If there’s anything I’ve learned from both life and the internet, it’s that different people are different. And that making assumptions about others based on your own experiences can be a really, really bad idea.
Just a few days ago, I happened to read about two very different experiences with fashion, and that clarified a point I was trying to make a while back in the comments on Allison’s post about why fashion matters.
Fashion does matter! I am pro-fashion! I hate when people think it’s frivolous just because it’s enjoyed mainly by women.
But I had a problem with this:
[Clothing] matters because we have a choice. You can buy a stiff cotton tee shirt with Las Vegas written on the front, buy a plain white men’s undershirt, or a soft jersey tee that flatters your figure and is in the perfect shade. You can purchase a hooded sweatshirt three sizes larger than your frame or for the same money purchase a tailored wool sweater that will keep you just as warm. Yes, people are dying on this planet, but we all need clothes and if you are reading this blog, this means you have at least a touch of privilege and have choices.
So why not make a choice that flatters your figure, showcases your personality, and provides the world with an accurate depiction of your soul?
The problem is the assumption that the same type of clothing–i.e. tailored, relatively form-fitting, feminine–makes everyone feel good.
Some women feel their best in men’s undershirts or baggy hoodies.
Take, for example, the letter writer of Captain Awkward’s question #397:
People are always telling me I could be attractive if I wanted to, and I acknowledge the truth of this – thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t care about my appearance beyond being clean and presentable. I’m not interested in putting more effort in just to please other people, and I’m perfectly comfortable looking like the slightly androgynous weirdo I am.
The LW goes on to describe the persistence with which her family and friends keep trying to change her, and asks how to get them to stop pushing makeovers and just accept her as she is.
Cliff of the Pervocracy (who I met in real life at an Awkward Army meetup! Huzzah!) answers with various strategies for getting the annoying family members to STFU, and for making new friends who are tolerant of non-traditional gender presentations. And the comments are full of advice and empathy from other people who have been in the same boat.
The same day, I read Lesley’s post about a new study from the Department of Duh that shows that women internalize the images they see of other women, and feel better about bigger bodies when they see them represented in media. It’s incredibly obvious–but as Lesley points out, not everyone sees it, so it’s good to have scientific evidence.
Various commenters talked about their experiences with viewing and/or posting images of larger bodies, and the positive influence that such images can have.
One commenter, Andrea, said:
Part of the reason I now have a style blog, publishing outfit-of-the-day type posts, is Lesley. The other part is other people like her. I used to be a habitual baggy-jeans-and-sweater wearer, thinking I was too fat to be fashionable, and then I discovered the Fatshionista LJ. It was slow going, but it changed my outlook about myself and my appearance, and last year I started my blog. And people read it! and like my clothes!
And there you have it. Two completely different experiences with fashion: one person who finds it liberating, and one who finds not caring about it liberating. One who feels most herself in jeans and t-shirts, and one who feels most herself when dressed up.
The moral of the story: don’t assume. If you see a woman wearing jeans or sweatpants and a hoodie, it doesn’t mean that she has low self-esteem, or has failed at picking “flattering” clothes. There could be a million reasons she’s dressed that way–including the very real possibility that she just likes it.