I am confident that I look good as a person. I have my little things that I worry about, like spots, or the fact that you can see my ribs if I wear a low neckline, but in general I’m comfortable that I’m good-looking.
This is not, however, the same thing as being comfortable looking good. In fact, I used to avoid looking good. I’d constantly dress down, avoid make-up, wear baggy clothes that hide my body-shape, and pull my hair back in a ponytail rather than do anything fancy with it.
If you asked me why I did this I’d probably tell you that I was happy with the way I look. Or I might tell you that I didn’t want the effort of getting dressed up every day. Or perhaps I’d say that I relished the surprised looks when I did get all dressed up. I’m sure that for many people these are true statements, but for me they’ve always been lies.
When I started dealing with my depression I read a lot of suggestions that getting up and making yourself look good every day could make a huge difference and, because I like to try things at least once before I dismiss them, I gave it a go. It did make a huge difference. Just dressing confident and standing confident gave a lot more force to the bit of me that was *acting* confident. It reduced a lot of my anxiety in social situations not to have to worry about both (to my mind) looking inadequate *and* feeling inadequate. And putting on my good clothes and makeup just for a day around the house re-inforced the fact that I was doing all this for me, and not for any judgmental people out there whose opinions I didn’t care about.
Gradually my wardrobe has improved, and the outfits that were kept aside for special occasions are now regular wear. And I love it. It makes me feel good and happy in myself, and when people comment on it, well, it’s always good to get outside re-inforcement of how awesome you are!
So why do I bring this up now?
I bring this up because I recently had a reminder of what I was afraid of, back before I took care of how I looked. I had someone express interest in me.* After I turned him down he continued lavishing compliments on me, in quite a creepy and judgemental way (including such comments as “Your ass looks great in those jeans, but I’m really not sure about the hoodie.”), and spoke and acted in ways that made me deeply uncomfortable (including the complete no-no of entering my bedroom uninvited and then making a rape joke).
My first course of action would be to state outright that this was bothering me. I did so. It didn’t work. No matter how I tried I was met by an impenetrable wall of “But I don’t see anything wrong with it!”
My second would be to avoid the situation, but due to circumstances that wasn’t an option. (He was renting a room in the house I live in.)
My third solution was to deal with any incidents as they arose and remind myself that how I look is my own business, and that I am my own person, and that if anything happened I could cope… and there I faltered badly.
I began to fall back into old patterns of thinking. I dressed down in order to avoid attention. I retreated to my safe places and allowed discomfort to stop me from doing what I wanted, in case he was there. In one case I even heard him coming and removed the necklace I was wearing because I couldn’t cope with him complimenting it. I stopped looking good. I stopped looking good because of what someone else thought of me.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was the worst decision in the situation. I was feeling under threat so I acted to make myself feel less threatened. I’m in no way unhappy about doing that. But it did drive home to me why I’ve always avoided looking good. It drove home to me why sometimes I’m scared to dress beautifully. Because if you look “too good” some people will want you. And there are some people out there who, if they want you, will try and take you. And that scares me.
Eventually I took a fourth course of action: I called in the troops. I rang people in my support network, and I let them know that this wasn’t just a little problem, but something that I *really needed* backup on. And they came through for me, big time.
My landlord was supportive and told the guy he’d have to start looking for a new place. My friends came around to the house so I wouldn’t be alone with him. They invited me out to movies to distract me. They reminded me that feeling scared and helpless in my own house was neither normal nor okay, and that I had every right to act to stop it.
Once it was over, I kept reaching for the baggy clothes and the worn jeans. I kept feeling scared and not wanting to somehow attract another situation like that. But I won’t give in to the fear this time, because I’m going to look good and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me. I’m doing it because I don’t want to be the mouse that hides in her room. I don’t want to be the meek one who isn’t sure if she has any right to ask someone to stop making creepy comments and jokes. I want to be a person, like everyone else. I want to be ME.
*For ease of writing I’m going to refer to this person as “he” but it’s really irrelevent what gender they were.