“Writing this book was a labor of love. Emphasis on labor,” Stacy London said in a recent book talk she gave in my town about her newly released title: The Truth About Style.
“I gained 15 pounds. I adore my editor but revisions weren’t easy. As I questioned myself, I ran into a guru friend of mine who reminded me: ‘We teach what we need to learn,’ and I remembered why I was doing this in the first place.”
As a writer, I was fascinated to hear London say she struggled with the task of writing autobiography: “What? Ten chapters about me?” No way she thought.
It needed to be about more than just her.
Girls Attracted to Stacy’s Confidence in What Not to Wear
As her TLC show What Not to Wear gained in popularity, London was struck by the increasing Tweets and Facebook posts from adolescent girls and teens wishing they were more like her. More poised. More stylish. More in charge of their lives. Prettier.
“I was dumbfounded. It was so hard, because the show has a format and there was no place to address this,” she said, hesitating, choking up. “But, I realized, I had been those girls, and I could do something.”
The book was her something.
At four-years-old London was diagnosed with psoriasis, an inflammatory autoimmune skin disease. She described various outbreaks during childhood that left her with red patches and scaling skin on her face and arms and legs and how kids at school would taunt her calling her names like “monster.” She told of hours spent with tar-like treatments in her hair and how she could never get rid of that smell.
“I wanted these girls, who thought I had it together, to know what I had gone through at their age. That I’ve not always been what they think they see on TV.”
My Mommy Guilt & the Snarky Bitch Turned Soft
As I sat with my daughters on yet another school night that would end late, relief and gratitude flooded me. What Not to Wear was only one of two TV shows we watched together. While my daughters understood the new lease on life Stacy London and co-host Clinton Kelly’s style-overs gave people, I wondered what more was behind London’s snarky, sometimes too-in-your-face-bad-girl persona.
“I was hired because they basically wanted a snarky bitch. But the longer I do the show, the more I empathize with people. The more I remember I was there. And, the softer I get.”
Growing up with the troubling outward issues of a skin condition affected London more than she thought. In writing The Truth About Style, London was given to reflect on this.
The Difference Between Style and Fashion
At first Stacy described covering up her skin ailment with flattering fashions, but then realized she could create an outward expression of who she was that told more about her than her skin. As she grew into this idea, she became more and more fascinated with clothing styles. She realizes now that expressing herself through style, helped dress up the inner confidence so damaged by her outer skin troubles.
“My own psychological obstacles made me turn to style. And, there’s a difference between style and fashion. Style is finding a type of clothing that fits you and is flattering to your body type and conveys the message: ‘I feel good about myself.’”
She went on to say that fashion is something an industry tells you you have to have or wear. It’s more about selling a product than establishing a personal voice and sense of self.
“What every designer creates doesn’t have to affect your well-being. Fashion just makes you want something. True style starts with you and what you want.”
As WNTW progressed London realized she wasn’t so much listening to people’s fashion problems, but realized she was listening to their stories. “How we see ourselves is a story. We decide what is true about ourselves.”
Likewise, she points out how we construct our stories is limiting: “’I don’t wear prints,’” she says in a nasal tone, rolling her eyes at the audience. “That truth is objective. Once you realize you can edit your story, you’re open to change.”
The opportunity London and Kelly offer on What Not to Wear is the idea that changing style can be used to tell a new story. In this sense, fashion becomes limiting because it no longer has autonomy. It’s no longer about self- expression, but about timely cultural expression and marketing psychology.
Stacy London stresses that when we explore style as a means of self-expression it helps us change our perception of ourselves: “Seeing something new lets us believe something new. Style can be used to tell a new story.”
Does What Not to Wear Push Limits?
Some WNTW shows, in my opinion, have pushed the limit in getting folks to change their way of seeing themselves through style by:
1.) sending styles I love off to the dump
2.) promoting prints and florals for the sake of femininity (I HATE prints and florals)
Yet, Stacy London hammered home her personal message seemingly at odds with moments on WNTW:
“Just remember who you are—no one can tell you what you can wear. No one can know what you uniquely bring out through style.”
This comment begs the question: Has London felt some remorse at pushing some folks beyond their own style limit for the sake of the show? Or is she playing true-to-herself-necessary contrarian?
Yet, London spoke of the moments that make the show worthwhile, like the one where all a stay-at-home-mom wanted was that one pair of jeans that made her butt look great. “That’s all it took to make that mom happy,” she said.
Or another story Stacy won’t forget is featured in an upcoming show. A woman, a professional and mother, who by most standards had it all, decided when she turned forty that she was too old to bother and became depressed because of it. London said, seeing that woman turn around through finding her self again through style was affirmation that she was on the right track.
What Can You do?
Stacy London recommends beginning your style change with these two things:
1.) Work with your body type.
2.) Wear clothes that fit well
Just as revising your style allows you to see a different story about yourself, so has writing a book caused Stacy London to see herself differently. Writing allowed London to uncloak her painful buried childhood story of her struggles with psoriasis, share it, and, in the process recognize her own transition from snarky-bitch stylista co-host to empathetic listener. A point I’m glad my impressionable teenage daughters got to hear straight from her.
As learning journey’s go, I’m thankful Stacy London took the time to dress out her story and “teach what she needs to know.” She’s earned her place as a story-teller and agent of change.
You might want to try on a copy of The Truth About Style and see for yourself what style will do for you.