By Tanya Silverman
Photo courtesy of Sally McGraw.
Minneapolis-based writer Sally McGraw is no stranger to sharing.
Throughout her work, McGraw is generous in offering her expertise on personal style, figure flattery, and body positivity by means of the written word. In her contributions for the Huffington Post, she focuses on topics like practicality of keeping clothes that fit your body at its present state, the ridiculousness of women thinking they have “fat knees,” or the enhancement of outfits with colorful handbags.
The confidence queen also authored a book two years ago, Already Pretty: Learning to Love Your Body by Learning to Dress it Well, all the while maintaining a daily blog by the same (shortened) title, as well as contributing to other publications.
After working years in the business of helping others believe in themselves, she argues that “body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style can foster self-love and self-respect.” McGraw shares some advice in her conversation with BTR.
BreakThru Radio: You’ve been writing about body image for a number of years. When you choose topics to address in your writing, what are some themes that have stayed the same during this course of time, and what has changed?
Sally McGraw: Shame, comparison, and feelings of inadequacy are constants. The messages that women receive about our bodies are almost always negative and we all internalize them to some extent. I think I’ll always be telling women that all bodies are good bodies, including theirs.
In terms of topics that are newer, I’d say that these days I get more requests from women who are struggling to feel comfortable in their aging bodies. There’s still a lot of focus on weight, but signs of aging and dealing with the pressure to conceal them at any cost are subjects that I see gaining ground.
BTR: When you consult clients, is it common for you to have to undo negative body image perceptions they harbor before you can actually get to discussing what styles work for them?
SM: Not always before, but often during. Some of my clients hire me because they know I won’t get all What Not to Wear on them and expect a kinder, more accepting stance. But nearly all of them are coping with body image hang-ups of one kind or another. And I do my best to remind them that a nasty remark from a relative can be ignored, that style “rules” are really guidelines and they absolutely can wear horizontal stripes if they want to, that age-appropriate is relative. And, of course, that approaching dressing from a “What do I love about my body and want to highlight?” perspective can totally change how you feel about your wardrobe and yourself.
BTR: Style and beauty are often associated with promoting negative body images to females, however, your approach seems to address the fact that different styles correspond to different bodies. Do you feel like your efforts represent a force in undoing the negative stereotype often associated with being interested in one’s appearance?
SM: I hope so. I actually wrote my book because all of the style guides I’d ever seen laid down hard-and-fast rules and implied that if you failed to follow them, you’d quickly devolve into a hot mess. It’s a big, diverse world and I believe there is room in it for a huge variety of personal styles. And I want women to feel that personal style is a tool for self-expression, not something that you can fail to do correctly.
In terms of the vanity question, here’s a tidbit that goes into every single lecture I deliver: Comportment, demeanor, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.
BTR: What are some basic steps people can take in embracing styles that complement their personal figures on a long-term basis?
SM: Focus on fit and ignore size. Sizing is totally arbitrary and meaningless, but fit is essential. Cut out your clothing tags if the printed sizes irk you.
If something doesn’t fit your today-body, remove it from your closet. You can put it into storage if your body is currently in flux, but get it out of sight. Any reminder that you used to be bigger/smaller causes you to pay less attention to your current size and shape.
Experiment. When you shop, try on everything. You can learn a lot about your body by seeing how it interacts with clothes and the wider variety of styles you sample the more information you’ll gather.
BTR: What are some looks for Fall 2014 that can be embraced by women of all shapes and sizes? What are some Fall accessories that can work for a wide variety of styles?
SM: Color trends work for women of all sizes, ages, shapes, and styles, so I always recommend trying those to keep your looks current. For fall, pastels are huge (believe it or not), as are metallics, reds and burgundies, and emerald green.
Western influences were all over the runways, too, and anyone can snap up some cowboy boots or a handbag with a bit of funky fringe.
BTR: Can you explain some of your favorite aspects about engaging your audience, such as polls you post on your Facebook page, or answering people’s questions in the newspaper?
SM: Honestly? I am doing this because I want to help women feel better about themselves. I couldn’t care less what anyone wears. The real reason I want women to feel great about how they look is so that they can totally forget how they look and get on with the work of their lives.
Responding to reader questions and interacting with my clients and blog readers allows me to feel connected to the issues they’re facing. It allows me to feel like I’m helping real people feel better and find solutions to the problems they’re grappling with. I’m sure I’ll always love fashion and style, shopping and accessorizing, but my real passion is empowering women. Style might not be the perfect tool for doing that, not for everyone, but it is a tool that works for some. And the more tools we have, the better.