Is This “Flattering?”
[a discussion from the fall that bears repeating, in, "summer body" season]
I've been having some fascinating discussions on Instagram and in my Instagram stories about the ways in which we let ourselves be: how do we show up in our lives? How do we present ourselves? Which parts of ourselves (physically and/or otherwise, because they're connected... put a pin in that) do we accentuate, and which parts do we downplay, and in what contexts?
Last fall, I had the honor of hosting a virtual group coaching program called The Bold Body Initiative, in which we took a deep dive into the ways in which our body image influences our choices in fitness and nutrition. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us, myself included.
A thing that stood out to me, while listening to and reading through their thoughts, was that many of us go through a similar process when dressing ourselves:
We pick out something that we think looks “good:” either we’ve liked the way it looks on us in the past, or we liked the way it looked on the rack or in the ad or in the fitting room, and when we go to put it on another day it looks… not the way we thought it did or hoped it would.
This often sends us into a tailspin, cursing our unconventional proportions, loathing our muffin tops, wondering why these clothes don’t reflect our self perceptions, and regularly encapsulate this entire rollercoaster in, “this [shirt, pair of pants, dress] isn’t flattering.”
And then we let that mean that we’ve done something wrong, haven’t worked out enough, or aren’t shaped correctly for the style we like.
Who decided that?
Our ideas of what “flattering” means, I’ve found, regularly change from generation to generation (I’ve worked with womxn ages 16-72, and this conversation is ALWAYS interesting), from day to day, from season to season. That should clue us in on the fact that “flattering” doesn’t really mean anything except what someone else has told us it means.
(To be quite honest, after listening and reading and some Googling, the vast majority of the time we use, "flattering," we mean, "less fat." Worth considering the implications of that thought, in my opinion. A quite specific idea of beauty has been planted in our minds, and it's keeping all of us stuck.)
An intriguing and related thought: so many of us feel good in an article of clothing until we look in a mirror.
You’re getting dressed, feeling ambivalent-to-good about yourself, look in the mirror, and EVERYTHING CHANGES.
Why? Because someone told you that article of clothing, "isn’t for your body shape?"
When I ask my clients to elaborate, it frequently ends in, “well, it’s just not flattering. I can’t explain it, but it’s just NOT.” Which I get. Unlearning our ideas of beauty is sometimes a rocky road.
Did you feel good?
Did you like the color on you?
Were you comfortable?
Was your outfit helping you keep cool (or warm, depending on season)?
Then why change? Just because someone told you you should?
There are tons of factors at play here, not the least of which is sometimes, we don't wanna deal with the backlash we may get for being, "daring," and wearing clothes not typically found on bodies that look like ours. It can be tiring to hear how, "brave," you are for putting on a t-shirt, or a swimsuit, or a pair of shorts. If you find yourself getting dressed and changing 17 times this morning, for whatever reason, no shame; you're not doing anything wrong.
I'm just here to ask the question: what does “flattering” mean to you?