Chapter 3: Finding Your Image
Image Isn’t Just About How You Dress
A strong and confident image is not just about looking good. It’s about creating an image that fuels the impact you are meant to make so you can live a life you love. It’s about showing up as your authentic self in a way that gives you an edge. Your edge is your secret weapon, and that’s what I help people create from deep within themselves.
As you rediscover who you are and begin dating after divorce, it’s important to remember that you get to choose how you step back out into the world. Like many of my clients, you are going through a stressful, life-changing event. But no matter what you’ve been through, you have the power and strength to regain your confidence and step into your authentic self. This is the most crucial step you can take when putting yourself out into the dating world.
The way you think about yourself—your self-concept—drives every result you get, personally, professionally, and even on a date. There are a thousand different ways to prepare yourself for re-entry into the dating world, but the key is to start dressing for yourself. For your mental advantage—your mental edge. This line of thinking often differs from how we think about attracting another person. Usually, the first thought that comes to mind is, “I don’t want someone to think this,” or “I don’t want someone to think that.” Success in relationships comes from putting yourself out there in a way that is unapologetically authentic to who you really are. From this place, you will attract a partner who loves you for you and allows you to grow and flourish as the best version of yourself.
The interesting thing about authenticity is that typically, who we see ourselves as was actually created from external sources. How you present yourself, everything from what you wear to what hand gestures you use, was developed over time and shaped your overall image. Your experiences with your parents, grandparents, spouses, friends, and co-workers shaped your image. It was shaped by what you saw in the media, the places you lived, and the stores where you shopped. Basically, a melting pot of random experiences, both positive and negative, influence the way you get dressed each morning, how you are perceived, and, ultimately, how you think about yourself.
Are you ready to reclaim who you truly are?
Now, the reality is, when you are “putting yourself back out there,” the way you look does matter. Decisions are made about a possible partnership based on a single swipe, so it can be handy to be aware of the science behind first impressions. You have heard a thousand times how important it is to make a good impression. These days, thanks to dating apps, when we meet someone new, we typically make two first impressions: one online and one in person. Let’s look at the science behind each one.
When meeting someone in person, your first impression is formed in 7 seconds. Count it out. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand five one thousand, six one thousand, seven one thousand. That’s not a lot of time. Research has shown that first impressions are mainly made up of appearance and non-verbal cues. And no, we aren’t superficial jerks because we form impressions this way. It is how we are genetically hard-wired. Making quick decisions was a matter of life or death for the ancients, and that quick decision-making is ingrained in our DNA and unconscious thinking.
Fast forward to today, and your first impression often comes from a profile picture on a dating app. Online, your first impression is made in 1/10th of a second and made entirely on appearance alone. Therefore, you have an opportunity to shape how you are perceived simply by how you show up, in person or online.
Yes, we are “merchandising” or “packaging” ourselves on dating apps. But I am in no way suggesting that you wear certain outfits or dress a certain way that is out of character or isn’t your true self. People will see right through that and know you are faking it. When I was the top sales representative for Ariat International, an equestrian footwear company, I often went to rodeos. I am not a cowgirl by any means. If I dressed like a cowgirl, any real cowboy or cowgirl would have known I was simply wearing something to be more like them. I could better serve customers as an approachable and knowledgeable expert about the products I was selling while throwing in a little western flair to show them I was also appreciative of their sport. I felt more comfortable being who I was then dressing the part of someone I was not. And I kicked ass in sales because I was showing up as the most powerful and confident version of myself.
The super cool thing about first impressions is that, in most cases, you have complete control over how you present yourself to make a great one. You are the one picking out your clothes each morning and you are the one picking the photo you put on your dating profile. Since people believe what they see, you have an opportunity to create an image that attracts the results you want. Your image becomes a “sales” tool that can easily give you an edge. You may not realize it, but you are getting a result based on how you look, whether you are trying to or not.
Everything in life is getting a result based on the way it looks. For example:
Take an everyday activity such as grocery shopping—let’s say, for cereal. You grab a box, then notice it’s dented, so you put it back and get another one, almost without thinking about it. Intellectually, you know the taste of the cereal won’t be affected by a dent in the box. Yet, why buy it if you can get a better box instead? Because the better box gives you more confidence that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase. So, you put the dent-free box in your cart and continue shopping without giving another thought to the one you put back on the shelf.
Most likely, you chose that particular cereal because you like the taste of it. However, consider how many meetings and thoughts went into what that box needed to look like to get you to take it home so you can then decide you like the taste of it. Every detail of that box was created purposefully, from its design down to its position on the shelf in the cereal aisle. Have you ever noticed how all the kids’ cereal is on the bottom shelves? Kids are shorter, and that’s where they see it and then convince their parents to buy it. That’s a smart strategy. If you are that box of cereal, how you present yourself directly affects whether you are picked off the shelf or not.
In online dating, potential matches make the same quick decisions about you as that shopper did in the cereal aisle. They swipe right on who they think will get them the best match. And often, their decision to swipe one way over another is simply a judgment, and something in their gut tells them which way to go. So, if people believe what they see, you can position yourself in a way that makes swiping on you the best use of judgment. All of this happens with the image you portray.
But what IS my image?
Let’s back up a minute and look at what your image actually is. Your online image is a combination of what you wear, how you groom yourself, your profile pictures, your bio, and how you present yourself in photographs as well as in writing, meaning not only what you wear and write but how you wear it and how you say it. Consider your image as your personal brand or how you present yourself to potential dates.
But remember, if your brand isn’t congruent with who you are trying to attract, potential dates can sniff that out and know that something isn’t adding up, even if they don’t know quite what it is. A client of mine helps lawyers in the legal industry realize their full potential by shaking up the traditional norms taught to lawyers about business (which is nothing other than going to law school and working for a big law firm). He wore Brooks Brothers suits. You might be thinking, “Hey, those are great suits.” Still, they are designed for someone who wants to feel conservative and safe—the exact opposite of my client’s personality and mission of helping lawyers do things very differently than they have been programmed to do. He’s an outside-the-box thinker, and Brooks Brothers is definitely not outside-the-box. We changed how he was dressing by mixing in blazers that were fun and full of personality with comfortable jeans and conversation-starting shoes. After we did this, he started attracting more people like the ones he was looking for—lawyers with entrepreneurial spirits willing to go against the grain.
The EDGE Formula
Even if you make an excellent first impression, you may not be attracting the people you want to attract. If you have a mismatch between your image and the desired results, it will cost you lots of opportunities. Each day you have a choice. You can put on garments that simply clothe you, or you can be strategic about how you dress to ensure your image drives the results you are after and the dates you want! The goal is for you to easily present yourself in a way that helps you reach your goals, whether financial, lifestyle, or connection goals. Notice I said the word “easily.” This doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to feel uncomfortable. It shouldn’t feel laborious. You will simply have items in your closet that you can put on quickly to feel like the most powerful version of yourself. I have watched client after client sit a little taller, stand a little straighter, feel more confident, and surprise themselves with their positive energy increasing after upleveling the way they look. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, and we are talking about the garments you wear, but it’s true. The clothing you put on your body shapes how you present yourself and dramatically impacts your life. It will give you an edge and, if done right, will easily drive your personal growth and momentum in your dating life.
In my work over the years, I’ve developed a formula to help you create this edge and, even more importantly, keep it. This formula offers you an edge in your personal and professional life. It’s made up of four pieces and only works when you have every one of them in place. It translates seamlessly from my work with professionals selling their services and products to my work with people wanting to show up as their authentic selves in the dating world. The formula is easy to remember:
Dress As If
Every Day: Commit to Have Consistency
By thinking through how you present yourself and using these four pieces, you can create an edge for your self-concept and momentum in your personal life. Of course, you can’t just walk into a department store and say, “I need to find clothes that create my edge.” They will have no idea what you are talking about. So, let me break down each of these pieces so you can put them into action.
Engage Your Ideal Person
In order to engage your ideal person, dress in a way that intentionally engages your ideal date to gain their intrigue and trust.
I say “intrigue” because, for someone to engage with you, they have to first be intrigued by who you are. Intrigue is created by standing out to others who are looking for someone like you. Note I did not say, “stick out.” When you stick out, you attract the wrong attention. When you stand out, you are seen for who you truly are. The question is, how can you stand out? What could help you intentionally connect and engage with your ideal partner? What could you wear on a first date or in a profile picture that would intrigue and attract the ideal partner for your desired relationship? It’s fun to think about and explore.
Dress As If
Dress as if you’ve already achieved the success or partnership you are after.
This particular piece of the formula is especially important if the partnership you desire is a little different from previous relationships you’ve experienced. You’ve heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” It’s the same for dating.
I recently told a client looking to uplevel her love life that if she wanted men to stop taking her to Applebee’s, she needed to dress as if she always eats at the hottest new restaurant in town. Once she made a few changes to her profile pictures, she went to all the finest places in Charleston and had much better experiences. And it’s easy to say the experiences were better because the food, wine, and atmosphere are unique experiences themselves. But from my experience, I know that she showed up as herself on these dates and opened up more because she resonated with the establishments and felt more comfortable at them than constantly frequenting the same restaurant.
It’s important to note here that acting like (or dressing like) she always eats at the finest restaurants does not mean that I think you should buy a Ferrari or only wear Louboutin heels. Still, if those items are part of how you see your “future self,” I recommend driving a vehicle that makes you feel as powerful as driving a Ferrari would. Similarly, wear shoes that make you feel sexy and stunning the way wearing a pair of Louboutins would. You are still dressing “as if” by tapping into how your “future self” would feel, even if your current budget doesn’t allow you to purchase what your “future self” would buy.
Getting real with yourself is simply about embracing the most authentic version of yourself, everything from your unique personality to how your body is shaped.
The fastest way to lose an edge, or a fantastic date, is to pretend to be something you’re not or to dress in a specific way because you think you should. It’s often the things that make you a little weird, quirky, or eccentric that make people want to get to know you better. Authenticity is the key, so make sure you get real! Push yourself to show up in a way that is truly aligned with who you are. If you don’t know exactly who that is, try this exercise. Ask yourself: “ When I show up for an amazing date, how do I want to feel?”. Please note I said to think about how you want to feel rather than how you want to look.
What three words would you use to describe how you feel at that moment? I can’t give you these words. You have to find them for yourself. Once you know those three words, use them to evaluate every outfit you try on. For example, if your words are fun, in charge, and energetic, we find clothes that give you that look and feel. And remember, it isn’t about what your friend, the personal shopper, myself, or anyone else thinks looks fun, in charge, and energetic. It is about what makes YOU feel that way. They. Are. Your. Three. Words. Don’t let anyone else tell you what they are. We aren’t here to sacrifice who we truly are for someone else. We are here to engage with others as the fullest expression of ourselves.
Sometimes authenticity is the hardest thing for you to see for yourself, especially after you have been through a separation or divorce. You may feel like you have lost part of who you are. I say you have an opportunity to get real with yourself and discover who you were meant to be. What makes you truly unique? What is your true personality? Once you discover those and embrace them, you will have a new-found confidence.
For some, this discovery sounds easy. But for others, it can be difficult, particularly if you have dressed by the “rules” or have felt like you had to keep part of your unique personality hidden. It takes practice. You will know you’ve mastered it when you dress in a way that makes you feel like there’s an extra skip in your step, you stand taller, and you feel prouder. That’s the feeling you tap into when you dress in a truly authentic way. Never accept anything less than that feeling.
Every Day: Commit to Have Consistency
Be consistent in the way you present yourself. Every day.
Remember, people believe what they see, so if they see you on an off day, that’s the impression they will remember. This last piece of the EDGE formula requires a decision. A decision that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you’re committed to presenting yourself in a certain way. Why? Because you’re committed to building a life that you love.
When you maintain your edge, you’re able to make significant growth in your personal development and, in turn, improve your dating life. It’s about deciding that you will not only look and feel great when you snap profile pictures or show up for your first date, but you will also feel great when you step into Target, Starbucks, your kids’ schools, the gym, or anywhere you go. You must maintain your edge in all sectors of your life to change the results you are getting. Plus, you never know who you will meet or where opportunities will appear.
How Do I Create My EDGE?
Creating an edge takes a focused effort, but maintaining it is quite easy. You have to invest in yourself, but that’s the best place to invest money. You can’t control the housing market, stocks, cryptocurrency, or anything else. But you can control how you show up. Start with a few key outfits for your profile shots and your first and second dates, then go from there. You’ve likely been through a lot with a separation and divorce, so you may not have the resources to go buy a new wardrobe, and a whole new wardrobe isn’t necessary. You can accent a favorite blazer with a pocket square, pair a new top with some great-fitting jeans you already have, or get a pair of shoes that brings out your personality. My philosophy is this: since you are going to get dressed each day anyway, why not dress in clothes which help you show up authentically and ultimately help you get what you want?
Most of the time, when clients work with me to uplevel their wardrobes, they ultimately spend less money. This surprises a lot of people. There are two main reasons upleveling your wardrobe causes you to spend less money. First, we always tap into what will give you an edge by buying things that are genuinely authentic for you. This alone eliminates 95% of the mistakes most people make that lead to them buying clothes they never wear. Second, I have a very strict policy: if you don’t love it we leave it. That means if you don’t love the way you feel and look in something, it’s not allowed to live in your closet. I like to think of the closet as valuable real estate, so don’t fill it with things you don’t totally love. Also, as I said earlier, clothing purchases are an investment.
Specifically, you can calculate the cost per wear of something before you buy it to figure out if it’s an investment or simply something that will increase your life momentarily, like a stick of gum. Let’s say you need a new pair of shoes. You settle on a pair you found at the department store because they were on sale and were “okay” even though they weren’t really what you were looking for. If you spend $100 on that pair of shoes and only wear them one time, your cost per wear is $100. Plus you are still out looking for more shoes because you settled on those, which means you will spend more money.
Now consider investing in a pair of shoes you will wear many times. These cost $800. If you wear them 10 days each month for 12 months, the cost per wear is $6.67. That’s a better investment, particularly when you consider you will probably wear them for even more than 10 days each month and more than 12 months if you LOVE them! But again, the idea isn’t to go out and spend as much as possible on a wardrobe. The idea is to think about how what you wear will help you create an edge instead of simply buying an outfit for your first date.
At the end of the day, the power of your image is less about the physical articles of clothing you wear and more about how you feel in what you wear. Superman always wears a cape to maintain his edge. Wonder Woman has her bracelets and lasso. Elton John has his signature outfits and glasses. Dolly Parton has her wigs and makeup. All these things transform them into being the best version of themselves. It helps them live a life that truly makes a difference.
That’s what I want your image to be for you. A secret weapon that attracts amazing opportunities to you but also allows you to be free and confident no matter what the day brings. I want you to no longer be trapped by the rules in your head about what you could or couldn’t do. Or who you can or can’t be. Just be yourself. Amazing things can happen simply by changing your clothes. Don’t believe me? Change your clothes and see.
Have questions? Contact us!
Dr. Katrina Kuzyszyn-Jones
In this chapter, Dr. Katrina Kuzyszyn-Jones offers guidance to divorcees experiencing the aftermath of separation or divorce. She explains the importance of going through the grieving process and the value of self-reflection, self-growth, forgiveness, and compassion. By taking the time to reflect on your emotions and needs, you can better understand what you’re looking for in a partner and when you’re truly ready to pursue a new relationship. Dr. Kuzyszyn-Jones is a national forensic and clinical psychology expert who has counseled thousands of families going through separation and divorce. Her purpose is to help you find your purpose.
Attorney Jenny Bradley
Can dating during separation, or even after divorce, affect your legal case? Attorney Jenny Bradley answers that question and more in this chapter. She goes over what you need to tell your ex, what your lawyer needs to know, and how to avoid making mistakes that could lead to unintended consequences! Jenny Bradley is the Founder of Triangle Smart Divorce and aims to stop smart people from screwing up their divorces. Not handling dating appropriately is definitely one way to screw up your divorce.
This chapter provides a beginner’s guide to online dating for those who are separated or divorced and may not have used dating apps before or have not used them in a long time. Mackenzie Gokey summarizes six popular apps and offers tips on how to create a profile, get a great picture, and stay safe. She wants to take away the mystery behind dating apps and provide valuable tools and tips to make online dating a more enjoyable experience! Mackenzie Gokey is an accomplished marketing professional who has assisted company growth with her keen eye on positioning and “words that sell,” which she’s translated into the augmentation and improvement of many online dating profiles throughout the past ten years.
Dr. Lori Thomas
In this chapter, Dr. Lori Thomas offers unique insight into how children are positively and negatively affected when their parents begin dating after divorce. She provides the tools and support needed to successfully integrate dating into your life as a parent, including tips for how and when to introduce dating partners to your children. Dr. Thomas is a frequently called-upon expert in clinical psychology who has worked with hundreds of children and teenagers adjusting to their parents’ divorces.
Attorney Jenny Bradley
Relationships often fail because people do not understand their partner’s basic innate drives. Jenny Bradley explains how the Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, which has been used by businesses for over 60 years to understand employees’ hardwiring and predict their behavior, can also be used in the dating world to become more aware of what kind of partner would be a good match for you. By understanding one’s own drives and assessing compatibility more accurately, people can identify areas for improvement in their relationships and improve compatibility in future relationships. If you’re looking for a fresh start in your love life, this could be the key to finding a more compatible and fulfilling relationship. Jenny co-authored this chapter with Barry Shulman. Barry is a consultant, career coach, trusted advisor, and expert in the Predictive Index. He’s helped companies and individuals be more self-aware, coachable, and effective for over 30 years.