Comfortable on the Outside and Inside

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The other day I saw a woman struggling in the parking lot. I felt bad for her. How was she was going to make it to the Publix door? I thought about offering her some help. But she wasn’t elderly or disabled. She was wearing, what looked to be like some very uncomfortable, four-inch, purple heels.
“What’s wrong with her?” My husband asked.
“She’s having a hard time, huh?” I replied.

We laughed.

But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t that funny. Why was she wearing those heels? Don’t get me wrong. I’m the last person to criticize heel wearers. I used to teach high school in 2-3 inch wedges most days for ten years. As an elementary school instructional coach, the front office staff would often ask, “Where are you going?” because my shoes didn’t match my environment. My closet is now a mausoleum for years of heel choices. However, if I ever thought I was going to be uncomfortable, then either I didn’t buy them, or I packed a pair of flip-flops or flats.

But I guess the culture has changed a bit.

“You know when women are always looking for a man, it causes them to make some uncomfortable choices,” I thought out loud.

“Nope,” my husband answered, “that’s how they dress at work, married women too, sitting at a desk.”

Seems a bit illogical, I thought. Sitting at a desk, wearing four-inch heels that no one will really see. Even Wendy Williams wears flats and then changes before she goes out for a show.

It’s not just shoes though. It’s liquid leggings. It’s skinny jeans, specifically made for certain body types. I mean, it’s in the description, skinny. It’s exposed muffin tops peeking over the tops of shorts. It’s button up shirts with the second button hanging on for dear life. It’s “wait a minute let me suck in before you take that picture,” so I don’t have physical proof of my discomfort.

Some women look uncomfortable.

There’s a lot of contemporary conversation about being yourself and being comfortable with who you are. But I beg to understand: How can women be comfortable in their own skin when they’re not even comfortable in their own clothes?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t shoe shaming This is not a sermon about covering up your body.  This is just a suggestion. If your jeans feel better off than on, then maybe you should consider a style that fits your body type.

And by all means, if you can’t make it from the grocery store parking lot to the front door, then maybe you should choose a lower heel. Or at least carry some flats.

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My Photoshopped Self

You hear it all the time. Be yourself. How hard is it to be you? And what exactly does that mean? Is it okay to throw a filter on an image and crop it so that you look a little prettier? What about when you ask someone to re-take a picture cause you forgot to suck in your belly? I don’t really have the answer. In fact, I only began to question this  recently.  Being myself in photos has always been pretty simple. Until I learned one day how easy it is to present a different version of me. A Photoshop version.

A few weeks ago, I needed a professional picture for my book. I contacted my neighbor, Mr. LeeVon, a professional photographer. One Saturday, we walked around our shared apartment’s backyard and took a few shots. Here’s the one that I chose:

be_yourself1

Looks okay, I thought, until Mr. LeeVon said, “Okay. Gimme a minute and I’ll touch these up for you.”

“Oh wow,” I said, “You’re gonna make me all fancy!”

A couple of hours later, my phone vibrated while I stood in the Target checkout line. It was my Gmail. Mr. LeeVon had sent the Photoshopped picture.

“Oh my gosh!” I showed my husband. “I look like a celebrity!”

He squinched up his face and said flatly, “He needs to try it again. That looks fake.” be_yourself2

My eyes dropped. And then my smile.

“Show K—,” he directed.

I couldn’t stop staring at the transformation. “Look at this!” I said hoping for some semblance of validation.

“Oh no, mommy. It looks…I don’t know. It looks…plastic. That doesn’t look like you.”

At this point I was a bit annoyed. All I had said was that I looked like a celebrity. “Well, what should I tell him, then?”

“Give you some natural lines. Make your face look more real,” my husband offered. “It doesn’t look like you,” he reiterated. And then, “You can’t have a book about being yourself and the picture doesn’t even look like you.”

Okay. He had a point. How could I promote the idea of “being yourself” and not look like my-self. I had a brief internal struggle. Why not just use the original picture? Why have a touched up image at all? I asked Mr. LeeVon to try it again, repeating my husband’s words almost verbatim.

Here’s the revision. be_yourself3

My husband liked it. My daughter liked it. I liked it. And so did 100 other Facebook friends. Secretly though, I felt a little fake because picture number one is how I really looked, even if there is very little difference. I also began to understand how quick it is to become filtered and phony. All it takes is one slightly altered pic and a little external validation.