Feminist Insecurities: Style Edition

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.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

5 replies on “Feminist Insecurities: Style Edition”

I had no idea people thought flashy colors were trashy or somehow “slutty.” Makes me weep for the state of the world. I used to think that maybe I’m just too conservative with how I dress (compared to high school where I was always showing off my boobies) but now I just chalk it up to my taste. I like form-fitting but I don’t like to show much. I prefer long dresses and skirts and will NOT wear anything that doesn’t cover my calves. I prefer t-shirts and various colored tank tops. I like to express myself through color and form-fitting clothes and I feel like stepping out of my comfort zone has little to do with “what will people think” than “will I be comfortable in this?”

A couple of years ago I started trying on clothes I liked but thought ‘weren’t for me’. Or clothes I wrinkled my nose at, but thought that it’s never bad to extend your view. It didn’t bring much change to my wardrobe (except for colour and heels. Oh, heels) but it feels like I have more freedom of choice in every shop.

What most annoys me about this subject is that society wants “Everyone” to look original and amazing but please fit in and don’t fall outside its known categories, please. I mean I understand when an Elf walks past you, you giggle, but someone wearing a black bowler hat (and not being a blonde tiny hipster lady) needs to be goggled like they grew a pair of horns?

I know what you mean by wanting to indulge in some fashion choices but thinking about how stereotypically and socially unacceptable they are. When I was in high school I got a lot of grief for wearing sparkly rainbow mini dresses with black leggings and more “trashy” outfits. I wanted to stand out from the crowd of people obsessed with fitting in with their boring American Eagle t-shirts, etc. but was shocked at how enraged people get when you transgress what is expected of you. I didn’t wear anything that I necessarily considered “slutty” but you would be shocked at the choice words people had for me… I think sometimes it’s easier to fit in and that’s the unfortunate reality most of us are faced with, even me as I’ve mellowed out my wardrobe a little. It’s like anything in life, people get uncomfortable with change and difference but the first step is noticing that level of uncomfortableness and figuring out steps to change our attitudes

I have to say, I’m pretty sure everyone looks good in a nice bustier. But I know how it feels to deal with Mom telling you about fashion choices. I have stretched the piercings in my ears, and my mother has OPINIONS about that. But there is no going back, and quite frankly they are my ears. Mine are still small enough that with a solid front plug in, no one can really tell, but I forgot this morning and went in to work with a pair of bright blue eyelets in. No one in my conservative dress code office said a damn thing. I keep wondering if I got the industrial piercing I’ve always wanted, if anyone would notice.

Leave a Reply