23 January 2010

Clothing, Bodies, Gender, and Professionalism

I've been trying to write more ... substantive journal entries, at least to make up for the fact (or to validate) that I'm writing fewer of them.

Since I started at my job at the university as a career advisor, I've been struggling with professional clothing and the ways that they affect perception of me as a professional and my own concept of myself. This will only be exacerbated when I start instructing next quarter.

Clothes are more than a little fraught for me. They always have been. Unlike my academic-fashionista kin, I have not always loved clothes. I wasn't someone who was really clever with pairings or daring with how I dressed. I just ... wore clothes.

The history of my discomfort with fashion is bifold and it's the oldest queer girl story in the book (or one of them, at least); it's about gender presentation and body dysmorphia.

Right? It's like a highlights reel of every substantive post I've written over a decade of blogging. But just in case you've missed that decade (which every one of you has, unless one of you has managed to find my old hand-coded journal from 1998), I'll review.

Fashion and Body Dysmorphia
I have never had any clear idea what my body looked like. From the time I was seven and decided I should just eat fruit for breakfast (which quickly became nothing by the time I was eight) to the full lifetime of taking a range of six sizes to the dressing room not just because clothes are inconsistent but because I honestly cannot see if I am a size eight or a size eighteen.

This makes fashion a little bit complicated. You know all of those articles, probably even useful ones, that talk about "good jeans for those with big thighs?" or "How to maximize your body shape?" I, basically, am not sure what column to look at. Combining the lack of understanding of my own body with my total inability to know what size I am basically results in shopping being a horrifying experience. Every pair of pants I try on, every shirt that doesn't button over my breasts (which is most of them) is like a personal failure. It is the world saying "Yup, you're still doing it wrong."

So I didn't do it. I have found a fair number of slacks that look okay and some t-shirts and sweaters that fit okay. There are a couple of skirts that fit right and I'm most comfortable in knee-high boots. So I make it. But it's not like the bloggers at Threadbared, Academic Chic, Fashion for Nerds, Blue Collar Catwalk, Bright Side Dweller, or any of these other pre-professional/professional women who look pulled together and genuinely seem to enjoy fashion.

Gender Identity and Fashion
Which leads to the second point of discomfort. As much as I love the aforementioned blogs, they're all variations upon femininity and femme-ness. Which is great, but it's not necessarily me. Occasionally, sure, I'm interested in some kind of queered femininity, often pairing something softer with some kick-ass boots or something, but in an average day, I'm not comfortable being that girly. I'm not masculine-presenting, exactly, but I am uncomfortable with compulsory femininity and, in a lot of ways, I'm not feminine.

This is, of course, complicated by being an out, queer woman who is partnered with a woman. Even in the notoriously liberal higher education field, assumptions are laid upon both of us in terms of presentation and expectations.

And so my options in professional clothing diminish. Because it seems like the options are the currently boring look I'm rocking or too consistently feminine.

This is, of course, oversimplification and hyperbole. Unfortunately, I have a lack of role models. So I pull together what I can, trying to take the ideas I get from blogs and people whose clothing I like and doing what I can with it without sacrificing what feels right to me.

So I've done a few things. I'm learning better skills of accessorizing, I'm trying new color combinations, and I'm trying to have fun with this.

But it's a pain in the fucking ass. And some days like today when I've spent a while trying to find fun, funky, sorta-punky clothing combinations that still look professional, I kind of want to wrap my whole body in a blanket and call it a day.

But there are other days, too. So maybe I'll just finish dying my hair, tie it back in a bright green scarf, throw on a purple long-sleeved shirt and some dark jeans with my knee-high black boots and maybe that will work.

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