As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to care more about the way I dress. My pre-teen and middle school days were racked with worry over fitting in. I didn’t notice my friends trying to change their identity until it was too late for me to jump aboard the bandwagon (so I thought). My parents and my new youth pastor tried to do a good job of prepping me for the pressures of junior high. They told me of girls taking 2+ hours to dress and changing clothes 10 times before leaving their room. They said that kids worried about what their friends would think and would sometimes wait on a course of action – simple or critical – to see what their friends would do. I didn’t do these things, but should I? I took notice of what girls around me were doing and began measuring myself up to them. In doing so, I found out what a horrible person I was! I had no personal style and they did. These girls seemed confidant in their mall-shopping, boy-flirting, bubble gum pop music-playing ways. Oh, I had much to learn. I had asked for a Barbie for Christmas last year while these girls were unwrapping the Backstreet Boy’s newest CD. What was I thinking??? Why did I do such a childish thing when I should be embracing my adolescence???
Thankfully, I was able to move past the awkward days of junior high (and junior high fashion) and gain confidence in myself in high school. I looked forward to all of the trips my youth group took, especially Mission Trip Week. We would spend a week in the hottest part of the summer helping out a struggling Midwestern church by doing repairs and a lot of painting. We slept on the floor in nearby churches or schools, or if we were lucky, we stayed at a camp with bunks. Working on construction or painting all day in the heat while wearing gross old T-shirts and basketball shirts and getting only a couple of hours of good sleep at night did not go well with an early morning of prep, and so I got to the point where I prided myself on how quickly I could be ready for the day. I would tell friends that I was glad I didn’t have to look in the mirror all week. I was generally liked by everyone in the youth group for trying to be friends with everyone, respected for my standards, and feared for my pranking, and I loved my reputation.
College rocked this little world. I was now the bottom of the food chain, even though I had worked so hard to use my position of age and authority for the good of the younger and awkward kids. The adult world had no need for such talents from one so young, and no one reached out to extend the same grace to me. I spent 3 years floundering, questioning, and worrying. I hated feeling like a 7th grader all over again.
When I first graduated from college and got my first job, I was often treated as though I was still a student, and there came those dreaded feelings of inferiority. So I began to overdress for my position, and co-workers and clients complimented me for it. Dressing up does change one’s posture and demeanor. I found that my new grown-up wardrobe put me in a more professional mindset. I enjoyed being taken seriously when older adults would treat me like I belonged in the adult world with them.
It is addicting to seek out the praise of others. There are times when I choose an outfit prominently displaying a color or fixing my hair a certain way that gets me many compliments. Is there anything wrong with that? But can that spiral into something less than whole? I have to be on my guard, especially when I let the praises of others bolster my self-esteem. My head can swell. On the converse, receiving no compliments or a negative comment can become my drive to dress to impress. I too easily have let the opinions of others or what I anticipate them to be direct how I’ll dress or act for a certain situation.
It’s easy to let the esteem of others direct your choices. I’ve even had it happen recently when I have wanted to be a well-liked youth leader for current middle schoolers. It is a battle because we want to be admired, appreciated, esteemed. We want to be valued. So I have fallen prey to seeking out glimpses of admiration from friends and even random passers-by. I sound like I’m a shallow girl with self-image issues. So many people have told me the opposite, but when I do such things, I feel awful when I think about what I just did. But I keep falling to it over and over. I justify: no, the pants aren’t too tight; the shirt isn’t an issue unless I really bend over; I don’t think my underwear through my thin skirt was visible unless I was in the direct sunlight walking to and from the parking lot; my heels didn’t make my legs look that great every time I walked around; I don’t stand with my hip jutted out like some girls; the extra makeup really did cover my flaws; or one part of me I’m proud of makes up for my flaws and awkwardness.
And with such thoughts, I am focusing on external things, and not on the heart of my issues: my heart.
Choosing to be modest is so much more than covering yourself with clothing. It’s an attitude with which you adorn yourself even before you open your closet doors or walk into the mall. It whispers encouraging words as you debate on tops in the fitting room. It reminds you of your worth to Christ: far beyond any admiring looks. It’s more than wearing The Look this season. It gives you confidence to walk down the halls with your head high, shoulders and back in good posture, and confidence all over your face. Why? Because you are valuing yourself as Christ values you.