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Life is a constant state of transition. I turned 39 in July. While standing on the cusp of middle age, I have developed obsessions over androgynous fashion, books on the French lifestyle and orange juice — all of which are completely unexplained.

The past year has offered numerous challenges and insights. Without laying all of my issues out bare for the world to read, there have been very high highs and very low lows, sometimes in the span of a few days. All of this chaos and transition has made me a bit introspective.

I’ll spare you my thoughts on orange juice.

A few months ago, I launched my consulting company and applied for (and won) a promotion at work that places me in administration. All of this happened shortly after I shattered the glass ceiling in my industry. I started ruminating on the definition of strong womanhood. What does it look like? How is it lived? Is it quiet and graceful? Is it loud and abrasive?

It was around this time I started changing my wardrobe, partially out of the desire to make a social statement and partially out of necessity. I’ll tackle the necessity part in a moment.

Maybe this is when the fascination with androgyny began.

Photo Credit: Matt McCoy. © 2017 McCoy. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

It began innocently enough. I raided my husband’s closet and borrowed ties and shirts. Then I bought my own ties, suspenders and oversized shirts. From there, I purchased oxford-style shoes and heels with feminine detailing.

The intention isn’t to become more masculine or to abandon the feminine aesthetic altogether.

Success should be genderless.

Photo Credit: Matt McCoy. © 2017 McCoy. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

I sent a photo of my office door sign with my new title to my husband, who, in turn, posted it on Facebook. It is customary at my place of employment to address women without a doctorate as Ms. This way, students can avoid the confusion of determining a woman’s marital status while asking if the lecture material will be on the exam.

I never realized a door sign could cause so much hoopla on social media. Rather than focus on my achievement, people chose to focus on my marital status. I am no less married than I was before. I mean, my husband posted the status, for crying out loud.

He also talked me into the red hat.

Photo Credit: Matt McCoy. © 2017 McCoy. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

I’m also not one to shy away from breaking social norms. Playing it safe isn’t in my repertoire. My entire life I have refused to stay in my own lane. I didn’t wait for an invitation. The invitations will never come. I define me. Society does not define me.

I so teeter on the line of professionalism and social experimentation frequently.

© 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

Staying in my own lane is never an option. It’s something I had to consider when launching my blog. I don’t fit the mold of the typical fashion blogger, which is young, blonde and white (with a few exceptions).

I am a curvy woman. Part of styling myself and other people involves an understanding of proportions. If you are not proportional, you create proportions with clothes and accessories.

There’s a reason I am in the body-positive camp.

© 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

I never imagined that the response I receive through my blog and social media would be so highly positive. I expected negative comments and body shaming. I don’t use filters. I don’t conceal blemishes.

I have intestinal issues that cause a permanent abdominal bump that frequently increases and decreases in size. I have acne scarring from breakouts from early adulthood.

There is a pressure to hide the unflattering on social media. I am not exempt.

What happens when a body-positive blogger starts gaining weight?

© 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

I have a team of six doctors working through various health issues. One of the symptoms of both illness and treatment is weight gain. I’m averaging a pound a week. I gained ten pounds in a two-month period.

Finding clothes to wear each day is no small feat when you can’t fit into your clothes. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice I stopped posting for a while. My outfits were tight and lackluster.

Photo Credit: Cydnei Nettles. © 2017 Nettles. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

The temptation to hide my body or to use filters is there. It looms in the forefront of my mind every time I make a post. I am not immune.

I share my struggle, hoping others can relate. I give the appearance of confidence. It is human nature to assume that those who project a confident image must not wrangle with the issues of everyday life in the same way.

Photo Credit: William Chandler. © 2017 Chandler. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

As I enter the stage of middle life with menopause and aging looming in the distance, I think it’s important to live out my truth.

Adulting isn’t a skill that is mastered or an innate ability some possess. It’s a construct of attitudes and behaviors acceptable to society. None of us have it figured out. Ever. Life is winding and upsetting and transient and fleeting. We never stay in one place long enough to master it.

Photo Credit: Steve Stanley. © 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Steve Stanley. © 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

I am no better at adulting now than I was at 18 or 20. As someone who plans and creates long-term strategies, I never imagined life would look like this. I thought I would never mourn infertility or have an existential crisis at 39.

I was confident. My identity was well-defined. I had answers. I debated questions.

Then life happened over and over again. I’ve learned things along the road, but I never mastered adulthood.

Photo Credit: Caitlyn Penter. © 2017 Penter. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

While it’s important to listen to elders and to heed their advice, their wisdom is couched in a context from another time. We speak a good game, but we are far from infallible. We don’t remember or acknowledge the struggles from our youth.

We don’t have it all figured out. This is evident in the way our out-of-control world spins. It is this truth that the youth and the elders share.

© 2017 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2017 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

After a year of glass-shattering, company-building, protesting, social media ranting and news watching, what have I learned about womanhood?

Strong womanhood is lifting other women up regardless of their opinion. It’s never calling women out for being different. It’s relying on men as much as ourselves, because we need allies. It’s living out strength and truth without taking down everyone else in the process.

Photo Credit: Matt McCoy. © 2017 McCoy. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

Strong womanhood is defining ourselves, not by fluctuating social norms, but by ourselves. Not apologizing for who we are. Not making others into our own image.

Refusing to stay in our lane.

Refusing to follow anything but our own agenda. Allowing others to be themselves, for better or for worse.

It is humility. It is kindness. It is understanding. It is inclusive.

Here’s to the new 40. Cheers!

© 2017 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

***All clothes were thrifted unless otherwise stated.