Day 8: More Clothes, Please

4 years ago

My mother I don't get along. I know that most women go through a stage where they say that, but I am way past that stage and am serious about it. We don't talk at all. I've spent a huge amount of time and money on therapy just to realize that I am not her. Still, I take the easy way out and say that I've looked like a slovenly mess for 20 years just to thwart her: she did spew forth damaging gems like "you'd look so pretty if you wouldn't wear your hair in a ponytail all the time" and "you'd like so nice with some makeup" and "do you have to wear hoodies all the time?" Things like that bother teenagers and young women. The subtext, barely "sub," was, of course, "you don't look pretty or nice NOW." The reason she wanted me to look nice was because I reflected on her. Try to stay with this logic.

Therefore, I did wear jeans and hoodies for, seriously, 20 years (with no makeup and hair in a ponytail). I freelanced from home and then became a nurse, where you basically wear pajamas to work and are encouraged to wear a ponytail, so I was all set. I had an uncomfortable and therefore frequently mentioned pride in not having many clothes. The pride I stated as "I am not vain and can get by with almost nothing," but the discomfort arose because after a decade or two, it grows old to be a rebellious brat, especially if no one is paying any attention anymore.

For some reason, this ingrained trait changed when I lost my job. This was totally out of the blue and couldn't have hit me at a worse time; I had been seriously ill for 8 months and was coming to work for my first shift after recovering from heart surgery, so I was mentally and financially on thin ice. I've always been a worrier, so the effect was even more catastrophic. I lost my job and the small sense of security I had about my future, all in about 5 minutes. I had no anticipated income, a huge pile of medical bills (if you didn't know, let me clue you in that being a cardiac patient for months at a time is incredibly expensive even if you have health insurance), and a psychological hangover from being so sick (and tired; you always have to add "and tired" if you've heard Bill Cosby, don't you?).

I responded by buying a bunch of clothes. First I just bought some new jeans, because the ones I had were too big for me to seriously consider wearing them. They improved my outlook so much that I bought some sweaters and then leggings and then boots. Things took a sharp turn into weird when I skulked around makeup counters. Concealer was my gateway drug there, because when you have heart trouble you start looking like a corpse early, like you're preparing to die and look the part. Of course, then I got more and more, to a point. All of my makeup fits in a small basket.

Retail therapy, said my friends, and I agreed at first. After all, it was not like me. I would have said that spending money on a bunch of clothes and makeup was the absolutely last thing I would do if I lost my job and had all those bills. However, none of my reactions was typical of me. The old me would have flown into a despairing rage and ranted until I was too tired to rant anymore and then probably have gone to bed for weeks, too depressed to get up. For some reason, I just didn't. I shrugged it off, figured it was time to get a different job anyway, and spent most of my mental energy liking my new working heart instead of focusing on work.

I felt like a new person, and really, after my heart surgery I was like a car with a new engine. I needed to touch up the paint and cover the dents too. I still have my hoodies, and I still like jeans, but I find it doesn't take a lot more effort to swear a sweater and leggings that look nice than it does to wear baggy, torn jeans and a sweatshirt. When I do, I feel better. When I feel better, I am more likely to leave the house and do things (such as, initially, find a job). The phrase "all dressed up and nowhere to go" applied to me, and I wasn't about to waste the effort, so I went places.

As for the ponytail, it bit the scissors awhile back when I decided I needed a radical change and got a pixie cut. At the time it mainly made me look like a hedgehog in my hospital beds, because for some reason hospital beds have a feature of making patients have instant bad hair, but in real life I like it.

My point? Sometimes buying more stuff is not retail therapy or vanity. It's part of a needed psychological makeover. It gave me confidence, confidence that helped me find another job. It got me out of the house, when otherwise I have little doubt I would have holed up in a cave of sweatpants and depression. Also, I gave away clothes I wasn't wearing anymore, so I didn't end up with a stuffed closet. Win-win.

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