“Let me tell you quite frankly…”
This was the subject line of an email I recently received from a woman who needed, in her words, “no help with her style“, yet she’d downloaded my free How to Build a Fabulous Wardrobe guide and then decided that I needed to be told everything that was wrong with me and my style, from being “overweight, overdone and out of date” and how I’m aging myself (as if there is a law against looking over the age of 21 and being anything other than model thin). After her litany of things I’m doing wrong and how I should just be hiring some “print models” to showcase style information ( as who wants to see a middle-aged woman with my style, or weight on the internet? I mean, you gotta cover your eyes or look away, there should be a health warning I’m sure🤣 ), and really, “just tell every to be objective and look in the mirror” and then “ask men what they think”, because of course, men are the ones who know what women should be wearing as if we women couldn’t possibly be smart enough to decide for ourselves what we want to wear and what works for us, our personality, lifestyle, and bodies
She signed off with “I hope at least some of what I have written today is of some use to you.” as if she was doing me a favour by spamming my inbox with unsolicited and rude opinions as if they were facts and I should enjoy getting her email and be thanking her. She obviously missed the memo “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”.
I shared some of this on my socials and got some wonderful comments back, one of my favourites was “It’s much cheaper to sling mud than throw flowers”. And it’s true, and this is why I shared in my reply to the writer of this email, Brene Brown’s words in her book Daring Greatly (based on Theodore Roosevelt’s epic quote):
“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their own lives, but will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those of us trying to dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear-mongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Now I’m all for constructive feedback as I’m keen to improve my advice, my programs, and my services. But the minute you give irrelevant advice (come on, commenting on what she perceived as my weight issue is completely irrelevant to the quality of my style advice), and destructive feedback to someone, well what happens? Our brains shut down immediately. It’s toxic and should be treated that way.
I try and maintain a growth mindset, and it’s why I’m always reading, learning, and trying to improve what I do and know. And this morning as I was walking my lovely whippets around the park, I was listening to an audiobook all about improving how you think (it’s called Elite Minds by Dr Stan Beecham) where he was talking about the research around getting people to do better. What was interesting was that when you ask people to write down the best advice they’ve ever gotten, the kind of advice that has made the biggest impact on them. Well, it turns out, it was positive rather than negative advice. Negative advice tends to make us turn off, turn away or just give up because it makes us feel not good enough.
In fact, what was fascinating was the research around telling people to “do better” compared to “do your best”.
Did you know that “do better” is perceived as negative feedback whilst “do your best” is positive and much more motivating. This is because you can always “do better” and can make you feel like you’re never improving.
What’s this got to do with style?
Well, I’m always trying to help all my program members and clients (and anyone who takes the time and effort to read this blog) improve their style, in a way that is relevant and right for them. And I know language and word choices have a big impact, yet I’d never heard about the “better vs best” research before and it’s opened my eyes to thinking about these words and their impact in a new way. I may have used “what would be better” before and now want to rethink how I phrase my advice.
I can completely see how if all that’s ever pointed out is what’s wrong, then you can feel like a failure and that you’re getting everything wrong. As I was walking and listening to Dr Beecham’s book, I heard, what I’d say would make a great t-shirt slogan, and so I voice memoed it down to share with you:
“We don’t fail because there is something wrong with us. We fail because we are human.”
Mic drop 🎤
Nobody and nothing is perfect.
And that includes me and any of my outfits. And I don’t try to be perfect. I just strive for continual improvement and good enough.
In fact, I don’t believe in perfection or perfectionism (I find for me it’s a form of fear that drives procrastination).
As humans we are imperfect and nothing we do is ever perfect, but we are definitely enough. Just being alive means you’re good enough.
What is your self-talk around your own body, outfits, and style?
It’s very easy to tell yourself that you’d never speak to someone else like the writer talked to me, but do you talk to yourself in a negative way? Do you tell yourself you’re too old, too stupid, too fat, too unstylish, too… yet you’d never ever say these unkind words to anyone else? Recently I did a fun jewellery-making class and I overheard one of the other participants, who was getting frustrated with herself saying “you stupid, stupid woman” and it made me sad. I’m sure she’d never ever say that to anyone else, and learning a new skill can be frustrating at times, but it’s no reason to be so harsh and mean to yourself.
It’s a great reminder that you need to speak to have the same standards for your self-talk as you do in talking to others. Now I don’t want you immediately criticizing yourself for your poor self-talk habits, but it’s good to catch yourself and remember to stop yourself before you keep going and really run yourself down.
Then I stumbled over this graphic below – click the > on the right to see it – from author, podcaster and organisational psychologist Adam Grant (author of many great books including Give and Take, as well as Think Again) which I think is a great reminder of your best will look different on different days and that’s completely OK.
View this post on Instagram
Every day I try and do my best, and I’m sure you too are doing the same thing. After I shared a little from this email on my socials I received many really lovely comments from wonderful readers who have found what I offer to be both useful, educational, and inspirational and were of a very different opinion to the writer of the email. Those comments really did warm my heart and it’s so lovely to receive such an outpouring of support so I thank all of you who commented sharing your kind words and love.
There is already so much negativity in the world, with people out there attempting to tear each other down so frequently, it’s a sad state of affairs. This reminds me of this movie clip I saw on the brilliant and inspirational Ben Crowe’s Instagram feed:
View this post on Instagram
and yes they will build you up and then tear you down, it’s a predictable pattern. And because I’ve had some success on the internet, I’m seen as someone who should be torn down and I get that’s the sad predictable pattern that abounds as it’s those who feel like they should have the attention that tend to do the tearing down.
But the quote from this that really got to me and gave me the shivers:
“A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it. Then it has meaning”
Your style is yours
Clothes are just clothes, and shoes are just shoes, but how you put them together, in a way that expresses your personality, that is authentic to you, that communicates who you are, well that is powerful. You give the clothes meaning.
What’s great is that YOU get to choose what they are and how you do it. Personal style is not about making the masses happy, or being some sort of clone and following every fashion trend. And it’s definitely not about copying what I wear, this is why I don’t do posts titled “the jeans you have to own this season” or “10 things every woman needs in her wardrobe” because, well you are an individual and those lists are generic and have nothing to do with you, your personal taste and aesthetic, let alone your lifestyle, location, culture, and physical needs.
It’s about expressing yourself through what you wear as a form of non-verbal communication that speaks loudly before you open your mouth. It’s a tool that can give you more confidence and courage to do the things you want to do in the world. This is why I’m so passionate about sharing what I’ve learned over the past 20 years, because I see how positive an effect finding your style can have on your whole life.
What I love is that so many wonderful courageous women have contacted me and let me know that finding their own style is something that I’ve helped them with by sharing my knowledge, both here on Inside Out Style and also through my online programs and masterclasses. So if you too are sick of one-size-fits-all (or, in reality, one size fits no one) then I’d love to help you more personally via one of these outlets and help you elevate your own style.