Science Says It’s Not Shallow to Want to Look Your Best

by ParentCo. January 10, 2017

reflection of woman applying mascara on mirror

When you have an infant who needs your attention every single second, something happens to your personal care routine: It disappears.

There's simply no way to justify the minute it takes to conceal the newly-minted circles under your eyes when your baby is crying (at least the first baby, anyway). There is even less justification for it if your baby is sleeping. You could be preventing even more circles by sleeping yourself. You might also need to be pumping, cooking, cleaning, answering emails, or any of the million other things it takes to be a functional adult.

Eventually, though, baby care falls into something that resembles a routine – though it changes every week or two – and you find a way to slap on the concealer (in the car, after the baby is strapped in, but before leaving the driveway).

You might choose to pick back up one or two more of your old self-care habits. In my case, it was steaming my shirts and using blush. But anything beyond that made me feel exasperated, guilty, or even shallow.

When I did make an effort, comments like “Look at you all dressed up!” from well-meaning friends and colleagues didn’t help, either. What I heard was, “You’re trying to be someone you’re not!”

Then somewhere around year two, you start to consider buying new shoes, or maybe doing something drastic like using eyeliner again, but should you? Can you cram it into your schedule?

The answer, says science, is yes and yes.

What science says about looking nice

A study from Columbia University shows that our clothes have an effect on the way we think.

That’s right. COLUMBIA.

In the study, test subjects, wearing clothing that they, themselves, considered “more formal” were shown to adopt higher-level abstract thinking when asked to solve problems: the planning, the vision-setting, in essence, the stuff that makes you a great leader.

That seems like a good reason to step it up.

Another study, co-written by a Yale professor, showed that dressing well could actually improve performance in a competitive task. In this case, well-dressed study subjects felt more respected that under-dressed counterparts and pushed harder in deal negotiations.

I’ve experienced a version of this. It had nothing to do with wearing “formal” versus “less formal” clothes, though. It was my own postpartum version, played out in my creative field (writing and editing) and became a lesson in dressing myself in what I know I look and feel great in.

How looking my best helped me at work

When I returned from maternity leave 10 weeks after giving birth, I was super self-conscious about everything from my jelly belly to my nursing bra. I was also trying to dress in the style I dubbed “pre-baby” (skinny pants, tucked-in shirts), and it wasn’t working.

I hadn’t really thought about how to both look office-ready and feel comfortable, so I ended up discouraged that my not-even-three-month postpartum body wasn’t what my pre-baby body had been (oh, poor, sweet, sad, little past me).

After a much-needed vacation, though, I wised up. I spent some time planning the ways I could boost my confidence without making unreasonable demands on my body. Wearing vintage accessories and straightening my hair in the morning felt great. I allowed myself a little more budget for the pants I’d need in different sizes, and for tailoring them down, as I slowly, slowly lost the weight.

I shared my plan with my husband so we could account for the morning “me time,” and I did notice a change. Because I spent time on myself and paid a little more attention to my clothes, I stopped feeling as self-conscious at work and was able to focus more on my job. Sadly, all of this did make me feel guilty initially, but powering through the guilt paid off.

I made a choice to look like my best SELF, and that made me a better worker and parent, too.



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