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Season 2, Episode 7
Challenging Beauty Norms with Dacy Gillespie

Dacy Gillespie (she/her) is a weight inclusive, anti-diet personal stylist who helps her clients reject fashion rules and ideal standards of beauty imposed by the patriarchy, white supremacism, and capitalism so that they can uncover their authentic style. Through their work building a functional wardrobe, Dacy’s clients make a mindset shift from thinking they need to wear what’s flattering to unapologetically taking up space in the world. 

After a lifetime of jobs in high-stress careers that didn’t suit her highly-sensitive, introverted personality, Dacy started mindful closet in 2013 in an attempt to create a more emotionally sustainable lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Forbes and Real Simple and she is a frequent podcast guest. Dacy is married and has two boys, ages 5 and 9. 
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Discussed in this episode:

  • Dacy’s relationship with feminism, and its evolution into intersectionality
  • Why fashion is a feminist issue
  • How mindful closet evolved from a singular focus on minimalism into an anti-capitalist and anti-diet culture approach to style.
  • Dealing with changing body size and positionality on the body hierarchy as a feminist
  • Navigating the balance of unlearning patriarchal beauty standards with still caring about your appearance
  • Why “professionalism” is rooted in white supremacy
  • The reason Dacy called her newsletter “Unflattering”
  • Trying to give yourself a title when you are challenging industry norms
  • Body neutrality vs. clothing as creative expression
  • Dacy’s public journey of sharing her body in 3D
  • The ethics of ethical fashion and sustainability

 

Resources mentioned:

Becky Mollenkamp:

I was just telling you that normally I do a lot of really thoughtful research and prepare a long list of questions so that I feel really ready for an interview and I didn’t do that. And not because I don’t respect you and feel that you are worth that time, but because we’ve known each other for a decade and I feel like we have these kinds of conversations all the time anyway. And so I’m hoping that it’ll just be a conversation like we always have. And we will see if I regret having not been more prepared. But I hope you know it’s not because I don’t think you’re awesome. It’s just because I know that we can talk about anything. So hope you enjoyed this video.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I completely agree. I endorse your unpreparedness.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Okay, good. And before we go too far, you know the first question. So what’s your relationship with feminism, Dacy?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, so, you know, I’ve listened to the podcast since it came out, and I feel like there’ve been all these brilliant minds on who have these very deep relationships to the word. And so this has definitely been something that’s been floating around in my mind ever since you and I kind of scheduled this interview. And, you know, I think my relationship to the word is still constantly evolving, which, you know, I think for everyone it is. I will say that when I was younger. I had this very strong sense of feminism as being almost some sort of competitive nature in terms of like, girls can do anything boys can do. Women are just as good as men. And I felt often like I was trying to prove that in many ways. And so right now, you know, since that time since I became a mom, since I started doing the work that I do, I’m starting to see it much more as something that you know, encompasses pushback to all these oppressive systems that we live under and also something that is much more of a collective effort and less of an individual proving of something.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

That is different than what I’ve heard from some people. And I like it because I feel it too. Like I like exploring all these different angles at which people come to this stuff and the journey that people have been on. And I know you’ve been on a journey. Your feminism, as mine has, has evolved a lot. I think, I mean, we are about the same age. So we probably have a same early sort of introduction to feminism and what that looked like back in the like 90s, which is very different than I think what either of us would say our feminism looks like now. So how has your feminism evolved, and where are you at on that journey now? And I know you just said you’re like, not an expert. And neither am I. Neither of us are. We’re on a journey. And I just want to ease your mind by saying, I don’t like we’re all it’s always evolving our understanding. So like, it’s okay, just where you at with it now?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just much more of a broader view of, you know, where the effects of the patriarchy live, which I think is in, you know, in if you’re female or socialized as female or trans in our society, the effects of patriarchy are felt throughout our lives, like in every single facet. So it’s just it’s been an acknowledging of that. And then also you and I have done a lot of learning together and really learning more about the intersectionality of feminism, about the concept of white feminism, and really just broadening the lens in that sense as well.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

We have been in a book club together, a feminist book club, and I’m using quotes because it’s what it was kind of called, but like we read all sorts of things, a lot around intersectionality and race and other issues that we read lots of books over the course of like four years. Unfortunately, our lives got, you know, busy and we kind of have dropped it lately, but I know we’re both still reading a lot of stuff. So I feel like most of what I’ve learned, you’ve also learned because we’ve read a lot of the same books, although you are a more voracious reader than I am, which is amazing. Okay, so you help people get dressed, not literally, but metaphorically, right? Maybe literally, too. Helping them figure out what their style is, how they want to show up in the world outside to maybe match how they feel inside, and all of those things. We’re going to talk lots and lots about that. But before we dig farther, I’m curious about how you think of getting dressed, fashion, style, all of that world that you live in. How is that a feminist issue?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

It’s so funny that you said all of the world that I live in because I feel very separate from the world of fashion as an industry. And I think that, in itself, shows the way feminism has affected the way I think of that industry in the way I think of clothes and fashion and style. I really over the last 10 years. I started my business Mindful Closet 10 years ago in 2013, and over the years of working with women I came to see how the actual, tangible effects of the patriarchal standards of beauty that we have all been conditioned to believe that we have to measure up to. And so a huge part of my work is about helping my clients identify those expectations and decide whether that is something they want to continue to uphold or not. And so in that way, it really, again, it’s for me, it’s not so much about what you’re wearing or how it looks on the body or how it looks to an external eye, or in particular how it looks to the male gaze, but truly about the ways that you can put clothes on your body that allow you to, you know, ‘be your best self’ is like a cheesy phrase, but that’s an important thing to be able to do if you do want to make change in the world. You have to feel good in your body. And a huge part of feeling good in your body and embodiment, which we’ve also read a lot about is, you know, the way you dress yourself. So I think it has really lasting effects. I think it affects more areas of our life than we might think.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

2013 is when we met, so I’ve known you since the start of this, and I’ve seen the evolution of your business. The names never changed. I don’t know if you just lucked into it or what, because you stumbled into a perfect name that still fits. But really when you started in 2013, at least my perception, you can tell me where I’m off base, was that your focus was really more about minimalism. Like how do we reduce the fatigue of making choices around clothing by having less clothing, and then also the impact that we’re making in the world by having less clothing and sort of that approach to it, which I know is still important to you, but that is not the sole focus anymore, I wouldn’t say. So what’s that evolution look like for you over the last decade from you on the inside of that?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I mean, I think the pieces of minimalism that I believe are really important are still a major part of my philosophy about approaching clothing, which is essentially anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist, and really rejecting, again, this idea that we have to buy things to fit in, to belong, to be accepted. And so some of those things are very much still a part of way that I work with people. But the major change has been that, you’re right, I kind of, you know, minimalism had been helpful in my own life. I do manage anxiety and depression. And for me, just less stuff was helpful. It was just something that reduced anxiety for me. It’s not that for everyone. And I really also had this belief, which is also true, that most women were so stressed out about their clothes because they just did have too many options. They had too many choices. They were constantly being coerced into buying things that they didn’t even necessarily want. And because of that, they had this overflow of options that was really actually making their life harder. What actually happened when I did start to work with women over and over and over was that I continued to hear the same thing, which was they could not let go of clothing or buy the appropriate clothing and move closer to minimalism because of the way they felt about their bodies. And so for me, the minimalism was more of an endpoint, and we were skipping this whole major effect of, again, like a patriarchal society, that if we ignored it, we were never going to get to that place of having less stress around our clothes, or even getting to the point of being able to achieve minimalism. And I just want to put a disclaimer here that minimalism canon has been often seen as a very white elitist concept. And so I don’t think of it that way, but it definitely has, in practice, been something that’s been pretty exclusionary, and something that’s really been something of privilege. So yeah, so basically once I realized I was speaking to women and they were not able to let go of clothes because they were telling themselves that they were going to continue to manipulate their body in hopes to get back into those clothes, or when they would resist buying clothes that fit their body because again, that was not going to be the body they stayed in. They were constantly trying to achieve some unattainable goal. Once I realized that was what was holding women up, I started to get really interested in the concepts of intuitive eating and health at every size. And really inherently in my gut, I knew that, of course, all these women were perfect as they were, but they could not accept that. And so those two, you know, methods, philosophies gave me the tools to talk to these women about what was holding them back. I had always, you know, I didn’t know, I didn’t have a way to name it, but I had always known that it was not worth the effort these women were attempting to put into manipulating their body, and knowing that they would have been happier if they had been able to see that for the oppression that it is, and be able to use that time and energy for other, more important things. But having intuitive eating and health at every size as concepts really enabled me to make those connections for them.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I hear so much them and they, and I know it’s because these are the people you help, but I also want to turn the spotlight onto you which I’m sure makes you uncomfortable because it makes us all uncomfortable. But in that 10 years, you’ve also had two kids and have gone from you know the prime of our lives as defined by the male gaze of being in our you know 30s and then going into the 40s where we start to recognize, oh, I’m no longer part of what the male gaze has determined is quote unquote beautiful. And your body has changed in so many ways. And you’ve been on the same path as your clients, right? And I know because same here, you know, I’m helping people around productivity and those kinds of issues. And I’m on the same journey. I think we always are like, what we help people with is what we’ve just gone through ourselves sometimes we’re only a step or two ahead. What’s that journey been like for you? Because you’ve been very open and share a lot around that, around your own feelings of your changing body and how you can say to other women, you’re perfect and beautiful and amazing exactly as you are, and then still it can be so hard for us to do that for ourselves. So what’s it been like for you?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I have been very lucky to have lived in a socially acceptable body for all of my life. I mean, I still do. I have what’s called thin privilege. I am not judged by my body size. I am not kept away from opportunities because of my body size. I’m able to freely go in and out of spaces. But on another level beyond that, for most of my life, I was in a very, very thin body, and I got constant validation for it. I truly had done nothing. I mean, it was just literally my genes, which it is for almost all of us. And when my body did start to change, I will say the interesting part for me was that I had started to explore intuitive eating and health at every size, really before my body had made any major changes. And so it was a very interesting process for me to be able to watch in real time my feelings about the process while knowing about these concepts and what I was hoping to be able to help other people with. So it was a really, it was a kind of meta, you might say. But yeah, and so as my body changed, I uncovered a lot of internalized fatphobia. I mean, I really, you know, have value that every human is worthy, regardless of their abilities or how they look. But you know, that was an intellectual thing. And I could see that there was a lot of stored kind of fat phobia coming up in me because I was unhappy about the changes in my body, which, you know, I wouldn’t have that feeling if a larger body was as accepted or seen as worthy as a thin body. Um, so, and then, you know, logistically, it’s hard. You have to get new clothes. You have to figure out how that shifts your style. And, you know, it changes my relationships. It makes me, you know, feel insecurity in certain relationships, perhaps with my husband. So, and then along the way, as you said, you know, we’re aging. We’re both in our mid-40s, and I was really having to let go of the value that I hadn’t realized I had been finding in my appearance. And just realizing that subconsciously I had been kind of using that as a tradeoff for other things. And this is something I find a lot of us do when we talk about appearances and clothing or beauty. And I was actually just reading a Substack from Jessica DeFino where she talks about what this tradeoff is. Like if your body is bigger, do you wear more makeup to somehow compensate? If your hair isn’t socially acceptable, do you try and dress in a way that is very polished in some way? So it’s interesting that we all do these tradeoffs to try and move ourselves or to try and keep our place on the ladder of hierarchy, the body hierarchy ladder, which was coined by Sonya Renee Taylor. And so, yeah, it was interesting for me to see that I was very threatened by losing my place on that ladder. And it was quite disappointing, honestly, you know what I mean? And I think this is something that comes up with a lot of my clients who do consider themselves feminist. They feel bad about the fact that they feel dissatisfaction with their body, or they feel dissatisfaction with not fitting into the ideal standard of beauty. And that just adds another layer on top of the guilt and the stress and all of those things. And that’s just another way that, you know, the patriarchy kind of layers in all of these things. And so I’m always trying to remind people that, of course you feel this way when your body changes. How could you not? This is again, like, you know, we often say like, this is the water you’re swimming in. You’ve had 20, 30, 40, 50 years of conditioning to make you think that your body changing is a bad thing. So how could you not have those feelings? Even if intellectually you know, it doesn’t mean anything about your worth as a human.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

We’ve talked about this before, too. And it’s all part of the same white supremacist conditioning, the idea of this perfectionism that can also happen on this other extreme of I now need to be the perfect feminist. And so that has to look a certain way, which means I should no longer care about what I wear or how I look. And I need to do that all perfectly, and it’s impossible. And the piece that we’ve talked about too is my experience on that is sometimes that feminist journey often looks like this full rejection of all of the things that we’ve learned around beauty and appearance. And then you can come on this other side of that, where I have been of like, how do I not let myself come to a place where I’m putting so little effort into myself that it now looks like a lack of self-care, feels like a lack of self-care, and I’m not happy with how I’m presenting myself to the world because I have so rejected anything to do with fashion or this industry that has made me feel inappropriate, less than whatever. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, but that’s something we’ve talked about and I want you to talk more about just in your work because it’s selfishly where my head’s at.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I mean, I think that there is a balance for everyone between that idea of self care. And you know, I talk often about the idea of clothing and clothing your body in clothes that fit as being a form of self care. It’s a somatic way that you can tell your body it’s safe. You can tell your body that it is taken care of. You wouldn’t have your child go without clothes that fit, but yet women do it to themselves all the time. So it is a fine line for many people. And I think it really just again, between like, how much of this do you do for self care? How much of it are you doing for the external gaze? And how much of each are you comfortable with? And the awareness. For me, it’s really, you know, and again, this is just for me, and everyone will have a little bit of a different view. But for me, just acknowledging and being aware of where those pressures come from, where the pressure comes from to have straight hair, where the pressure comes from to have a smaller body, where the pressure comes from to wear clothes that are flattering. An awareness of all those things for me is really important. And then we can make choices about which of those things we inherently like in ourself, but I think we also have to acknowledge that none of these choices remain in a vacuum and they’re all still going to be influenced by the patriarchy, regardless of how much we wish they weren’t. Even when you swing the pendulum to the opposite end, what you’re saying about rejecting all of it, I think that’s even in itself a reaction to, that’s still the patriarchy kind of controlling where we land. And so it’s just interesting in what you asked me, you said that there are certain times where I feel like when I’m not doing X, Y, or Z, I’m not taking care of myself. And so like that internal feeling right there, like that’s where you get the knowledge of how much you need to do. I’m just kind of listening to, you know, well, if I don’t put on different clothes than my pajamas every day, I don’t feel like my brain is, you know, able to process as well, or, you know, whatever it might be. And the opposite can be true for someone else. For someone else, they could say, I reject society telling me this ableist idea that I have to wear clothes that aren’t the most soft and the most comfortable and the most like pajamas. And I’m going to wear my pajamas today because that’s what feels best for me. So, you know, each thing that you decide about can be very different for you and for someone else. Yeah, it’s a really complicated thing to think about.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love my pajamas. In fact, lately, if my husband listens to this episode, he’ll know I’ve become obsessed with satin pajamas because I am aging and I get hot at night and they feel so nice. And I keep asking him, can I go wear these to pick up my kid? Can I wear these to go out to dinner? And he’s very supportive. Sure, I guess. But there is that idea of like, well, but can I, and should I? And it makes me think of something I did want to talk about too, which is professionalism. Now, we both have the luxury of primarily working on Zoom or online, where at most this part like chest up needs to look, people will see and the rest they won’t. But there is a part of me that still despite all of that, that I feel this need to, like in this case put on a shirt that looks presentable instead of my, you know, pajama top, because I want to be taken seriously. And I live in the real world where I still have to feel that. And also, I’m the exact same person, no matter what shirt I’m wearing. And my knowledge and skills are exactly the same, right? So I don’t know that I have a formulated question here, because again, I didn’t prepare. But I want to talk about professionalism because I know that it is racist and sexist. We see it playing out in the US Senate where they’re talking about dress codes, right? These people who clearly know what they’re doing enough to get elected and like we trust them to govern for us, but now we are saying they have to wear what a blazer, you know? But also you live in the real world. So like, how do you help because I imagine it comes up a lot with the clients you work with, these thoughts around professionalism and how to show up at work. What are you learning about this? And what do you feel about professionalism as a concept?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Oh, there’s so much that’s coming up for me, and I hope I can remember all of it as I start talking about it. The concept of professionalism is inherently white supremacist. When you think of the characteristics of what a professional look is, it’s basically how close can we get to what a white man looks like. You know, the more tailored our clothes are, the more it looks like a man suit. You know, the less skin we show, you know, it’s all just, well, actually there’s that added layer of the male gaze and how do we not engage with that? And that’s, oh God, there’s so many things. That’s really like another conversation. But really, again, it’s all about getting as close as we can to, you know, these quite restrictive outfits, honestly, that men have worn for 100 years or 200 years. And so for me, it’s just helpful to remember that. When I talk about it with my clients. So in my beliefs about professionalism is that it needs to be broken down, that we need to get to a place where we can respect people based on their thoughts and ideas and actions and less on their external appearance. However, like you said, we do live in the real world and there are judgments being made. And so with each of my clients, it’s a very fine balance. And I’ll give you a few examples. I have a client who is a straight-sized white woman. And by straight size, I mean, she can go into most stores and buy her clothes. She doesn’t have to go into plus sizes or sizes beyond that and she’s a lawyer and she’s also disabled. She has a chronic illness, but it’s an invisible chronic illness. But comfort in her clothes is very important. And so with her, we were really trying to work on, you know, law, I would say is one of the few professions which still has very stringent expectations around what you wear, especially particularly when you’re in court. And it’s quite similar probably to the issues going on in the Senate, but you know, it really was a fine balance for us of trying to make sure that what she had was comfortable, yet also fell into that category of being appropriate for work. And at the same time, again, I said she was a white woman and she had, although disabled, she had lots of privilege. And so we worked on how can we push these boundaries a little bit and be the model for women who will come after you. Because when you go into a workplace, you’re really looking at the culture, and you’re looking to see what the custom is for how people dress. And so if you have privilege and you can be an example of someone doing things a little bit differently without getting punished for it, I think that’s really important to be a model for younger women seeing that and seeing, OK, that woman doesn’t wear a suit every day, and she’s clearly still succeeding in the ways that she wants to succeed. And then there are many people who do not have those kind of choices, and they do not have that kind of privilege. So women of color have been discriminated against in the workplace for their hair for hundreds of years. I mean, there’s a whole history of black hair going back to slavery and the controls that white men put on just like this aspect of their body. And so it’s not as easy for someone of color to just say, well, I’m going to reject all of those things. It could be a literal matter of, I will not be able to feed my family if I don’t have this job and I need to have more quote professional hair in order to keep this job. I had another client who was a therapist and she, in her practice with her other therapist, she was completely ready to reject all aspects of professionalism and really told all the other therapists in her practice, like, you can wear whatever you want. However, when she was often called on to appear in court for foster children who, and she was called on to testify about whether, you know, it would be healthy or not for them to go to various different places. If she didn’t dress in a way that was approved by that kind of court culture she could potentially harm her client. And so in that way, she had to conform to some of those expectations in order not to do harm. So it’s so nuanced. It’s so complicated. My general kind of philosophy is that those of us with privilege should push those boundaries as much as we can. We should experiment with not wearing makeup to the office. We should experiment with having hair that is, quote, untamed. We should experiment with not wearing jackets to formal meetings, you know, just all the ways that we can push those boundaries, um, in ways that are safe, I think is helpful. And yet we also have to acknowledge that it’s not going to be safe for everyone. I also just want to throw in there too, the idea of lots of trans and non-binary people getting, you know, physically harmed for showing up in their clothes in the way that they feel most themselves. And that’s something that we see a lot as well.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And this is why even though I’m a person who has just really never cared about fashion and sometimes can get uncomfortable and feel very out of my depth in these kinds of conversations because I am not a clothes person, but still think it is so critically important to include this conversation in a podcast that’s exploring where business and feminism meet or business and equity meet because just listen inside of that conversation, inside of what you just said, the layers of political issues inside of that. And clothes matter in the workplace, even if you are a business of one, or if you are somebody, especially if you are somebody who’s managing a team, and to be thinking about things around appearance, and what are the beliefs that you’re holding onto and how are those showing up in the way that you are promoting, hiring, promoting, talking to, you know, believing, listening to people based on just what they have on their bodies. And I know that can be hard because we often, especially when we are people who are thinking about these issues, we want to think that we have kind of moved beyond that. But like you said, your own discovery was rooting out that there was still this internalized fatphobia. And likely, there still is. Like, that’s something that will always be there that you’re always having to confront and contend with. So for people who are managing teams, I’m just curious if what I just shared brings anything up for you in the things that you would want to make sure they’re thinking about around these issues.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I mean, the first thing that comes up is for everyone to, you know, I’ll just go back to our quote feminist book group. We also read a lot about mindfulness and being present and being in the moment. And also part of mindfulness and part of why I feel like my business name still works is that part of mindfulness is having that pause after a thought before you act on it. And so I think for people who are looking at other people to see whether they think they’re qualified or not, it’s just good to have that little reminder in your mind when you look at someone and you immediately make a judgment to again, make that pause and say to yourself, but wait a minute, I’m having this judgment because of these patriarchal constructs that we’ve all been conditioned to believe. And let me not make that judgment as quickly and get to know this person or speak to this person and see what my feeling is, you know, after that, after a more in-depth, you know, engagement with someone. So I think that’s very important. I think it’s very, very important for people, everyone to be able to show up at work in the way that they feel best. And again, I’ll go back to that, you know, pajama example. It’s like if you have someone who’s showing up in their pajamas, but they’re doing great work for you, where is the problem there? You know? And also I will say, Becky, there’s like another layer of nuance here, which is kind of respectability politics in the Black community and where a lot of Black women have felt as though they really do need to measure up in those ways. And you can acknowledge that comes from white supremacy and also still feel that pressure to essentially prove yourself that you are not what a terrible white supremacy stereotype of a Black person is. And again, I have a lot of privilege, and I’m white, and I’m not qualified to speak on those things. But again, it does have many, many layers. And so I think often, the next layer that comes to mind is the class layer, right? Because if you are running a business and you are advancing in your career and you are moving up in income, how does that affect how you think you need to show up? And yeah, there’s so many things to think about. And I think, again, it’s just, it’s an awareness. It’s something to really remember that in this case, individuals know what’s best for them and a good leader is going to trust them to kind of know those things and allow them to do the things that they feel best doing.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

It makes me think of something we just talked about last week when we had coffee about masking or the masks that we’re wearing. And that shows up in a lot of ways you mentioned around mental illness and some of your own experiences around depression and things like that and the ways that we sometimes you have to show up. You know, there are spaces where like, especially with parenting, like you still have to show up even when you’re dealing with some issue or in the case of work, like when you know that there is this expectation that you’re supposed to look a certain way and you’re having to basically put on a suit of armor to get into that space to even be hope that you can be taken seriously and in a way that doesn’t feel authentic. So it is like wearing this mask. Like this isn’t who I am, but you’re expecting me to be this way, so I have to show up this way. And it’s, it’s fucking exhausting, right? Every time. And for every mask you’re having to wear. The clothing may be a piece of that, but that same person may also be dealing with depression and having to put on a mask to show up in that way. And, you know, maybe they’re not feeling like they can be open about their relationships in the workspace. And so they’re putting on that mask and, there can be these layers of mass that we’re putting on. And it’s, and it’s just so fucking draining. And I think it’s important, when we’re talking about leaders, to step outside of yourself and really think about when your people are seeming tired or run down or snippy or who knows what, how might they be just having to wear all of these masks to just function? I don’t know, it just makes me think of what we talked about last week because I have felt that and I know you have. And that includes around clothes because for me, when I’m in a space where people care about fashion, I can feel how hard that is for me to be in that space and try to show up and be taken seriously and feel like and not beat myself up and all of the stuff that comes up when I’m like, oh, these people care a lot more than I do about makeup. Like they’re contouring their faces, and no judgment on people who do. But when there’s that feeling of like, I don’t fit in here in this space, it’s draining.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, I mean, yes, again, so many thoughts coming up. One is that it’s interesting what you said about going into those spaces where you might feel like you don’t measure up. And by the way, I feel the exact same way when I go into those spaces. It makes me think back to when I first started my business and I was trying to do the traditional networking and going to all these events with very, quote, professional people and how I felt just so ill at ease. And so what it makes me think of, again, is creating workplaces where that is not the requirement and that is not the expectation. And something that I’ve gotten from you that I always start in a workshop or anything that I do with is this concept of being whole people and showing up as a whole person. And so knowing if you’re creating a workspace where people can show up as their whole selves, that’s going to give them the freedom to kind of extend that into their appearance and the way that they want to show up.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I think it starts with you as the leader modeling that you were talking about modeling and using privilege. And the person who has the most privilege in the room is typically going to be that leader. They’re setting, they are the power in that room, right? And so how do you model that, which means having to be authentic, and be vulnerable, and be willing to share parts of you and the ways that you’re feeling out of place or out of sorts or having to wear that mask or whatever it looks like. And you do a lot of that. And I know I think over the last decade you have gotten, you’ve been shedding off more and more of those layers of the things that you’re holding back from people and sharing more, because like we said, you’ve talked about, dealing with depression and the ways that shows up, dealing with aging and the ways that’s affecting how you’re feeling, and just your changing body and how you’re dealing with those things, the struggles around parenting, all of it. What’s that journey been like for you for getting more vulnerable and kind of the, what’s the motivation for doing that?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

That’s such a good question. Well what it’s been like for me has been terrifying. I still remember really vividly, I think it was in 2016, the first blog post that I wrote about depression. And again, in that blog post, I kind of tied it to my anxiety and minimalism and where I was coming from with embracing all of those things. But I just remember so clearly feeling so scared to click that button and publish that post. I come from a background and a family that considered any sort of mental illness basically made up and not a serious issue. There was really a lot of, I guess, in a way, kind of martyrdom and always a comparison of suffering. And so if I was suffering in some way, there were other people who had it harder. So I needed to just suck it up and not, I don’t know, just push that feeling away. So it took me a very, very long time to go to therapy. It took me a very, very long time after I started therapy to start taking medication. And then I guess after taking medication and being in therapy, then it took quite a long time for me to mention it to anybody. So yeah, that fear of judgment, I think, is what has made sharing it so scary. And also, the feedback that I get from people is probably the motivation, because I do feel like, like the masks you were talking about earlier, that mental health has been something that we’ve all just had to kind of carry on our own. And it’s never been visible. And so I feel like we can make it more of something that is acceptable to talk about. And we have to do that by talking about it and by sharing about it and sharing our experiences. And when I do, I get people who feel grateful that they are not the only ones feeling the way that they feel.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And you have a lot of privilege, as you’ve mentioned. You’re white, you have a straight-size body. You’re not poor. You’re doing all right financially. There’s a lot of privilege that you have. And one of the things I wanted to ask you about, which I didn’t yet. And I don’t know if this will lead to that question or something different, but it was, what are the problems in the styling industry? And how do you want to show up differently? And my thinking is this way of showing up vulnerably and sharing all the parts of you, including your body in three dimensions to show what it looks like as it’s evolving, that to me feels like the way you’re showing up differently. What you’re seeing being the most problematic part of the styling business is sort of that, because what I find in coaching, the lack of acknowledgement of privilege and then the ways that lack of acknowledgement can perpetuate a lot of harm. Or are there other issues?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

I think the main problem that I see in that industry is that it feels as though people may be working to help establish a facade. And so almost in a way they are keeping people from being their whole selves because they’re really layering on all these expectations onto their clients and saying, yes, if you want to advance or if you want to be seen as attractive, here are all the things you have to do to conform. And they’re really supporting those standards and endorsing them and not at all examining them to see where they might be harmful. I think what I see often is this idea of presenting an image of perfection and that they are going to help you do that. And that for me is just not the way that I wanna live my life. And I can’t imagine for the women who are enacting that facade of perfection, I can’t imagine that it’s healthy for them either.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Which brings me to your Substack newsletter, I’m gonna link to it in show notes, don’t worry, called Unflattering. Because I think part of that perpetuation of these beauty ideals and the ways, you know, perfection and the ways they’re trying to show up and all of that, one of the common refrains is choosing clothes that are flattering for your body, which I believe is why you purposefully chose Unflattering. I assume it’s not because you want people to choose things that are specifically unflattering, but it’s the idea of rebelling against this idea of flattering. What is it about that term and that way of style showing up that you are fighting against?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, I mean, that’s been such an evolution too. I mean, I think back and I think we all, you know, have looked to the fashion industry, to magazines and books and stylists to help us look as thin as possible, which to me is what flattering is code for. Flattering is code for how can we create optical illusions in order to make your body appear that it is something that it is not. How can we make it appear that you take up less space in the world than you actually do? And we are going to prioritize that conforming to that external standard of beauty and ideal bodies, we are going to prioritize that above things like your own comfort. For instance, if you are wearing something that has a defined waist that would be considering flattering, we’re going to prioritize that above the fact that you may truly have stomach issues from wearing things that are tight in the waist. I mean, this is real stuff that happens to people. So yeah, I really want to reject that idea that is a priority. And I want to just name for people that there is another option, that you can reject that idea, you can wear clothes that you like the look of based on just a gut instinct without feeling like others are going to judge you because your body doesn’t look as small as it possibly could. I just always wanna try and rearrange those priorities there. When we are looking for things that are flattering, we’re prioritizing external expectations and I wanna prioritize our own needs and preferences.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I think you have a similar challenge that I feel like I have, which is what the hell do we call ourselves? Because I reject most of what is out there in the coaching space, so I don’t love being associated with mindset coaches and life coaches and all of that. And yet, what I do is coaching, so I have to figure out what do I call myself? And I feel like you’re in a similar boat where you’re in this industry where maybe you’re a stylist, because you’re helping people pick clothing, basically. But it’s not at all that simple. And stylists, the way they typically show up, is not what you’re doing. And you’re also not being prescriptive where most stylists are sort of like, hey, do you like my style? Then you can get this look or like you were saying, I’m going to just help you figure out how to look as small as possible. You’re not doing any of that. So how do you describe? And I know this is an ongoing challenge for you. How do you describe what you’re doing so that people really understand it and how it’s different than what everyone else is doing in that space?

 

Dacy Gillespie: 

Yeah, I do not have a good answer to this. I think one small aspect of it, and this came up from, this was a thought I was having earlier when we were talking about kind of that facade that perhaps other stylists are helping to build, which is that many people call themselves image consultants. And again, that is all the things that I am not interested in. I’m not interested in constructing an image for the external eye. So I definitely rejected the term image consultant. For me, personal stylist is a little bit better because again, it should include the person who you’re working with. It should be personal. But it is really hard to describe and I recently have started trying out the phrase that I’m an anti-diet and weight-inclusive personal stylist to illustrate the fact that I’m not interested in, you know, buying you clothes for when you’re smaller so that you can have motivation to change your body. And I’m not interested in making you look as small as possible. However, I just started with a new therapist and when she asked me what kind of work I did, I came out, I came, I tested out that phrase and she was pretty lost. So it’s a work in progress. I really don’t have a great way to talk about it, unfortunately, which is helpful when I’m in online spaces. And I think in that way, it’s just much easier for people to get a sense of what I’m about than trying to give them a phrase that brings it all to mind immediately. That’s really hard.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I think somatic stylist or intuitive stylist. But still, I don’t think people would know what that means, probably. But it does feel like, I think a lot too around body neutrality. But I know that that’s not necessarily the case because that may just be my own lens. But when I think of this, like I learned a lot from Becca Murray, and I know she’s not the one who originated any of this. But that’s where my learning around body neutrality came up, which is kind of like choosing clothes that make you just feel neutral. Like there’s no, you’re just not, my goal is really like, I just want to be in close range so I’m not even noticing my body throughout the day. But I don’t know that that’s strictly your goal, is it? Or because for some people, maybe they want to be more seen than that.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, exactly. It varies again by client to client. There are some people who just really never want to think about it and our work together is to put it all into practice, spend some work upfront kind of developing their wardrobe and putting it all into practice so that they never have to think about it again, and making sure that the clothes that they’re wearing do not take them into body awareness. They don’t pull them out of their present moment in order to think about their body in some way. That’s not what they wanna be doing. And then yes, other people see it more, and I would put myself more in this category as like a creative outlet and something that can be fun to think about and to experiment with. And they don’t mind thinking about it more. Again, it just really depends on what your priorities are.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I just want to share that too, because I think it’s important for people hearing this who might be interested in working with Dacy to know that you work with all sorts of folks. Where I think often my feeling would be, if I’m looking at a personal stylist, I’m going to look at their style and I’m going to say, does that align with how I want to show up in the world? And if it doesn’t, I might be like, oh. And so someone might look at your style and say, well, maybe that, like, I like things that are way more colorful because you’re very much into neutrals. You have a very distinct look that’s awesome, but it’s your look and it may not be for everyone. But I don’t think that you only wanna work with people who just want to look like you, right?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

No, of course not. Yeah, no, I mean, and I do really try and communicate that very clearly that again, and the way that I often say it is I’m not, you’re not a Barbie doll. You’re not coming to me for me to dress you. You’re coming to me for me to help guide you through the process of discovering what your likes and preferences and needs are. So I really think of myself more as a guide in that way and not someone who is dictating rules or, you know, imposing my beliefs on other people. I really help them. My goal at least is to help them uncover what it is that they like and what they want.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I didn’t prepare you for this, I now realize. But at the end of this, we’re going to record three tips that I’m going to share with my Substack readers. Maybe I did prepare you a little bit last week, but yes, so we’re going to do that. And I’m thinking that might be the perfect thing, is sort of three tips around that process of the unlearning and the relearning. So if you’re interested in that part, go subscribe to the Substack newsletter, which the links are in the show notes. I want to hear about your body in 3D because this is something you’ve been doing a lot more of, where you put on your outfit of the day or whatever, like lots of people do that are doing fashion stuff on Instagram or TikTok, and then you spin around for people, you show here’s what it looks like from this side, here’s what it looks like from the back, here’s what it looks like from the other side. How much of that is a process for you to gain more comfort with that, and how much of that is about outward education?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Mm, it’s probably equal parts. Yeah, I mean, and I can’t, I certainly can’t take credit for that. That is, I first kind of came across this phrase, I’m not 2D. A few years ago, when I was kind of immersing myself in the sewing community. And there is a really amazing sewer who lives in Great Britain, and her handle is minimalist machinist and she has a very distinctive body shape where she has what’s called an apron belly. And when you’re building clothes for curves, for not straight lines, it becomes very difficult. That’s again a huge issue in the fashion industry. But she was making all these adjustments to patterns and to what she was sewing to accommodate the fact that she was 3D, that she was not 2D, that we are not. And that resonated so much for me because literally every time I would be helping a woman try on clothes, she would look at herself face on in the mirror and then immediately without fail, turn to the side to look at herself. And if that didn’t look good to her, she didn’t feel good. And I have been trying to counteract that with so many people individually by saying things like, yeah, we have internal organs. Like we don’t turn sideways and disappear. We are three dimensional. And not only that, no one is standing completely perpendicular to us and looking at us side on all the time. We’re constantly in movement and constantly have energy moving through us. But it is something that people really do often. And I think it’s another way of just kind of breaking down that facade that people might see and think like, oh, that person looks so great in their clothes. But we all look different at different angles. And so just showing the side angle, showing that I am not flat when I turn to the side, that, you know, I have a belly and that a belly is a completely normal thing to have, has both helped me just acclimate to it. And hopefully, and again, I get a lot of feedback from people saying like, oh, okay, I thought I was the only one that looked that way when I turned to the side. And it’s really crazy how we have that idea. It comes from so many messages, from so much media, from movie stars and celebrities and all these things that we’re just expected to have our bodies look a certain way. And if they don’t look that way that we want to try and manipulate them to look that way in real life or in images. So I think it’s important to have that alternative view.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I think it’s super helpful because I’ve noticed it and it has made me think and start to challenge myself to like gain more comfort around some of my curves and maybe just either look at myself on that side view and just be like, okay, there’s that and try to get to a more neutral place or also to just not look and remember that it doesn’t matter. And both of those things have been helpful. So thank you. The last thing around fashion that I wanna talk about before I just talk about your business a little bit before we wrap up is around sustainability. Because again, you started as, you know, with a real focus kind of on minimalism, which I think was part, a large part was around it just feeling better to you and all of that. But I think there’s also maybe a bit of that piece around sustainability and the environment and all of that. And you’ve talked about fast fashion, which is, you know, that stuff that’s made cheap that we can all buy at Forever 21 or wherever where you can get it really cheap, but also it’s not very ethically made. And I think you’ve had some evolving thoughts on that as have I around because I think, again, patriarchy and capitalism, specifically, has made us believe that these are individual issues and not systemic issues. So if you buy that thing at Forever 21, it’s your fault that the Earth is dying. Or if you aren’t doing minimalist, and I think that gets perpetuated by a lot of people who are talking about these messages, people who are doing minimalist stuff. And I get it because I would have probably been that person in the past too. So anyway, I wonder where do you fall on all of that now around sustainability and fashion and fast fashion and the choices that you’re making and how you talk about.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, I mean, talk about an issue with nuanced layers. There is so much. I do believe that the more privilege you have, the more ethical choices you can make in terms of where and how you buy your clothes. I think that something a lot of us could do is just to be aware of our consumption of clothes, and to remember that it’s not necessary to have 20 options for a shirt every day when you get dressed. I think it’s helpful to remember that 100 years ago, clothing was much more precious of a commodity and most people just had a few garments, and that’s how they got through their life and that worked fine. And also if your body is changing and you need to buy new clothes that fit, I not only support that, I feel you must do that. And also there is a level of financial privilege, I think, that is inherent in judging people who aren’t making ethical choices in their fashion. And also there’s a counterpoint to that, Aja Barber, who is an incredible ethical fashion thinker and writer. She talks a lot about how we can’t just say that if you’re poor, it’s okay to buy ethical fashion because we are then still taking advantage of other very poor and oppressed people who are the ones making the garments. So on every level, there are lots of ways to look at it. I do think, as you said, my overarching philosophy is that we don’t put enough responsibility on corporations to come up with solutions for these problems. And as a part of the patriarchy, we expect women to achieve some sort of level of perfectionism in how they make these choices. It’s really nuanced. For myself, I buy a lot of stuff secondhand, and that’s from an ethical perspective, but also a budget perspective. I honestly don’t have a big budget for clothes. In fact, what I’m wearing today, I think three out of the four items I bought secondhand and one I bought from Target, which would be considered fast fashion. So for me, the priority is having women be able to wear clothes that fit their body so that they can get out of bed and put on clothes and go about their day and do the work that they wanna do in the world, which includes for many people environmental concerns. But if you don’t have clothes that fit and you’re not in a healthy state of mind because of that we’re not helping the planet in any way at that point. So that’s a lot of thoughts and no real conclusion. It’s really complicated.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

It wasn’t entirely fair of me to ask you a giant question like that and then say, and now give me a really great answer in 30 seconds. So you did great, don’t worry. Let’s finish by telling me about your business. I know that you are trying to do things differently in the way you’re running your business. I know that includes things around giving and learning. Tell me a little bit about some of those efforts in the ways that you’re trying to sort of say, challenge the norms around how businesses run. Oh, and also around self-care and sleep, rest, you nap most days.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

And I try to be open about that too. Yeah, I mean, a big part of my experience has been that I had a previous career, which was in classical music. And a big part of that career was very much aligned with hustle culture. It was really like, you can never be working too hard. Someone is always outpacing you. You can never rest because you’re always trying to compete and you always have to get better. And I got immensely burned out with that. And so a really big motivation for me starting this business was in order to try and create a more sustainable lifestyle for myself, because I mean, I burnt out at that point, but I had burnt out multiple times before that as well. And so for me, it’s been a really long process of trying to accept my abilities and my capacities and not to beat myself up about those. And even in this moment, I feel the need to excuse why my capacity is somewhat maybe smaller than other people’s and things that are coming to mind are that I’m very empathetic and I’m highly sensitive and I’m an introvert and all those things drain my energy very quickly. But it doesn’t really need any excuse. But essentially, I don’t work eight hours a day. I mean, I work until my brain shuts off, and at that point, I know anything else I’m gonna do is not gonna be helpful. I do really try and rest every afternoon before my kids come home from school, because they’re a whole other drain on my energy. And so that has definitely, some might say, hindered my growth or my income, my income potential, but it’s really important to me to just not lose my mind, to be quite honest, you know? So that’s one piece of how I run my business. Another piece is that I do try and approach everything with this intersectional lens. I mean, we’ve talked about how I approach the work that I do with my clients through that lens. I also have made a commitment to give to a local organization that supports black women during their pregnancies. And I give a chunk of my profits to that organization. And I think another part of my commitment is just this constant learning in terms of where I still have internalized biases and just continuing to be open to what other people’s lived experiences have to teach me.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And on that piece, this is great because those last two things are exactly the last two things that I want to ask you about, which is on the learning front. And I think you have it on your website somewhere, and hopefully I can find a link to that where you share these commitments that you’ve made around how much time you’re dedicating towards learning and what that looks like, and then also around the way you’re redistributing wealth. So on the learning piece, what’s a resource that you want to share? It doesn’t have to be around fashion or style or whatever, or it can be, or can be something entirely different. And it can be something that was really profound or just something you’ve read lately.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, well, that’s interesting because immediately when I knew you were going to ask for a resource, the first thing that comes to mind is a book called “Fearing the Black Body” by Sabrina Strings. And I will preface that by saying that it is an intense read. It is not light reading at all. But I think the work that she has done is so important in tracing back the origins of these ideal standards of how bodies should look and how Black bodies in particular, the characteristics of those bodies were manipulated into something negative, you know, by white men, obviously, it goes without saying. I would say that is a really great resource and something that you can dip in and out of. But it’s good to have some of that history sometimes to just remind yourself why you don’t why this whole construct of what’s fashionable and what’s flattering is just something that was made up.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And then an organization to donate to, to highlight. And I know that you just mentioned that you give a chunk of your profits to a local place, local meaning St. Louis. That’s where you and I both are. And what is the name of the organization?

 

Dacy Gillespie:

It’s called the Jamaa Birth Center. And it’s, you know, I, you and I have had both such profoundly life-changing experiences with parenthood, and with giving birth and with having babies. And I just, it’s just such an incredibly difficult thing that women go through. And then being a Black woman in this country magnifies that by an exponential amount. The difficulty and the risk of physical harm is just so high. So for me, I really love this organization because they’re really doing all the things. They really are the village for Black mothers. They take care of women throughout their pregnancies, after the baby is born. They provide so many resources. And I just think any of us would have loved to have had that kind of support when we were in those positions, let alone Black women. So yeah, it’s something that I really feel very strongly about supporting.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love that. And I’m going to donate and we’ll include the information, the show notes and hope that other people will follow suit and help make a difference because it’s a wonderful organization. And for people who want to hear Dacy’s three tips around, I don’t know, we’ll see what turns into but something around like unlearning all of the stuff that’s been given to us. If you’ve been listening to this and thinking, yeah, I’m ready for that, then stick around. Well actually sign up for the Feminist Founders newsletter and that’s where you will get that information. And Dacy, before we go, I also forgot to ask you, but I want to make sure that we talk about it, which is your Making Space program. So people who’ve been listening to all this and are like, okay, I want to do more of this work, what does it actually look like? Can you just tell us briefly like what that program is? And then I will include information in the show notes for how people can get on the waitlist depending on when the seers either get on the waitlist for the next round, or sign up if it happens to be going on at that time, but tell people what that is.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

So I work with women both one-on-one and then also in this group program called Making Space. And basically we go through this process that I’ve kind of established that just makes the most sense for us to unlearn all of that stuff that we’ve been talking about. And the really incredible part about the group program is the community aspect of it. It is the women relating to each other and seeing even with lived experiences how much of a similar experience they’ve had in terms of what they felt like they needed to do with their clothes and their bodies. So it’s always a really, it’s always an incredible experience for all of us, myself included. So yeah, that is, that’s that group program, and I run it a few times a year.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Super powerful. And we’re going to look at a really high level view of three of the things that you talk about inside of that program. If you want to hear those, sign up for the newsletter. Link is in the show notes. And then sign up to get into the program because the real magic, like you said, is not just understanding the concepts, but it’s doing that in community with that support of other people who are really challenging these norms. And thank you, Dacy. I just want to say as a friend, you’re a great person. And as an educator in what you’re doing, you’ve made a difference even to me, who is a person who does not care about these things generally, right? Like but I notice what you’re doing. It does seep in. It’s sinking in even with people who don’t really think they care about these things. And so your work really matters and is making a difference. So thank you for what you’re doing and how you show up in the world and for how vulnerable you share because it really means a lot.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Thanks, Becky. That means a lot. That’s very helpful. That’s good motivation to keep doing it.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

You have to keep doing it. And maybe someday you’ll write the book. 

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Yeah, maybe.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Thank you, Dacy.

 

Dacy Gillespie:

Thanks, Becky. Thanks for having me.

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