. It just is. Humans aren’t meant to live in isolation – physical or psychological – and accepting the influence of those around us is what makes us social creatures. We express ourselves through dressing, and that is never done in a vacuum.
Image courtesy sean dreilinger