Who Died and Made You the Judge?

Published February 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I think the Universe is trying to nudge me to talk about something.

Earlier today I saw some snark on Twitter about women supposedly trying to “recapture their teen years” with pink accessories (ie mobile phones and laptops).  A little later in the day, a comment was made by an acquaintance about another friend dressing “inappropriately for her age”.

Sigh… are we still buying into this?  That there is some kind of “rule” on how women should dress, or what their tastes should be?

Look, I understand venue/environment appropriateness.  A bikini isn’t suitable for a corporate environment.  Thongs (flip flops for those of you who think thongs are the undies that go between your butt cheeks) aren’t suitable for a building site.  There are plenty of examples of where clothes aren’t appropriate for a venue/environment.  I get that.  For safety reasons, because there is a level of formality, for hygiene, or cultural sensitivity.  I understand that completely.

What I’m talking about are the fashion police.  Those who say that someone is “too old to dress like that”.  The ones who suggest women over 30 shouldn’t lighten their hair to blonde.  Or women over 50 shouldn’t have long hair.  The folks that suggest that the colour pink should only be worn by girls, not women.

I want to say “Surely by 2011 we should be beyond policing what women wear.”, but I know, there are folks still trying to police what we do with our reproductive organs.

I am not sure how it harms anyone if a woman wears her hair in pigtails.  Does it cause a hurricanes in the Southern Atlantic if a woman has a pink mobile phone case?  Are children kept out of school if a woman over 50 grows her hair past her collar?  Does international banking crash if a woman dyes her hair lime green?  When a woman wears black and orange striped socks to work, does it cause mass employee redundancies?

I have to admit, I am very lucky.  I can shave my head, have visible tattoos and wear bright colours to work in my corporate environment.  My workplace is very supportive of diversity and accepts me as I am, and I also respect things that would not be considered appropriate (I wear sleeves over my latest tattoo because it is of a naked woman.)  But I know other workplaces don’t approve of dressing outside of some kind of arbitrary measure of appropriate.  There is some sense of a “professional image”.

The thing I want to know is how someone’s appearance makes them any less professional?  The colour or length of ones hair doesn’t render one incapable of making professional decisions.  Having a pink iPhone cover doesn’t render one inable to think like an adult.  Wearing colour instead of black does not impact negatively on someone’s productivity.  In fact, I would challenge that it’s quite the opposite.  When someone feels good about themselves, they are far more productive than when they do not.

As for age appropriateness, who gets to decide what is appropriate for someone’s age?  Who was the person who deemed that women over 50 should have short hair?  Who made someone the boss of what colour accessories women should have when they become adults?  Who was the special person who deemed it unacceptable for grown-ups to wear lots of colour, or have a backpack shaped like a monkey, or any other fun/kitsch accessory?

Of course, then comes the body snark too.  Someone’s arms are too fat, their legs too short, their belly too round, their butt too flat and yadda yadda yadda to wear that.

There are times I just want to say “Who died and made you the judge?” when I hear people criticising women (well, anyone really) for their fashion choices.

What I really think it boils down to is more controlling of women in general.  More “women are supposed to” attitudes.  Keeping women concerned about meeting rules about their appearance means that they don’t have time to worry about the big picture, like the attempts to control women’s bodies, their incomes, their health, their sexuality, their education and so on.  So long as there are all these arbitrary rules about how a woman is supposed to look and behave, then there are lots of excuses to discriminate against a woman.  She’s too loud, too outlandish, too childish, too rough, too dramatic, too innapropriate – those things are all there as excuses to sanction the dismissal of and discrimination against women who don’t toe the line, conform, behave.

Some years ago, a colleague gave me a drink coaster for my desk.  It says:

“Well behaved women rarely make history.”

And the artwork on it is three brightly coloured cartoon women (one with pink hair, one with blonde, one with purple), dancing under the stars.

I still have it, sitting on my desk at work, right where I can see it.  It’s a daily reminder to me that by being different, by being me, it’s an act of defiance against a cultural standard of “well behaved”, just to dress and style myself in the way that makes me happy, rather than how women are told they should appear.

22 comments on “Who Died and Made You the Judge?

  • Hell yes! I have almost waist length hair and at the grand old age of 37, I have had people ask me when I am going to cut because I am getting too old for long hair. Same with my piercings (before I had my daughter and had to take them out because she kept pulling on them). And same with my goth/rockabilly stylings. I totally agree with you about productivity etc not being affected by clothing and/or accessories and/or hairstyle makeup etc. None of those things affect my professionalism or my credability or my intelligence. In fact the kids I used to work with liked the way I looked because I was different to what they were used to. Goth outfits and piercings or pink stripes in black hair are great ways to start conversations with kids and young people!

    • Bri it’s always amusing when I walk into a meeting or a site with my “wacky” coloured hair and tattoos and non-corporate dress sense and then the minute I open my mouth, people do this strange double take at me. “What? She actually knows what she’s talking about?? Can not compute!”

      You know though, the most accepting people I’ve ever worked with have been tradies, builders and other blue collar blokes.

  • Too true !
    And why oh why is it ok for guys to get away it? If a male politician goes on telly people listen to what he is saying. If a female politician goes on telly its all about her dress. Personally i don’t care what my PM wears. I just wanna hear what she has got to say. But the media in this country has a twisted view of what is appropriate. And sheeple follow blindly. And don’t get me started on “WAGS”. If a sporting awards night is about sporting prowess. Then why is all the media coverage about who is the biggest barbie doll? And who made their dress.

    Wear what you want. Its only when people continue to challenge “the norm” that things will change. If you are someone that wears what you want. Not what society “demands” (especially you girls!) you are a pioneer. Not a dag. Enjoy your identity folks. It’s one of the only things you will ever truly own.


  • I bought into the whole dress for your age thing when I turned 30. It wasn’t an utter disaster and I did get some clothing pieces I actually like but I look back and shake my head at myself.

    I wish ‘dress for you age’ was rephrased for ‘dress the body you have now.’ If I’m being generous I think that’s the real point of ‘dress your age.’ I know my shape has changed over the years. But, if I’m being truly honest with myself that’s not how society means it. I’m 34. Buying and wearing every Eeyore t-shirt that fits raises some eyebrows.

    Someone once told me that the recommendation that women cut their hair after 40 or 50 is related to the fact that most women’s hair becomes more thin and brittle as they age. Okay, again, work with the hair you have now not the hair you had at 16.

    When I worked, my work clothes were a costume and armor. So those where nice but stuffy things that didn’t suit my personality but served their purpose well. Even then being able to show a smidgen of personality with my cell phone faceplate or planner was enough to brighten my day a little and was almost grounding.

    I’m not even sure this makes sense. But I read and appreciated your post. Now that I don’t work I dress how I want most of the time. However, I’m very aware of how I dress and present myself overall when I have medical appointments. I do that because of many of the reasons you listed above.

    • I don’t even believe in the “dress for the body you have now” thing. Dress how you please. Dress to express yourself. Dress to feel good. Dress to protect yourself in your workplace or your kitchen. Dress to be comfortable. Dress for YOU.

      If someone has a giant belly and they want to bare it, then they should be able to do so without censure from others. If an older woman has thinner, brittle hair but wants to rock it long, then she should be able to do so without the suggestion that it’s not attractive enough because of it’s condition.

      That’s not saying you CAN’T dress conservative, or cut your hair as you get older, or avoid Eeyore t-shirts… it’s saying that not everyone has to fit the same ideal.

  • I’ve always hated people telling me what was ‘appropriate’ either in behaviour or dress. I remember being on a young adults church camp at about age 23 and buying a beach dress which I loved. I wore it to dinner one night on the very informal campsite and my Minister commented that although she thought it looked nice, it wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ to wear to church. Of course two weeks later when I was leading worship I wore it over a pair of jeans to show her what I thought about her appropriateness rules.

    But I still do it to myself and others. Just last week I saw a girl wearing a backless top with a normal bra and internally cringed, thinking ‘she shouldn’t be wearing that’. And many is the day where I put on a short dress or sleeveless top and think I shouldn’t be wearing it because of my fat legs or batwing arms. Sad as it is, it’s culturally ingrained. I think mostly I worry that other people are going to be thinking those things of me -‘and often enough I see eyes dart to my dimpled knees or batwing arms and I know my fears are being realized.

    I do catch myself doing it though, and call myself on it. With the backless top girl I told myself that obviously she feels great in that top, so who am I to judge? The same goes for myself – I’m allowed to wear whatever I want and no-one has the right to judge (except in your aforementioned exceptions).

    I love my pink accessories. Pigtails actually look quite lovely on me. I’m almost 30 and I plan on keeping my long curly brown locks for as long as they’re long and curly and mostly brown. Through Fat Acceptance I’m learning self-acceptance and the concept that what other people think really doesn’t matter.

    • I think we all do that to ourselves, mostly because we’ve been burned by other people judging us. What we do to ourselves is one thing, but it’s really in judging others by their appearance that I have the biggest issue.

  • I love it! I’m going to stop policing myself. Sometimes I want to wear pink glitter nail polish and pigtails. Just because I’m a married mother in her 30s doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun. In fact, where are my tie-dyed tights? I’m wearing them under my jean skirt today.

    BTW: Now that I’ve heard the SUPERFAT podcast I can hear your Aussie accent when I read your blog! It’s awesome.

    • Jump on in and do it Paponda. Plus if you’re a mum, your kids will love it! When I was a kid, I had a few aunts who were really wild with their clothes and hair, and I still love them best of all.

      And *blush* about the accent! We’re recording another podcast tomorrow BTW.

  • People naturally wear what makes them feel good and right. Some are concerned with ‘appropriateness’ and it’s fine, as long as they don’t push it on others. I am a jeans-and-t-shirts gal. I am very uncomfortable with business or formal wear, and I feel awkward and feel I look awkward in it, to the point where I avoid jobs and social obligations where casual isn’t appropriate. If I have to attend a wedding or funeral, I have a swishy black skirt I wear with a nice t-shirt and my sneakers. I try not to judge others for what they wear, but it’s automatic for me to imagine what I’d feel like wearing something; I try to keep my observations first person. “I’d be uncomfortable in that,” not ,”she looks uncomfortable.”

    • Absolutely Skyfire – if someone prefers to be a jeans & t-shirt person, or a three piece suit person, or whatever they choose, that’s perfectly fine. But those things are accepted in our culture as “normal”, so it’s radical for people to wear things outside of that. I want to challenge those attitudes that criticise and judge people who present themselves out of a normalised range of appearences.

  • Well said!

    I agree 1000% that it’s really about controlling women with the “supposed to” attitudes, and that people who bitch about what others wear, how they choose to look, etc…

    …is just easier than them doing anything important!

    Benjamin Franklin had said, “Little things affect little minds.”

    And yes, if women are obsessed with looking the “right” way and behaving like how they “should”, it’s supposed to distract us from REAL problems: like the government taking away our rights and agency and big business further controlling the world.

    I’m a short-haired, tattooed, loud and profane fat woman nearing 30 who loves wearing fishnet, vinyl, boots, and awesome prints and don’t two shits how “inappropriate” anyone finds me, be it my age, alt fash in general, not girly enough, whatever. I’m loud and proud, fuck the rest! 🙂

  • I just never know! I often feel like I should wear what I want how I want and when I want, but then I have those moments of doubt and shame and am left lost in a world that would have me hide anyway. I am so glad to have “met” you and to have found FA so that I know no matter what there are people who support and understand me, and I them. ❤

    • I think that we all have them hon. Sometimes I look at an outfit I have picked out for the day and realise that I just can’t deal with other people’s judgement today, so I choose something else. It sucks that I have to, but sometimes we just don’t have the spoons to deal.

      But when we do… let’s get out there and be ourselves and not hide away.

      And I’m glad to have met you too, I can’t wait to meet you in person.

  • Darn you, darn you to heck. I some times enjoy myself a “little Mutton dressed like lamb” inside my head bitchiness and now I’m going to have to call myself on it. grr

    • Yep, you sure are. Cos it’s a douchey thing to judge people on.

      I used to do it too. But as soon as you start thinking about what the hell it is you’re doing, you realise that it sucks and you need to stop it. And you start to recognise it a lot earlier too.

  • The catch is, of course, that no-one can “do it right” in a patriarchal society*. There is *always* something wrong with your clothing, your body, your voice, your stance, your presence, your existence. Outside “dressing appropriately for your workplace and/or other activities” there’s really no bright shiny line over which we cross into acceptability.

    *There’s policing for men, too, of course, though their range of “neutral” dressing is considerably more generous.

  • i really love your post.and agree totally that women should dress to please themselves not others.my hair is nearly waist length and i’m well over 50 and i’m keeping it long for me not anyone else.i am going to borrow a saying i read on LHL(i’m not here to decorate your world)

    • You rock that hair however makes you happy lynda! I love that saying: I’m not here to decorate your world. I like to add another line… I’m here to CHANGE it!

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