I’ve been writing this post for a while. It sits in my drafts folder, I faff about with it, then I just save the draft. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe because I still have moments of self doubt when it comes to the subject of style, maybe it’s because I’ve been talking about my family and that’s always a loaded subject for me. But I think it’s time for me to just finish the damn thing and hit publish, you know?
I have a great aunt who I haven’t seen in a lot of years, mostly because we’ve never been close, and she lives geographically far enough away that it’s just prohibitive enough to stop me from seeing her more often than I do. It’s usually been weddings, family reunions, landmark birthdays and such that I caught up with her throughout my life. Besides, I don’t even go to those things any more, since I opted out of my family.
My memories of this great aunt have always not been of her directly, but of other people talking about her. Not in a nice way either. Mostly it was ridiculing what she wore. The most vivid memory is of family sitting around after a wedding, making fun of the outfit this great aunt wore to the wedding. It was a dress she had made herself, in a big black and white polka dot print, with a handkerchief hem. She was referred to by people, by her own relatives, as a “puffed up dalmation” and a “spotty frog” and various other ridiculous analogies.
My great aunt was a fat woman who made her own clothes, and was unapologetic about her love of all things bold and colourful and outlandish. I remember thinking as a kid, as a teenager “But I kinda thought she looked awesome.” I also remember modifying my own tastes because I was afraid of my family ridiculing me like they did her. They made fun of the clothes she made herself (hell, a fat woman had a tiny percentage of the choices we have today in plus sized clothing, what else was she supposed to do, living in a rural area?), they made fun of the way she styled her hair and wore her make-up, they made fun of her loud laugh, her child-like sense of humour, the jangly, noisy jewellery she liked to wear.
Now that I’m in my late 30’s, and having come to a place of self acceptance, I can look back over my life, particularly my youth, and see how often I let people pressure me into toning down my own personal tastes for fear of being ridiculed. I would have forays into wearing or styling myself in a way that pleased me, and then a family member, or colleague, or even a supposed friend, would make a disparaging comment, and I’d tone it back down again.
These days the place I hear that sort of thing is in the culture of the workplace. The comments about how women over 35 should never wear more than 3 accessories, or should cut their hair to shorter than shoulder length. The talk about what colours are “appropriate” for a corporate appearance, whether or not someone is “mature” because of the way they dress or style themselves. It’s in pretty much every workplace I’ve ever worked in, and I know it’s in that of a lot of my friends. It’s not from the workplace per se, in that in most cases, there is no decree from anyone’s management or company owners that staff modify their appearance, but from the culture of the workplace, where people’s colleagues or those in the industry around them create this unwritten code of appropriateness.
Because as women, society imposes all these rules on us to behave in a certain way. To present ourselves in a particular code that is pushed on us from the day that we are born. Other people make the cultural rules about women, not us. Don’t be too “over the top”. Over the top of what?
Or in the case of fat women, be invisible. Don’t stand out. Don’t be noticed. Blend.
I’ve decided I’m not going to tone down my personal tastes any more. Of course most of you know I dyed my hair hot pink a couple of weeks ago. I’m still amazed at the number of people who’ve stopped me in the street, or in the elevator or wherever to tell me they love my outlandishly pink hair. I’ve never had so many compliments on my appearance in my life! The compliments far outweigh the criticisms that I was so afraid of before, and render those criticisms invalid to me. The world around me is going to have to get used to seeing a woman, a fat woman, unapologetically bold and colourful.
I’ll turn up appropriately shod, clean and groomed, and covered in an appropriate manner for the venue. But I’m not going to apologise for my taste any more. I stopped apologising for my taste in music, movies, television and books long ago. Why has it been so hard to stop apologising for my taste in dressing myself? What does it matter if I wear my pink hair in pigtails at 37 years of age? Who am I hurting? If I want to wear fluorescent orange tights with my new black dress, how is that affecting anyone other than myself?
I think about my Auntie Gwen. With her big spotty dress that she made herself to wear to that wedding, and the long, jet black hair that she would loop and style in amazing ways. Her raucous laugh and her kind eyes. What an awesome lady. A damn side more awesome than those who had nothing better to do than gossip and bitch about her because of her colourful taste.