Monday, January 24, 2005

The Slippery Slope of Appearance

I was reading Feministe's post on vanity and appearance when defining oneself as a feminist. It was a particularly timely read for me as I have been thinking a great deal about this topic. In my early twenties - up until I was about 27 - I spent a lot of time on my appearance. In my iconoclastic way, it was never about big hair or big boobs, rather it was focused on an expression of cool, whatever that is, and my vintage sensibilities.

My hair was always a different colour and my lips, a vampire-I-want-to feast-on-your-blood red. This was an amazing feat as I spent most of my time on the road with little more than my suitcase full of clothes, make-up, and a journal. I can't imagine trying to wear half the shit I did then while traveling.

Part of my transformation to normalcy was out of convenience (it got nuts trying to camp with a vintage dress and boots) and part of it was rooted in gradual lack of interest in the art of appearance. Rather, I felt like I was spending time trying to mask how I really felt about myself by presenting to the world a hard vixen.

A lot of people I knew at the time were surprised and even disappointed in the new me. I was healthy looking, scrubbed, minimal make-up, jeans - not very creative. Fine and all for the girl next door, but not fine for a writer, road scholar, etc. They (as I have lost touch with a lot of the old art scene) would freak if they knew I was a part of the "maniacal business world" now.

In stripping down to the visceral, I have much more time to focus on being true. Was I or am I a cold hearted vixen? No. I'd venture to say none of us project what we really feel. It's scary. It leaves us susceptible to the opinions of others.

More to this, as a feminist, I have grappled with issues such as those Lauren poignantly discusses. Part of me thinks, "Who the hell are you to tell me what to look like..." and then I remember, "Aha, I should not forget the fact that I already have some of the socially deemed beautiful qualities - light skin, slender build, etc. - therefore, I should not pander to that ideal by emulating it."

But that's where the tricky part comes in. By rejecting my privileges, am I then being untrue to myself? Maybe I like looking like a traditional femme? If I wear heels, am I ignoring the social implications of keeping women down? The heel, after all, is a nefarious little invention if you talk to your feet and calves.

Back to the board.

Where does that leave the authentic outer self? When, if ever, is it appropriate to don the gown, the lipstick, the heels?

Part of the problem is we, as women in the Anglo-melting-pot of Euro descent, have no traditional garb of which we feel proud. We have no ornaments of passage other than those steeped in patriarchy.

In my effort to stop re-creating and get to the core of who I am, I had to strip myself down to bareness. I have done that. I continue to do that, in fact, which is why I am comfortable telling you that I am hurt when I see myself in the mirror and notice the flaws.

From bareness, where do we go? What traditions can we sew for ourselves and for our daughters that evoke pride and self-worth?


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