How Style Helped Me Learn to Like Being a Woman
Those of you who know me may remember that I've done a Manspiration Month series a few times now - but this is the first time I've paid any attention to Women's History Month at all. It wasn't an intentional oversight on my part, but it does speak to my personal history with women.
Growing up, I seriously resented being a girl. I felt like I was expected to do all kinds of stupid things like be quiet, brush my hair, and bake (yeah, I grew up in the age of the Easy Bake Oven). I was also supposed to like a bunch of stuff I really hated, like baby dolls (which honestly terrify me as much as clowns) and Rainbow Bright (garish!). This wasn't really my parents' fault either. TV and commercials and movies showed me that boys got stuff like Nerf guns and action figures! They got to wander around on train tracks and play roller hockey in the street... while I was locked indoors for safe-keeping just like those creepy porcelain dolls.
Over time, my overall opinion of females just got worse. Many girls at school were really mean, catty, and two-faced with nothing better to do than gossip and make fun of one another behind their backs - and I'm talking Elementary School, here.
Thankfully, like many little girls out there, Barbies naturally came my way. My sister and I had a big ol' Barbie McMansion and everything - but what I remember loving the most was stripping poor Barbie nude and draping her in wads of toilet paper as I "designed" new gowns for her. I had no idea that this is what fashion designers did on life-sized mannequins, but it was the first time I had an inkling that people can change their identities with clothing. Barbie could be a toilet paper fairy princess one minute and a stewardess the next, and all I had to do was change her clothes! It was a small thing but, mentally, it showed me that I had the ability to choose and change how the world viewed me.
Mkay, you might be wondering how a satirical character who purposefully objectified her own body and proved time and again to be dumb as a box of hammers helped me like women again. But whatever else Kelly was, she wasn't meek. She wasn't shy. She spent her days fighting (sometimes literally) to make the most out of the assets she had instead of crying in her nonexistent soup over all she didn't have. Kelly helped me see that there can be a certain strength and ferocity in owning your image and using it to help you achieve your dreams. Yes, her image happened to be overtly sexy, but it was also fearless and calculated and stylish (in the hair-metal rock n' roll context of the time). Her dream happened to be modeling, but at the core of it she lived the "dress for the job you want" mantra. And dangit, when it came down to it, her clothes never stopped her from throwing a punch. That's practical dressing, right there. ;)
FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D.
You know those cop shows where female detectives/agents/reporters run through the mud in 6-inch designer heels with gigantic beauty pageant hair whipping around their faces? The X-Files wasn't one of those shows, and I will forever love Dana Scully's character for that. She was clearly gorgeous and wicked smart - and she didn't also have to look like a swimsuit model to be considered gorgeous and smart. She was short. She wore the same boring suits as the men had to wear. She kept her hair a practical length. Her clothes were always modern, but they were never trendy. Her heels made sense considering her government job, but they were always low and run-able. Scully helped me see that women don't always have to run themselves through "the sexy filter" to be awesome - and that in fact, not falling line with certain fashions can actually help communicate how awesome they really are. On the inside. Like, where it counts and stuff.
More and more, I started noticing the ways in which women control their identities with clothing. Recording artists like Melissa Etheridge, Courtney Love, Louise Post, and Gwen Stefani all technically have the same job... and yet they have completely different looks. Characters played by actresses like Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci looked quirky and exciting to me. I was cutting up tee shirts and Frankenstein-ing them back together in no time.
And of course, I later found an awesome group of real women who came together through a mutual love of style - and that group changed my life forever... but that is a post for another day.
For now, let me leave you with the idea of style as a tool that brought a sense power, efficacy, and independence back to a little girl who was well down the path toward hating her own gender for all the stereotypes that had been attached to it. And to all you fashion designers, costumers, and makers of doll-clothes out there, thank you - sincerely - for any time you choose to celebrate an offbeat female personality or embrace a quirky sense of style. You just never know how the love you show a look, symbol, or trend might help a child to love herself.