I recently read a fashion industry-centric article written by Alexandra Shulman, the former British Vogue editor. The piece that she wrote originated because a “selfie” photo she posted to her Instagram account went viral. Shulman has more than 100000 followers. So, you can imagine that if she could photograph a cough, it would get attention. This particular photo garnered attention because Shulman wore a belly-baring bikini and was all natural, no make-up. As editor of a must-read glossy fashion magazine, Shulman played a role in telling the public what looking normal is. Likely, you are a consumer of similar media, be it a glossy print magazine, or Instagram. All of which serves as a reminder to me that people do go crazy trying to look normal.
First of all, people base normalcy on one’s very personal definition of the word. I think that each and every one of us has our own sense of “normal.” When I apply the concept of normalcy to personal style, it is about conforming to a type. We have a way in which we typically show up in the world. Onlookers take that in and their sense of how you show up establishes a norm about you. If you deviate – watch out!
Case in point, the photo that caused the media to sit up and take notice of Ms. Shulman.
People do go crazy trying to look normal, but I think we need not take it so far. I do think that it is a worthy endeavor to look after our overall appearance. High grooming standards and orderly looking clothing that reflects your personal style help to tell this story of looking “normal.” For many of my clients with high public profiles, the need to maintain this higher standard of normal is normal. It’s why people pay attention to Ms. Shulman and her apparent deviation from how others perceive her normalcy.
I often think about how important it is to show up at the higher standard of normal. Public figures and high-profile individuals do need to care about this because it is part of our reputation management strategies. The way we appear is a reflection of our personal standards, status, and even of our visions. As my profile continues to rise, how I show up is a billboard for far more than my professional occupation. It reflects my directness, discernment, credibility, ability to be at the ready on a moment’s notice, and more. You don’t have to be a public person to care about having elevated personal style standards. Exhibiting such standards is an extension of your integrity, and enhances your self-esteem when it needs a boost. I look the way I do in public because I want to show the world what I stand for. What about you?
A consequence of Ms. Shulman’s fashion leader status, she received snarky comments about her “undone” look. In her role, she was responsible for selling the public on various physical ideals of perfection. Without a doubt, Shulman signed off on the use of airbrushes to make images hyper-perfect in the magazine she ran. Is it hypocritical to manipulate the public’s sense of what “perfect” is and then to show up looking “less than?” Why, then, is it that people do go crazy trying to look normal? The media deems such perfection as normal, and then the public adopts this concept.
Here’s some added perspective as to why people do go crazy trying to look normal. Too many people care too much about prescribing to looking culturally normal. Can others see us without our having done our daily skincare regimen? Should we wear that shirt a second day in a row? Is it a good idea to post selfies while looking windswept from the beach, or exhausted from a long hike? I think there is one singular answer to all of these kinds of questions.
We ought to put ourselves out there in ways that are real and relatable, and embrace our sense of dignity. On my Instagram account, I’ve posted pictures of myself from the beach in Capitola, and hiking in the Swiss Alps. Having 100000 followers is not what interests me. What does interest me is narrating and sharing my life story. I want people to know the real me, because I want to know the real you. My sense of looking normal is dynamic. There is the everyday working me, the beach me, and the hiking me, for example. This is all about having dignity for myself and for you, quite frankly.
My mother would not leave the house to get the mail without having put on her makeup. She felt like a “lady” [her self-description, hence the quotes] that way. One simple act taught me so much about how important it is to do right by and for ourselves.
I think it’s no biggie that Ms. Shulman showed herself looking “normal.” The real issue is that in her career she sold an unattainable dream to many, and achievable by very few. I’m a fashion and style expert, and I take issue with the media promoting the unattainable. I live in reality for my clients and for myself. That’s the touchstone of normalcy for us all. Given that we have free will, I think that any healthy-minded individual will choose to live in dignity. How we show up has everything to do with that. It’s up to each of us to determine what “normal” is. Then, proudly live that out loud, from the inside out and the outside in. People do go crazy trying to look normal, but that need not be you.