We all have features about ourselves that we try to hide. Try to cover up, deflecting the gaze of passersby to other things. Maybe this is a birthmark you find unsightly, an area of your body you wish you could tone. Whether it’s stature or shape or a tiny feature no one notices except you, in your heart they are your cross to bear. But the truth is, these beautiful ‘flaws’ mark a roadmap to who you truly are, and should never be hidden away.
Nearly every inch of my pale, Irish skin is covered in freckles. Tiny brown dots that occasionally try to ban together to resemble a tan in summer (though they never quite succeed). I am bespeckled like a sparrow’s egg, every embarrassment evident in my blush-happy cheeks, flushing at the slightest whisp of sunshine. When we were first dating, I remember Mr. Dressed pulling my arm towards him and snaking a trail along my freckles with his fingertips. He laughed and called them my constellations, casting patterns of figurines I guessed only he could see, lacking the ability to ever count them all. I remember loving him all the more for delighting in my quirk, but not quite ready to share what those freckles truly represent.
A lot of people have asked me in recent years (particularly since I started the blog), where my confidence comes from. If I’ve always had some innate sense of style; I always smile a secret smile, but answer with a resounding no. I feel very strongly that our sense of style evolves as our confidence evolves. Suffice to say I was not a very confident teenager. I spent my childhood the way a lot of us probably do – trying to fit in, trying to fade into the background, trying to learn the best ways to go unnoticed. I was also a pretty nerdy kid. I had the horrible coke-bottle glasses that covered half my face. I got straight A’s and cried if I so much as saw a B edging anywhere near my name. I didn’t see myself as classically pretty in the way so many of my classmates were, with their perfect perms and colored rubber bands on their braces, who always seemed so sure of themselves and their place in the world.
Something about myself that I don’t often share (particularly not with all of cyberspace) is that, during those tumultuous formative years, I also had a horribly disfiguring skin condition from the time I was about 6 months old (I’m actually in a medical book somewhere due to its severity). Unlike a normal rash, this one (called psoriasis) covered nearly 80% of my body and stubbornly persisted from 6 months of age until about the time I went away to college. Because of it, I spent a whole lot of my childhood the way a lot of us luckily don’t: in and out of doctor’s offices, trying treatment after treatment (and then more treatments), and finding new ways to cover up. I lived in jeans and long sleeved tops and bore the brunt of the worst kind of bullying through until high school. Name calling, ostracism. They would back away from me, as if I were contagious (cooties had nothin’ on me). I remember walking home one afternoon as they threw rocks at my hunched back. And I let this red, raw blotchy burden define me. I folded into myself for so many years, until I met an amazing group of friends in high school who let me come into my own, bit by bit, with quiet resolve.
We all want to break our orbits, float like a satellite gone wild in space, run the risk of disintegration. We all want to take our lives in our own hands and hurl them out among the stars.
Where that skin condition lay is now covered in freckles. Imprinted like a memory. Tucked into the back of my mind that manifests now in a quiet, daily gratitude. I glance at them regularly, like constellations in a pale night sky, and it’s as if we have a secret. My freckles tell a story – they are my badge of honor and my battle scars and I wouldn’t change them for the world. I am the freakin’ freckle warrior princess! And though it may be bit strange to some, I’ve decided that they’ve actually given me something very special (it just took a few decades to figure them out). Thanks to the storms ranging through my immune system, at a very young age I learned sensitivity. To seek out the quiet person in the back of the room, because I was that girl. To notice the nerdy, awkward boy instead of the one in the spotlight, clamoring for attention. To not look for flaws in others, because I knew how much it hurt to be at the end of someone’s judgement. And although I couldn’t verbalize it back then, I learned how beauty is simply a perception – If you allow others to create that construct, as quickly it is given, it can be taken away or redefined. So, you’d better be the one in charge of that perception for yourself. And from that grew a confidence that could never be given or revoked through someone else’s validation.
It’s so hard to explain to anyone who knows me now. But back then, the thought that I would ever feel comfortable enough to wear a dress – to expose my arms and legs and vulnerabilities to the world – felt as much of a pipe dream as winning the lottery or riding a unicorn. It makes me sad to think of all of the years I spent hiding. Worried that I would be exposed. Worried a man would never find me beautiful. Worried more that I would never find me beautiful.
Though it’s a bit of a running joke with the people in my life – as if the world tilts slightly out of orbit if I’m not wearing a dress – again, I simply smile a secret smile and laugh along. But, every day when I slip on a dress and lay claim the vintage I love so much, it feels like a celebration of what was once my greatest fear. As if I’m turning the memory of something so painful into something empowering. As if the bullies of my past are sloshing in the wake of my crinoline, with nothing left for them to have power over except the click of my heels as I march on to higher ground.
Clothing does a lot of things for us – it can lift us up and give us joy. It can be the frission of excitement you feel when you wake up in the morning and reach for the outfit you’ve been planning for days. It can be the confidence boost you need to get through a tough meeting. The extra oomph you need to bravely walk into the restaurant on the first date of many. But clothing can also represent fear. It can also be something we’re afraid of, because of what society dictates a certain body type should wear. It can represent numbers on a scale that don’t cooperate. Something we use as a shroud to hide. Something we avoid “just until we’ve lost X number of pounds.”
But here is a single, unalienable truth: What you let that clothing represent is entirely up to you. You don’t have control over certain health conditions, your metabolism, or your childhood. You only have control over your perception of your body. Whether what you slip on in the morning is a shroud or a celebration. At one time, a dress represented my greatest fear. Now it is my greatest strength. It took me quite a while to get here (longer than I can ever say in a single blog post), but tucked inside of the folds of some of my most painful memories is now the very thing that empowers me. And at the few points in my life where I found myself sitting in a makeup chair, as the foundation sponge starting to make her way towards me, I always politely refuse, because I never want to hide again. I love my freckles, because they remind me of where I came from.
Think about it – what if we all took that thing we were most embarrassed by, the very thing you cringed at when you looked in a mirror – and chose instead to celebrate it? Chose to make it the feature wall in the living room of your life. Chose to stop apologizing for it. Chose to stop feeling burdened by it. We are beautiful because of our “flaws”, those quirks. Not in spite of. Because of.
I know we tend to share the glitzy happy aspects of our lives on fashion blogs. We skip around the outskirts, where things are bright and shiny. But I suppose when I was putting today’s outfit together, bespeckled with stars that matched my skin, I realized that a blog isn’t just a forum for sharing the pretty things. It’s a place for someone else to curl up and get comfortable and get to know the real me. On occasion delve deeper. A place for all of us to find solace, to find someone who gets it. And because maybe there is one of you reading this who just glanced at one of her own ‘imperfections’ and felt a little less alone. Your imperfections are amazing. Those beautiful flaws are what make you real.
Nowadays, I smile every time I remember my husband’s favorite constellations dotted along my arms. And I think he’s right – because like the stars do to seafarers lost in the night, I only have to glance down and remember, and they carry me home.
Dress: Jumblelaya Vintage (similar here, here & here)
Necklace: Efva Attling, bought in Stockholm
Belt: Anthropologie (similar)
Handbag: Cloth Magpie (similar here & here)
Vintage Shoe Clips: MUSI, via Charmed Kitty (similar here)
Heels: PeepToe Australia (similar here, here & here)