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Equating Confidence with Sexy Clothing

I recently read Ariel Levy’s fabulous Female Chauvinist Pigs for the first time, and highly recommend it.  One point that really stuck out for me is that women often subtly put down other women for not dressing in a sexy, revealing manner and in doing so cite lack of self-confidence.  Some women who show a lot of skin for whatever reason feel that this not only makes them feel confident or is a product of their confidence, but that others who don’t dress the same way must not be confident, or must be disparaging of their looks.  I have no problem with women feeling sexy when they put on a short skirt or a low-cut top, but I do think something’s going on when a woman’s assumption is that this is the only way to show self-confidence.  Levy does a great job at pointing out how this kind of argument can be used to draw women towards everything from Girls Gone Wild cameos to unwanted sexual experiences.  

Surely, women can hide behind baggy or “unattractive” clothing.  I did that a lot as a kid and as a teenager, and in fact I was not self confident.  One of the ways I showed my self-confidence and comfort with boys, in turn, was to start dressing “sexier,” to start showing off my breasts and legs.  But I eventually found that for me, that clothing actually didn’t really make me feel sexy.  It did in a way, but at the same time I was often self-conscious, because I kept having to tug at a strapless bra or make sure my skirt was covering my rear.  Those clothes required a lot of effort, and they weren’t comfortable.  Now the clothes that make me feel sexy vary – one of my “sexier” outfits is a pair of cargo pants and a very butch black muscle top, while another is a thin v-neck yellow and brown artsy tank with wide straps and a pair of stretchy black gaucho pants.  I feel sexy when I’m put together, when my clothes fit well and feel good, and I’m smiling.  Sure, other girls may feel the same in clothes that made me uncomfortable, but if anyone pities me and tells me that I need to get some self confidence and dress the part, I’ll laugh.  I invite you to join me.

It's all in the magazines

Forgive the radio silence over the past few days (and thank you all the new commenters for dropping by and saying hello!)

I’ve been thinking for a while of doing a post about butch and femme, but it turns out I have more to say than I thought on the subject, so I’d like to ruminate on that for a while.  

Somewhat related, though, is a little sidebar about self-worth and appearance.  Of course we all hear a lot about how the media portrays women as stick thin and gorgeous, how detrimental the narrowing of “acceptable” fashion is to young girls, etc.  All completely true.  But I think it’s interesting as someone who’s an adult and not a fashion follower by any stretch of the imagination to notice how societal norms affect my own body image.

I no longer have a problem with my weight, which is a minor miracle.  Though I’ve always known intellectually that I was healthy and not overweight, I had a lot of trouble with it for a very long time.  These days I find myself relatively happy with my figure, especially when I’m clothed, and at least not freaking out and crying or going on a diet immediately when I’m not. But then the old self-confidence zapper popped up where I least expected it.

I got a haircut yesterday.  I actually am coming to terms with it, as I normally do after a day or so, and though I don’t love the style I’ll live with it until it grows out.  But yesterday, it got worse and worse.  Everytime I looked at the mirror, little doubts crept into my head, until I was imagining just how unattractive and undesireable I looked and had to push back tears.  This is so strange to me, because I don’t value myself on how I look at all.  It’s not that it’s androgynous – I like androgyny!  I think it’s just that I left the realm of conventional beauty and some little inner me was saying “good job, loser.  You’ll never get a date.”  

Of course, that’s how society trains women to view themselves.  Your self worth is measured by your ability to attract others.  I’ve always felt good and better about myself when I felt like others were attracted to me.  The silly thing, though, is that I’m not particularly wound up in love and sex right now.  I’m not on the market for a relationship.  If someone asked me out tomorrow, I might say yes, but if someone said “hey, let’s get serious right away!” I’d run in the other direction.  So why on earth should my self-worth be tied to how likely my current appearance is to get me a date?  Popular culture, really.  I am not amused.

Fashion scares me

Saturday I spent an exhausting mid-morning at the mall with my good friend Rita.  When I was a child, I used to think shopping was really cool, and that the image of being someone who shops was even cooler.  This was around the time I was worshipping the Spice Girls and thought that gay people were “gross.”  Ahem.  As I’ve come into myself, I’ve ditched a lot of the traditionally “girly” things I did just because you were supposed to, and the mall is one of those things.  I can’t stand malls.  They suck you in, they seem to be populated entirely by rude thirteen-year-olds, they’re impossible to get to using public transportation, and the smell of perfume irritates my sinuses.

That’s not to say I don’t like shopping entirely.  I love shopping for kitchen supplies at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I love grocery shopping.  I like shopping online from the comfort of my bed, and yes, I admit, I love Target.  I joke that I can’t walk out of that store without spending less than $100, but it’s actually true.  I have never walked out of Target with less than $100 worth of merchandise.  It’s an affliction.  Fortunately, I don’t go frequently, but when I do it’s always a bit overboard.  Last year, I spent several thousand hard-earned dollars on furniture (about 40% of it shipping charges) from Target online.  My dresser, nightstand, desk, end table, desk chair, hutch, and bookcase are all from Target, which means I put them all together myself in two painful, frustrating weeks.  My desk is beautiful, but both screws on one leg came out with the inside part as well, stripped clean off the wood, and had to be glued back in with apoxy.  I’m still a little frightened to get an iMac because I don’t want something worth more than a thousand dollars sitting on that thing.  

Anyway, I digress.  The point is, when I want a lot of random things I go to Target.  I’d been meaning to take the bus out there forever, and I had plans to go after the Farmer’s Market Saturday, when Rita suggested we go together – in her car.  Clearly, a much better proposition.  The initial plan was to purchase comfortable shoes, along with a few other items.  I’ve been having a bit of a shoe quandry, because I own maybe twelve pairs and none of them are quite comfy enough.  Since I do a lot of my moving around the city on foot, a very slight discomfort can be a big pain.  What I really wanted was some plain, comfy, closed toed, closed heeled black loafers.  These apparently don’t exist.  I tried on about nine pairs at Target and gave up.  This meant that (after I spent $109 on other random crap, including six pairs of those new Hanes underwear that I really can’t praise enough, by the way) we had to venture into the mall.  Crap.

I did end up getting two pairs of shoes.  One is a pair of black loafers that aren’t perfect, but might be with the right socks.  The other is a pair of black crocs that look like Mary Janes but are super, super comfy.  I sort of hate crocs, but these aren’t brightly coloured and don’t have huge holes in them, so they’ll do.  The problem was that Rita wanted business clothes.  Specifically, she wanted dress-shirts.  Button-down dress shirts.  Shockingly enough, they no longer exist.  Okay, I exaggerate, but it took three hours roaming around the mall and we probably saw about ten button-ups total.  We looked at the men’s section, but nothing was small enough to be convincing.  We did, however, find more than our share of Disturbing Fashion Trends for this season.  Here are a few you should watch out for:

#1: The Shacket.  I don’t know what the designers were thinking when they came up with this, exactly.  It’s a shirt that looks, for all intents and purposes, like a business jacket.  A really tacky business jacket.  The fabric is thinner than a jacket, but it’s not at all soft.  

#2: The My Breasts Are Happy to See You Shirt.  This comes in two forms.  One is a shirt that looks deceptively conservative, even nice, until you hold it up off the rack and discover that it is translucent.  The other is a drapey thing, made of thin fabric, with a “V neck” that ends just above the belly button.  

#3: Picnic Blanket Wardrobe.  Sometimes shirts, or sometimes coordinates, this fabric is opaque at least, but it doesn’t help much.  The pattern is either plaid or checked, and you have your choice of yellow, bright green, or the ever popular orange-and-pink combination.  

#4: So-Short-They’re-Not-Even-There Shorts.  I know this isn’t a new phenomenon, but it really just hurts me.  That can’t be comfortable in the derrière.  

#5: Gone Fishin’.  This is a trend in both men’s and women’s apparel.  From your navy blue woman’s shirt with what looks like a shoelace hanging from the neckline to the horrible short sleeved double-pocket men’s button-down shirt, this style compliments #3 quite nicely.  Or, you know… not.