Why Caring About Your Appearance Is Valuable to Self-care

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There are plenty of people who still believe that style is a frivolous pursuit. Plenty more maintain that caring for and loving your body is a waste of energy and that it’s what’s inside that matters – intellect, creativity, emotions, personality. Here are the reasons I disagree with both:

In order to move through most peopled societies, we are required to wear clothing. Nudist colonies aside, we’ve all got to get dressed every day if we want to leave our homes for any reason. Of course, economics, geography, body shape and size, ability, and many other factors can limit available clothing choices. But with thrift and fast fashion, online shopping and expanded sizing options, most people have more options now than they did even five years ago. Many, many people have choices when they dress, and what they choose to wear reflects at least a small portion of their inner lives. And in my opinion, since we’ve got to get dressed anyway, we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.

As for the argument that working toward body love is a waste of energy, the related argument that loving your body amounts to vanity, and the idea that your exterior self is just a vessel for your superior, interior self? All I see there is imbalance. I’ve already acknowledged that how you look isn’t the most important thing about you. You can pore over nearly eight years of archives and you will NEVER find me making that claim. But thinking of your body as a brain-and-personality-holder strikes me as short-sighted. Consider this: Someone who focuses virtually all attention, care, and love on their body is generally considered to be vain. So why would focusing virtually all attention on your intellect, creativity, and personality be any less imbalanced? You’re not a zombie – a body that moves through life without a functioning brain. But you’re also not a brain in a jar – thinking and creating in the abstract alone. You have a body. As long as you are alive you will have a body. In fact, without your body, your intellect and creativity and personality wouldn’t exist. Pitting your mind against your body is like cooking up a personal civil war.

I’ve known I’m smart a hell of a lot longer then I’ve known I’m pretty. I spent a long time trying to hide my body with clothes and wishing that my body didn’t exist at all. But I feel a lot more balanced, serene, and complete now that I’ve accepted my body as an integral part of my identity, and chosen to utilize style to express my personality to the observing world. We are thinking beings with corporeal forms. You can’t have one without the other. So why not work toward respecting and accepting both?

Image courtesy Andrea Parrish-Geyer

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7 Responses to “Why Caring About Your Appearance Is Valuable to Self-care”

  1. colormehappy

    Dear Sally,

    This perspective you hold (and write from and dress from) is what got me back to being myself last summer—a person I had left behind some 15 years ago when I began separating my body and brain because of the imagined vanity-versus-intellect conflict (I work in an environment that encourages this, plus my body was changing so dramatically with pregnancies that I just didn’t relate to it anymore). You have helped me more than you can know by having this persistent message that you demonstrate in all sorts of ways.

    A millions thanks,
    LP

    • Sally McGraw

      LP, thank you so much for letting me know. I’m absolutely honored to hear this, and so glad you’re feeling more like yourself after reconnecting with your physicality. Thanks for reading and for your support.

  2. Rita@thissortaoldlife

    Have been reading for awhile, and this post is spurring me to comment. Just wanted to say how much I love this balanced perspective on this topic. In my youth, I saw my body and mind as completely separate things, and I had a strong love/hate thing going with my body. Mostly hate. I agree that respecting and accepting both aspects of ourselves is key to all kinds of health.

  3. DorothyP

    ‘we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good.” It’s possible to have one of these without the other. You can feel great about your clothing choices, and still not be dressing “expressively”. Shopping isn’t a creative act. Some people prefer not to be bothered and express their creativity in other ways. Caring about your appearance isn’t the same as amassing vast numbers of garments.

  4. Carol

    This post resonates with me. I have some friends whose way of dealing with toxic pressures to look and dress a certain way is to aggressively “not care” about what they look like to make a statement.

    That is their choice and I support them in that, but my personal approach (which has definitely been aided by reading this blog over the last few years!) has been to — to steal from an AA motto — “take what works and leave the rest.”

    I recognize that I am a product of the culture I was raised in and although that culture says poisonous things about the bodies most women have, I don’t have to respond to it by wearing exactly the clothes that the culture says I *shouldn’t* wear. I can still take pleasure in different colors, shapes, patterns and materials, I can still enjoy some of our culture’s “perks” of femininity like my body shape, permission to be interested in fashion and style, and how my body moves, while also calling out harmful body-policing messages.

    I can separate enjoying clothing, makeup, the tinkly sounds my earrings make, experimenting with different looks, etc. from feeling fear and shame about my weight, comparing myself to younger and older women and criticizing my body shape. At least, on good days!

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