One of the feminist tenets I hold most dear is the idea that my body belongs to myself, exclusively and unconditionally. I can choose to do with it what I will (including the choice to share it with people) but no one else has any right to it, not even to pass judgment on it. (This doesn’t stop people from doing so, but they are assholes.)
I resolved years ago not to subject my beautiful, beloved body to anybody else’s silly rules. I like it the way it is, so I don’t do anything to change it. No, really– I don’t shave. I don’t diet. I don’t wear make-up. I barely even brush my hair. I don’t even use deodorant, because I kind of like the way my body smells all on its own, though I do keep clean for my body’s sake, since there’s a difference between being natural and being dirty.
But I also get super excited about pretty clothes! To demonstrate, I shall now gush over my favourite Chrismas present, this dress! It fits me gorgeously. I am SO looking forward to wearing it, along with all the other lovely things I have to go with it. Like these shoes! And I totally splurged on this belt even though it wasn’t on sale, because it brings in the taupe of the shoes and has a gold buckle to go with my new gold jewelry! I have an antique gold pocketwatch on a chain as a necklace, and I bought a new bracelet and dangly gold earrings to go with it. I’m still not sure what kinds of stockings I’m going to put with the outfit, but I have about eight different kinds with me– bright berry-colored ones, and herringbone gray ones, and sheer black ones, and gold and brown shimmery ones, and so on. It will probably take me at least half an hour to dress even though I’ve planned so much of it out, possibly an hour if it takes me a while to decide on stockings.
In other words, I spend a lot of time and money and energy on my appearance…just like the patriarchy wants me to.
And now comes the part where I talk about meee. The point of the following paragraphs isn’t that I’m super hot (though I am!) or that I’m a magical patriarchy-smashing machine (though I try to be, when I can). I just want to explore the ways that our decisions about clothing aren’t allowed to be completely personal, and yet are personal. And I can only approach this topic from my own experience, especially since my recent thoughts have been inspired by others’ confusion as to how I can reconcile floral prints and mary janes with feminism.
I’ve always justified it by saying “but I do it for ME!” but until recently that didn’t feel like enough. I still felt like a “bad feminist.” After all, when women say they want to get breast implants, or gastric bypass surgery, or (dear god!) “vaginal rejuvenation” for meee, I generally respond that in this patriarchal society, it’s impossible to seperate such actions from their contexts, so it can’t just be for “me,” since society will respond as if it was for the patriarchy. Similarly, I think in a lot of cases it’s not the action itself that one wants, or even the direct result of it, but rather the indirect societal benefit– if we miraculously eradicated all our fatphobic prejudices, how many people would really want gastric bypass surgery “just for me,” as opposed to for some actual medical reason? My guess: not very many!
So when I willingly lay down my valuable time and money on the altar of fashion, am I falling into the same trap? Maybe. But I think I’ve found a way to make it a lot more about me than the patriarchy would like.
For one thing, the distinction between my body and my clothes is important to me. I have a very strong reaction against purely cosmetic surgery, because it goes too deep. I can often be patriarchy-approved, by I wear it lightly. My body is inviolate, but the stuff that goes on top of it is just for fun. So it seems less serious to wear heels every now and then, or even to wear dresses every single day, than to get breast implants, because the clothes aren’t actually a part of me. I’m performing my gender, with an emphasis on performing; it’s not integral to my actual person.
Also important, I’m a lesbian. I love checking myself out in basically any reflective surface that I go near. I don’t care if I get called vain, just like I don’t care if I get called bitchy or shrill or any of those other terrible woman-insults; I would totally sleep with me, and it makes me happy any time I see a good-looking lesbian, even if she’s me. It’s just such an enoyable experience, looking good! I don’t always look fashionable– I mostly just buy whatever I think is amazing, and flattering for my (fantastic) hourglass figure. I love colors and patterns, and the way they interact in a well-coordinated outfit. A single new piece of clothing will leave me smiling all day every day I wear it for at least a week– a new wardrobe, like I got for Chrismas, is going to have me grinning for months. It’s an experience that I enjoy very much for me.
In fact, it kinds of annoys me when the rest of the world reminds me that by looking fantastic, I’m “playing along.” Seriously, dudes of the world: I already know I have stunning cleavage (and a cute butt!), so you don’t have to remind me. It’s not there for you. Quit looking. Yes, that means you!
If there was a way I could put an Ugly Bubble (TM) around myself so only I could gaze upon my brilliance, I’d probably do it more often than not. There’s nothing more disconcerting than checking myself out as I walk past a wall of windows, and catching someone else checking me out too!
There’s nothing wrong with playing along with the patriarchy, even if you do it most (or all!) of the time. Every woman has to find her own balance and I know how tough it can be when you’re breaking the rules– if it makes your life easier, go for it! I’ve said this a couple times before but it’s important to me; no one has any obligation to be some kind of feminist crusader, smashing every rule the patriarchy throws at her. That’s too much crap for anyone to bear.
But I still don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think I’ve managed to take performing gender and subvert it, by making it into a game I play with myself, for myself. Which, you know, is pretty cool. If only everyone else would figure out that’s what’s going on, and stop treating me like I care what society thinks of my appearance.