Getting Dressed Helped Me Find Myself

English model Twiggy at the launch of her own range of clothing, London, 16th February 1967. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“After you have a baby everything changes.” This is one of the many unhelpful, hyper-obvious things strangers say to pregnant women. Other top hits include: “Get all the sleep you can now, because you won’t be getting any when the baby comes!” and “Your body will never be the same again!”

As one-offs, these don’t seem like statements that hold much power. But when I heard them every day, multiple times over, punctuated by unauthorized belly rubs and guesstimates of gender based on waist circumference, all of it began to erode a sense of self I’d previously considered a given.

While this doesn’t necessarily happen to all women, this unmooring of (pregnant) self, it certainly happened to me. I gained 70 pounds while carrying the baby, gave birth and then, with the cutting of the umbilical cord, drifted into a brand of existential crisis specific to new motherhood. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’d always known who I was and what I was about before. Confidence never eluded me and, when paired with a liberal view of what constitutes acceptable daywear, personal style was always an outlet through which that confidence manifested.

It was only natural, then, that a sudden loss of confidence would reveal itself through the way I started dressing myself. While I still had an intense interest in fashion, I began to live by the mantra, “I love it, but I could never wear it.” My reasons orbited the following excuses:

-I was constantly leaking milk
-People would laugh at me
-My body resembled a candle that had melted over the belly of a chianti bottle

I rotated through these reasons until I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t leave the house. For a long time I sat at home in my milk-stained button-down and maternity leggings, waiting for the next event to avoid. And when I started working outside the home again, my newfound anxiety and disdain towards clothing only grew.

This lasted for about a year and a half until an unsuspecting catalyst changed everything. A friend of mine, who happens to be a talented and generous hairstylist, offered to bleach my hair as a gift. This was huge. Not only because I couldn’t afford to get my hair done like I used to, but also because it triggered something in me. It was as if a gear clicked back into its proper place and a piece of my internal self-perception became functional again. I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror and noting a flutter of recognition where, previously, there had been none.

After that moment came a cascade of change. I began thinking about outfits I’d like to wear, becoming increasingly intentional about expanding the boundaries of what had become my daily uniform of black, loose, practical clothing. I could feel that old sense of self emerging. When I realized what was connecting me with my old confidence, I started requesting time to be completely alone to get dressed. This initially struck me as a bit frivolous. My partner is also an exhausted working parent, after all. Requesting any time alone felt like asking a lot. I wondered if it was a vapid pursuit, or perhaps vain. Of all the forms of self-care I could engage with — exercise, writing, learning to code — I was choosing to blast R&B and get dressed?

Yes. That’s exactly what I chose. Because it allowed for a deliberate reintroduction to self that I desperately needed. It was a gentle merging of who I was before — the confident, silly, buoyant parts I’d lost — with who I was becoming.

Photo by Keystone via Getty Images.

Rachel Siemens

Rachel Siemens is a writer living in Portland, OR.

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