Ask E. Jean: How do I get over my shame about my appearance?
The lovely items I purchase just take up space in my closet because I’m scared to wear them outside.
Dear E. Jean: I haven’t worn a dress or high heels in seven years. I haven’t even put on a pair of flattering jeans. I know how to shop and I have ideas on what to wear, but I’m the mother of a seven-year-old son with autism and the caregiver to my mother, who is an amputee and has end-stage renal disease. I have been in the mommy hole since the birth of my son. At night, I dream about starting a successful blog for larger women like me, but when I buy something pretty and attempt to wear it publicly, my mother reminds me of how terrible I look in clothing.
I feel so guilty! The lovely items I purchase just take up space in my closet, because I’m scared to wear them outside. My guilt is almost paralyzing. I know I’ll never be the glamour girl that I used to be, but I’m tired of wearing sweats and dressing like the Unabomber. How do I get over my guilt and shame about my appearance? —Being Pushed Back in the Hole
Ahhh, My Dearest Miss Pushed: I see you are one of the celestial beings who have come down to visit the Ask E. Jean column. Without a notion for yourself, completely at ease with your own supernatural unselfishness, you devote years caring for, pardon me, a cantankerous pill while, at the same time, keeping your son happy at his sheer, dizzy pace. And what do you ask for? What would you like in return? To “get over” your “guilt.” Your guilt! I was so astounded when I first read your letter, I had to walk around outside to feel rational enough to reply to you.
With the deepest respect and warmest benevolence for your mother, I will just begin by saying it’s probably gonna be a while before the woman shouts with joy and worships you like the winner of Project Runway when you leave the house wearing a new dress. No doubt it takes most of her mental energy just to keep up her own courage.
But you are ready for a change, Miss Pushed. You mention it yourself in the first paragraph of your question. (Luckily for me, most questions contain the answers.) Yes. Take the plunge. Start your blog tonight.
Writing will help you discover what you think, and then who you are—and when you discover who you are, you may find almost as much love and compassion for yourself as you feel for your son and your mother. And I don’t need to point out that when you feel a liking for yourself, you’ll walk out that door wearing the pretty things you love, do I?
But Auntie Eeee is not stupid. Seven years is a long time, and Auntie knows it will take a spectacular act of daring just to put on one of your attractive outfits, let alone get as far as the car still wearing it. So each day, try one small thing: a pair of earrings or a necklace. Then try two small things: earrings and a necklace. Then try two small things and a sharp pair of shoes. Then a sensational top, etc., etc.
And when your mother gives you the eye? Well, one woman’s style must not be the rule of another’s, and we won’t be savage about your mother’s taste—but I’m guessing she doesn’t understand the exciting spontaneity of fashion and doesn’t grok the fantastic looks you’re pulling off. So when she says you appear “terrible,” either tell her, “Ma! This is what I’m wearing!,” or, better yet, next time she’s getting dialysis, bring along a stack of ELLEs and go through them together. Nothing is more enlightening than two women bonding over a fashion spread with Kim Kardashian wearing Balmain. And send me a link to your blog!