Ever since I was little I've loved clothes - styling them, adding accessories to them, buying them, swapping them - and one of my most treasured Christmas presents was a Fashion Wheel (if you're over 35 you'll know exactly what I'm talking about) where you could mix and match different outfits on a wheel and trace over them with pencil to draw ladies in beautiful outfits. (Despite this I went into the Legal Profession and followed a very corporate career path for the first 15 years after university.)
I was always the kid who looked a bit different to the others - I'd add bright pink tights to an outfit, massive hoop earrings in neon and my love of hats precedes me - I didn't care what people thought.
I just loved to be individual and the way I dressed was a huge part of that. It was (and still is) a reflection of who I am that day - am I bold, brave, tired, excited, daring. If you ever see me doing the school run with bright red lipstick on, you can be sure it's because I've gone with a plain outfit but I'm feeling like I want to boss-it that day so chose the red lippy to tell everyone (and remind myself) that!
So when I had my kids and ended up with a 'Mum' uniform it really affected me. Now, I didn't realise I even had one, particularly after my second son and in the midst of PTSD and PND after a really difficult pregnancy and traumatic birth, where just functioning and getting through the day were pretty massive achievements - but realising you own 20 pairs of black leggings and several long, hooded (maternity) sweatshirts is a big sign that I'd got myself stuck in a rut and I needed to get out of it.
The thing is, it was so easy to do - what's comfy after having a baby? Stretchy leggings! (how long did you keep - or even wear - your maternity leggings for after you had a child?) and big baggy tops. You don't have time to think about what you're wearing, you barely have time to eat, and sleep goes out of the window so it's easy to stick with clothes that you can pull on and cover everything. But I think there's more to it than that too - I was wearing my 'mum' uniform so no-one noticed me, so no one saw how much I was struggling with what had happened with my second son and so no one could see how hard it was getting through each day with a newborn and a young toddler, inside the same 4 walls day in day out and feeling bleak with cabin fever and loneliness. I blended into the background of the world and honestly, I managed to get away with it. It took over a year before anyone, including me, realised that I'd been pretty ill.
Obviously this is not all about clothes - in fact, very little of it is about clothes - it's about how I was treating myself, how I let other's treat me, how I wanted the world to see me (not at all) and why I was willing to let go of the woman that I'd been before I had children - confident, gregarious, individual and a bit of a snazzy dresser! I needed her back in my life and fast.
It took a while to get better (please get help and talk to someone if you recognise any of the signs of PND or PTSD, it really helps - the link to PANDAS is here), and slowly but surely I started to get back to my old self. 13 months after the birth of my youngest son, I did a shoot for a national newspaper on body confidence after having babies - a huge first step to getting my confidence back - but it was so liberating. There we were, a handful of mums in our 30's, accepting ourselves and saying it's okay that we look different now we've had kids - from stretch marks, to slightly wobbly bits, we were all in the same boat and there is something very empowering about talking to other women and realising that you all feel a similar way and that it's okay to feel like that. We realised that having kids and being a mum doesn't have to take over your life, it's a part of your life, but it's not compulsory to 'lose' you in the process. (I've since become an advocate for body confidence in women and work often with the national press and glossy mags talking about women's issues from childcare and anxiety to relationships and bodies).
And before everyone shouts that kids are supposed to take over your life - yes, they absolutely are (and they pretty much do). My kids are everything to me and I'd give up anything for them if I had to - but I don't have to - I can be a good mum and 'me' at the same time - it's not a one or the other situation, despite what society tells us (want a career, don't be a mum - want kids, don't have a career - I mean we're in 2019, let's move that rhetoric on and get with the fact that women are capable of being mum's and working in the same way that men can be good dad's with a career although we still don't question this idea like we do for women).
Also, let's not forget that it's good for kids to see you outside of the 'mum' role. My boys see me in my gym kit a lot and know that the gym is where mummy goes to workout and feel good - I tell them a lot that I'm going to the gym or to yoga to clear my head and it's true; they see me getting ready to meet clients and go to work; sometimes they even see me dressed up for dinner with friends (an all too rare occasion) and they say tell me that I look nice - most mornings while we're all getting ready for the day, I'll be getting dressed in my bedroom while the kids are talking to me and I'll ask them if they prefer this dress to that dress, this top to that top - it's nice to involve them in the things that make me who I am.
So if you've found that you're continually dressing in jeans and t-shirts, or leggings and hoodies, ask yourself why. Is it really the only easy option? Do you tell yourself that jeans and a t-shirt is the only thing you can wear to toddler group? Are leggings and a jumper the only practical outfit to do the school run in? Go in your wardrobe and have a look at what you have - I bet you have at least a handful of clothes that are stylish and practical and that you have no real reason for not wearing! It's easy to tell ourselves that we need to be in clothes that mean we can run around after the kids, but in truth, there are lots of things we can wear to do that, it doesn't need to be boring or plain, or the same thing over and over again. And let's face it, your 'good' clothes will turn to moth-eaten rags if you only ever get them out when you've got a babysitter!
So what are you waiting for - ditch the dull stuff, raid your wardrobe, wear your 'you' clothes! And for the love of God clear out your black leggings drawer!
*Have you thought about a wardrobe edit to help you get to grips with what you already have to re-style yourself? Or maybe you need some new outfits to spruce up what you already have? Either way you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to book a session with me - I work with mum's because I am one, I understand what they need and the requirements of having kids and what that means to your wardrobe - so whether you're breastfeeding, pregnant, post-natal or your kids are 18 and you need to find you again, give me a shout!*
© Copyright Fiona L Brown at The Fit Loft 2019