4 Ways to Strip Your Wardrobe of Shame and Transform Your Spiritual Life

Young woman looking through patterned shirts in closet
Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

Shame is a tricky little emotion that can hold a great deal of power over us. Maybe you intimately know that feeling of falling short when the stakes seem high, or embarrassing times when you wish you could pull out an invisibility cloak and disappear. The human experience is full of moments that can leave us feeling less-than, disappointed in ourselves, or unworthy. 

Many of us have collected a lifetime of moments that bring us such shame that we live disconnected from one essential truth: Our shared humanity is also a shared divinity. We each hold a unique divine spark that lives within us, and I believe that the recognition of this divinity and practice of self-love ultimately releases shame’s hold on us. 

RELATED: Building Self-Love Through Style: What My Clothing Says About How I Show Up for Others and for God 

As a wardrobe consultant, I bear witness to people’s shame when we speak about clothing and our bodies. When shame rears its ugly head, I aim to help people make a choice to see these seemingly painful moments as spiritual opportunities for growth and healing. 

Here are four common wardrobe shame scenarios where the opportunity for self-love can transform our spiritual lives: 

Scenario 1: The gifted clothes we keep but don’t like

We all receive gifts from loved ones that may or may not hit the mark. Gifted clothing is a bit of a wild card for lots of reasons, but when we are afraid to admit that we don’t prefer an item, we often don’t speak the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Or we choose not to give it away for fear that they might ask about the item, or maybe we sheepishly claim, “Oh, I wear this all the time!” 

This kind of inauthenticity creates shame. Shame that we can’t tell the truth (I can’t tell her what I really think). Shame that the gift-giver didn’t give us something we like (Am I being too particular?). Shame that we alter our beliefs to meet someone else’s good intentions (I must be a terrible person for not liking this).

LISTEN: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

Changing who we are and what we feel to protect someone else is a slippery slope. Quieting and suppressing your own opinions is not an act of self-love, but speaking the truth with care and compassion can be. Perhaps you say, “Thank you for thinking of me with this gift. The style (color, fit, fabric) is not my preference, but I have someone else in mind who would love to wear it.” The truth you speak reflects the love you hold for yourself. 

The spiritual opportunity is to release inauthenticity and reclaim compassionate truth. 

Scenario 2: The clothes we keep that no longer fit us

Lots of people keep clothes in sizes that no longer fit them, and shame sneaks into these moments, too. I find there are two key questions to ask ourselves in this scenario: 1) Do we keep these items as a constant reminder of where we haven’t lived up to our goals or expectations of how our body should look? Or 2) Do we use those items to motivate and inspire us to thrive? 

The self-loving choice is number two. We can choose to let those items go and donate them to someone who might actually wear them. We can also choose to use them as a reminder to move our bodies, rest, eat well, and drink plenty of water. Or better yet, we can choose to see ourselves as divinely beautiful in our present size and stop measuring our worth by the number on a garment tag. The self-loving choice is ours to make.

The spiritual opportunity is to release painful triggers and reclaim new ways to embrace the body we occupy. You might also like to listen to episode 5 of Above & Beyond Style, The Clothes We Keep.

Scenario 3: How we speak to ourselves in the mirror

Our inner voice can be quite cruel at times. What we say to ourselves when looking in the mirror can rival a relentless school bully. I’ve seen clients who can barely look at themselves in full-length mirrors because of the shame they feel toward their bodies. 

RELATED: The Road to Body-Positive

Take a moment to notice what you say to yourself when you look in the mirror. Is it something you’d gladly repeat to a loved one? Does it make you feel confident and proud? Does this reflect who you are as a child of God? The messages we say to ourselves matter. It’s scientifically proven that a repeated narrative reinforces a neural pathway in our brains that links that message with an emotion. If we speak of self-love, we feel self-love. 

The spiritual opportunity is to release the false narratives and reclaim messages of self-love. You might also like to listen to episode 7 of Above & Beyond Style, Shifting the Self-Talk Narrative.

Scenario 4: The money we spend on clothes

When I conduct a closet review, it’s fairly common to come across items with tags still on them and for me to hear how “bad” someone feels about their wasted financial resources. I’ve seen people (myself included) in perpetual cycles of buying and returning clothes that keep them feeling shame over money spent. 

I’ve come to understand when we don’t live up to an expectation (i.e., not wearing an item as often as we thought we would) or become consumed by a feeling (i.e., I’m foolish for spending this much on a top), we risk placing too much emphasis on the outcome of the choice, versus simply owning it, forgiving ourselves, and moving forward. 

RELATED: How St. Augustine Helped Me Recognize Unhealthy Spending Habits

I think we carry expectations and feelings about money that overshadow our practice of self-love. We can become burdened by our shame, believing that we somehow failed ourselves because of our spending habits. It’s important to embrace more compassion and forgiveness for ourselves regardless of the choices we’ve made or the money we’ve spent. A true expression of self-love derives from our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God, who is all-loving, compassionate, and forgiving. 

The spiritual opportunity is to release the shame of how we use our resources and reclaim an attitude of forgiveness. 

Shame doesn’t have to hold such power over us. Seeing these common wardrobe scenarios as spiritual opportunities can release shame and reclaim self-love as the remedy. Practicing self-love will always reconnect us with our innate divinity and transform our spiritual life.