Full transcript of Style School’s Stasia Savasuk’s TEDx Talk: Dressing for Confidence and Joy @ TEDxPortsmouth conference.
Stasia Savasuk – Style School
What if changing your pants could change your life?
Here’s a photo of my friend Dana from a couple of years ago, when she was wearing not quite right pants, working in a not quite right job. She didn’t understand what was not quite right about either of them, but she intuitively knew that something was off.
So she joined my online program called Stasia’s Style School, with the hopes of getting some insights into her pants situation. But what she didn’t know was that Style School would ultimately change the course of her life.
In Style School, Dana did some serious soul work and asked the big question: “Who am I, and how do I want to show up in the world?”
Her answer? Fierce. Grounded. Vibrant. Playful.
And so Dana went on a mission to find pants that connected her to those feelings. Except she couldn’t find any. Turns out Dana doesn’t like pants! She likes dresses.
So, she traded out all of her pants for a closet full of dresses. Dresses that connected her to who she was on the inside, that were congruent with who she was on the inside.
And then a light bulb went off, and it occurred to Dana that her job wasn’t congruent with who she was on the inside.
So do you know what she did? She left that not-quite-right job, and she started her own company — a company that is 100% aligned with who she is on the inside.
What if changing your pants could save your life? Meet Hannah. Two weeks after Hannah and I met in Style School, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In those two weeks prior to her diagnosis, like Dana, Hannah had also done the work of asking the question, “Who am I, and how do I want to show up in the world?” So, when the diagnosis came, she was of course terrified.
But hell if she didn’t get dressed every single morning according to how she wanted to feel, which was brave, strong and healthy. Her nurses could not believe that whenever they saw her, she was dressed up for cancer.
By starting each day remembering who she was and how she was going to live each day, it lifted her spirits, and it helped her believe that she could survive.
Most women with Hannah’s diagnosis die within a year. Yet two years post-diagnosis, Hannah is still alive, and do you know what she told me? She believes that consciously deciding each day how she was going to show up for cancer is the reason she’s still here today.
Change your pants, change your life. It’s a motto that I believe in with my whole heart. But it hasn’t always been that way.
I broke up with style when I was a teenager. I thought that it was petty, trite and superficial. Because in my experience, clothes had one primary purpose: they were the liaison – or in most cases the barrier – between me and any social group I wanted to fit into.
In other words, I felt like there were these unwritten style rules out there that defined what I was supposed to wear, based on the set of cultural norms and expectations, and in order to fit in, I needed to satisfy those rules.
Except, I could never figure out the damn rules. Was I preppy? Outdoorsy? Bohemian? Classic? Sporty? I tried them all. And none of them ever fit.
I seriously thought I had an identity disorder, because I could not find the box that defined me. So I said, “To heck with style,” we broke up, and I accepted a life of beige yoga pants, fleece and sensible brown shoes.
And I became invisible. I lost my voice, I lost my laugh, and I convinced myself that it’s what’s on the inside that matters. I stood with my eyes down and my arms crossed, trying to make myself as small and as invisible as possible.
I used to tell people I was an introvert, but I can assure you I am not an introvert. I was an extrovert who was severely lacking confidence. In my effort to fit in, to find my box, I completely lost track of who I was.
For 15 years, I hid. When I was in my early 30s, I got pregnant with my first child. We were told, early on in my pregnancy, that our daughter was going to be born with a number of physical anomalies, both inside her body and outside her body.
We were told she might not survive pregnancy, let alone childbirth, and that if she did survive, she would look different than other kids.
Thankfully, my pregnancy went smoothly, and we had a beautiful and relatively uncomplicated childbirth. But because of her prenatal medical history, the doctors took her away for some extensive medical evaluation the second she was born. And I didn’t get a chance to see her.
She had survived, which was amazing. But I still didn’t know what she looked like.
When the neonatologist finally brought her to me, she was swaddled in a baby blanket, with her face completely covered. He laid her in my arms and proceeded to tell me all the ways that she was wrong. Where he saw a compilation of extensive physical anomalies, some purely cosmetic and some that would compromise her ability to eat and breathe, I saw nothing but a beautiful baby girl who needed a fierce advocate and a damn good medical team.
I knew in that moment that we had a long road ahead of us, full of wonder and mystery and medical procedures, and it scared me.
But do you know what scared me even more? How was I going to raise a daughter who had both cranial, facial and limb differences, see and celebrate her own beauty when I couldn’t see and celebrate my own.
We live in a culture where how you look matters. It is hard enough for those of us without physical differences to see and celebrate our own beauty. How was I going to raise a daughter who looked different than other kids see and celebrate her own beauty? And that’s when I decided it was going to be my job to make sure that she fit in despite her physical differences.
See what I did there? I traded out “see and celebrate her own beauty” for “fitting in,” as if the two were the same thing.
I decided that the best way for me to make sure that she fit in was to dress her in the cutest of dresses and bootcut jeans you’ve ever seen. And my strategy worked perfectly – till she turned two I would send her to the babysitter’s house wearing the sweetest little outfits, and every single time she came home, she was wearing the babysitter’s son’s clothes. She liked boy clothes, not the cute little dresses and bootcut jeans I was dressing her in.