Things I Learned While Taking a Picture of Myself Every Day

1. In general, to look nicer, you will have to get more dressed up than you want to. I used to get so frustrated by that “What Not To Wear” show, because they just make everyone get really dressed up, so of course people look better.  But then it finally dawned on me – they make everyone get really dressed up and then those people look better.  HELLO ELIZABETH: GET MORE DRESSED UP.

My chosen aesthetic, if we’re being honest, is something along the lines of preppy surf bum. If I had my druthers I’d like to look like the cast of Gossip Girl mixed with the cast of Blue Crush, basically.  But I think when you’re not 14 and you don’t weigh 12 pounds, unfortunately, cut off jeans and ratty t shirts just look sloppy.  It took me a LONG time to figure out that I am not only past the pajamas out of the house stage of my life, but I am also past the cut off jeans shorts with Converse stage of my life. (And YOU might not be, which is fine, but I am, if I want to look nice in public.)

2. No one will care about the fact that you are more dressed up than you used to be, or ask you why you look so fancy. If they do, you can just tell them you have an important meeting to go to. At first I didn’t want to dress up because I was worried people would be able to tell that I was trying to look nice. I know. It makes no sense at all to me now, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable.  Now people tell me “You always look cute” and man, I would way rather have people think  I always look cute, rather than “she never tries very hard.”

3. If you can’t tuck any of your shirts into any of your skirts, it’s because your skirts are too small. When I first started this project, people would always suggest that I tuck my shirts into my skirts or pants, but if I did that, my lower half looked awful. This is not because I was SO FAT, which I was not and which also is irrelevant. It’s that my skirts were too small. If you can’t tuck your shirt into your skirts, your skirts are too small, and pulling everything down tightly over the top of your skirts, which is what I was doing, is not disguising this fact and also it’s super unflattering. Along this same line, if your jeans give you terrible muffin top, you need to buy jeans in a bigger size, or more importantly, a higher rise.  This is why I like my jeans to hit me at my real waist, because if they hit me across my stomach, I get TERRIBLE muffin top, and this will happen if you’re a size 6 or a size 20.  It’s not your size, it’s how your clothes fit.

4. But also, don’t buy something just because it fits.  Most of the clothing mistakes I have in my closet now are things I bought because I was looking for a certain piece and I found something that fit, and I settled for “this fits” in the Target dressing room instead of “this looks great” because I was afraid that “this looks great” wasn’t possible. But I am here to tell you that “this looks great” is always possible, and it will happen! You just need to keep looking, and raise your standards. Although I do think “at least this fits” is somewhat more acceptable when you are first starting to shop for yourself and you are desperate, but still, those will probably be the things you get rid of first in the long run.

5. Always try your clothes on with shoes.  I see so many people these days trying on clothes without their shoes on! I know you can’t always rig it so you’re wearing the right shoes in the dressing room, but once you get home, try on your clothes with the shoes you will wear with them.  I have so many dresses that look terrible until I put them on with the right shoes.  Seriously.

6. It’s the extra stuff that makes all the difference.  This was the other thing that I used to be very self conscious about. Oh my god, if I wear this scarf, people will think I am trying to be  fancy!  If I wear this necklace, everyone will know I am wearing a necklace! Um, yes, and get over it.  If people think you are wearing a necklace to be fancy, it matters NOT ONE BIT.  I am not telling anyone to wear 40 bracelets or whatever.  It’s perfectly acceptable to like what you like, to not like scarves or statement necklaces, but adding a few extra accessories to something is what makes it an outfit. I like to think of my fashion philosophy as sort of like buying a beige couch. I know there are people who can pull off a red couch, and make it work in any room and good for them. I do better with a beige couch that I can add crazy pillows too.  Then when I get tired of those pillows, I can buy new ones.  So although my regular clothing is a tad on the bland side, I try to make sure that the “extras” are where the fun is.

7. Realistic expectations are helpful when you’re shopping. It took me the longest time to realize that although some things are more flattering than others, clothing is not going to make you into something you are not. I would order something online and picture myself wearing it, skinny.  But I was not skinny.  And no Old Navy t shirt was going to make me skinny. This does not mean that clothing can’t make you look nice, even if you don’t look skinny, and it does not mean that some things aren’t more flattering on my body type than others, but it does mean that I shouldn’t order something with a fantasy in my head of what it’s going to make me look like.

8. The number on your pants so does not matter at all. I feel like people are obsessed with this! The reality is that this number is so subjective that it’s totally unimportant.  I have clothes that fit me that are a size 10. I have clothes I can barely squeeze into that are a size 16. In general, I wear a size 12, but at various points in my life I have worn anywhere from a size 16 to a size 4.  And at no point did those numbers make me a good or bad person.  They’re just numbers, and I seriously could not care less about them. I don’t care about what size you or I or Lena Dunham or Marilyn Monroe wears. I just seriously don’t. Lots of things you do impress me, but the fact that you wear a size Small is not one of those things.

9. Nothing makes you feel better than clothes that fit you and look good on. Seriously.  I tell this to everyone, and no one believes me, but I am going to say it again.  Before I had Eli, I weighed 125 pounds.  When I was a Junior in high school, at one point, I weighed NINETY FIVE POUNDS.  I weigh…more than that now, and yet, I have never ever ever ever ever felt better about myself.  And I know that this goes against everything in the world that everyone wants to tell you, and I know that you think that you don’t want to spend money on clothes until you get to the correct size and I know that you don’t understand it and I know that you really really really believe that 135 pounds holds something magical and perfect in its grasp, but I am telling you, I have found the secret to self esteem, and it is not something that I ever got from the scale.  I cannot emphasize this enough, that finding clothes that look good on me and that fit me is the best thing I have ever ever ever done for my self esteem. I have NEVER been happier with myself.

10. Which brings me to my final point: Even if you don’t have a job and you are “just a mom”and you don’t “need” fancy clothes, you still deserve to feel good about yourself. The first thing I did when I became a stay at home mom was to stop buying clothes for myself. I didn’t “need” anything to chase kids around the house and we didn’t have a lot of disposable income and I felt like this was an area where we could easily save money. Once a year I would buy some shorts on Ebay, throw a few random Old Navy tshirts in my cart, and cross my fingers that everything fit.  I looked fairly terrible at all times, but I was clothed.  Miserable in my own skin, but clothed.

And I am telling you that I know that this is so easy to do, but I don’t agree with it. I know why people do it, but I wish I had not done it. I think your self esteem is worth a budget line. I think your kids could have less new dresses and you could have one.  I think you can make it work. I think you are worth it.  I think it’s important. And I think you and I and we, we all deserve to love ourselves, inside and out.

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36 Responses

  1. I love this. Very much. Also, #6 is pretty much my entire clothing philosophy.

  2. I love you, Elizabeth. I need to hold onto this always. Plus, I need new clothes.

  3. My God this is EXCELLENT. All of it.

    #4 – This is a problem for me, the cheapskate. If I go to LOFT, I try on every single item on their clothing rack that is one of my sizes (petite). It’s pretty rare for me to find clothes that fit me, so I get all excited and want to buy them. I SHOULD NOT.

    #6 – totally my philosophy, too.

    #9 – Yes! I think getting older and more secure/confident also helps. I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder or anything, but my LANDS, did I think I was fat when I was in high school and college. (I was not fat. Not even a little.) I think I stopped comparing my thighs to other women’s thighs sometime around my senior year and I’ve never looked back.

    I’ve also learned that it’s OKAY to get rid of stuff. Don’t keep it if you don’t love it and it doesn’t make you feel good. I know, you didn’t get a chance to wear it. That sucks. Stop buying stuff if you don’t love it.

    (Related: you’ll always like it more at the store than at home. So if you don’t LOVE it at home, don’t get it!)

  4. I find this SO FASCINATING. I used to dress really, really sloppy. i remember wearing sweats (SWEATS!) to work and thinking it was no big deal. Somewhere along the line I started wearing accessories and then I started wearing clothes that went together and looked nice and put together. Now when I’m rooting around in my closet I get so excited to put outfits together in new ways. You’re right, we all deserve a budget to feel good and dress well and be proud of ourselves even if it’s a Saturday afternoon and you don’t have to dress up. You’re worth dressing up for!

    • and you always look so cute! I would never have guessed that you ever looked anything less than adorable, you’re one of my fashion inspirations.

  5. FINE, ELIZABETH! I WILL GO SHOPPING!

  6. Love this :)

    I work in an office that has a very relaxed dress code, so I’m pretty much a jeans person 98% of the time. But I’ve gone through stages where I wore jeans and sweatshirts (because I was lazy and/or had gained weight and/or was bored with my job, etc.) and then stages where I wore jeans and a nice top or sweater, cute shoes, jewelry. And I’ll tell you what, I never felt cute or happy or sassy in my sweatshirt outfits. So even at a workplace where I don’t have to dress up, I’ve learned that I feel better, prettier, more awake, and more engaged in my job when I make an effort with my clothing.

    That said, I really need to work on my accessories arsenal but I have that same hang up about people noticing that I’m wearing a necklace! Gah, the horror!!

  7. I love this post, Elizabeth! We have all learned so much from you! (And you DO look cute every day.)

  8. YES! Yes to #9 most of all. As a student of “Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Shakeup School” I am a total believer. Wearing cute clothes makes me feel cuter! It’s magic!

  9. I agree with everything you’ve said here, and yet. It’s so hard to apply it to my own situation. I’m sick so often that my pajamas are my major clothing expenditures, and if it’s not comfortable, it just can’t get worn (additional pain, aside from my concession that bras are necessary -for me- is just not happening). But for a recent cousin’s wedding I bought super fancy shoes. And accessories that matched. And… I felt AMAZING. So much so that I’ve been considering wearing the kick ass shoes to my next neurologist appointment, just for the confidence boost. But yes… maybe I need to start investing in real clothes that actually fit.

  10. Thank you. I need to get my hair did and I need new makeup. I’m holding off because I’m an at home mom. But I should do it to feel better, you are right.

  11. Well, looking at your “what I wore” pictures kicked me out of the “jeans and T shirt” rut I had been in for, oh, a couple of years.

    If it wasn’t for you I never would have discovered how awesome online Target clearance sales are.

  12. I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on makeup ($200 on nail polish!) but clothes? They’re killing me right now. I’m the fattest ive ever been and I feel like I don’t deserve new clothes. Like wearing these old uncomfortable things is my punishment. The funny thing is that 15 lbs ago I was still overweight but I felt absolutely gorgeous.

  13. So perfect!

  14. Love this post! I’ve spent pretty much the last 20 years waiting to buy nice clothes until I lose weight and feel good about myself. I had a year when I felt skinny enough to buy good clothes. Then I gained 70 pounds (kids plus a bunch of other stuff) and now I’m fat and I still keep waiting to lose weight to buy clothes that make me look good. I am inspired by this post! Thank you!!!

  15. Oh, I love your posts so much. Another incredible winner with this one. #10 is currently my issue. and i need to stop it. because it is making me feel not that great about myself. So time to shop!

  16. I’m usually a lurker here but I love your ‘what I wore this week’ and I LOVE this post. I’ve read it 3 times already and probably will again. I’ve been on a mission to look like a grown up and I need to follow this advice!

  17. I love this. Also, I want you to write a book and/or become a personal shopper. seriously.

  18. I don’t think I have ever commented here before, but I just had to say that I love this post, and it’s all so true. I especially relate to the whole “People will think I’m trying to be FANCY!” thing. And the fact the we deserve to look nice and feel good about ourselves, no matter our size or our profession.

    P.S. And you do look so cute!

  19. Thank you for being so candid. I really needed to hear all those points. I am torn because I feel like the “uniform” I wear fits the activities I do- mostly picking kids up from school, Target runs, then a lot of general housework. Have you found your outfits (which are are gorgeous, by the way) fit into your life easily? Or do you go through wardrobe changes during the day/ find the statement necklace getting in the way of say putting the sheets back onto the kids’ bed after an “accident” or something? I have had your post swirling about in my mind all day- wearing some ill-fitting jeans and a ratty hoodie. I just feel like I would look and feel overdressed for my life’s occasions. But by the same token I would like most days to look at put together as you do.

  20. Clothes that fit you and suit you really are like a magic feather for self-esteem.

  21. I think of you often on the weekend mornings when I’m trying to decide if I want to a) skip showering and wear ill fitting workout clothes all day (when I will, in fact, not be working out) or b) take a shower, put on makeup and wear some jeans and a cute shirt. I’ve been going with “b” for quite a few months and I feel so much better when we’re out and about doing errands.

  22. You are so very right on all of this.

  23. It’s SO interesting to me that when I wear “real” clothes how no one says anything. But if I fix my hair and put on makeup? People are like WOW! Did you get your hair cut? You look so pretty! YOU LOOK AMAZING! When I just roll out? People ask me “How are you feeling? Are you ok?” So. Lesson? Put on makeup and do my hair bc apparently it makes a huge, dramatic difference. Yikes.

  24. I love this post! Even though I have work as a reason to get dressed up, I still sometimes have that thought that people are going to look at me and thing I am “trying too hard” or something. And I hate that thought and I usually recognize that it’s silly and doesn’t matter (what on earth is wrong with trying hard, right?), but it still comes around every now and then.

  25. I think I agree with all of this. This past year, I made a commitment to start dressing better, looking better, etc. I always was underdressed, regardless of occasion because I felt like being dressy was overdressed. NObody really noticed, other than to say “you look raelly nice lately!” Points to gryffindor for feeling better about myself, too.

  26. I love all these points! Maybe now that Chris has a job I will feel like I can actually buy a few new, well-fitting pieces. I am desperate for jeans. All my jeans SUCK and make me feel crappy.

  27. I’m pretty sure I need that last paragraph tatooed on my forehead. Backwards. So I can read it in the mirror every morning. ;) Thank you for the pep talk. You are awesome. And so so so very right.

  28. I love this whole post. And I’ve loved your whole wardrobe makeover too.

  29. So the thing that sometimes blows about being a scientist? People TOTALLY comment if I wear nice (or even nice ISH) clothes. If I wear make up? Oh lord, it’s all “Wow, Susie, aren’t you being fancy today!” or “…. You look… different.” And I mean, yeah, maybe they are trying to be nice about how I look like I got into some clown make up or something BUT I TOTALLY DON’T SHUT UP COWORKERS. Ahem.

  30. Yes. And #10. OMG YES.

    I work from home. I can go for many, many days without leaving the house (especially in the winter), and yet, I get dressed every single day. I need to do it for me, and hoo boy does it make me more productive AND makes me feel better about ME.

  31. I needed to read this. Especially #1. (As I sit here in the sweatshirt and fleece pants I’ve been wearing all day long…)

  32. Thank you for this! I needed to hear some of these things! I always think “I don’t need nice clothes because I stay home” and I often buy things (at target) just because they fit,not because they look great.
    Thank you!

  33. Thanks for this.

    I’ve loved reading your posts about your clothes and I would like to say I feel inspired but then I’m still sitting here in my sweatpants and ratty tshirt and feeling like the fact that I brushed my teeth is enough of a preparation for the day’s public appearances. So obviously I haven’t taken that inspiration completely to heart.

    Because, you see, #10 sounded crazy to me at first, as I have a closet full of perfectly fine (ill-fitting, unflattering, old) clothes and I don’t bring in an income to pay for new ones. But the more I think about it, the more I agree. Just because I don’t work in an office doesn’t mean I have to be the last one in line for new clothes (which means NEVER.)

  34. [...] friend Elizabeth writes about what she’s learned from taking pictures of herself. Such great thoughts [...]

  35. All very good points/advice. You look great! I wish, instead of feeling weird about dressing up/dressing well, people felt weird about dressing sloppy. It’s sad to think the norm is to not care what we look like – especially in public.

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