I wish I could say that I was bold enough to be that feminist who doesn’t give a damn what people think. I wish I could be that proud woman who wears exactly what she wants, no matter how society says she looks, who ignores the stares or the raised eyebrows. I wish I could stop imagining the judgmental glances where there are none. Is the secure, confident, wear-whatever-you-want feminist just a myth of popular blogs, zines, and Tumblr?
I am a confident person. Arrogant, even. When I leave the house in whatever I’m wearing that day, I feel and look amazing in it because I make a decision not to settle for anything less.
Sometimes I want to step out of the box. Sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating inside of my style. I love my skinny black ankle pants, but sometimes I want something new. I adore my aesthetic, but I occasionally long for something a little bit wilder. I want colored denim. I want blousy tops. Sometimes I even want bustiers! I can’t wear any of those and look good. Well, at least not to me. I’m a conventionally small size, but I’m not perfect. We constantly get the message that those clothes are for women who look like models and nobody else. Nobody above a size 2 should wear them And they certainly shouldn’t have cellulite and other imperfections. Learning to shake that message from your own mind is hard. It’s nowhere near as hard as learning to not care that everyone else still lives and breathes it.
It’s not just about body issues. It’s about a cultural and societal sense of propriety. It’s a sense of what is “lady-like” to wear. A few weeks ago, I was shopping with a friend and saw a gold pleated top that appeared to be made of disco coffee filters. My ADHD eyes zeroed in on it with a strange desire, but I resisted purchasing it because I would never wear something like that. I pass up tiny skirts or cutout dresses for the same reason. But why? Why won’t I wear something like that? Because I’d be less of a “lady”? I’m not slut-shaming anyone else in a mini skirt, so why am I doing it to myself?
Hundreds of years of culture and media have told us that modestly dressed women are good and women who show off skin or wealth or shiny fabric are bad. We internalize these messages about our fashion choices starting at a very young age. I had to beg for those light-up sneakers as a 5-year-old child because they looked like “stripper shoes” to my mother. 18 years later, she talked me out of getting an eyeshadow palette containing a “trashy” lemon colored shadow. I wondered if my mother thought I was somehow a horrible person because I liked the yellow eyeshadow. I thought about all of the words and meanings I’d internalized over the years because of fashion, not just about myself but about others.
50 years of feminism have told us the dichotomy of modest=good and immodest =bad is nonsense, but only in the past few years have images of non-famous women defying notions of modesty become widely available. I don’t believe in “stepping out of the comfort zone,” because I believe that if you aren’t comfortable, you can’t be happy. I do think, however, that creating comfort is the key. For me, that starts by getting used to seeing others doing style how they want to do style. Personal blogs, Tumblr, and image sharing sites have shown us pictures of women who dress however they want. They don’t care about size or what “looks good” according to fashion magazines. Vintage, punk, goth, hippie, mismatched, neon – anything goes. They wear what they love and they do what they love, “lady-like” and “appropriate” be damned. The confident, wear-whatever-you-want woman isn’t a myth of the feminist internet, but she isn’t going appear magically on our streets either. We have to put her there, and it starts with us.