Today, we get so many mixed messages about our appearance that we're often left with a, "damned if you do/damned if you don't" sort of feeling about the whole fashion and self-care thing. If you care how you look you might be called shallow, and if you don't care how you look, you might be called sloppy. If you're conventionally attractive, you're afraid of being disliked or belittled, and if you're not conventionally attractive, you're afraid of being ignored or ridiculed—and either can be used as an excuse for harassment. If you really look at it, you'll see that it's a torturous mind game that is grounded in both the media and fundamentalist religion, and I, for one, am tired of giving it the time of day.
In Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible, fashion guru Tim Gunn writes, "To me, dismissing fashion as silly or unimportant seems like a denial of history and frequently a show of sexism—as if something that's traditionally a concern of women isn't valid as a field of academic inquiry." It's true: looking within my own psyche, I can see quite clearly that the draw to adorn myself with things like sensual fabrics, sparkly accessories, and sweet-smelling fragrances is not a shallow desire, but in fact a sacred expression of my sexuality and my truest, most authentic essence. Indeed, archaeologists believe that even cave people adorned themselves with natural cosmetics and accessories all for the sake of naturally enhancing their attractiveness. After experimenting with embracing my draw to adorn myself (rather than judging it), I've discovered that to allow ourselves to feel shame for this inherent instinct puts us in danger of handing over a good portion of our personal power.
Furthermore, our mainstream culture operates under the illusion of separation: separation of form and spirit, seen and unseen, known and unknown. It's an illusion that we are taught from such a young age and that is hammered into our consciousness so thoroughly day in and day out, that it can sometimes masquerade as truth, like when western medicine behaves as if it's perfectly sane to treat the symptom while completely ignoring the cause. It's not so surprising, then, that something that manifests in the physical, visible realm (like fashion) would often be considered purely materialistic, with no redeeming spiritual or emotional value whatsoever.
The fact is that we dwell in one unified field of energy: although there is the illusion of duality, there is actually no separation between anything. It's just as it's described by the famous magical precept attributed to Hermes Trismegestus: As above, so below. Form mirrors spirit and spirit mirrors form, and neither is ever separate from the other in truth. Fashion, then, like placing flowers and incense on an altar to the Divine, can be a most sacred practice of honoring the infinite and invisible self with objects and practices in the finite, visible realm.
On a more personal level, I'm passionate about working with the magical side of fashion and self-care because I've found it to be such a potent tool of healing and transformation. Over the last couple of years, I've been dredging up some very deep and longstanding issues regarding my sexuality and the abuse I experienced as a child. Early on in the process, I discovered that I was in many ways neglecting to care for my physical body because of shame I had been holding onto that I previously didn't even realize was there. The way this manifested was that I didn't take the time to assemble a wardrobe I truly loved and I treated shopping and self care as annoying, totally mundane things on my to-do list. Becoming conscious of this detachment was the first step in my healing, and beginning to care and adorn for my physical body with love and reverence was the bridge to the other side. In this way, I began to re-establish—and discover an even deeper level of—wholeness. I began seeing the whole self-care/self-adornment thing as an opportunity to express love and acceptance of my body and being. This, in turn, strengthened my magical consciousness: that part of me that knows on an experiential level that all is one—sexuality and spirit, physical and non-physical, finite and infinite.
At this point, you might be wondering what I mean, exactly, when I say things like "magical fashion" and "conscious self-care." So, let me give you some more tangible examples of what I'm talking about by outlining some main points of my magical fashion practice.
Attend to Your Body Like a Treasured Lover
When we are deeply in love someone with whom we have a sexual relationship, we don't think, "If only his/her body were thinner, or curvier, or younger." We totally adore his or her body exactly as it is. It is sacred to us, because our lover is sacred to us. When we touch his or her body, we do so attentively and with great devotion. In the same way, our own bodies are sacred treasures. When we wash them, put lotion on them, and dress them, we can do so with the same kind of attention and love that we would give to our beloved. If we have been very harsh in our judgment of our body (as so many of us, unfortunately, have been taught to be), this can feel very painful at first as we bring these hurtful inner dialogues to the forefront of our consciousness in order to begin to dispel them and shift them. However, in time, as we continue to send love to our bodies—through our hands as we wash, for example, or as we select just the right fragrance or gaze at ourselves naked in the mirror—this pain will melt away and be replaced with euphoria and delight.
See Yourself As A Temple, Not a Clothes Hanger
For years, I inwardly berated myself for not looking better in certain things. For example, I never felt right in outfits entirely composed of satiny or solid-colored fabrics, but instead of not wearing them, I'd wear them and then feel far less than wonderful. Finally, I realized that my textured hair and skin are often much more appropriately flattered with textured and patterned textiles like lace and prints, which I also found that I felt great in. Along similar lines, we seem to receive the message in both subtle and overt ways that the whole purpose of the female body is to showcase clothes (for example through the sometimes spoken and sometimes unspoken assumption that a rail-thin body should be every woman's ideal)—and this is totally absurd! We are not clothes hangers! We're physical vessels of the divine! Thinking that we're here to make clothes look good would be like thinking that a temple is there to make the altar cloths look good. The temple is not a department store—it's a temple. Just like you're not a hanger, you're a divinity. The clothes are there to enhance and decorate you, not the other way around.
Express Your Essence
During my expansive self care journey, I have also had great fun seeing fashion as a way to get to know myself better, and to clarify and hone the message and energy that I'm sending out into the world. For example, I have a girlfriend who has a really wonderful talent for recognizing and naming one's truest, most divine inner essence. Years ago, she helped me to realize that mine was called, "The magical priestess." We were at a music festival at the time, and I spied a beautiful musician who was dressed in an exceptionally whimsical and feminine way. She captivated and fascinated me, and my friend said it was because she represented the "magical priestess" aspect of me. At the time, I wasn't dressed so whimsically. Now, though, as I've come to know and express the magical priestess aspect of myself more and more, my closet is filled with everyday otherworldliness. Over the years, my vision of the magical priestess aspect of myself has developed much more dimension and depth, transforming not just my wardrobe, but also the way I interact with the world and express my purpose as a devotee of beauty, harmony, playfulness, and love. (I have even had two separate psychics tell me recently that I was an incarnated fairy queen. You know, I can totally see it.)
To get to know your essence more intimately, though, you don't have to wait for a friend to give it a name. For example, you could try the following journaling exercise.
Without thinking too much about it, and keeping in mind people you know personally, people you've seen, famous people, and fictional characters…
Often, we keep our truest essence secret from ourselves because we think that if we let it out, we'd be too embarrassing, or too silly, or just too much. That's why journaling exercises like these can help us bypass our shame and externally imposed ideas about who we are, or who we're supposed to be. Jealousy, for example, when we look at what it is exactly that we are jealous of, can often point to an aspect of us that we already possess but that we are not letting ourselves claim.
- List three people whose wardrobe you admire.
- List three people whose wardrobe you secretly admire.
- List three people of whom you're jealous.
- List three people of whom you're secretly jealous.
- List three qualities that describe you.
- List three qualities that you wish describe you.
- List three qualities that would describe you in your wildest dreams.
- List three qualities that would describe you in your secret wildest dreams.
Once you've completed the brainstorm, see if you can ferret out some qualities that you can begin to express through your wardrobe as well as other aspects of your life, such as your art, activities, and hobbies. You might Google Image some of the people you listed and see what they're wearing and how they're carrying themselves. You might also consider what you would wear if you let yourself embody those secret or wild qualities that you mentioned. In addition to jotting down some of your findings and then keeping them in mind next time you take a trip to your favorite boutique or secondhand store, take at least one step in the physical world toward expressing your unique personal essence. For example, did you jot down that you secretly wanted to be more of an activist or rebel? See if there are any groups organizing protests against something you're against, and attend one of their meetings.
Magically Interact with the World
Dwelling at the literal boundary between you and the outside world, your clothes (and fragrance and makeup, etc.) can powerfully affect both your experience of the world and the world's experience of you. Simply being conscious and respectful of this fact, and keeping it in mind as you choose how to dress and care for your body, can make all the difference when it comes to living a happy and inspired life. When I dress in a way that "clicks" for me and helps me radiate my essence in a satisfying way, I'm more likely to make new friends and have nourishing and satisfying interactions with other people and the entire world around me. It's not at all about looking "good" or looking "right" so that other people will like and accept me, it's about feeling like myself so that I will feel at home in the world.