Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about our flaws and how we conceal them, or choose not to. Personally I don’t like the negative connotation of the word “flaw”, because most of the time these so-called flaws are just differences from a societal norm. And I would love everyone to be happy exactly the way they are rather than chasing some perceived ideal. Yet I find myself offering advice, to readers of YLF and to my clients, on how to conceal and camouflage. In some cases I conceal my own “flaws” and in other cases I expose them with no concern at all. Do I have a double standard?

I see the same conceal-versus-expose disparity reflected in my clients:

  • Some like to cover up, even though their bodies are very close to society’s norm for perfection, and those who are comfortable with exposure do not necessarily have “perfect bodies”.
  • Some are extremely sensitive to the exposure of muffin top, whereas others are less perturbed about it.
  • Some insist on covering the top part of their arms, whereas others happily go sleeveless.
  • Some are uncomfortable sans hosiery, while others are just fine baring their legs.
  • Some like to expose their backs, while others prefer to hide them.
  • Some happily wear regular length tops with skinnies, whereas others will only wear tunics.
  • And as time goes by, some clients prefer to cover up more than they used to, whereas others become more brave about exposure.

Often when I grapple with something like this I take my thoughts to Greg. He has a way of finding the factors at the root of a problem and in this case, after I explained my ideas, he suggested that I frame it in terms of two distinct phases:

  1. Our influences: We are constantly absorbing information from the world around us. Some of this is conscious, but most of it is sub-conscious. The outfits we see on other people, the models we see on the catwalk, the pictures in fashion magazines, conversations we overhear, things our friends and family tell us — all of this is stored away. Without even knowing it, all of these pieces of information are processed and distilled into a summarized version that we call…
  2. Our beliefs: These are the things that our internal voice tells us. We can’t remember exactly where they came from, but they guide our decisions. We all see slightly different things, in slightly different ways, and process them slightly differently. Although we may share some of them, everyone has a unique set of beliefs.

This immediately explained my apparent conflict. When I am getting dressed in the morning it is my current beliefs that matter, not the influences that led to them. I put together my outfits based on what I believe looks good on me that day. Some of those beliefs are based on positive influences, like my Mum’s style, and others are based on negative societal norms. But regardless of the source, those are my current beliefs and I listen to my internal voice.

It also explains the differences between my clients, and why it is impossible for me to lay out universal guidelines for what to cover up and what to expose. What I can suggest is that you be more conscious of the process that leads you to your beliefs about your body and how to dress it. I think there are two important components to this.

First, be true to your current beliefs. Wear the things that make you feel beautiful, confident and happy. If that means concealing your muffin top because your internal voice tells you to do so, then do it! I can offer advice on how to do so effectively. When my clients ask for my opinion, I first ask them about their comfort levels and never force an issue. I’ll also nudge them in a direction if they are particularly self conscious, like suggesting that everyone can wear sleeveless and sport legs sans hosiery in my style world. But if they’d prefer to cover up, then that works for me too.

Second, question your beliefs. Question the reasons that your internal voice is telling you to conceal your muffin top or hide your upper arms. Was it because some rag laughed at a celebrity for exposing theirs? Or was it that someone implied you were overweight? If so, are these really good reasons for you to feel bad about your body?

Of course, this internal dialog won’t change your opinion on your own muffin top or your arms right away, but it is possible that by considering the influences that informed your beliefs, you will defuse them. At some point down the road you might find that the muffin top issues and upper arm issues just aren’t as important to you as they used to be.

Finally, consider the way your beliefs, a product of your influences, impact the way you judge other people and their style choices. You might find the mere hint of muffin top, white veiny legs, and untoned upper arms unsightly, but the fact is that not everyone does. You are entitled to your beliefs, but I think it is important to remember that they will certainly differ to those of others.

How you feel about your body is a constant journey of introspection and self acceptance as your body changes over time. When to conceal and when to expose will be based on your beliefs at the current stage in this journey. Make peace with these current beliefs, but never stop questioning those beliefs and striving for self acceptance.

One change you can make right away? No more references to figure “flaws”. These are, after all, just ways that your body is different to what you currently believe is ideal. Conceal them today, but strive to accept them tomorrow.