Quick note: I am writing this post as part of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers network. I'll be writing a few more posts in the coming weeks that bring feminism and fashion into conversation with each other, so be watching for those. And for more information on the Feminist Fashion Bloggers network, click here.
I started out by taking a Saturday off from blogging. When Sunday rolled around, I figured I should rest for the whole weekend, which became a three-day then a four-day weekend. Between the tragedies in Japan, camera struggles, work, lackluster outfits, and menstrual stress, I didn't much feel like writing new posts. But it's back-in-the-saddle time, all for the good of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers network.
Blue sweater: Gap, $15
Jeans: American Eagle Outfitters, $20
Shoes: secondhand, free from clothing swap
Necklace: secondhand vintage, free from mom
Pin: saved from the floor of a friend's car
Turquoise ring: $11 from consignment shop
Book: gift from friend
I'm pondering a question today: How do I express my feminism in the way I dress? Answering honestly, I have to say that it's sometimes a question of if I express my feminism in the way I dress, and occasionally, the answer to that is "No."
There's no guideline out there for "dressing like a feminist," nor should there be. However, I think a valid approach would probably include respecting your own body and not hurting it for the sake of fitting some societal mold. Dressing with that rule in mind would certainly be an expression of my own brand of feminism, and it's what I tried to do today. Not one inch of me is uncomfortable, people. Do I follow through with this intention 100% of the time? Nope.
I wrote back in January about an especially painful day spent wearing heels that were pretty but didn't fit my feet. My shoulders have occasionally ached from carrying huge, trendy purses that I couldn't help but stuff loads of crap into. On my wedding day, I wore a pretty white dress so tight that I struggled to breathe; my mom and I took regular breaks where she would unzip the back, let me fill my lungs for a minute or so, then zip things up again so I could greet the next round of guests. When it comes to respecting the needs and limits of my own body, I am not a perfect example and I am not the perfect feminist.
But I have had my breakthrough moments. All through high school and college, I wore padded bras in order to mask the true, underwhelming size of my breasts and look more "womanly." These padded bras were never ridiculously over-the-top or painful, but they were usually uncomfortable, and about a year ago, I opted for some well-made bras that didn't hide or accentuate a thing. The change in comfort level cannot be overstated. Lo and behold, I've come to love the silhouette that I see in the mirror by first being real about it. A woman's self-acceptance is, I think, a boldly feminist act, and that's what I found when I started to acknowledge the true state of my body. I'm sure I'll have to work on that same kind of acceptance as my body changes in the coming years, and surely honoring the needs of my body in the form of comfortable clothes (and undergarments) will help me to do just that.
Aside from the pain vs. comfort factor, another dimension of this issue is the way in which a woman presents herself and identifies herself through clothing choices. Can someone clearly demonstrate her/his feminism with clothes? In the case of a "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt, sure. Short of slogans, though, what are some other markers? I'm not sure there are any.
I'm a fairly-feminine woman (at least as far as my culture defines "feminine"), and I imagine that contradicts some folks' ideas of what a feminist looks like. I wear makeup frequently, enjoy skirts and dresses, own my fair share of jewelry, and maintain an acceptable level of leg/armpit hair. We can't devalue these practices in favor of gender equality, because devaluing the markers associated with women only serves to devalue womanhood itself.
We see an example of this when it comes to traditionally feminine hobbies (knitting, crocheting, quilting, etc.), which have occasionally been scoffed at as meaningless, frittering tasks that repressed women undertake because they have nothing worthwhile to do with their time. Sometimes this view extends to other domestic arts, such as cooking, keeping a clean house, or caring for children, and I've also seen it applied to the sphere of hobby-blogging. Such an outlook is really off-base, in my opinion, because it sends the message that whatever a sizable number of women are interested in must be second-rate, perhaps for no other reason than that women are the ones expressing interest.
What we can change is the way that we associate these hobbies and talents with gender. There is truly no 1:1 correlation when it comes to a person's gender and his/her habits, interests, or hobbies. If someone's going to judge the way I dress, it's only sensible that he/she should see it as a reflection of me (though not the sum total of me, I should note). I think I express my feminism by expecting that other people will see me as an individual and not as a representative of my gender; this assumption frees me up to dress for myself (and to triumph or fail for myself) rather than for a huge segment of the population.
Unexpectedly, pursuing this hobby of style blogging has taken some feminist gusto. I have to keep reminding myself to take my own interests seriously, especially in the face of self-doubt. There's such a weird double-bind in this area; if a woman doesn't care how she looks, she's labeled a slob who's "let herself go," but if she cares too much, she's "trying too hard" and labeled a narcissist. Does liking clothes make me superficial, I wonder? Am I putting my efforts in the right direction? Will other people respond favorably to this blog? I've held back from telling very many friends about my new corner of the internet because of these worries; I've also second-guessed myself.
But, as I mentioned earlier, I really do feel that self-acceptance is a feminist action, and that acceptance can extend beyond the limits of my body. I'm trying to accept my natural inclinations, my curiosities. I'm trying to feel okay taking pictures in a public park, trying to feel that I have as much right to be there as anyone else. In this sense, I'm not so much expressing my feminism in how I dress, but moreso in demonstrating that I value my own opinion -- about how I dress and about everything else.
(Check out other bloggers' responses to the idea of expressing feminism through fashion by clicking here.)