I had lunch with a friend this week that gave me a different perspective on "appearance". Before I go further, you need to know a few things about me so you will better understand the context for this conversation.
I grew up in the country in a small town that had about 600 people. There were farms all around and the only traffic jams we would have would be during harvesting or planting time when the humongous tractors would drive 5 mph down the main road. I spent all my time outside playing in the woods with my yellow lab following closely behind. I would go barefoot the majority of the time and stomp through mud puddles.
For me, clothes were just something to cover up the necessary "private" parts but other than that were for comfort and functionality. I wore baggy t-shirts and jeans or shorts. I would only get "nice" clothes for special occasions or at the beginning of the school year. My parents mostly picked those out for me. I would have stuck with the t-shirts and jeans otherwise. I was required to wear a dress to church every Sunday until about high school when I discovered I could wear dress slacks instead. I didn't hate clothes, but I didn't care much about them either. Its not like I want to walk around naked, I just didn't focus a lot on how clothes make me appear to others.
At some point, probably at the end of middle school when I had my first date, I started to feel the pressure to "dress up". I had probably felt some of it before that but basically didn't give a rat's ass. Maybe it was puberty and the hormones that made me give in a little at first. Maybe it was all of a sudden having to very close best friends who were testing out makeup and styling their clothes. It was never said by anyone that I had to dress a certain way. It was sort of implied by the disapproving stares or the indirect conversations around me. No one picked on me for how I dressed. I was friends with or nice to everyone and also kind of a tomboy so they either liked me or left me alone.
This week my 10 month old pulled all our DVDs and picture albums out of the cabinet. My mom who was keeping them at the time was able to put all of it back except for one album that just wouldn't fit. I found it when I got home and flipped through it. I was amused at the way my parents dressed me (and my bi-level/mullet) when I was little. It was the 80's so there was some ridiculous stuff going on fashion wise. (BTW, who's idea was it to bring that style back?!)
I was and still do feel just fine about how I dressed myself growing up. I dressed for me, not for someone else. When I was told to dress "nice"by someone else, I was the most uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way it because something I had to do in order to get respect from others. It was probably when I got my first job. Business casual was the requirement for most of my jobs. It was only when I interned at the paper mill that I got to wear my t-shirt and jeans. I was more comfortable working in the mill in my bright orange t-shirt and jeans where there was possible danger all around than walking around in my "dressy" clothes asking people if they needed help finding something.
Even today, I am most comfortable (and more productive) on casual Fridays when I get to wear jeans than the rest of the week in my business casual outfits. Even the word has a different meaning for me. I'd rather wear a "get-up" than an "outfit". "Get-ups" were what my mom would call whatever it was that I would throw on in the morning to head outside to play. When I wear "get-ups" it's what I'm going to do that's important. When I have to wear "outfits" it's my appearance that's important. This is where I have an issue.
No one has said anything to me, but I've made a few observations over the years. I mostly wear black pants, black flats, and some sort of plain color shirt. I didn't realize until recently that what I was doing was my own version of a get-up/outfit. Wearing "dressy" enough clothes so I fit in, but not so much that draws attention to myself. For me it's about the work that I'm doing that I'm most concerned with because what I'm doing is something that I'm passionate about. It's not because I don't care about myself that I dress the way I do. In fact, it's because I care more about myself than what anyone else thinks of my appearance that I dress the way I do. This does not mean that I think everyone should dress this way. I can appreciate a cool outfit that you've put together. I just don't feel the need to point it out because your appearance is not what matters to me. I care about what you have to say and what's in your heart. However, at the same time I understand that we are all a product of our society and society states that we should comment on women's appearance because obviously it's what gives them value. I understand that this is something that even the most confident of feminists may struggle with.
So back to lunch with my friend... We were talking about how we dress being about how we "present" ourselves. I was struggling to explain to her that it is my words and actions that I use to "present" myself, not the clothes I wear. I understand that because of our society people will make certain assumptions about me because of the clothes I wear. I can't go around worrying about what other people think because even if I tried my hardest to go with current fashion trends, you can't change people's perceptions to be what you want them to be. I just have to do me. And that is what I will do. And you know what, you can do you too. Whatever you are most comfortable in, go with it. If you are most comfortable wearing the latest trends and shoes that when you take them off your feet throb, go right ahead. You will not hear any judgement from me. We are all on our own journeys and, not to sound selfish, I am only concerned about my journey. I am certainly happy to talk with you about your journey and the things you like and think. However, I'm not going to try to convince you to follow my same path or dress the same as me, so please don't try to do that to me and we'll be cool. Peace. :-)