HOW FASHION SAVED MY SELF-ESTEEM
OK, so... I've been wanting to write this post for a while... But I kept pushing it off, because it's a bit of a vulnerable place for me... Obviously. I mean, self-confidence is fun to talk about when you have it, and you feel it full-force. But it's a little more uncomfortable to discuss when you're struggling with it. Yet, I feel like everyone does, at times. And I get a lot of messages about it, particularly on Instagram, where I talk about mental health and self-love quite regularly. So I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go. Just in case it can help someone, or give them a little perspective on their own feelings.
Right before I get into it, I wanna make a small disclaimer. As I just mentioned, I'm writing this to share my personal story, hoping it will help some people and give them insight. My goal is not to get pity or a shoulder to cry on. Truth is, this is meant to be an inspiring story. And I'm doing a lot better now, although there's still space for improvement on a daily basis. But I believe that's the case for everyone, in every aspect of our lives. You just can never stop learning, improving, and working on yourself. And if my story can help even just one person do that, I'll have done my job. I know that sounds cliché, but it's the plain old truth. Alright, let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I feel like I need to preface this story by saying that fashion or beauty were never an obsession in the house I grew up in. I mean, sure, my mom likes to dress up just as much as the next person. But she was never one of these moms "obsessed with her lipstick" like you read about in the pages of Vogue. As a child, I wasn't told I had to be pretty, or repeatedly told that I was, either. Looks were not really something my parents discussed or put an emphasis on. This is important, because even to this day, it makes me wonder where my obsession with looks came from as a young adult.
As a teenager, I really couldn't care less. Weird, I know. Because all we hear about today is teenagers in High School wanting to be pretty and hot. And I get it. Times are changing, now girls look like fully grown women at 14. But I digress. In my High School days, 10 to 15 years ago, it was a different game. Sure, some girls (and boys) were considered hot and popular. Some girls came to school in high heels (and wobbled around like drunk flamingoes) and wore more makeup than a Vegas stripper. But that's just normal when you're a teenager. You want to experiment and discover who you are as your own person.
In my case though, it was a little different. As a teenager, I was going through enough family drama that I didn't have time to really give a shit about what I wore. Still, I was starting to get better acquainted with the world of fashion and experiment with style, in my own way. At 12, I remember undoing the hem of my black pants to make them longer and more of a bell-bottom pant. I wore them with a sporty tank dress and I felt like hot shit. Somehow, I convinced myself that I looked like Jessie from the Team Rocket, even though she wasn't even wearing pants. What can I say, Pokemon was popular when I was a kid. When I got home, I ate a truckload of shit, because I had been walking on my floor-grazing pants all day, totally destroying them.
That put a damper on my fashion experiments for a while. Until I was 14, and bought my first fashion magazine. It was a March issue of Harper's Bazaar, with Gwen Stefani on the cover. At that time, I was OBSESSED with Gwen Stefani and her Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Harajuku girls craze. But when I got that magazine, I barely looked at the article on Gwen Stefani (sorry, Gwen!). I was mesmerized by all the glossy ads, the Spring fashion and the outrageously expensive accessories. Everything from the pages of that magazine looked chic, expensive, and perfectly dreamy. I felt like Anne Hathaway's character the first time she walks into Runway Magazine, in The Devil Wears Prada. If this was 2018, I would have been tweeting heat eye emojis all day long.
I cut out almost every ad in that magazine and plastered them all over my bedroom walls. I was particularly in love with the ads for Versace, that I pronounced "Vair-Zass" because I had no idea it was Italian and had never even heard that name before. We all gotta start somewhere, you know?
From 14 to 17, until I finished high school (that's Canada for ya!), I kept having a strong interest for fashion. I read fashion magazines every time my mom would cave to my begging in the line at the grocery store. I started reading style.com like it cured the plague. I'd spend hours and hours saving every single picture from the Fashion Week runways on my dad's computer and I must have watched The Devil Wears Prada and every season of Sex And The City at least a hundred times. But to me, fashion was something so distant, so unattainable, that I didn't see it as something I could actually do. In my head, to be in the fashion industry, you had to live in New-York and have a shit-ton of disposable income.
So I finished High School and started College. I was in the program that was supposed to get me into Law School, but I was barely going to class. Some of my teachers asked me who I was when I showed up to exams. I still did pretty good in school but I was bored out of my mind. After 2 semesters, I told my dad I was dropping out and I needed him to pay for Fashion School. I thought he would laugh in my face. But he actually went along with it and told me to do what made me happy. I was given a free hand to pursue my dreams and I was ready to eat dirt, make it big and prove my dad that he was right to trust me with my own future.
That summer, at 18, I moved out of my parents' houses and got an apartment with my best friend. I hate to make it sound so dramatic, but that's when my life totally changed. To this day, I still can't pinpoint exactly what happened, but I went from not giving a shit about what I wore to spending an hour each day painting a super dark smokey eye on my face and analyzing what I was gonna wear. I started worrying more and more that I wasn't pretty enough. I tried as hard as I can to make myself look like my ideal vision of what a hot girl should look like.
My friend and I would go out to clubs every single weekend and getting ready was my favourite part. We'd get together hours before and decide on coordinating outfits. Then, I'd do our makeup and she'd help with my hair. I was always clueless when it came to hair. In the clubs, it looked like I owned the damn place. I was getting a ton of attention from men, and free drinks kept coming like fireworks on July 4th. It didn't change anything, because my friend and I always left the club together. We escaped shortly before 3am, pretending to go to the bathroom... Leaving these hordes of poor guys waiting, until they probably realized we weren't coming back.
When we were out, I'd get compliment after compliment, and not always from douchebags obviously looking for a cheap fuck. Some of these guys looked like decent human beings, jut trying to hit on a girl they found attractive. I'm not looking to throw flowers in my own face here, but I'll say it like it was. No matter the place, I was always a hit. I should have been on top of the world. I should have felt so hot and gorgeous - or whatnot. But I felt like shit. I felt like if I wasn't wearing a ton of makeup and a slutty dress, no one would look at me.
At this point, my self-esteem was practically nonexistent - but I was very good at hiding it. I don't think anyone around me knew how much I hated my looks. And you can't blame them, because I wasn't very vocal about it. I kept that to myself and was always dressed up and put together. To an outsider, it probably just looked like I was a very confident girl who loved her look maybe a little too much. That's the thing about self-esteem. Sometimes, it's really hard to tell when it's not there.
Makeup became my armour, I couldn't go out without it. I didn't care if it was 7am and I was going to the convenience store to pick up milk. I had to have my face on. Now, I think I was persuaded that if I went barefaced, they wouldn't serve me or something. On most days, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without crying. My eyes were too small, my nose was too big, I had no cheekbones... Hell, I'm sure if I tried, I could have found something wrong with the inside of my mouth.
When I was walking down the street, I became paralyzed if people looked at me. To me, it automatically meant something was wrong with my face. How many times did I run to the closest public bathroom to check if I didn't have a booger? Probably too many to count, honestly. Paradoxically, I also caught myself posing and pouting when crossing paths with attractive men, just to see if I could get their attention. Nine times out of ten, it worked. They looked, stared, and then turned around to look some more. But, you might have guessed it, the one time it didn't work was all it took to convince me that I was ugly.
When I started dating, I purposefully dated guys that weren't attractive... Just to make sure there wasn't a chance in hell that someone would think "he's way too attractive for that chick!". Many times, I was getting ready to go out somewhere and broke down crying in the middle of doing my makeup, because I just couldn't handle the face looking back at me in the mirror. Most of the time, when that happened, I couldn't pull it together and ended up staying in. The only thing I was interested in was watching Sex & The City, dreaming about what my life would be like once I was done with Fashion School, and working on my sketches and samples. Every time someone told me I was pretty, I felt like I was gonna die on the inside. I litteraly hated myself - my appearance, at least.
And I know what most of you are probably thinking right now. It's fashion that ruined my self-confidence, right? I mean, I wouldn't be the first one! There are countless stories out there of how the fashion industry is bad for women's self-esteem. How we're bombarded with pictures of skinny models and that's unattainable for most women... How glossy magazines filled with photoshopped pictures are terrible for young women's self-esteem.
But that's not exactly my personal experience. If you've read the title of this post, it should be pretty obvious. If that had been the case, I think I would have been golden. Hell, I'm tall, skinny as hell, and I get asked if I'm a model at least once a week. If models were my go-to reference for what constitutes hotness, I probably would have had a self-confidence of steel. In hindsight, I think what totally destroyed my self-esteem (or at least helped a great deal) was porn. The first time I saw porn, I was probably 15 and didn't think much of it. But as a young adult, that changed. I didn't really start having breasts until I was in college, and even then, they were less than spectacular in size. Nothing like the huge, silicone-filled tits men are bombarded with in porn.
And then, once that seed was planted, it started to take a hold of everything else, not just breast size. I somehow convinced myself that my beauty was only defined by the way other people (mostly men, if we're being honest) saw me. If I wasn't sexy, I was worthless. Forget beautiful, chic or pretty. That didn't matter to me. The words "hot" and "sexy" were triggers that sent me down a vortex of negative thoughts, having my banging my head against the wall to try and figure out what I could do to be hot, too.
I began to see the world through a lens where all men want is sex - with girls that look like pornstars. I never saw that not all men like breasts implants, or even big boobs. Just like there's all kinds of boobs (and porn), there's all kinds of men. Some like big boobs, some like small boobs, some like blondes, some like brunettes. Some like skinny girls, some like voluptuous girls with curves... And some men will just sleep with anything, ha! But even though most of my guy friends were telling me they'd never want a girlfriend with implants, I didn't care.
My self-esteem was long gone, and I convinced myself that I'd probably end up unhappily married to some guy who just wanted a baby farm and would get his sexual fantasies filled by running off to strip clubs and having sex with hookers every chance he got. Needless to say, things were grim.
And then, in the most ironically comical way possible, I started modeling. How does a girl who hates her look start modeling? I have no idea. I had a friend in Fashion School who needed a model for a project, and she asked me to do it. Then, the photographer who did the shoot wanted to get more pictures for his portfolio. Before I knew it, I was getting little modeling contracts here and there and used it as a way to make some extra money. And while modeling didn't actually convince me that I was the hottest girl in town, it did change something. Something that was really big for me: It allowed me to see that I could actually have fun with fashion, even though I didn't have a penthouse in NYC and a rich husband that gifted me a Dior purse every week.
On set, during a shoot, I'd have so much fun changing who I was with clothes and makeup, that these things actually took a whole new meaning to me. I wasn't using makeup to try and be something I wasn't anymore. And I wasn't using it to hide my real face. I was using it to accentuate and highlight my natural features. Same for clothes, I started allowing myself to wear what made me happy, instead of worrying that I'd get too many looks on the street for wearing something a little edgy. Instead of dressing for men, I realized I could dress for other women too, but most importantly, for ME.
And when I did start having fun with fashion and wearing things that brought me joy, my perception actually shifted. Instead of thinking people were looking at me because I had eyeliner running down my cheek, I just told myself they were looking at my beautiful dress. This might look like an insignificant detail, but it made a huge difference for me. It allowed me to walk through life without always wondering what was wrong with me. Which, in turn, allowed me to start focusing on what was right with me. Hell, what was great with me.
It also pushed me to start a style blog, back in 2012. And that blog allowed me to recognize that something inside of me had shifted. It allowed me, for the first time in what felt like a very long time, to understand what self-esteem feels like. Because when I discovered that some girls I went to high school with were sharing some of my posts on Facebook and publicly shaming me, it made me feel GREAT. Instead of thinking "Oh, they hate me, I'm such a failure, my blog sucks", I thought "Yessss! I'm so relevant that they have nothing better to do with themselves than talk about how much they hate me!". That was such a revelation to me, I'll never forget that moment. On a side note, I think that's also how the Kardashians must be feeling 99% of the time, ha!
Recognizing that it was foolish to deprive myself from doing what I love most because I don't live in a certain place, or have a certain amount of money, made me realize that in life, the only barriers that hold you back are the ones you impose yourself. It allowed me to see that it's perfectly fine to do things that make you happy, instead of always worrying about what other people think of you.
As I explained in this outfit post from last week, I now allow myself to wear clothes that bring me joy and make me feel happy. I love wearing fun, flirty and feminine clothes, because that's what makes me feel best. And when you start feeling like a million bucks in the clothes you love, that's when you start regaining control over your self-esteem. That's when you start thinking about how you can make yourself look good, instead of thinking about how bad you look.
As I said above, I know the fashion industry has a bad rep for featuring standards that aren't always attainable... But if you think about it, so does the porn industry, the movie industry (hello Hollywood), and more than ever, so does social media. The difference is, fashion allows anyone and everyone to express not only who they are, but who they're choosing to be. And without saying a single word... No matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or background. I think that's why the fashion industry attracts so many marginal people, because fashion accepts everyone, more so now than ever before.
I can personally vouch for it, and I'll forever be grateful to the fashion industry. Regardless of popular belief, fashion saved my self-esteem, and allowed me to love the person I am, inside and out. That's why I love blogging about personal style now, because it brings me back to the moment I started enjoying life, every single time. It brings out the joy I felt when I realized I could walk down the street without hating myself every time someone looked at me. If you've ever struggled with self-esteem as much as I did as a young adult, then you know what I'm talking about.
And if you're struggling with it right now, just remember that having fun with your style and enjoying the way you dress can actually bring you to a point where you enjoy taking care of yourself. That's already a great start. If you're uncomfortable with your body, a great pair of shoes can help you strut down the street with confidence... And shoes fit the same way on everyone. So get the shoes you want, the ones that make you truly happy. Fuck what other people think. And once you've conquered the shoes, and a tiny part of your self-confidence back, move on to a nice top. And a beautiful dress. Or whatever makes YOU feel good.
And if dressing the way you want to seems like too much of a statement, start with lingerie. I can't tell you how many times wearing sexy lingerie under my boring work clothes gave me the boost I needed to close a contract or rock a presentation.
Fashion may not cure the plague, but it can help you learn to love yourself. And to me, that's worth more than all the nice shoes in the world.
Love, Jenny xx