NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Body Image Rehab.
I recently watched an episode of the modeling competition show, “She’s Got the Look,” which brought the above questions to the forefront of my mind. For those who aren’t familiar with this show, it’s similar to “America’s Next Top Model,” but geared toward women ages 35 and older. The winner of the show is awarded a spread in Self Magazine and a contract with Wilhemina Models.
Resistant to Change
On the second episode of this season’s show, the contestants were all given makeovers at a top hair salon. One of the models, Jocelyn, refused to have her long hair cut in the manner that was suggested. After some provocation, she agreed to have a few inches cut off and some layers added to her hair. Her naturally curly hair was styled straight after the cut, as was done with the other curly-haired contestants.
Not only was Jocelyn extremely reluctant to alter her look, she was highly dissatisfied with the results of her makeover. Although what I saw was a beautiful woman with either curly or straight hair, Jocelyn regarded her “after” look as unattractive. While looking into the mirror, she tearfully declared, “I used to feel beautiful and now I just don’t.” She also considered leaving the competition and going home, all because a few inches were cut from her hair and she was given a straight style.
Jocelyn wasn’t able to consider that she could look beautiful any other way than the way to which she was accustomed. In my view, her new look was actually more beautiful than how she had looked before, and the other contestants and show judges agreed with me. It didn’t matter, though, as Jocelyn just couldn’t see what the others saw.
Striking a Chord…
This episode and Jocelyn’s sentiments struck a chord with me. I saw myself in the way in which Jocelyn reacted to her haircut. I recently looked at photos of myself from the past fifteen years. In almost all of the photos, I had long, straight hair. Sure, the color changed from time to time, but the style has remained virtually identical. Although I’ve gone out on a limb to change my hairstyle a few times, I’ve always come back to the same style to which I’ve grown accustomed in my adult life.
When I had to cut six inches from my hair last December following a bad reaction to a hair straightening process (see the post, “Perspective and Appreciation”), I was not happy with the way I looked. Like Jocelyn, I didn’t feel beautiful with my shorter hair. I have been growing my hair out ever since my December cut and I’m beginning to resemble my “old self” once again. But why wasn’t I okay with the way I looked with shorter hair?
A Number of “Image Ruts”
My hair is not the only aspect of my appearance that I am resistant to changing. I have basically worn the same make-up shades for as long as I can remember, and it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve made an effort to change the way I dress (see my post “Fashion Isn’t Frivolous”). I have often found myself into a major rut regarding to my appearance.
I have strong and rigid opinions about what makes me attractive, much like Jocelyn on “She’s Got the Look.” When I watched her “upset” regarding her hair, I received a jolt of self-awareness that was akin to looking in a mirror. I realized that I am equally as rigid about my appearance, and my “image rut” is just as ridiculous and unnecessary as Jocelyn’s.
I admire those people who tend to be style chameleons, people like Madonna, Victoria Beckham, Cher, and Rihanna. These women are open to change and don’t allow their attractiveness to be defined by a single aspect of their appearance. Madonna always seemed assured in her beauty regardless of whether her hair was long and dark or short and platinum blond. Rihanna can shave the sides of her head and still confidently strut her stuff on stage or around town. How can I unleash my inner Madonna or Rihanna? I know she’s got to be in there, simmering beneath the surface of the insecure woman in a style rut.
A Huge Leap or Baby Steps?
There are two schools of thought on this… One can take a huge leap, or one can proceed slowly and take “baby steps” out of her rut. Although I have taken the huge leap approach in the past (such as when I did a short, layered, blond style in 2002), I generally tread lightly and prefer the small step approach.
The important thing is to allow for change and to remain confident and self-assured along the way. Just as Jocelyn was still beautiful (if not more so) with her shorter and straighter hair, I didn’t lose my beauty when six inches were cut off my hair late last year. I also don’t move from attractive to ugly in one fell swoop if I gain five pounds, experience a hormonal breakout, or sprout a new wrinkle along my forehead.
A big part of “body image rehab” is taking risks and challenging ourselves to do things differently. It often takes a leap of faith to break away from the status quo and experience new freedom and confidence. For me, my body image issues have imprisoned me in a number of ruts that are limiting my self-expression and freedom. I refuse to wear a swimsuit, certain form-fitting clothing styles, a shorter hairstyle, or different make-up options.
I pride myself on being an open-minded person, but I have been extremely close-minded and resistant in terms of my appearance. Seeing Jocelyn on “She’s Got the Look” has awakened me to the ways in which I limit myself as a result of my constrained thinking about the way I look. It’s time for a change!
Moving Forward – Steps Toward Change
Moving forward, I agree to take the following steps to break out of my “image ruts”:
- Visit a make-up counter to try on and buy new make-up shades.
- Purchase a new swimsuit at long last (it’s been close to 10 years!).
- Try on some possible new hairstyles using virtual makeover software.
- Try on (and hopefully buy!) skinny jeans, shorter skirts, belts, and tucked-in shirts.
- Wear skirts and dresses in the cooler months (they’re not just for summer!).
What will you do to emerge from the image ruts that are limiting your life? I invite you to join me in taking baby steps (or a huge leap) outside of our comfort zones… to the freedom that lies on the other side!