How many of us have something we dislike about the way we look? Everyone reading this got their hand up? That doesn’t surprise me.
We live in a world that scrutinises everything about our appearances. From the colour of our skin, to our complexion and how big our thighs are. We’re told that if we don’t look a certain way, then there is something wrong with us. If we’re bigger than the ‘socially accepted’ size, then we’re not worthy of love and not worthy of happiness. And so we should strive to look how society says we should.
We should spend every minute of every day worrying about how many calories we eat and how we look when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. We should pick ourselves apart and spend our lives fixated on how we look.
How damaging is this?
I went through childhood believing that there was so much wrong with me. You could pick anything, from my hair to my eyelashes, nails and belly button and I’d tell you what I despised about it so much. I hated every single part of me for one reason or another and it sadly began at a very young age.
My hair was a ‘dull’ colour. My ears were too big. My nose was too big. My lips were too small. My teeth were not white enough. My face was a weird shape. My neck was too long. My hips were too wide. My belly button was too large. My hands were too small. My nails were too short. My thighs were too wobbly. My knees were a weird shape. My feet were unfeminine. And there’s loads more that I could rattle off.
Sometimes, I had people reinforce these beliefs or they were even the people to come up with them in the first place and plant this new thing I hated about myself in my head. Sometimes, I just came up with them myself, after staring into a mirror for a lot of my childhood and teen years. After looking at women in music videos, magazines and adverts, and being told by people in my life all that was wrong with me, I over scrutinised every single thing about myself, which lead onto me believing some detrimental beliefs, by the time I was a teenager.
It wasn’t healthy.
I believed I was not worthy of love. Or happiness. And that no one would ever love me or find me attractive. I believed that I couldn’t wear certain clothes due to my ‘flaws’ and that other people would laugh at me if I went against this.
What I didn’t realise until my late teens, was that I was entitled to just be me. And be whoever the heck I wanted to be. And look however the heck I wanted to look.
This is when I discovered the pin-up and vintage style.
As mentioned on here before, I started to become interested in pin-up and vintage fashion around eighteen years old, when at college and working on several assignments that all featured Marilyn in one way or another. The way she walked with confidence and wore whatever the heck she fancied, no matter how tight-fitting and revealing of her wide hips and curvaceous body, started to change my perception of my body.
She made curves look good. Really good! And she was confident. That was the most important thing. She wore clothes that she felt confident wearing, that embraced who she was and made her happy.
And as I dug deeper and deeper into the clothing of this period, I started to recognise patterns of clothing that embraced not only curvaceous body types but every body type. There were dresses, skirts, jeans and shorts that created or enhanced hourglass figures in women, but also shirt dresses, blouses and trousers that embraced and created less hourglass-type shapes. At a time in history when women wore clothes because they liked them and how they made them feel, as oppose to what society told them to wear based on their ‘imperfections’.
As someone with a natural hourglass body type (small waist, with wide hips and bust) and bigger thighs and bottom, who found it hard to shop for my body shape and feel confident in mainstream clothing, I was inspired to, instead of cover up my curves or try to disguise them, embrace them and enhance them. I was inspired to accept who I was, what my body was and come to complete acceptance with that. I felt kind of awkward and uncomfortable in most modern clothing, and found the femininity and glamour of vintage styles a perfect fit for me. I felt me. I suddenly felt excited about clothes and how they made me feel, instead of how unsightly I felt I looked in the clothes shop changing rooms I usually went in to. Nothing felt as perfect as vintage style clothing when I tried it on.
With styles of the 1950’s era and pin-up clothing, it’s all about being confident and feeling comfortable, powerful and possibly even sexy in your own skin. The clothes are meant to encourage you to embrace who you are and own it. If you want, they can play on your curves and show them off, but they can portray whatever you want. You can go for fun prints and bright colours. You can have so much more fun than just following what media and society tells you to wear.
As someone who never got their legs out, living in black skinny jeans (even in the summer!) because I’d been told that my legs were a weird shape and too pale to be on show, wearing a dress seemed daunting at first. Honestly, it now seems weird to think that I never wore anything other than jeans! I wear dresses and skirts most days, now.
Before I started wearing pin-up and vintage style clothes, I barely owned any dresses – even though that’s hard to believe now! Getting my first vintage style dress and having my pale, ‘weird shaped’ legs out was such a strange experience, and nerve wracking, but it soon felt very comfortable and right. I felt liberated. Even though I was made to feel like they shouldn’t be something I’m comfortable showing. And with dresses being the most-worn staple of any pin-up’s or vintage girl’s closet, I soon learnt that I was totally able and entitled to wear whatever dresses, skirts and shorts I wanted. And I learned to like my legs.
With one ‘flaw’ conquered – my ‘pale and weird shaped legs’ – I began combating other negative thoughts. As soon as I realised that I could accept one part of me that I hated, I started to accept the others, too.
As I scrolled through Instagram and Facebook, I saw other pin-up gals embracing the curves of their wide hips. I felt envious of them for looking so fabulous and confident, until I realised that there was nothing stopping me from feeling the same way. I experimented with more waist belts and skirts that sat at my waist instead of my hips – which suddenly created a silhouette I felt much more at home with – and fitted tops that showed off my hips and waist. The hips I used to feel so uncomfortable about in mainstream clothing were suddenly embraced in the vintage, pin-up style. I felt fabulous! I felt me.
And the pale skin I was always told was ugly, because I never tanned and ‘looked ill’ all the time, is no better embraced than in the pin-up community. Sure, there are men and women of all colours and races who follow this style, which means that literally any skin colour is celebrated as being beautiful and accepted in the community. And it goes for hair colours and types, complexions and body shapes, too. When you’re following a style that is all about the fun of vintage clothing, the way it moves when you walk, the colours, prints and the way it makes you feel, that also encompasses whatever else makes you, YOU.
I also began experimenting with the hair and make up of this era and loved the creativity of bold lipsticks and winged eyeliner. The way heels make me walk (though I don’t wear them every day!) also made me feel powerful, confident and full of business. I walk with sass.
The pin-up style taught me to embrace every single one of my ‘flaws’ and to take a step back from mainstream messages and societal norms. It has taught me to embrace who I am, my body, my skin colour, my ‘wide hips’ and more. It taught me to say bog off to what society tells me I should be, whether that’s a size 0, size 10, tanned, with perfect skin or a full set of abs. And accept who I already am, which makes me see life in such a healthier way. I am fine just the way I am and I’m entitled to feel confident and comfortable in my own skin. I no longer look in the mirror and hate the reflection, like I used to. I look and smile at the content person I’ve made peace with, staring back at me.
When we stop picking ourselves or others apart, we make room to be happier. And would you rather spend your whole life never entirely happy with yourself, or having been happy and content?
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