My lovely lady... frump?

To start something new has always been a heavy burden mixed with excitement and dread for me. I've never shied away from beginning new projects, but I usually only start ones I intend to finish. Some projects, however, don't seem to have a definite beginning, middle, or end.

The task I've set myself to accomplishing lately wasn't proclaimed in any official fashion, except that it's something I found myself doing more often and decided it should continue until it no longer feels like something I'm "trying" to do. Lately, I've been putting more effort into my physical appearance.

There was a time in my youth I'd spend hours in front of the bathroom mirror, meticulously applying buckets of Avon-brand makeup to my miraculously acne-free face. I started shaving my legs at the age of 10. Bras became my best friend couple of years after that. It would take me between 45 minutes to an hour to accomplish the amazing combination of the "curly wet look", complete with super-aquanet-stiff bangs (or sometimes, the perfect "wave" side-part).

All you suburbanite, white-washed, chola-wannabes know what I'm talkin' about.

I couldn't wait for the weekend because it meant going to the mall to find the best deals on cute miniskirts, babydoll tees, mary jane heels, and fashionable thigh-highs. Boy, was I light-years away from being stylish, but it didn't matter, because it was a better alternative (I thought) than the grungy flannel and baggy jeans that those other girls were sporting.

Turns out, most of those grungy, flannel-wearing gals tried just as hard as we did. They might not have spent hours doing their makeup or hair, but they wore what they wore for the same reasons we did. They wanted to make a statement with the way they dressed.

My statement has always been "look at me, but don't stare at me"... I've always loved to dress in bright, lively colors with cute designs and occasionally a low-cut neckline, but I seem to stop just short of loud and trashy, over-patterned and under-layered, frumpy and unfeminine.

At my heaviest, in high school, I wore nothing but baggy jeans and over-sized t-shirts. Frankly, that's all I could fit into, or so I thought. I'd come a long way from the mini-skirts and babydoll tees. It wasn't until senior year that I fell in love, found my body again, and started looking like a "girl" once more. This reunion with dressing up and looking good lasted for a few more years, and when I graduated college, it went right down the drain again.

I was depressed, single, lonely, and fat. I'd gained back all the weight I'd lost before college (which is common, I know, but still not totally expected) and lost any ounce of self-esteem I'd had in my comfort zone back home. Why try to look cute anymore? No one would appreciate it. No one would compliment it. No one was around to feed my ego, so I let myself go and didn't look back.

Once I started working full-time, I thought "Oh good, this new job will give me an excuse to dress nice and feel good about myself!" Wrong! Even though I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on new clothes and shoes and purses and jewelry... I couldn't break out of my deep-rooted habit of laziness. I was now used to not spending hours in front of the mirror. Hell, I didn't even want to spend 5 minutes in front of the mirror if it meant that ugly, pale blob was going to be looking back at me.

So, things got worse.

There were days I wouldn't even bother brushing my hair. My hair is curly. Not brushing it is dangerous. I would have looked like shit if not for the fact that I really did love my job, and it showed. No matter what kind of boring, mom-ish clothes I was wearing, I always managed to have a smile on my face and a light in my eyes that said "Hey, I actually do like myself, despite what you see."

Fast-forward to now.

The simple act of learning how to feed my own ego is what's brought about this new desire to look good - for myself. I'm still fat. Still pale. Still not completely stylish, but I feel like I'm closer than I've ever been to having my own style. I'm learning how to show off my assets and camouflage my not-so-flattering features. I'm learning that dressing down can be just as effective as dressing up in the right environment. I'm learning that exercise feels good, as does fitting into my jeans, no matter their size. I'm learning that telling myself I look good before needing to hear it from anyone else is usually the attitude that makes other people notice me in the first place.

I don't spend hours in front of the mirror on just one thing anymore, nor do I throw on whatever's clean and call it a day. I'm finding a nice balance between the two, where I can splash a little bit of makeup, juice up my hair just enough, stand back and smile at myself, knowing that no matter how lonely or depressed or fat I might get later on, I'll always have a little girl inside of me that, in fact, does feel pretty.

How has your personal style changed over the years? Have you always felt good about your appearance? Which of your phyiscal attributes give you the most confidence?