This week’s of TLC’s What Not to Wear episode was on the lovely Beryl of NYC really resonated with me and stirred up a lot of emotions and reflections for me. To say that I was a little teary eyed at the end would be a huge understatement. This episode helped me reflect a lot on the role of appearances in my own life, which brought about a slew of both positive and negative emotions, thoughts and questions around the role of appearances in women.
Empowerment of women is an issue that is very close to my heart, and something that I want to take an active role in my life – not just thinking about it, and writing about it, but really do something about it. I truly believe that empowerment and confidence comes from within, but I also think that the role of our appearance is connected to that empowerment and confidence.
The Role of Appearance Growing up
In the case of Beryl, she grew up kinda nerdy and awkward with thick glasses and really not feeling very attractive. She didn’t give much thought to what she looked like out on the outside, because she was brought up to value what is on the inside, only. Often times she put very little effort in her clothes, because she didn’t want to be judged. Wait a minute, that sounded like me!
Growing up in my family, looks were not a high priority. My sisters and I needed to look neat and tidy (i.e., no ripped pants), but other than that, higher education and moral values were deeply ingrained in myself and my sisters. My parents taught my sisters and I so much about being a good person – to be kind, compassionate, fair and to be strong. Education was a super priority in my family, as it was one of few opportunities to climb out of poverty.
But, looks? Clothes? Make-up? That was so superficial and frivolous in my household. Wearing dresses, or nice clothes, was not something that was valued or brought up for discussion. I think I saw my mother put on make-up once – when her and my father went to a wedding reception. My father never allowed my sisters and I to wear nail polish during school. I remembered I begged my mom to allow me to tweeze my eye brows in grade 11. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying, this was how I grew up.
I love my parents deeply and am grateful for them shaping me into the person I am today. I truly believe that media (especially in today’s society) has too much say in how a woman should look and too often, media objectifies and diminishes a woman’s stature. I understand now, that parents were only try to protect me and keep me on the path of success, in the best way that they knew how. And I am grateful they shielded me away from the unhealthy messages of appearance from the media the way that they have done.
Discovering the Impact of Appearances
It was really only after high school and university, when I started caring a bit more about how I looked and how I presented myself. Being catapulted into the life of college student, I learned about how to dress for a club to how to dress for a job interview. I learned how harshly women were judged, how harshly we can judge one another, and most important, how harshly we tend to judge ourselves.
I slowly discovered how appearances can play both a negative and positive role in my life. It became clear that my appearance definitely had a role. I am learning that caring about how I look doesn’t necessarily make me a selfish or a bad person. It is simply part of me – and whether I agree with it or not, the message it projects can have a huge influence on how others (including my peers, my superiors, strangers and even friends) perceive me.
Media and Appearances
I truly believe that there is much more pressure for women to look nice, than for men, in general. And I believe that pressure comes from any number of sources, including the media, our culture, our role models, our family, our friends – but most of all, I think it also comes from within ourselves. And despite the efforts of (a lot of mainstream) media pitting women against other women – I find this is not the truth in my personal experience.
I find that most women and men – but especially women – are about supporting one another and mentoring one another. Just take a look at the various blogging communities, whether the niche is personal finance, fashion & style blogs, or make-up and beauty blogs – and these are only the blogs which I know and read.
My Conclusion on the Role of Appearances in Women
How we choose to project ourselves through our appearance, is making a statement, whether we like it or not. The statement we choose to make, is up to us, and there are any number of tools and accessories we can use to help project the message we want (or don’t want) to share about ourselves. Our clothes, our hair, our make-up, are all part of a message we are giving to the world around us about how we see ourselves and how we want to be treated, whether we are in a job interview, negotiating for our next promotion or going for a date. Our appearance affects almost all aspects of our lives.
Is this healthy or right? I don’t know, but it is the reality of our world, and our culture today.
And I think it’s only by understanding the role that appearances play in our lives, that we can utilize it to make the changes we want to see. When abused, the role of appearances degrade women (and men) and encourages oppression, ignorance, violence and a false ideal of beauty. When leveraged, the role of appearances can encourage acceptance, creativity, confidence, strength and true inner and outer beauty.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the role of appearances in women and men? How do you think it affects our daily lives?