Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

So the PE birdie flew past me the other day and whispered this gentle piece of feedback into my ear – “Erm, Tanya, I hate to be the one to say this but – frankly – you’re dressing inappropriately and your body makes other woman feel rather out of sorts!”

This trusted little bird heard it via someone’s auntie’s brother’s mother-in-law – it seems the entire flocking aviary passed it along. Now it’s possible that it’s just one twisted evil person’s opinion, but it’s also likely that – if one woman feels this way – others may too. Sigh.

What to do with this titbit? Internalise it, reject it, paint it on a postcard and send it to the moon? Well initially, I did a mental double-take. Do I really dress “inappropriately”? What is “inappropriate” in the dressing sense, anyway? Who is she to decide on the rules for “inappropriate”?

What is inappropriate, really?

What if “inappropriate” for her is being less hairy than Chewbacca before moulting season? I wouldn’t know. All I have to go on is that I don’t meet her benchmark. And then – the kicker – oops, do I feel that other women are dressing “inappropriately” too? Good grief, not only did I give myself the good-old hairy eyeball once-over, but I also discovered some well-hidden, deep and dark-corner woman-and-clothing prejudices of my own! (I’ll deal with those another time.)

So I did the mindfulness thang. I took a deep breath; let the “I’m-not-good-enough” wave wash over me, and I let the hurt and betrayal sit a while and then I watched it waddle out through the door. And then I asked myself a simple question: “How do I feel when I wear what I wear?

Then I came, relatively swiftly, to the conclusion that I was very comfortable and happy with my style of dress. I love my body; I love wearing clothes that show it off, without being obvious about my ‘femininity’ (if you get my drift) . In fact, I make a lot of my choices based on the feedback I received from one of my Happy Body team members – a wonderful image consultant who – after putting me through her body/colour/style assessment – distinctly said I should wear the kind of clothes I currently choose, due to the shape of my body.

Ha. Put that in your pipe and blow it up.

Women don’t dress for men

I jest, but actually – if I look a little deeper – I realise that whoever made the comment may be saying more about how she feels about herself, than about me.

This issue got me thinking about who we – as women – are dressing for.

Is it for the guys? Look, I love men, so I don’t mean to dis them when I say that a mere suggestion of a well-shaped arse and a delicious mound of boob will satisfy their criteria for good-looking! There’s not much discretion happening there. So no – it’s not for men we dress. I think we’re dressing for other women.

I think that all the heartache and angst and self-doubt we put ourselves through comes while trying to prove to others of our “fair” gender that we’ve got IT – the perfect body, the chiccer-than-chic dress sense, the poised demeanour and graceful moves. In other words, we’re a success (surely you can judge all this in just one look). Then throw in a few other attributes (such as a prosperous business, a gorgeous husband/partner and beautiful kid/s) and we become utterly unbeatable. In fact, the result is a guaranteed (albeit begrudging) acknowledgement from other women that we’ve made it.

You know why we seek that affirmation from others? Because, we can’t seem to say it to ourselves! We don’t appear able to give ourselves permission to be gorgeous, beautiful, admirable, courageous, and intelligent (and to celebrate all this through whatever the hell it is we decide to wear).

I think this is how the fashion and diet industries have survived for as long as they have, making the millions they do… pit a woman against a man and the result will likely be a shag; pit a woman against a woman and you’ve got war: protracted, vicious and bitter (albeit with handbags, and lipstick).

Building the “sistahood”

So – what would our world be like, ladies, if we refuse to compete with one another in the looks and dress department? What if we focus all our energy on understanding what each of us, as unique individuals, is comfortable with in terms of body-shape and dress style? Could we create the ultimate sistahood and – instead of seeking affirmation from others – stand firm in our self-love, and support both our own and other women’s endeavours? And if we refuse to play ball with those industries that feed off our self-doubt and – instead – dress and feed ourselves intuitively, instinctively, happily and personally?

What then? The end of war; the start of something beautiful? Women who can whisper back to that little birdie, “Yes I dress ‘inappropriately’, and oh how I love it!”