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.
Hear Hear – we can wear what we damn well please and to hell with the naysayers!
Go Loud Go Proud – my friend – I will be at your side shoulder to shoulder….
Your Auntie Gwen made me think of this poem
Let’s not wait until we are old, to be bold and to take care of ourselves how we ourselves see fit.
I think I might wear bright tights tomorrow. 🙂
SM I love that poem. We have a Red Hat Society here in Brisbane, I see them out and about on Sundays, in their purple and red outfits, having a RIOTOUS time. I think I’d like to join them.
Your great aunt sounds like a delightful person, and you’re right that she was getting more fun out of life than the people who criticized her.
How lovely to read about your aunt – she sounds like quite a marvelous character!
Excellent post! I am reminded of my mother’s sister: less fat than my mother, she was very self-accepting, including not wearing a bra, unheard of for a motherly type in the 1950s-1970s. She also sewed, and she made one gorgeous pastel dress for my mother that I still remember. I sometimes wish I could talk to her now.
About workplace dress: Unfortunately, although you might not get actually reprimanded, in many corporations dressing how you want will definitely affect whether you get promoted or not. Up at the executive level, even what kind of shoes you wear can make the in who gets the job.
Fortunately, I & probably you don’t want those kinds of jobs anyway! Many jobs do care more about your skills than about how you dress. The academy I teach at cares that I am clean and tidy, but do not mind jeans with bold-color tops and chunky, self-made jewelry.
I am lucky, it doesn’t really come from my workplace. I work in a corporate environment and my management are very accepting of my personal taste and style.
However the general culture of the workplace… not so much.
You’re right, I don’t want to work in a place that is like that.
Besides, if shoes are that important, I’m not going to get the job anyway, because I commit the crime of being deathfatz.
This totally resonates with me as I’m approaching 30 and people are always telling me stupid shit, like that I’ll stop dressing so crazy and so on. What, I was supposed to surrender to Laura Ashley at 25? I ‘ve had to dress all straight-laced at work namely so they won’t have an excuse to bother me, and some companies I used work for did have actual dress codes (maybe it’s just a US thing?) Fortunately being mostly self-employed now, I only keep about 2 suits in my closet for professional society meetings and so forth, my clients are more comfortable with my band t-shirt and fishnetted glory!
But when I’m going out, no one dares tell me how to look! Before you even got to the part about how these people had to make douchey comments about your great-aunt, I immediately thought “Wow, I can barely put together a pair of PJ shorts on my Janome, dresses take so much patience! Kudos!” And bold prints are so cool! There’s this cool fabric shop near my dad’s office that sells these GORGEOUS knits, like flame and leopard prints, skulls and roses, etc. that look just like those teeny-tiny Sourpuss dresses I will never fit in. (Hmm, giving me ideas!) There’s also lots of small specialty fabric shops that have eBay and Etsy stores that do ship world-wide. Just wanted to share that for any other fatties who sew!
Fuck being invisible. 🙂
Ha! I’m 21 and I already feel the pressure! “Oh I can’t buy that t-shirt it wouldn’t look professional and I couldn’t possibly wear it to an interview.” Fortunately the corporate world isn’t something I want to be involved in.
Buy the t-shirt, wear it somewhere else!
I’m not in the business world so I don’t have that problem. I’m 46 and I still wear shirts that show cleavage and short shorts. I’m going show off my figure for as many years as I can. My stepson acts horrified when I show off my legs. His friends will tell me to cover up like only a teenager should be allowed to wear short skirts or a tight shirt.
I look at pictures of myself and think I look young. I see no reason that I can’t wear sexy clothes. My man tells me that I look good in everything. When I was younger, mid-twenties and below, I thought I was too fat to dress in anything that wasn’t loose and fit poorly. I didn’t wear a bikini until i was over thirty. It took me too long to think my body was acceptable as it was.
Dressing poorly probably made me look fatter than I was. It definitely made me less attractive. It’s part of that circle were one feels unattractive and therefore becomes unattractive.
Ha. I, too, had a large great-aunt who sheared her hair off very short, wore masculine-type clothing, & generally conducted herself in whatever manner she liked – the rest of the world could go to hell!
There was lots of family gossip (despite her twice-married history & one son) about her butch tendencies… It’s funny, nowadays I have cut my own hair as short if not shorter than hers – & just this very morning I was greeted w/an apologetic, “Come in, sir – oh sorry, MA’AM!”
She sounds awesome, as do you Val!