by Karen Secord (ed note: Karen operates Fashion this, a company empowering women to display unique style, using second-hand clothing and unencumbered by societal norms & control. Her email is at the end of her post.)

We are a people beaten into submission by beauty thinking, vise-gripped by perfect control.

Perfection. Perfection. Perfection.

The word sticks in the back of my throat; in that place where phlegm congeals, where hockey-playing and cigarette-smoking men “hork” from. It conjures up feelings of unrealistic expectations, imposed by others but willingly worshipped, to varying degrees, by myself and my entire gender.

So, like many women, I have wrestled with body image and the effects of consumer-driven fashion policing my entire life.

“I will not allow my reflection in the mirror to define me as a unique individual,” become my mantra as I grew in size. It reminds me that I am more than my body; that despite a strong urge to do otherwise, I must steadfastly refuse to surrender my outsides to the opinions of others.

To me, fashion is more about how I feel than about what others see. It is an expression of self. Of creativity worn.

I always loved the feel of a silky fabric, the drape of a perfectly cut dress, the excitement of vibrant coloured lipstick. In a way, I think I was driven to lose weight, not because I thought I would magically be transformed into a more beautiful person, but because I would have greater access to more interesting clothing. . . .

Even as a pre-teen my body was too large to fit into the off-the-rack outfits my peers were wearing. My grandmother made me jumpers. My favourites were a light turquoise pleather number that stopped just before my knee and a psychedelic cotton halter that I wore with too short shorts. Both made me walk a little taller when I wore them.

My happiest Saturday activity during those late 60’s early 70’s days was to bike to the neighbourhood plaza with my friends. I would drag them into the area’s one and only dedicated women’s clothing store and they would try on the outfits that wouldn’t fit me, just so I could see how they looked. Visually, even then, personalized style gave me a rush of adrenaline.

At size 26 I frequented high-priced places like Addition-Elle and Pennington’s in search of fashion-for-me. But the options were limited if you didn’t want to look like every other big and beautiful woman on the street. And, unfortunately, the prices reflected supply and demand.

My decreasing size threw my lifelong desire to explore fashion into a rollercoaster tailspin. It was like embracing the old inner me while exploring the new outer me. For the first time in my life a size 16 zipped up easily, and then a size 12 slipped on nicely. I wanted to buy everything that fit. When I managed to do up my first pair of size 8 jeans I sat down in the dressing room and cried.

And then, momentarily, my journey stopped. I didn’t want to be one of those women who unwittingly replaces one addiction with another, trading obesity for bankruptcy.

The reality is that I didn’t hate my body when it was big. Indeed in many ways, I was far more confident with its plump fleshiness. Large rounded breasts and hips may not have fit every style, but I managed to drape them in a way that pleased me, to highlight their own uniqueness.

Although my hips are now narrower and I have bones that can be located, it is a challenge to control the mounds of deflated rippled skin. I camouflage with a modern version of the 50’s girdle. But I often feel, especially when dating, like I am false advertising: I am not a thin person. When the clothes come off I am a deflated fat girl.

So I asked myself: Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that has always made you feel physically inadequate?

Absolutely!

“Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others”, is the ideal jumping off point.

“This is a call to arms. A call to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous with yourself,” says Oprah Winfrey. “The next time you look into the mirror, try to let go of the story line that says you’re too fat or too sallow, too ashy or too old, your eyes are too small or your nose too big; just look into the mirror and see your face. When the criticism drops away, what you will see then is just you, without judgment, and that is the first step toward transforming your experience of the world.”

Clearly, the real key to contentment shouldn’t be buried in what others believe about us. It is hiding in plain sight, in what we believe about ourselves.

So here are my questions for you to ponder. Open up your journal and create a thought map using your answers as guides.

Who lives inside your skin? And what covers it up?

How do you connect the dots between your perceived look, your desired look and your actual appearance?

Once we all fully understand what we truly believe about ourselves on the inside, the way we fashion our outsides will give us more pleasure.

When you’re ready, check out my new business venture ~
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Fashion This: your style your way
Motivational fashion talks, tours and personal styling for women.
Dress to embrace the uniqueness that is you by using only second-hand clothing.
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I can be contacted at writingyou2@gmail.com