A couple weeks ago, I attended a large facilitated networking event. We were grouped into tables and invited to really get to know each other through conversation.
Our subject for the evening?
What do we rebel against? Have we led a rebellion?
Conversation went around the table. A few of the women claimed they were rebelling against the idea of “having to look a certain way” in order to be acceptable.
They resented being judged by “outside packaging” instead of “the core of their being.” This came up around age, around weight…and around fashion.
Excellent, I thought. These are my people.
When my turn came, I grinned, pointed to my pajamas and said: “I rebel against dress codes.”
This immediately sparked the questions: Why? What’s the story behind the pajamas?
I told my “before” story.
About my junior high school graduation dance. When all the other girls wore pink and white pouffy dresses and I showed up in a sensible navy blue skirt. I talked about how they made fun of me and wouldn’t speak to me…and how I spent the entire evening leaning up against the wall, trying to wish myself invisible.
How ever since that day, I worried so much about “dressing inappropriately” that I often avoided social events entirely because I didn’t know what to wear.
I also shared my “after” story.
How my fear evaporated when I faced it head on by attending a professional speaker’s conference in my pajamas.
I told them that I now wear my pajamas as both an “anti-intimidation suit” (people approach me) and also a “confidence outfit” (my PJs are my version of a power suit).
They reacted positively to my story. I thought I had made my point.
And then something weird happened
One of the women at the table was an image consultant.
She seemed very touched about my story of being rejected in junior high. Perhaps it made her think of her teenage daughters.
She offered to “help” me with my problem – by giving me a complete makeover. (I guess she didn’t catch the “after” part of my story where I talked about my “problem” being resolved.)
shocked a bit taken aback. I told her I would have to think about that.
Apparently I needed more convincing
She continued on.
“You’d make a great before and after.”
I believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that this woman was well-intentioned, her heart was in the right place and that she really, really, really wanted to help me.
And at the same time…
Did she really just say that?
Did she just tell me that I’m a real live walking, talking, embarrassing “before” picture? That I was so bad that I would make a *stunning* transformation?
Is this is how she sees me? Is this how everybody sees me? (Maybe more importantly: Is this how other people see themselves?)
“You have so much inner beauty.”
Inner beauty, huh? Reminds me of being reassured as a teenager that my personality was more important than my looks. Translation: you’re ugly.
“With the right hair style, the right eyeglass frames, the right clothes, we can let your inner beauty out.”
Translation: your hair is wrong, your eyeglass frames are wrong, your clothes are wrong and you have no outer beauty. But don’t worry…you can be fixed!
Becoming more stunned by the minute, I repeated that I would have to think about it. (Note to self: consider “confrontation skills” as a worthy next challenge.)
Wow! You should do that! What a great opportunity!
Obviously, I wasn’t understanding the value of what she was offering. So the other women at the table decided to help me see it.
The same group of women who, earlier in the discussion, had complained about being judged based on their “packaging” instead of for who they were inside were now suggesting that I should jump on this offer to improve my appearance.
What happened to my people? My fellow rebels?
One of them asked:
“You’re not afraid anymore. Why do you still need to wear pajamas? Why not take her up on this offer and move on?”
Interestingly enough, I’d been asking myself the same question lately. The experiment is over. The fear is gone. Maybe it was time to move on.
I realized that the Universe had sent me a gift in the form of this woman.
Plus or minus a year ago, I would have seen her as the answer to all my “I’m not good enough” problems. Someone who could make me look “better” and help me fit in. The magic genie who could turn this frog into a princess.
Instead, I was now feeling grateful to this woman for a completely different reason. She made me realize:
The pajamas aren’t just my shtick. They’re a symbol of my rebellion.
Rebellion is about taking a stand against something and refusing to bow to the dictates of authority or convention.
It’s about acting in congruence with what you believe in.
I cannot think of a single thing I wish to support in the “fashion industry.”
From the emaciated models parading down the runway to the glossy magazines with the photoshopped faces and bodies of “beautiful women” who don’t actually exist in real life.
To the sweat shops where designer clothing is manufactured – to the waste of changing styles with every year and season – to the barriers it creates for women who cannot afford to “dress for success.”
And especially the underlying message that the most important thing women should be concerned with is how they look.
I’m refusing to participate. I’m rebelling.
I won’t spend my money buying uncomfortable clothing to impress other people. I won’t spend my time slathering goo on my face and spraying shit in my hair in order to fit in.
I won’t do a damned thing to support an industry that is founded on making women feel bad about themselves so they’ll go out and buy stuff.
My rebellion isn’t just about fashion and dress codes.
I’m rebelling against conformity.
Against mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing.
Even if it means being labeled as a “before” picture.
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