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Thinking aloud: reclaiming identity and beauty

September 2, 2010

Is it possible to become simultaneously less judgemental yet more shallow?

I ask the question because I realise, as I look around the shopping centre, that these days I am far less likely to judge other people based on their outwards appearance; yet more likely to spend an effort on my own appearance.

Is paying attention to personal grooming actually shallow, anyway?

As I hit my late 20s, I reflexively observe that I am starting to claim and reclaim aspects of my personal identity that were not a high priority for me in my teens.

I am a mother, and I claim that as part of my identity. I also stand firm in my belief that to be a mother is not equivalent to losing all sense of self-esteem, nor is it an excuse to pay less attention to my outwards appearance. I have often thought this in my just-over 8 years of parenthood (9 years, if you count pregnancy as parenthood). It was once again highlighted for me recently when I noticed that at least a few mums (moms, for the North American readers!) spend a lot of money and effort on clothes for their children, but dress themselves extremely casually (not that I particularly care if a mum wants to dress in trackie dacks and ugg boots, but be assured, that’s not for me!).

I have Anglo-Celtic heritage – more Celtic than Anglo – with a bit of French somewhere in the background. I claim that as a significant aspect of my ethno-cultural identity, as an  Anglo-Celtic Australian. It is a package deal: don’t pick on me for my super pale white skin, and don’t pick on my many immediate family members with their red hair – it’s nothing but poorly disguised racism. I would never dare to attack someone because they’re “not tanned enough”, and thus I make a stand. I don’t wear fake tan, either. It looks stupid on me. I don’t sunbathe – certainly not with the high skin cancer statistics: two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, according to the SunSmart website (article dated March 2010, accessed 2 September 2010).

However, I digress. I have spent far too long worrying about people not liking me for who I am. I am learning to accept myself and others, at the same time I am learning to spend more effort on “looking good”. My question is, then, are these things mutually exclusive?

On the topic of looking good, I recently read a great book: The Science of Sexy: Dress to fit your unique figure with the style system that works for every shape and size by Bradley Bayou (2006 edition) [Amazon]. I highly recommend it for women like myself who want to do the best they can with the figure they’ve got. I found it light-hearted, practical and realistic, and am now in the process of trying  to implement its advice in my wardrobe and accessories.

The short story is that it dawns upon me that life is far too short to be wasted on picking on other people for their clothing style, haircut, and body shape. Yes, I know that this is elementary Christianity*, and elementary feminism, all rolled into one, but to have a deep down illumination and revelation of this is another matter altogether. It’s one thing to have head knowledge, it’s another thing to live it from the heart. And it’s yet another thing to live in such a way that offers freedom to others. Life also seems far too short to spend living half-hearted – and for me, reclaiming my feminine identity is part of this process of living life to the full.

*It saddens me that very few Christian women authors appear willing to take a stance against the cultural-structural images of womanhood. Most of the Christian women’s texts on beauty that I have read centre more on the theme of “God loves you even if everyone else thinks you’re ugly,” rather than what I believe is the sociologically far more appropriate “Culturally designed notions of beauty are historically, ethnically, socially positioned beliefs that are not foundational to  Biblical interpretations of beauty.”

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