For a long time, I rallied against “femininity”. I was more into animals than Barbies, and every Barbie I did have was very quickly given a CP special haircut (read: totally bald) and used to mercilessly dry hump Action Men. I’d rather make my imaginary horses fight each other than swaddle a doll that will also piss itself (why were these ever a thing), and later on in life, I was more likely to be found building death rides on Rollercoaster Tycoon than watching High School Musical.
Whilst a lot of this came naturally to me, some of it didn’t. Very early on I sensed that having “feminine” interests or dressing in a “feminine” way meant that people made assumptions about you, and since I was always dying to be clever and serious and cool, I rebelled against this. I cut and dyed my hair a million different and decidedly non-feminine way (the asymmetric fringe and blocky black bob are personal favourites); I went emo when everybody else in my school went chav; I started wearing dresses and skirts when I turned 18 and as soon as the novelty of male attention wore off, I went straight back to jeans.
That’s not to say that in my 23 years I couldn’t be found sporting a shorter hem, but for a long time, I pushed back against it. I felt out of sorts in a dress; I wasn’t a “dress girl”, I was more of a alternative, indie suit kind of girl, you know? And you can even trace this throughout my blog. Look further back than about 6-8 months and you’d be hard pressed to find a dress or skirt in sight. Nowadays I’m rocking a little frilly red number like it’s nobody’s business, so what’s changed?
Dress – Missguided*
Bag – Zara
Shoes – Zara
Sunglasses – Sunglasses Shop Miu Miu*
As a word, “feminine” is the cause of a long-running internal battle for me. On the one hand I resent that it has come to mean “delicacy” and “prettiness”. I resent the connotations of being gentle and ladylike, harking back to an era of full-skirted women fanning themselves in the shade of their porch and discussing teacups and village gossip. I resent the idea that “feminine” somehow means “less than”, whether that be less than serious, less than substantial, or less than worthwhile.
On the other hand, the whole issue of reclaiming comes into play. At its core feminine means “of a female quality”, so really, it’s almost open-ended in its definition. The meaning of the word is subjective, and should mean whatever I want it to mean, especially in relation to myself. I shouldn’t let feminine becoming damning because it means womanlike – womanlike should be a celebration, and in resenting the word, I am in some way complicit in accepting that it means “less than” otherwise I would happily use it in relation to myself. (As a side note this is literally skimming the surface of gender – femininity, masculinity, female and male are constructs of ideals assigned to the gender you’re given at birth, but that’s a subject for another time because Good Lord there is a lot to say.)
I never wanted to be seen as vapid. I wanted to be taken seriously, like one of the boys. As such, this attitude translated into my clothing, and I leaned towards more “masculine” shapes – think a two piece suit over a body con dress. I wanted to wear trainers and culottes over heels and a mini skirt because I didn’t want to be dismissed as having no substance, and so dresses almost became the enemy to me.
The truth is, as much as I’ve come to realise this, the opening of my arms to skirts and dresses has more to do with fashion than any internal revelations of my own. We’ve moved from suited co-ords to Realisation Par dresses and with that, my wardrobe choices have naturally changed. As cool girls start wearing bright floral patterns and low-cut V-necks, I’m starting to piggy-back onto the trend, as we all do – it’s fashion, and that’s the nature of the beast.
Something wonderful that has come as an unexpected extra, though, is the embracing of my “femininity” (whatever that means). Most of the time, I feel fucking great in the dress. I feel powerful, special and confident, feelings which aren’t always replicated when I’m suited and booted in a blazer and some Birkenstocks. I feel like I can really carpe diem that shit and do whatever needs to be done. Obviously there are the downsides of feeling like I have to shave my legs, but there’s certainly something to be said for having a crotch free of denim suffocation and the perfect Boomerang set up of a swishy dress.
My internal battle with the “feminine” and “femininity” will undoubtedly continue, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy how a little red dress makes me feel and worry less about what it might make others think. One thing I have learned, however, is that there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy between prettiness and seriousness – whether I’m wearing a frilly floral number or not, I can still spearhead a project and boss my finances. And hey, if I get to look like the red lady emoji in the meantime, well then that’s just a bloody great bonus.