In honor of Mother's Day, we asked women to tell us about how their mothers and grandmothers have influenced their style. My most favorite response comes from Madeleine Somerville, author and blogger. She said her inspiration came from her daughter:
Madeleine and Olive at Halloween
"Unless stained skinny jeans and worn tee-shirts covered in grubby hand prints now count as couture, what could I possibly have to learn about fashion from my two-year-old?
I think she's perfection itself, but the two-year-old in question (my daughter, Olive) is not objectively a paragon of style. You won't find her perfectly coiffed self on a Pinterest board, or strutting the playground like a pint-sized Kate Moss. Brushing her hair each day takes a series of intensive negotiations, her preferred footwear at the moment is a pair of dragon slippers, and she once wore her puppy Halloween costume for a week straight. (Don't judge me! They were desperate times and it was the only way I could get her out of the house.)
But, here's the thing: Olive, like many toddlers, loves being naked. Loves it more than anything in the world – and that's saying a lot for someone with a heart as big as hers. I've managed to successfully enforce a clothes-on policy when we are out of the house, but the moment we walk in our front door her pants hit the floor and a huge grin spreads over her face. “I'm a nudie baby!” she crows with delight.
This joy makes her somewhat of a revolutionary, I think. Women are constantly in combat over how we look – our appearances are somehow public domain and endlessly commented on. As we grow up we internalize these judgements (from boys and men, from newspapers reporting more on a female politician's wardrobe than her policies, and from assumptions made about our sex lives based on the length of our skirts.) Eventually we begin to police ourselves and this fear limits us, it clips our wings and causes us to second guess our choices. It makes us wear beige to blend in instead of standing up and standing out.
But then there's Olive. I wish I could give every single woman in the world the gift of looking at herself in the mirror like she does. She stands there under three feet tall and, as she meets the eyes of her reflection, sees nothing but strength, beauty, fullness, and life. She turns from side to side, admiring her little potbelly, a smile spreading across her face. There is not one second of doubt, of hesitation or scrutiny, not one ounce of clawing, nagging self-loathing. She adores every single inch of herself and because she hasn't yet experienced otherwise, she trusts implicitly that everyone else will, too.
This, this innate sense of self-confidence, has changed everything for me.
I now look at myself in the mirror like she does. I let my eyes travel over the breasts that nourished a child, the stomach that used to house her, now flat and toned from yoga, the c-section scar faintly glinting silver. I turn from side to side and look at the knees I used to bemoan as too knobby, inherited from my dad. My broad shoulders handed down from my mother. I meet the eyes of my reflection, the same blue as Olive's, and I see nothing but strength. Beauty. Fullness. Life.
If you lack love for your body -whatever it looks like – you will always seem uncomfortable in your own skin, no matter what you wear. This innate sense of satisfaction, the feeling of looking in a mirror and thinking “Yes! Killin' it” is why Olive can leave the house wearing harem pants, dragon slippers and a bright pink bow perched atop her crazy hair, and look like a million bucks. It has so little to do with the clothing!
For a long time I made the mistake of thinking that if I wanted to look better, I needed to change my clothes – and in some cases this was true (goodbye jeans that laced up the side, may I never again see you in this lifetime.) But what you wear seems to pale against how you wear something. These days I wear maxi dresses as though they were million dollar McQueens, and lo and behold heads turn. Once you start to feel good, really good about yourself, a funny thing happens. You can make bolder fashion choices. Sky-high heels? Why not? Trading neutral for neon? Go for it. Suddenly knowing that you can rock anything makes you want to try everything.
Fashion is beautiful, whimsical, creative icing on the cake. It can be an incredibly fun and empowering way to make an impression, but first, you've got to appreciate that the cake itself is pretty fucking fantastic! The moment you start to shrink, to doubt, to let those whispers in -If only I was thinner, taller, curvier, darker, lighter- different - you've lost something. We all have.
One of the men I dated in University once asked me, between make-out sessions on his couch, "When did you first know you were beautiful?"
It felt like a trick question. Beautiful wasn't something I was supposed to admit to thinking of myself. Thinking you were beautiful meant you were conceited, full of yourself, narcissistic. Saying you thought you were beautiful opened the subject up for debate - and dissent. It made a target of you.
But the answer, for all of us, is that we've always known. At some point we were all Olive, standing in front of that mirror and looking at the body we were about to clothe in a puppy costume, knowing that no matter what we put on it, we would look gooooood.
When did you first know you were beautiful?
The better question, my two-year-old asks, is when did you forget?"