Fashionably Late

A self-reflection about my self-perception

Disclaimer: this piece has been modified post publication.

As I fill the trash can in my bedroom with the shoulder pads of loud button-downs from decades past, I’m faced with a question I’ve never allowed myself to ask before — why am I so afraid of appearing powerful?

And why have I always placed so much value on my physical appearance? Certainly, the endless hours of television consumption throughout my adolescence have had nothing to do with it. As a tool I still use to this day to seek comfort and feel socially fulfilled, it can’t be. I can’t risk tainting TV time with self-reflection (not in this economy).

However, my “Love Island” inspired wardrobe of no-longer-in-fashion fast fashion pieces would beg to differ — just as my thrifted blouses with freshly ruined seams would. As much as I hate to admit it, my exterior appearance is often dictated by what I consume rather than my internal self-image. Still, I purchase another set of hangers to place in my closet that’s so overfilled it’s one small earthquake away from being ripped out of my wall.

Growing out of the protective shell I’ve kept myself hidden in has proven itself to be a challenging task.

It’s strange to realize that I’m the only person who’s been forcing myself to relive my traumas — but not unprecedented.

Unhealthy defense-mechanisms formed in childhood are often upheld through adulthood. For me, it means the subconscious correlation I have between insecurity and media consumption will continue to emotionally drain me if left unchecked.

Research suggests that children who are raised in compromised situations often cope with their home life by mirroring the characteristics of others. Rather than embracing their individuality, they deduce that the safest option for them is to resemble traits of those who are praised, such as characters on TV.

I’ve long been addicted to television, movies and other forms of escapism. Naturally, this has led to feelings of inadequacy. In comparison to the characters on TV, of course the emotionally neglected 8-year-old who does her own laundry and makes her own dinners is going to feel out of place. The other kids at school don’t oversleep and miss the bus every day because they stayed up late to be comforted by Conan O’Brien.

Seventeen years later, I often catch myself in the same cycle. Have an intrusive thought? A bad day? Feeling lost? That’s okay, just hop into an alternative storyline. Amazon Prime the clothing dupe in a size down and consume nothing but liquids while you wait for their arrival — those negative emotions can be dealt with later.

However, by romanticizing ideal outcomes that feel unattainable, the weight of my troubles get heavier and heavier.

Growing out of my consumption habits can only occur by understanding what that consumption is holding the place of.

By filling the silence with another narrative, I’m keeping myself from reflecting inward  and by replicating an influencer’s style rather than celebrating my own, I’m embodying the same defense mechanism.

What would happen if I allowed myself to embrace my individuality? How would the world perceive me if my appearance didn’t adhere to the submissive and over-sexualized portrayal of women? How would I perceive myself?

Surrounded by canvases that have been painted three-times over, dried up acrylics and an uncharacteristic lack of outfit changes strewn about my bedroom, social distancing has provided me with a new perspective to answer those questions.

Absolutely nothing: Nothing will happen if I gain a few pounds from lounging around. No difference will be made if I write this piece in a full face of makeup or sweating profusely in a thrifted tracksuit. The only aspect that my appearance interferes with is the practicality of my decision (fine, the sweaty sweatsuit isn’t an optimal choice for a hot spring day).

Dishearteningly different: Regardless of the efforts I put into my appearance, strangers will still have the audacity to comment on my looks. I’ll still spend the day sanitizing the bulk-bins and freezer door handles at work, and they’ll still demand to speak to my manager if I tell them their comment made me uncomfortable.

Inspired to grow: For the first time in my life, I feel like I can access my creative potential. The desire to mute my thoughts by increasing the TV volume lessens each day, and I no longer feel the need to spend hours anxiously altering my appearance. Shifting my energy elsewhere has fulfilled me enough to compliment my brain rather than fixate on my body.

When I’m able to thrift again, I’ll think twice about removing the shoulder pads. Refusing to entertain an unrealistic standard of beauty brings me one step closer to channeling the strength and self-assurance men are afforded in our society.

I’m not saying that I’m ready to forfeit my expired makeup collection or part ways with half of my closet. For now, I’m going to pat myself on the back for acknowledging the origin of a lifetime of insecurities. Better late than never.



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