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Friday, May 12, 2006

Feel good on the outside, smile on the inside

By Bridgette Raes

Like most women, I try to make a date to watch Oprah as often as possible. I recently caught an episode that really made me stop and pay attention. It was about young girls in Ethiopia, many of whom are married and pregnant before the age of thirteen. Because their bodies are hardly developed (many have only been menstruating a very short while,) after enduring several days of labor without the aid of any pain medication or support, these young girls are giving birth to stillborn babies. Sadly, this is not the worst of the effects that these girls are experiencing from having children too early. As a result of early childbearing, these girls are also left with a permanent condition called a Fistula which leaves them permanently unable to control their excretory functions. As a result urine and feces constantly drip down their legs, which causes their husbands and community to shun them because of this condition. For a fuller story about this click here

However, there is hope for these girls. Oprah continued to speak about Dr. Catherine Hamlin, an Australian gynecologist who has spent the last 44 years in Ethiopia and who is a pioneer in performing surgery for women with obstetric fistula. Dr. Hamlin is giving hope to women who feel like their lives have been ruined, who have no self-worth and are social outcasts from their community through no fault of their own.
Touched by this, I continued to watch the episode and was struck by one part in particular. After these women are cured by Dr. Hamlin and are ready to leave the clinic, each girl is given a new dress representing new beginnings so they can re-enter the world with their heads held high. To think that something as simple as a new dress was part of the healing process for these women really left an impression on me, and reconfirmed my feeling that the way we feel on the outside makes a great impact.

To some, makeovers or focusing too much attention on our outer selves seems frivolous or self-indulgent. There are still many women who, when meeting with me for the first time, tell me that while they are excited they also feel like they are being indulgent by hiring someone like me to help them. There is still a stigma about paying a significant amount of money to work on our outer beauty. But is it really such a shallow and self-indulgent thing? When we feel good on the outside, doesn’t it make us smile a bit more on the inside? Think about the last time you loved the way you looked and the impact it had on how you approached life, not to mention the freedom it provided.

Self expression isn’t just what comes out of our mouths; it is expressed through visual representation as well. In fact, the greatest way we are perceived and judged by people is through our non-verbal communication (which includes our image,) The number one request I get from clients is that they want to learn how to express outwardly who they are on the inside. This hardly seems like a shallow or self-indulgent thing.
This week, I want all of you to think about where you aren’t giving yourself the opportunity to smile a bit more on the inside, and more importantly, really start identifying how it may be affecting you. I will share my own realization from this past week, to show you just how great an impact this can have.

When I am not seeing clients I work from my home. I have admitted in the past that when eyes aren’t on me, the way I look can slip. I come home from yoga and find that hours can pass before I get out of my yoga clothes; that some mornings I barely make it from pajamas to a pair of tattered jeans and a t-shirt, and that a pony tail and no makeup can pretty often be standard. I may work in the image business, but I am also a thriving business owner who often has several tasks to deal with at once. As a result, even I let myself go when nobody is watching.

Last week, I had my apartment painted and had to let the painter in every day to do his job. Wanting to make sure that I was ready to let him in, I would wake up, jump in the shower, put a little makeup on and pull myself together before his arrival. As a result, I was a lot more productive last week, even with the disruption of painting going on. This week the painter is gone but I have kept the practice up because I saw the value in focusing on my inner smile. Instead of rolling from my bed to my office chair to check my email (which winds up turning into a good hour or two behind my computer) I do a quick email check, start the shower and choose something to wear that may be casual, but I feel good in. Before running to get my coffee in the morning, I have even chosen to throw on a little lip gloss and concealer. The positive effects of last week’s effort to take a little extra time in the morning actually wound up saving me more time in the end, because my productivity level increased.
As a very dear client of mine said recently, “It takes just as much effort to look bad as it does to look good.” This is wise advice that I encourage all of you to consider.
Does this mean wearing a dress to the playground with your kids or a new pair of jeans to scrub the tub? Of course not. However, function does not have to mean sacrificing style, and taking the time to make sure that you can enter the world every day with your head held high is hardly self indulgent.

Here is a checklist of questions you can ask yourself every morning before you leave the house:

1. What word describes how I feel in what I am wearing?

2. If I run into an old flame, other mothers in the neighborhood, the CEO of the company where I work, or if I get a last minute phone call from some friends to meet after work, do I feel like this is the outfit I want to be wearing?

3. Could I add something to this basic outfit to make me feel better? Instead of the old sneakers what about a fun ballerina flat, or can I find an accessory to throw on with my outfit for work that gives me that extra lift?

4. My life is pretty basic and jeans and a sweater are okay, but can I update some of my “go to” pieces that have started to wear out, so that I could feel better wearing these clothes?

5. Have I let myself slip because it doesn’t seem to matter?

6. What easy style steps can I add to my life that make me feel great yet are still practical?

If you haven’t previously taken the time to focus on this, then making this change may feel a bit awkward at first, but on those days when you do feel inclined to let yourself slide, remember the mornings where you left the house feeling less-than-great and whether it had a negative effect. Once you start making a commitment to your “inner smile” start taking notice of how you interact differently with others, how much more productive you are, and how much more freedom you feel. If this isn’t enough impetus to get out of that worn T shirt, scuffed shoes or five year old suit, than I don’t know what is! Feeling good about the way you look isn’t frivolous or self indulgent, it’s a declaration to the world of your own internal self worth, regardless of whether or not anyone is paying attention.

(c) 2005 Bridgette Raes Style Group

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