I presumed that I'd have little in common with 75-year-old fashion icon Norma Kamali. Simply put, the born-and-bred New Yorker, known for her oversize sleeping bag coats and figure-enhancing silhouettes, is eccentric. Or, at the very least, considered to be in circles outside her own. With deep respect and admiration for her legacy, I was more or less intimidated to interact with her for fear of seeming blank and overwhelmed by the energy. But after a few hours of preparation and a 45-minute Zoom call with Norma (yes, we’re on a first-name basis) to discuss her just-released book, I Am Invincible, I felt like I came out of an enlightening therapy session—one where deliberate anecdotes and personalized advice transcended my self-doubting state of mind to a more invincible one.
"I realized my purpose could be even fuller for women," Norma tells me of her intention to inspire confidence in women through more than well-fitting clothes. Though the details of her 50+ year career in fashion is enough to encourage endless women, including me, on numerous accounts, her zeal for experimentation with wellness makes her an authority on so much more, including an appreciation for life’s up-and-down journey.
"[With] my overall life experience at 75, I really recognize how incredible it is to be smart with life experience, and I wanted to share that it is not something to be afraid of, but something to embrace fully with joy," she explains of her book’s purpose.
Outlined by decade, the how-to guide details the intricacies of the designer’s life, but not in a narrated, revel-in-my-life-story kind of way. Instead, thoughtful and often witty life advice jumps off each page, from her strong anti-smoking and sun-safety stances to an insistence on a healthy diet and consistent exercise and sleep routines. At times, it feels like Norma is shouting her many viewpoints at you through a rollercoaster of fluctuating fonts and formatting—an intentional choice to emphasize different points and embody people’s manner of being.
While reading through the chapters, I felt the impact of the bold text and graphics. I instantly started reflecting upon the numerous tips and tricks for becoming one’s best self and went inward. During my conversation with Norma, I shared some of the percolating thoughts and takeaways I experienced while reading—many of which I haven’t articulated at length to those I hold dearest.
By the end of our conversation, we realized we’re both Cancers and have weddings planned very close together. The iconic woman before me somehow felt like a close girlfriend of many years, rather than a famous fashion designer spouting off decades of learned advice. Norma imparted many gems of wisdom to me during our chat, but eight lessons stuck with me. Keep scrolling to discover them all.
Live out your twenties to the fullest
I tell Norma, at 32, I feel like I’m finally in a good rhythm with life. My twenties, in hindsight, are mostly cringeworthy. Not that I was extraordinarily adventurous or experimental, but the way I approach things now in this new decade is so much more thoughtful. I see the naiveté that I didn’t see at the time with things like work and relationships, and recognize when I’m learning and growing more than I did when I was younger.
"Your twenties are really figuring out who you are by every new experience you have, whether it’s through a relationship or friends or work experiences. It’s amazing how much you learn through your interactions with other people."
Accept feelings of doubt or uncertainty—then power through
I ask Norma for her advice to anyone who may be going through a particularly hard time and dealing with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, given the state of the world or from their own personal lives. Especially for women, there's an unspoken timeline of things you "should" accomplish during certain decades of your life, whether it's starting a family and having a baby or career advancements.
"What you really have to say is, ‘Yeah, you’re going to go through shit. It’ll be a year maybe that you feel off-balance, insecure, [and wonder] ‘What’s going to happen to you, Where’s your life going? If you’re not married, [you think], ‘Is anybody ever going to marry you?’ You’ll go through it. And there are tears. That’s part of it. And then you get out the other side, and you’re ready to move on.
I think the self-esteem struggle continues for a lifetime on certain levels. However, I think by the time you’re in your forties, you really know you’ve reached a place where you can claim your value and monetize it or capitalize on it or build on it in some way. The path to getting there is feeling insecure, having self-esteem issues, and getting through them. Literally through a life experience. Which usually indicates there’s a little pain and a little struggle involved, and you’re never completely comfortable."
Fake it 'til you make it
Every person struggles with self-esteem at one point or another. Of late for me, work is the central culprit. A few years into a freelance career, on the heels of steady jobs, bouts of inadequacy frequently creep up. While I’m plenty busy and overall enjoy my work, I worry about becoming stagnant and fear a lack of professional growth. I asked Norma if this is a common thing she observes in other women in my age group.
"I say pretend your ass off because half of it is pretending to figure out how to do it and proving yourself to yourself first. Not to be afraid of anything. Just say, ‘I can do it, I’m going to do it.’ It’s a little intimidating and threatening, but figure out how to get it done and not to make too much of an idiot out of yourself in the process.
I think that’s how you get through your 30s, especially because you can bluff a lot. You know enough to convince people. I remember for many years, I would think, ‘If they find out I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I’m going to blow it.’ So, I had to do a lot of pretending and falling down on my face a couple of times. You get up real fast, you cry a little, and then just keep moving because that will get forgotten. You’ll remember it long before anybody else."
Physical connection can help you stop overthinking
A bad habit I’m actively working to overcome, and notice in my friends constantly, is overthinking. Whether it’s interpreting texts, messages on dating apps, or emails from colleagues, I overthink everything. When I asked Norma for her take, she believed the cause is rooted in technology. The solution, in her opinion, is a return to physical connection.
"A lot of [overthinking] is because of social media. Because of being judged so quickly. You’re fearful. You overthink. And why not? I think everybody does it.
I think it takes a few brave people to say, ‘We’re going to spend a day in the park, and we’ll talk about things that matter.' Just think of a '70s photo of flower children. There’s nothing more wonderful than being with friends, with the sun shining on you, playing music, somebody with a guitar, just great conversation.
Make it a thing people do. You will see how different you feel and how much you love your friends, and you’re not going to overthink because you can feel how someone feels toward you. You can’t feel it through a mobile device. You can’t feel it through a text. Texts are deadly. They’re devils.
Friendship is so extraordinary. And [in-person] relationships. The nuances of the way somebody holds your hand or caresses your cheek. How are you getting that in a text? It’s just not going to happen. And it doesn’t have to be a date. It shouldn’t be a date. It should just be friends getting together. That’s how you discover what people are really like because they’re not on a date pretending whatever and made up. It’s different."
Be your authentic self, but don’t give away too much
I tell Norma how I’ve struggled with my online presence and sharing in a way that feels comfortable. I’ve repeatedly been on the receiving end of comments like, “You’re so much different than I thought you were going to be.” It’s a compliment and an insult at the same time. The crushing reality that my authentic self isn’t coming through on the Internet far outweighs any positive reinforcement about my personality. But this insecurity is fear-based, as Norma points out. A fear that I, and others like me, can overcome.
"If you are your authentic self and people don’t like you, does that make you bad? No, it doesn’t at all. It’s probably better that you decide how much of your authentic self you’re willing to expose or share, and it should never be your entire authentic self. That’s giving away way too much."
Simplify your wellness routine
I tell Norma how I’m trying to streamline my life, from the skincare products I use to the routine I maintain. The simpler I make things, the more of a release I experience. I’m less distracted and feel more capable. Norma agrees; the simpler, the better.
"I feel very strongly about editing down the amount of product you buy or the number of practices you do, keeping it simple. Find out what works for you and be loyal to it so you can see the growth that happens over time. It’s really important that less is more in wellness, too.
Use only products that work and keep it minimal. The less time you spend on the routine, the better. Then you can spend time on rituals and luxury time, like sitting in a tub and soaking. That is the luxury of self-care. But your routine should be easy."
“Normal life” is the key to becoming your best invincible self.
Within the book, Norma references the concept of “normal life,” which instantly sparked something my mom said to me at a young age: “If you’re not weird, you’re not normal.” I asked Norma to explain her meaning.
"Normal life means for you. Normal life is the point where you feel balance and the potential to be invincible. When everything is working—your head, body, and hair—and you have that day where you kill it. It’s personal. It’s your normal. The 'normal life' is that place where you have the potential of becoming invincible, where you can create that invincible you where that power is off the charts. The more of those invincible days you can have, the better.”