Have you heard the newest acronym JOLGO?

It’s similar to FOMO, which has been replaced more recently during ISO by JOMO. JOLGO, however refers to the joy of letting go. Despite the fact that these acronyms are a horrendous affront to the English language, I kind of wish I’d thought of them myself.

Ruth La Ferla, the woman responsible for JOLGO, observes that during COVID-19 “women are revelling in the relinquishment of high heels, painful waxing and constricting garments”.

Exultant cries of ‘no blow dry, no nails and no bras’ can be heard in the streets of most lockdown cities across the world. While we might not be about to burn our bras again (they didn’t ever really do that by the way) perhaps we are re-thinking some of the torturous routines that have enslaved women in recent times in the pursuit of an image and appearance that is ‘fit for public consumption’.

Perhaps those who once felt anger and resentment about keeping up appearances will now choose not to hop back on the manic maintenance wheel, having experienced the enforced letting go and the ease that comes with downing grooming tools.

For some women, this will be an opportunity to make changes they’ve wanted to make for some time now but have never felt they could for fear of judgment.

At the opposite end of the spectrum however is the experience of women who are now feeling an inescapable pressure of turning up on Zoom with roots showing, tummies growing and facial hair that needs mowing.

As Leslie Godman writes in an article exploring this recent female lament, “so many [women] are now prefacing professional and personal video calls with the demoralising mea culpa about under eye circles.”

All very judgemental of us and not at all body positive. And starkly different to the expectations our male counterparts place on themselves.

“We’re far less likely to hear men pre-apologising for their unkempt stubble or pimples because pressure to keep up appearances is largely directed at women” says Renee Engeln, a psychology professor, speaker and body image researcher, quoted in Godman’s article.

But who is doing the directing and judging here?

Is it men? Is it society and media? Is it our mothers, sisters, best friends? Is it ourselves?

Big questions I know.

It is human instinct to judge another person based on their image and appearance, including the clothes they wear. Being judged in this way seems, at first glance, unfair and superficial.

The reality is that you are intrinsically tied to your clothes. They are your second skin. Like it or not, people will continue to make decisions about you based on this second skin.

You can feel annoyed and resentful and allow it to confuse and distract you from gaining clarity over your style and wardrobe.

Or you can flip your thinking and start to see the clothing you wear as a powerful device that has the ability to influence how others experience you and set you apart from the crowd.

Take Michelle Obama for example.

For five and a half years there was a blog chronicling this Harvard Law School educated woman’s wardrobe choice during her husband’s presidency. The focus on and scrutiny of her appearance (rather than the work she did as a lawyer, writer and first lady) might have caused her to throw her hands up in despair, adopt a more militant JOLGO stance by abandoning any expression of style and fashion; a clear signal that such frivolity would not overshadow her hard work and competence.

Instead, seeing the opportunity to use her sense of style and love of fashion as a compelling means of communication, connection and maintaining relevance she made the following observation:

“It seemed my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say…You can get frustrated with it, or you can flip it on its head”.

Rather than giving over completely to the JOLGO she consciously chose to leverage her style and appearance to amplify her message and frame her independence, rather than becoming resentful of the focus placed on it by others. Critically, she also used it strategically to showcase a diverse range of young and upcoming designers.

But the power of appearance doesn’t simply end with how others perceive you.

Not only do your clothes reveal who you are to the world, they have the power to shift how you perceive yourself as well as how you behave.

This is enclothed cognition which states that the clothes you wear affect your psychological processes – both in the physical experience of wearing the clothes and what they symbolise.

But, what does this actually mean? How can it be of benefit in your wardrobe?

By choosing clothes that symbolise the characteristics, strengths and abilities that you value and derive confidence and a sense of competence from wearing, you can be intentional about how you set yourself up psychologically to think, behave and perform.

If you wear a bra and believe that it supports you and your girls and is a symbol of your ‘put togetherness’, then you will feel empowered by the lift and separate.

If, however, you wear that bra and believe that it is a symbol of female repression, you will resent the perceived need to wear one and likely, feel more empowered when you do not.

Similar logic applies to:

  • high heels (confidence boosting and powerful versus trappings of gender inequality)
  • make up (creative form of self-expression versus unnecessary evil slapped on to cover flaws as dictated to us by the latest beauty fad)
  • dressing in outfits that take time, energy and money to put together (intentional, intelligent, brand and life enhancing asset that increases productivity, visibility and performance versus inconvenient necessity that chews up time and money and overshadows abilities and skills).

Depending on your point of view you might resent attending to your appearance and style, particularly when the men around you seem not to put in the same effort, or you could view it as a powerful asset that offers a sense of well-being, self-acceptance and authenticity.

It’s up to you to decide and applying the lens of JOLGO can be helpful here:

  1. by offering an opportunity to relinquish the beauty burden and any resentment of it; or
  2. by changing your perspective to embrace your style and appearance to support your competence and confidence.

 If it’s JOLGO for the win then I encourage you to do so unapologetically, relishing your release from the resentment cycle.

But keep in mind that while JOLGO has taught us that a lot of the beauty regimes and appearance based chores we have used in the past to ‘feel good’ about ourselves may not be necessary, not all of the methods used to leverage our style and appearance have to be thrown out like the baby with the bath water. Some of the powerful practices of wardrobe curation and style development that I offer my clients can greatly improve your daily routine by reducing decision making and erasing second-guessing about what to wear and what to buy.

I’ve heard it said that the trappings of image and appearance can feel like a performance. However, I think this is flawed. Showing up for me is not a performance. Rather, when it comes to how I show up every day, I choose to focus on my own expectations, and I tune into my internal audience to create a setting that I am comfortable with. My expression of style becomes a place of comfort, self-commitment and authentic confidence without any performance.

So, if like others, you’ve had a taste of JOLGO and find it doesn’t bring all that much joy and you’re apologising for it (to yourself and others), consider for a moment that you might actually value your unique expression of style and the sense of ‘get up and go that comes from not letting go’. And that’s ok too. Although I don’t think it will translate well into an acronym any time soon.

GUGNLGO anyone?

Are you JOLGO and loving it or will you be booking your usual beauty, image and style appointments faster than the flick of a brow waxer’s wrist?

Hi, I’m Nicole, and I’m a personal stylist obsessed with helping women in business and corporate roles to experience effortless, stylish dressing, allowing them to stand out for all the right reasons. I bring strategy, solutions and expertise to my clients. I fully understand the challenges women face when trying to achieve a wardrobe that actually works and I take the pain out of shopping for clothes and deciding what to wear. I transform something that feels fraught and complex into a streamlined solution expertly tailored to you.

Image: Unsplash – Roxanne Desgagnés