Outfit of the Day: You’re so vain, you probably think this body is about you

I purpled my hair this week, because purple hair makes me happy.

Last weekend during Lady Gaga’s appearance on SNL, someone posted on my twitter timeline, something to the effect of, “It’s too bad Gaga dresses like an alien — she’s pretty hot when she dresses normal.” And even though I don’t have much interest in Lady Gaga, and I’m unfamiliar with most of her music — and even though I’ve made similar criticisms about her and any number of other women in the past — this time something different clicked into place with me, and I thought:

Lady Gaga can wear whatever she wants. She doesn’t owe it to you to look hot.

Seriously, I realize this is basic Feminist Theory 101. But to me, it’s just now starting to make sense, and it feels revolutionary: No woman is required to look a certain way that society deems acceptable. No person, for that matter. Lady Gaga isn’t. I’m not.

A few days later, a friend sent me a link to this quote from an article on The Frisky:

“Despite the fact that I’ve got cellulite and a poochy belly and fairly big hips for my frame, I don’t diet. Despite the fact that I spent my entire adolescence and young adult life actively hating my body and attempting to hide inside my clothing, I don’t diet. Because for one thing, few diets work permanently, with lost weight often regained within a year. And for another, I don’t believe that there is one acceptably beautiful body shape or figure. And finally, I’ve found a far better way to help myself look and feel good than attempting to diet my body into submission: I dress to my figure.”

I was reading along and thinking, Yes yes yes! People are finally starting to get it: dieting is futile, and it’s okay to not be thin! Until I got to the last sentence, and it hit me again: I don’t have to “look good” if I don’t want to. I don’t have to “dress to my figure,” especially since “dressing to your figure” is usually fashion-magazine code for “deemphasizing your fat parts and focusing attention on your non-fat parts.” As the article went on to say, “I sought out garments and accessories that drew the eye to my lovely waist, my shapely shoulders, my delicate ankles. I slowly began accumulating flattering, interesting pieces while simultaneously ditching the dull, curve-disguising ones. … I learned that I felt beautiful when I looked beautiful, and that I could look beautiful by wearing clothing that focused the observing eye on my glorious natural assets.”

“Dressing to my figure” still means conforming myself to an external standard for what is “flattering” and what is “unflattering,” for making my clothing choices based on the opinion of the observer* instead of on what I want to wear. It means replacing one set of rules (Be thin!) with for another set (If you can’t be thin, at least draw attention away from your fat parts!).  And I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to conform to someone else’s notion of what makes my body look good. I can wear what I like, as an extension of my own personality.

(*We can say “the male gaze” here if you’d rather, but that’s a whole other topic I’m not capable of doing justice to.)

Choosing to style my body as an extension of myself is a celebration of my own uniqueness, my own created-ness. I’m celebrating the body and the personality God made me with. Wearing what I want to wear regardless of whether it’s in accordance with how fashion magazines think I should look or whether it makes me look “attractive,” and encouraging others to do the same, is a celebration of the beautiful diversity of human beings that God has created.

It may be that the choices I make end up being in line with what’s socially acceptable, but now I’m choosing to wear those items because they’re what I like, and society’s rules happen to line up with the things I like – not because I’m trying to conform.

My son dressed himself for preschool a few days ago in a yellow and tan striped shirt and red shorts. It wasn’t a color combination I would’ve chosen, and I gently offered to help him find an outfit that matched, but he said: “No thanks, I like wearing this.” And I realized: It really is that simple.

Mario mushroom manicure, inspired by http://www.youtube.com/cutepolish

If “dressing to your figure” and following “fashion rules” is important to you, great. It’s your choice how you decorate your body. But don’t think it’s the only option for how to decorate your body, and don’t fool yourself into believing that the rules are anything more than reflections of our culture’s arbitrary standard for beauty. There are no “fashion police,” and how I present my body isn’t up to anyone else.

You don’t have to like my outfit. You might think that wearing horizontal stripes draws attention to my fat curves, and you might have a problem with that. You can think I shouldn’t wear a sleeveless top because my upper arms are wobbly, but I’m going to wear it anyway. You might think that what I’m wearing is too young for me or too old for me, you might think it clashes, you might think I wear too much eyeliner or that my purple hair is absurd. But I’m ignoring your opinion of how I look, society, because how I look isn’t about you at all.

Shirt - Lane Bryant; skirt and necklace - Old Navy; shoes - Target.


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6 thoughts on “Outfit of the Day: You’re so vain, you probably think this body is about you

  1. You look wonderful, you look like you. Good for you for dressing for you, not for society’s rules, not to hide your ‘figure.’ I do the same thing & have for years. My body, my business.

  2. I love your skirt!! And the hair. Mine is as purple as I can do it, but it’s there (or was before the pool & sun of Orlando go to it). I’m defnitely a fan of that look on you! Not that than matters in the long run. ::wink wink::

    I needed this today…after spending a week poolside and pretty much not seeing any fat people (I wonder how many were just too embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit…), I was feeling bad about myself. I needed a good kick in the butt today. This did it!

  3. Coming to this realisation was a watershed moment for me. I still struggle with it from time to time, but rationally I know it, deep down. It’s amazingly liberating. I wish you all the peace with dressing for yourself that there is.

    And I love your purple hair!

  4. “If “dressing to your figure” and following “fashion rules” is important to you, great. It’s your choice how you decorate your body.”
    I think that’s the jackpot right there. People make their own choices, it’s not the others. But I think we’ve got a long way to go before people start getting that.
    And I’m jealous of your haaaair! Wish I could still dye mine =(
    But I can still copy those awesome nails! =3

  5. You have the most inspiring point of view and damn woman 🙂 You’re gorgeous! Such a cute top. Next time I find a Lane Bryant really gotta stock up on clothes haha.
    I recently realized something about my big-girl self too. It was a ridiculously hot day, very out of the ordinary. I had on thick jeans, tank top, and a thick short sleeved over shirt (the thick stuff is only because I live at a dorm and was unprepared for the weather). I got to computer class sweating my butt off and when people asked why I didn’t take off my over sweater it dawned on me…why didn’t I? Because of wobbly upper arms and grey armpits. So I went screw it and dressed to make myself happy that day by wearing only the tank top around. 🙂 It is quite liberating isn’t it?

  6. Sorry, I finally read this and I LOVE IT. In my stint as a Personal Fashion Stylist, I learned a lot about how to do the whole attractive/minimizing/sculpting thing for clients with vastly different body types. Sometimes it was what they wanted, and I’m proud of the assistance I offered. I saw men and women embrace who they are.

    But through feminisms, and stories like yours, I cringe now at some of the words and ideas I offered. I tried to always emphasized self-love, encouraging my clients to choose clothes they liked, understand why they liked it (so they could wear/buy more of the things they liked!), and the complexities of beauty. But I still wonder what shame my words added and what cultural “acceptable body” standards I enforced.

    Thanks for exploring this issue. I have a lot to learn.

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