Human beings are engineered to judge and form opinions based on what their eyes perceive. Our visual cortex delivers data to our sensory cortex, telling it what our eyes are observing, and in turn, the sensory cortex interprets it. But perception goes far beyond what our eyes perceive and is informed by our experiences, prejudices and cultural truisms that hold far more weight than they should.
At first glance, women are judged based on how they present themselves. The right or wrong look paradigm, which is determined by trends, social setting and, agree with me or not, misogynist views, feeds much deeper into our subconscious than we believe, inevitably influencing our style and overall appeal. What women wear, in some cases, has very little to do with their sense of style and individuality and more to do with feelings they may harbour about themselves.
You are what you eat is a timeless adage that seeks to hold us responsible for our physical appearance, but can the same be said of how we dress? What does a woman's clothes say about her?
The clothes we wear seemingly has a long-lasting impact on the way we can process things psychologically. In 2012, behavioural psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam D Galinsky introduced the term "enclothed cognition" to describe the systematic influence clothes has on the wearer's psychological processes. The study illustrated the effect clothing has upon a person's mental process from how they think, feel, and function. The findings revealed that clothes said a lot about how much attention they craved, their self-confidence, and ability to form abstract thought. Not only did it unearth the physical experience of wearing clothing, but it found we attached symbolic meaning to the clothes we wear.
Clothes empower us, make us feel emboldened even, and is a way for some of us to display our highly regarded assets. But when we decide what to wear, do our emotions play a more active role than we realise? According to clinical psychologist Dr Jennifer Baumgartner, they do. In addition to the impression your clothing makes upon others, she theorised that all of our wardrobe decisions reveal some secret desires that we may be trying to hide. She believes that a woman's clothing indicates what is going on internally and influences thoughts and feelings.
If you give thought to this notion, you may find some merit in her theory. For instance, it isn't uncommon to hear women say they prefer to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes when on their period, and others shying away from wearing a bikini because they are afraid to put their stretch marks on display. Women on the brink of a divorce sometime take on a transformative look, and some mothers experiencing postpartum depression might altogether forget they have been wearing the same clothes for three straight days.
Baumgartner goes a little further. She believes that revealing too much cleavage or dressing provocatively suggests that a woman is power hungry and intent on maintaining or gaining control and attention. To Baumgartner, women are enthralled by the fact that people are looking at them. She adds that a woman who wears over-the-top jewellery may imply that she has financial difficulties or may be insecure about herself and use the jewellery to make a statement.
We live in a time where we are told that we have the freedom to wear what we want and express ourselves how we see fit; however, we are quickly reminded of the perimeters we ought to operate within. For example, if you're 22 and choose to wear a short skirt, you are deemed an attention seeker, and a woman in her 50s would be viewed as a shameless old hag who's having difficulties accepting that she has grown up.
Even when our clothes genuinely represent who we are, we are made to feel disenfranchised, worthless and unbecoming?
Why is it difficult to fathom that a professional woman donning a 45 inch-long lace front weave and glitter stiletto nails is no less intelligent because of her style choices? Why is a woman who feels empowered in her decision to wear comfortable, "mom-styled" clothing called out for being unwomanly?
In addition to all the things we face as women, why should we allow what we wear to hold us bondage? I say, wear what makes you feel the most you, and if your choice screams needy, desperate or trying too hard, wear that label with pride. Because clothes stand for much more than what we wear and how we wear them, they represent how we connect, live and transform into the best version of ourselves.