How many dresses do you own?
Didn’t you just go shopping?
How often do you polish your shoes?
Why are you so obsessed with where this came from and how much this cost?
I get asked questions like this more than I like admitting. And that may surprise people. We see fashion and clothing as vital parts of self expression. What you wear isn’t just about clothing your vulnerable meat shell from the elements, it’s an important part of expressing gender, race, interests and more. It sends a message when I wear a graphic t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie. It sends a message when I wear a 50s skater dress. And cosplaying shows very clearly that I obviously like being the center of attention.
Heavy. Short. Scarred.
Those are the things I have to say about myself.
But you’d likely never know that based upon how I dress and take care of myself.
I have a multi-step Korean-inspired skincare routine that takes me from clay mask to face wash to sheet masks to serums. I dress well. Many of my friends give me a hard time about how extra my fashion sense is. Recently, I’ve been stepping up my clothing for work, as well. And people have taken notice. My signature timeless style of dresses with pitch black tights have been well-documented. I like shoes and purses and clothes. I like looking good and I like attention.
But I am also hilariously insecure about my body and my looks.
I’m worried about my stomach and how short my legs are. I’m worried that my butt is too big and that my chest isn’t big enough. And despite my skincare routine, I suffer from acne, large pores and hyperpigmentation.
I take care of myself because in those moments of self-care I am aspiring to feel more beautiful.
I dress well, I value my face and I discuss fashion because it helps me feel beautiful at least for a moment or two.
I cosplay to, for a moment or two, become a character with a level of confidence that I clearly lack.
I write characters with more self-confidence than I have.
I do these things in hopes of one day being able to pull that confidence into my daily real life.
Now, there’s no conversation about vanity that isn’t also met with all of the hypocrisy of being a woman and being encouraged to be modest while also being so confident that it hurts.
As a lady, I am told to be modest and not try too hard to be noticed. But I am also shamed if I go out in sweatpants I’m told that I should “dress up just in case”. I have vivid memories of my grandmother saying that I may meet my future husband anywhere so I should always look good.
This doesn’t even begin to cover the strange junction between a woman looking good and feeling good about herself while also then being called “stuck up” or “vain” or “high maintenance” for caring about how she looks. Let’s also not forget that if I wear a low cut dress or a tight shirt that as a biological female I am “asking for it”.
The whore/virgin dichotomy that extends even to how I dress fascinates me and that applies to females as well. To women, at times, my choices for black tights, vintage patterns and low cut dresses and shirts is just as scandalous and offensive as it likely would be to one of my other Southern foremothers. I’m judged for wearing shapewear because I should “love my curves” while also then being judged for not having a smoothed out silhouette. That barely even covers the fact that people still feel the need to judge and comment how much I spend on clothing, serums, sheet masks and shoes. And unfortunately, I am not always mature enough to simply write off such comments. I’m happy to say where I get my sheet masks and where the dress was from and that only adds to the at times uncomfortable silences between “Where did you get that dress?” and “What did you do to your hair?”
It was only a few decades ago that a woman was more than mention that she spent hundreds on her hair, at least fifty to make sure she was entirely hairless and that her outfit was likely hundreds of dollars not to mention the thousands in jewelry or additional hundreds in makeup, shapewear and more. But humility is once more en vogue so mentioning how the more attractive sausage is made is now less a virtue and more a vice. The rise of social media influences has reversed some of this modesty. Now, it’s once more to spend a lot of money and time on some things. It’s alright to have brushes that cost you hundreds but your clothes should be perpetually thrifty. I’m supposed to wear little to no makeup but am also judged for letting my hyperpigmentation and dark circles remain uncovered on my face. Not long ago, an older acquaintance commented on the fact that I should wear lipstick more often.
Vanity works in a certain price bracket. It works for a Kylie Jenner or a Violet Chachki but it doesn’t always work for a social media manager who has a penchant for cameos and too much foundation. It’s not always alright for me to spend forty or so dollars on concealer but the dress I got at Goodwill equally raises concerns.
My perceived vanity helps me cope with my insecurity. Wearing a nice dress or getting my highlight just right help me feel better about how I look. When I was younger, I was told to value my looks and as I got older, I was told to value my mind. There was no middle ground. Either I focused on looking great or I focused on being a studious young woman. The idea that one is judged based upon clothing and style were drilled into me as a young one. I had a part to play and my family knew that no matter what I wore I’d face being sexualized, exoticized and fetishized: there was no room for error for sloppy dressing or anything like that. But all the while I was told to worry about how I looked and told to make sure I looked my best and took care of myself.
That all took a backseat for a while and I stopped caring about how I looked outside of costume because I was sexualized and fetishized no matter what. I’m fortunate enough to have come back into my own style-wise and hope that what many read as vanity in me just trying to cope in a world that doesn’t always value a lady with cellulite and acne scarring.
Stay beautiful, fair readership: in all the ways that word entails.