Undressing my Wardrobe

The first shirt that I wore that showed off my figure was a red and white striped shirt that was like a crew neck with a button up underneath. I wore it to go out to eat with my family. And although I looked like a walking candy cane,  I remember my dad complimenting me and commenting on the fact that I should begin to dress more like this, more like a girl. Other than that outfit, I typically bought jeans from the boys’ department – carpenter, baggy, and just plain questionable. Not because they were “meant for boys,” but because of the prints on them: green graffiti lettering covering all the pockets. My shirts mainly ranged from 2XL to 3XL, and since I was very slender, I was always drowning in my outfits.

At the time, swimming was not an option. I wanted to remain unseen, succumbing to the ocean’s depths. I suppose my insecurities began around puberty, when I noticed that everyone’s body was changing yet mine seemed to be a bit behind. I didn’t feel comfortable, and perhaps I was trying to hide my body from the scrutiny of others.

When I wore clothing that complimented my frame, I was just reminded on why it should remain hidden. Once, in seventh grade, I wore a spaghetti tank top. Scandalous. The principal promptly approached me about my “inappropriate” attire. My mustard tank top possessed the power to distract boys from their studies. I was an unwanted condiment, and my principal made this very clear. The way he spoke to me marked the beginning of me mistaking my body for a sexual object.

That same day, I was performing a skit in drama class that I was really proud of, and all my drama teacher could remark upon was my potential in being a model. Rather than reflect upon my script, I noticed everyone’s eyes peer at my body. These incidents led me to believe that wearing clothes my size would amp up my sex appeal, so it was only natural for me to begin ditching my large clothes for tighter clothes as my interest in boys increased.

I had a black long sleeve shirt that I loved. It was very form fitting, and due to this, it was one of the few garments that I felt feminine in. Yet my middle school seemed to have a difficult time accepting the female form. When wearing the shirt, I was called to the social worker’s office at school and was interrogated about my eating habits, remarking upon how thin I looked. Feeling insecure and uncomfortable, I squirmed in my seat. At that moment, I remember wishing that I had opted for my trusty 3XL button up with a graphic of three guys break-dancing instead (fashion was never my forte). Her comment about my weight once again reminded me that my body had yet to experience the changes expected of me. She then asked if I wore black because I felt depressed. Depressed? I was wearing black to be the complete opposite! The year was 2007 but I was already emitting 2016 Kim Kardashian (just take a gander at her all black outfits of 2017. Was she ever accused of being depressed, or was she simply dubbed fashion qwueen?). Not to mention, did this woman even hold a degree? Is schooling needed for someone to make such an idiotic assumption? Was she hoping that I would respond, “Yes, black, the absence of color, symbolizes the absence of joy that I have in my life?”

Needless to say, after that meeting, I never wore that shirt again and went back to wearing baggier clothes as I entered high school.

When I first entered, I was often teased about my choices in clothing. This led to a constant battle that I was desperately attempting to win. Clothing became my armor in the war of words. When I was teased about my awkward physique – I searched for clothes that would compliment my figure, even if that meant constantly tugging down my dress. At 5’10, everything I wore fit awkwardly. If it was a good length, covering each and every inch of leg, it was also far too baggy because of how slim I was. If it fit my body perfectly and hugged my developing curves, it would be way too short. Wanting to prove my femininity, at least what I believed it to be, I typically opted for the latter during high school.

In addition to feeling out of place among my peers, this feeling traveled home. Among my sister and mother, I was the only one in the house who seemed interested in stereotypical girl things. I wanted to wear makeup, I wanted dresses, I wanted to be seen and admired. Due to this, I often found myself torn. I wanted to fit in at home, so I tried to reject outward notions of femininity, but I wanted to be desirable outside the home so I tried to over exert my false notion of femininity.

The clothes got tighter because I wanted to show off what little physique I had. My dad who once complimented my tight clothes now disagreed with almost everything I wore. He despised my V-necks, preaching to me about how boys thought, adding onto my misconception that my clothing defined my sexuality. Naturally, the more he resisted, the more I wanted those types of outfits: in my head, his disagreements confirmed that I was no longer a girl, but a woman. I was conflicted. I wanted to be seen as feminine by others, especially boys, but at the same time, I was not really interested in relationships or intimacy. In negotiating my identity, clothing was the currency. The less fabric I had, the more womanly I felt.

This roller coaster continued throughout college. Wanting to be comfortable, since I worked and attended school full-time, I would often opt for practically over style. However, a massive part of me would make sure that my outfits were still flattering – afraid that constantly appearing in leggings and big cardigans would engulf the very existence of my femininity. Wanting to appear as an intellectual among my peers, I also stayed away from clothing that might be too revealing. An idea planted in my mind from high school -the more exposed a woman is, the less exuberant her intelligence. As silly as it sounds, that was a battle I fought everyday.

It was not until recently that I have come to peace with my femininity and sexuality. The two are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. I am a woman, but that does not mean I have to dress or behave a certain way. The fact that I like to wear a pencil skirt, or a bodycon dress does not diminish my intelligence, or make me slutty. The fact that I also like wearing over-sized bombers and crewnecks does not make me less of a woman.  Rather than drowning my body in triple x’s, or displaying my body as a commodity in super super smalls, I have found a happy medium. This is all figuratively speaking because I now own clothes in almost every size. My body is not a taboo that must remain hidden, nor an object that needs appraisal. I now dress in what I feel comfortable and confident in, which varies day by day. It was never my outfits that needed changing; it was me.

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