“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
In the past few years so much has changed. The quest to be authentic is a popular theme lately, especially in my part of the world. Authenticity and change go hand in hand and measuring both is a necessary part of the equation.
Changes related to how we think or feel are not always accompanied by physical or visible cues. Physical appearance is an obvious indicator of change but how do we measure what happens on the inside?
Six years ago I came out as a lesbian. A year ago I cut my hair. The past few months I have been renovating my wardrobe and last week I bought my first suit. This simple act helped me realize that freedom and peace are byproducts of being comfortable in your own skin.
Confession time. As a stereotypical tomboy I never liked wearing dresses and remember being jealous of boys who got to wear suits to formal events. Shocker right? Dressing for formal events has been a constant source of frustration and figuring out what to wear has been mentally and emotionally exhausting.
For years the search focused on finding clothes which fit, looked good, and more importantly, made me feel good. I believed if I looked good that feeling good would happen automatically. Anyone with me on this one?
Here is the truth. Working from the outside in was a great in theory but not in practice. My approach to win the war against my closet and to make peace with my appearance was flawed and many articles of clothing were sacrificed along the way.
The hesitation to express my true self was rooted in the fear of being labeled, misunderstood, and judged as different. Before I came out I was afraid of people thinking I was gay. I thought coming out was the final rung on the ladder of self-acceptance however it was just the opening act of my concert.
The decade’s long battle with my wardrobe had nothing to do with the fabric, cut, or style of the clothes I put on my body. The problem was how I felt on the inside. Sound familiar? The turning point in the war happened when I began to understand how fear affected my thinking and impacted my self-confidence.
Although it is uncomfortable to look at photos of myself and see the transformation documented over time, it has helped me respect and understand the process. I wondered how it was possible to have not been authentic when I believed I was being authentic when it was taken. I also wondered what readers of Switching Teams would think if they discovered I was still a work in progress and wrestling with my taking my own advice.
I even asked my wife if I was being phony for all of those years. She pointed out the act of taking pictures was how I was working things out. She saw it before I did. Change takes time and often includes a series of baby steps within giant leaps.
Do Clothes Make the Woman?
Buying a men’s suit was just one of many encores in the concert of my life. This suit is just another outward expression of my inner journey which has been years in the making. As certain as I was about my desire to buy a suit, I still had to fight thoughts of getting a grey or black one instead. My wife gently encouraged me “to not chicken out” and I listened.
The fit was amazing, literally and figuratively. Finally. To some it may just be a piece of clothing, but it was much more and my final stand against giving a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks.
The daily choice to be yourself is not always popular. Opinions, doctrine, and beliefs are all obstacles to being authentic. It is easy to shrink down and become invisible when negativity and hate is blocking the path forward. Deferring to the easy is also oppressive and suffocating.
The decision to publicly share my journey was risky and outside the boundaries of my introvert comfort zone. Honestly, there have been days when hiding and quietly erasing my story from the world sounded good however I would have robbed myself of growth. Instead I chose to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do one thing that scares you every day.
Explaining to someone how it is possible to dress in men’s clothes and not want to be a man is on my to do list daily. Answering questions about how I label myself is also common. I prefer to be labeled as Mrs. Yvette Waters. Living authentically requires no explanation. Not family, friends, or especially enemies.
Mission to Authenticity.
Unfortunately, those who struggle to have authenticity in their own lives often make it difficult for those who exist outside of the traditional mold society has deemed acceptable. Unique is not the new black yet but progress is being made to change this.
Transformation happens when we allow ourselves to embrace authenticity and replace fear with self-acceptance and confidence. The timeline and methods may vary but begin with a decision to live life according to your own terms.
As you discover your authentic self be prepared to deal with old messages and beliefs which have evolved over the years. Expect layers. Many layers. Getting to the center of the tootsie pop sometimes take more than three licks.
Figuring out how to be comfortable in our own skin is our mission. Embracing our true self is our journey. Living authentically is our purpose. Give yourself and others permission to be who they are.
Take a moment to look beyond the awkward photos and focus on the image you have of who you know yourself to be. This is your authentic self. Whether it is wearing a dress, a suit, or is butt ass naked is not important. What is important is moving through the fear toward the life you were created for and to proudly own your unique place in the world
Finding your true center is not a multiple choice test and takes time, courage, and a willingness to be kind, patient, and loving with yourself. In this test there are no wrong answers. Dress how you want, love who you want, and be who you are without apology.