Last year’s theme was control. Mainly, that I lacked it over my own brain, and spent most of 2015 navigating the ins and outs of panic attacks, while learning first-hand that the food I used to take comfort in now made me sick (shout-out to IBS).
It wasn’t a cute look. While years before had seen a lack of control over my job or finances (both of which were A-OK for the first time in three decades), this year, my refusal to take professional or personal breaks and/or turn down assignments or plans led to a burnout of epic proportions and left me feeling forced to re-evaluate most of my life, while simultaneously trying not to allude to anyone—friends, family, no one—that something was wrong. So I turned to clothes and makeup, my tried and true friends.
From adolescence onward, fashion and beauty were about who I wanted to be, in terms of highlighting the aspects of myself I was most proud of. I aspired to Amanda Zimm’s eye for fashion, Cher Horowitz’s ability to accessorize, and Emily Roberts’ (from Student Bodies) array of vests. I shopped for clothes based on what I saw in YM and Seventeen, and rested assured that the closer I got to looking like the women I admired (or: the women I felt akin to), the more in control I’d be. After a bad day, I’d take solace with my best friend in the makeup section of Zellers or in the sale section of Suzy Shier. Because while the boy I liked may not have liked me back, I’d at least have a very sick Hello Kitty makeup kit that made me feel like a badass bitch.
But the older I got, the less I treated clothes and makeup as comfort and construction tools and more as camouflage, and by the time I hit my late twenties, the majority of pieces I wore were to break from my past, or to respond to trends I was trying to rebel against (or to blend in, or to just exist). Which, in retrospect, ran parallel to various life stages: broke, sad, lost, insecure, and so on.
So as 2015 unfolded and I lost my ability to control my physical response to food, my ability to reign in my anxiety, and my ability to approach my workload in a healthy way, I started to seek refuge in clothes and makeup again. Now, too tired to buy anything outside the realm of “I feel powerful and terrific while I wear it,” I was left only with clothes and makeup that revived the aesthetic sense of control I’d mastered as a wee baby teen.
I started with bags. I started scouring for purses that made me feel like a fancy, grown-ass woman (while staying within my budget, duh), and then quickly descended into shoes, which I’d previously dismissed while basking in a false sense of superiority. (I was above shoes, didn’t you know.) Eventually, the pieces I’d accumulated over the last few years—that I’d bought either to hide in, or as part of an overly declarative stage (“I am above trends! Look at this very loud sweater I insist you notice!”)—started to feel uncomfortable, and I began purging my wardrobe, making sure that if/when I bought replacements, they were things I felt strong in.
The same rule applied to makeup. While I’d once hidden behind thick black eyeliner and red lipstick, an allergic reaction (2015: the year that kept on giving) forced me to forego my traditional look. So, I started taking risks, boldly venturing into makeup trends I’d swear I’d never go before (black lipstick! no eyeliner! glitter!), but using them to add to the armour I was starting to build for myself. For the first time, I wasn’t using makeup to hide, I was using it to create a canvas on which to paint the good parts of myself. I am creative and loud and good at taking risks — and I didn’t have the energy to mute those aspects of myself anymore. So I began wearing them on my face instead, daring anyone who had a problem with how I presented myself to say something. (No one did.)
I took the same approach to clothes. While a good portion of 2014 saw me in younger, OTT pieces (think of it as my last gasp of adult-onset adolescence), last year saw me aspire to being the boss bitch I knew I could be. So I mixed and matched vintage, wore platforms, bought a freakish amount of silver, gold, and sheer, and picked up pieces I previously would’ve told myself I couldn’t get away with (like a red Pink Tartan dress covered in a white lipstick print that would’ve terrified me before).
That’s how getting ready every day made me feel like a soldier for battle. Sure, I was stifling panic over where I was going, and what I was going to eat when I was there, and what if what I ate made me sick again, and oh shit it’s hard to get a deep breath right now isn’t it, but by taking time to plan my uniform — pieces I felt amazing in and makeup that complemented them accordingly — I gave myself a sense of control. Now, I was armouring up. I was building myself from the outside in, showcasing what I liked about myself while my internal monologue was consumed by anxiety and self doubt. I felt strong and I felt good about who I was telling the world I was (mainly because I was finally being and dressing completely like myself), and while the rest of my life felt like it was spinning out, my refusal to wear anything that didn’t make me feel strong gave me a much-needed sense of control. I may have felt like a mess, but getting dressed assured me I could still at least do this one thing.
And now it is 2016. And I can go to restaurants with a little less fear (salads and salmon for life, everybody), I can make plans with a lot less hesitancy, and I’ve given myself office hours so I can avoid burning out like it’s August ‘15. But I still get ready for social situations by planning the pieces I wear, the makeup I apply, and the person I want to be that day.
Peacetime may be upon me, but I’ll always be ready to fight my personal war.
The post How I used fashion and beauty to regain control of my life appeared first on FASHION Magazine.