Rebecca Schiller is a freelance writer and co-founder of the human rights charity Birthrights. She writes about women’s rights, lifestyle and parenting, runs retreats and writing courses for mothers and her latest book, Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan, is published by Penguin Life. Find her on Instagram @rebecca.schiller and @_lady_garden and on twitter @schillerrrrr
It’s just before seven a.m. and, like most mornings, I climb out of bed and grab a pair of dungarees. I pull them on over soft, seamless pants, a bralette and bamboo socks and then head to the porch where my comfy, waterproof ankle boots are waiting. Outside it’s the perfect autumn morning and, as I let out my animals (a motley crew of chickens, goats, ducks and geese), I notice how free I feel: comfortable with my body and quiet in my mind. It hasn’t always been this way.
Three years ago I waved goodbye to the city and town lifestyle I’d always known and moved to a ramshackle smallholding in rural Kent. I was looking for a change to help me de-stress as I juggled the crazy overwhelm of life as a women’s rights campaigner, writer and mother. But as the moving van headed away from bustle towards green fields, I hadn’t considered that a side-effect of my new life would be a personal wardrobe revolution.
what mattered was presenting the perfect facade for every encounter and hiding the imperfect person underneath
I have always loved clothes: rummaging in vintage shops for 1950s treasures, flirting with making my own outfits (always disastrous) and obsessing over the perfect outfit for every situation. Yet underneath a basic enjoyment of fabric and colour, I now realise that my style was focused on camouflaging the ‘bad’ bits of my body while showcasing the parts of me that matched up to beauty standards. Clothes were a cloak to throw over anxiety: anxiety that I wasn’t thin, pretty or stylish enough and, as I got older, to hide my raging workplace imposter syndrome.
No matter if the outfit gave me blisters, back ache or a stomach ache – restricted my movement or what I could eat – what mattered was presenting the perfect facade for every encounter and hiding the imperfect person underneath, even if it pinched and stifled me.
But life in our muddy field has changed all that. Without warm, comfortable shoes and clothes that allow me to run and lift and bend, I could not complete my daily ‘to do’ list. And I’ve found that being comfortable in my day-to-day clothes has reduced my tolerance for discomfort even on nights out, during important meetings or speaking engagements.
Having tasted comfort and freedom I’m no longer prepared to accept things that restrict me. I don’t want to create more hoops for myself to jump through and so my new priority is to find clothes that look after my body rather than ‘flatter’ it.
putting comfort at the topic of my outfit agenda has forced me to confront the anxiety that lay under a lot of my shopping behaviours
This change of thinking has also rippled out into the way I feel about myself. Realising that my body deserves soft fabrics, warmth and the ability to move has encouraged me to feel loving not critical towards it. And putting comfort at the topic of my outfit agenda has forced me to confront the anxiety that lay under a lot of my shopping behaviours. Instead of searching for the perfect pair of trousers to make me feel like the perfect person I thought I should be, I now wear clothes that make me happy and show me for what I am: flawed but definitely good enough.
I still love clothes and I hope I always will. I have hunch that there will always be occasions when a beautiful, impractical dress with no room for second helpings is only thing I’ll want to wear. But I now believe that discomfort shouldn’t be so easily accept as part and parcel of looking good. As a women’s rights activist I’m glad to have left behind clothes that whittled away at my self-esteem and forced me into a pretty box that someone else designed for me.