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.