It’s Scary to Wear Jewelry

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Heather Caliri -Jewellery3

A necklace really shouldn’t cause anyone this much anxiety. I bought it from a friend selling those fabulous accessories made by women moving out of poverty. Cute jewelry + women’s empowerment. Win-win.

I haven’t gotten myself a new necklace in years, I thought. It’s for a good cause.

I scrolled through the catalog and found a bold one: dangling gold bangles laying in sort of a chevron pattern. It was fun! It was different!

I clicked Buy Now.

Days later, the package arrived, and I opened it eagerly—

And my heart sank.

The necklace was about three times as big as I’d imagined. It was super cute, don’t get me wrong. But my style tends towards understated. Like really understated. Like I rarely wear jewelry at all.

Someone else could pull this beauty off, I said. But me?

I sighed. I hate returning online purchases. Also: I remembered that I’d felt the same way about the last two necklaces I’d splurged on. Apparently, I liked the idea of bold jewelry, but the actuality?

I apparently did not have jewelry chutzpah.

Maybe I’ll wear it to church, I thought. That idea depressed me. I’d shelled out real cash for this thing, and I’d wear it a few times a year? Why bother to spend the money in the first place.

I slid open my dresser drawer and found a place for the necklace. Then I closed it, a little angry at myself.

A necklace really shouldn’t cause me this much anxiety.

I have an ambivalent relationship with fashion. I like my sense of style, but I often feel like the energy that goes into wardrobes, styling, and primping is energy I’d rather put someplace else, especially since I’d had kids.

In the ten years since my oldest was born, I stopped wearing perfume, blow-drying my hair, buying clothes I had to iron, reading fashion magazines, or wearing heels. And two years ago, when I burned down my life and remade it again, I stopped wearing makeup.

The makeup thing especially was intense. It took a while to get used to looking at my unadorned face in the mirror. It forced me to make peace with my wrinkles, undereye circles, colorless lashes, and the fact that I’m about to turn forty.

Being okay with just being me felt like a spiritual discipline. It freed me.

But lately, all that minimalism started feeling like a restriction. As if I could no longer give myself permission to look pretty, to care about clothes, to spend effort on my appearance. I didn’t begrudge other women the fun of buying a pretty sundress, but if I did, I felt guilty.

Why so many rules and restrictions? Had I really gotten rid of fashion’s power over me, or simply inverted it?

A few years ago, while reading Brené Brown’s book on shame, one of my big shame triggers popped up and bopped me in the nose. Most women try to make their efforts look effortless. Trying too hard is a no-no.

I’m the queen of trying too hard. I’m also the queen of pretending I don’t, of down-playing my organizational skills or aspirations or internal drive as just that silly little thing I do on the side. The truth is, I’m super intense and I like myself that way.

Why would a super-intense woman not wear intense jewelry if she felt like it?

The necklace sat in my drawer, chatting with my insecurity. My shopping history told me I wanted to wear big, bold necklaces. The woman I wished to become would put them on casually.

Why did she scare me? Why did I think she wasn’t me?

Slowly, it dawned on me: if I put on a necklace, people might see me.

I was afraid of being seen.

Wearing clothes started seeming dangerous to me in fourth grade. A girl named Libby moved to my school from Texas. She wore Ked sneakers, was cute, and became instantly popular. Suddenly, Esprit and Reebok were out, and Guess and Keds were in. My mom, understandably, did not re-buy my back-to-school wardrobe.

My closest friend started playing with Libby instead of me. One afternoon she called and told me, sadly but firmly, that I could not be included.

Months later, I finally got Keds and a Guess bag, but by then, they were old news, and it still didn’t get me invited to my old best friend’s birthday party. When all the girls were comparing their party favors, I wished I could simply disappear.

If I couldn’t be included, at least I could be invisible.

After that, it felt safer to dress plainly than to seem like a wanna-be. Safer to never wear the flowered hat I’d gotten for my birthday, safer to never wear anything too bold or fun or different.

Safer to keep necklaces I liked in a drawer than to actually wear them.

I think a lot of us struggle with giving ourselves permission to be seen in our own clothes. Megan Gahan posted beautifully on this just a few years ago. I’d like to be empowered to dress how I want to dress—whether that’s abandoning makeup or putting on mascara, donning a dress or wearing sweats, sticking to flats or rocking stilettos.

After a few weeks of that necklace sitting in my drawer, I realized I quite literally was keeping beauty locked away instead of enjoying it.

If I’ve learned anything about life, it’s that we need to embrace more beauty, not less. The person I want to be—well, she’s not out of reach. I just need to give myself permission to act like her.

The other Saturday, I put the necklace on with a long-sleeve t-shirt as I went to run errands. I picked up cabbage and reached for granulated garlic with the pinging of its bangles in my ears. It’s a bit like a golden breastplate. I decided I could be Athena at Whole Foods.

I’m choosing to put on beauty when I feel like it. I’m choosing to let my fashion, my intensity, and my taste be seen.

I’m choosing to live as the woman I want to be.

Heather Caliri -Jewellery5

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who loves British murder mysteries, advice columns, and hot breakfasts. She uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

Latest posts by Heather Caliri (see all)

Heather Caliri
  • I LOVE THIS, Heather!!!!

    • yay, thank you. I love getting my editor excited 🙂

  • Oh Heather. This post made me SO happy. Real, raw, genuine, honest. THIS is creating beauty with YOUR canvas. And that necklace? The right touch for a subtle statement. Xxx

    *p.s. I love your smile*

    • I love that you look at this necklace and think, “subtle”. I’m getting more used to wearing it, but MAN when I put it on those first few times it felt like I were putting on a full-size disco ball. That played “Stayin’ Alive” as I walked down the street. Not subtle. 🙂 (And thanks for the kind words. I feel more beautiful as I give myself permission to wear it.)

      • I hope you do hear “Stayin’ Alive” every time you wear this necklace. That it becomes your theme song as you strut the street catwalk in your own way. This is your night fever, friend and no one has to know it, but we can appreciate it. Xxx

        • Ha! Now I’m grooving. 🙂 (I do tend to dance in public. So maybe it’s fitting that I’m wearing a disco ball around my neck. Portable!)

  • Julianne Vandergrift

    Oh Heather! I love this! I feel a similar way about not taking up too much space or being big or loud in my body. You gave such insight and I have more to ponder. You are a joy! Thank you for sharing your intensity and boldness with us!

    • Thanks, Julianne 🙂 I’m so happy to see your name here. 🙂

  • sandyhay

    I so relate to this article. Many women my age look frumpy. no make-up, terrible hair cuts, awful clothes . Or exactly the opposite. WAY too much make up , badly colored hair, clothes my grandchildren wear, I think you get this picture. To be comfortable in our own skin, with our own style, now that’s freedom. And I love the necklace 🙂

    • Thanks! I used to love watching the show ‘What not to wear” and it was always interesting how the people they made over got stuck in a particular period of their life, and how many emotions were tied up in what they wore. I think most of do that to some extent. It’s hard to give yourself permission to try new things or change your image. It feels like putting a spotlight on yourself.

  • Oh man–it’s so true the need that is felt to downplay what we do so it doesn’t seem like we tried too hard. YAY for being a super intense person and being so okay with being a super intense person. Your words have empowered me today.

    • GOOD! I’m here vibrating with intensity, cheering you on 🙂

  • Rea

    I love this post. I’m trying to rediscover what it means to be empowered to dress the way I want to dress. I have always been a jeans and t-shirt person (who sometimes also likes pretty stuff). Somehow a few years back I got it into my head that women in their 40’s should not wear t-shirts with printing/pictures/etc on them. So I sought out plain t-shirts which bored the life out of me. Recently I began to think “Why?” I’m gradually adding back t-shirts with cool graphics or sayings because life is too short to not have fun with my clothes. I’m choosing to let myself be seen, in all my nerdy, bookish, social justice-y glory.

    • YES. The rules I set for myself are so Byzantine and perplexing, and every once in a while, I’m like, “Who says I can’t do that?” and I realize it’s ME. 🙂

    • Tracy Nelson

      yes! there is a great T-shirt on Amazon about being a zebra, that I’ve been eyeing ….

  • Abby Norman

    You are the cutest and yessss! I took me a long time to not feel scary in my bold lipstick but I love bold lipstick! Also, I like you intense.

    • Oooh, lipstick is so scary. I started occasionally wearing red last year and it’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s fun, too 🙂

      • Abby Norman

        that is me not for the faint of heart but fun!

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  • Megan Gahan

    The first thing I saw when this post popped up was that stunning picture of you. The necklace suits you sooooo beautifully, particularly with the blue. I was shocked when you said you were intimidated to wear it! Your words brought back so many memories of the “Libby” of my growing up years, and my decision to wrap myself in layers of comfortable flannel and baggy jeans. I told myself I didn’t want to be pretty. I would be smart instead. Thank you for speaking so authentically to where you are in this journey . . .it’s helped me more accepting of where I am (looooong way to go!). And thank-you for the honourable mention! I was completely floored! Much love, my friend.

    • Angela Morrow

      I was the one who decided to be smart instead of pretty too. And I can too totally name the “Libby” of my childhood & teen years.

      • Oh, Libby. I wonder how she’s doing now 🙂 Fourth grade is hard for everyone.

    • So funny, Megan, I think of you as so put together, and when I read that earlier post of yours I was really floored. It helps us all when we’re honest with each other, because then we stop assuming we’re alone in feeling nervous about silly things like dresses or jewelry. So glad to be standing strong with you.

  • Tracy Nelson

    Good for YOU, Heather. I love this. It’s the thing that we all often think but would never say … I have so much locked away … some days I want to be invisible… and I think that is ok. But it’s not ok every day, because we all have our own unique beauty to offer the world, so I also want to look the best I can, some days …. some days a statement necklace or pretty scarf is all it takes to start a friendly conversation in the store, or while waiting at school, or ??? People WANT to connect, and it gives them something to connect to, until we can go deeper …. so this is a great reminder. Thank you. I noticed you at our gathering … I noticed your sweet smile and cool piecy hair 🙂

    • I love that take on it, Tracy! Yes, accessories can be such conversation starters. And yes, it is okay to be quiet and small sometimes–sometimes just getting through the day is hard enough without putting any extra pressure on ourselves. But if we have the bandwidth, I’m finding, to my surprise, that fashion can be kind of fun 🙂

  • Helene Burns

    This is awesome Heather – I honestly think we can all relate in some way – I know I can. I was so hoping you included a photo as I scrolled through reading the post and there you are so very beautiful wearing a necklace that looks so great on you.

    My closet has more than a few hats that I have purchased and though I love them when I am trying them on in the store, I am never brave enough to wear them out. Your necklace story is prompting me.

    Here’s to enjoying the beauty that speaks to each of our own hearts. xo

    • Wow, Helene–it surprises me to know you feel the same way, though it probably shouldn’t. Hats are hard, though I don’t feel as drawn to them as I used to. It’s amazing to give ourselves permission to stick out. xo

  • I am so with you on big, funky necklaces! I love the way others look in them but I get scared right before leaving the house…. Maybe I’ll try the grocery store. 😉 I’m thinking of the ways I compare my own journey to what seems like the ease of others. I’m learning to recognize what I do well and celebrate what others do well. (Not easy!)

    • Ha! Yes, I’ve started trying to wear all my jewelry, and it does get easier. Like getting used to the temperature of the pool 🙂

  • Angela Morrow

    Wow I am with you on thinking better to be plain than a wanna-be. So don’t want to be seen as the 40 year old woman who is “trying too hard”.

    • Yes, I get this. I’m finding it helps to focus on stuff that brings me joy and ease and beauty–and that doesn’t always look fancy. Centering in myself is a great antidote to the paralysis of staying invisible.

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    “I’m the queen of trying too hard. I’m also the queen of pretending I
    don’t, of down-playing my organizational skills or aspirations or
    internal drive as just that silly little thing I do on the side. The truth is, I’m super intense and I like myself that way.”

    Wow, I really connect with these words! And so many of the others. I struggle with giving myself permission to be who I am, in many ways including in what clothes I wear. The shame and insecurity struggles are real. Thank you so much for sharing! Gotta echo what Idelette said: “I LOVE THIS!” 🙂

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