I have poured too many hours of my life into worrying about what men think of me. I try not to think too hard about this. Because if I really knew how many hours I’ve spent, how many tears and how much sweat I’ve shed, wanting men to think I’m pretty and fun and attractive… If I really knew how much of my energy has gone into that one singular, reductive, arguably unimportant goal… I think I’d probably have some kind of breakdown.
Look, I love men. Many of my favorite people are men, and many of my favorite days or hours or moments in my life have been spent with men. But the fact is, for all my pontificating about self-love and being happy on your own, I put an awful lot of stock into what men think of me. Our shallow, patriarchal culture is adamant that women’s value hinges on our ability to attract a man, and I’ve bought into that myth hook, line and sinker.
So in an effort to shake myself loose of those chauvinistic shackles, I’m starting a series called The Unladylike Project. In each instalment, I’ll challenge one of the dogmatic beliefs I hold about needing to seem “ladylike” and attractive to men. ‘Cause fuck dogma. I’ll live how I want to, regardless of what men think.
First up: “severe” beauty. I started thinking about this when my friend Sarah coined the term #SpookyFemme to describe her aesthetic: intense eyebrows, dark-colored clothes, and (most notably) dark lipstick. It’s a style I admire enormously, for its unapologetic boldness and – yes – severity. But on my own face and in my own life, I struggle to rock that spooky-stern look. It just feels like… too much. Too much of a statement, too attention-grabbing, too cyborg-like and not “feminine” enough. So for the most part, I stick to my safe pinks and reds.
When trying to pull apart my actual preferences from the patriarchal culture that shaped them, I find it helpful to ask myself: how would I do this differently if I was alone? Would I still attire myself like this, do my face like this? And in the case of makeup, I know that what I like and what I actually do are not always a perfect match. When I’m spending the whole day alone and experience an urge to play with makeup, most often I do some kind of wild, over-the-top look, with colorful eyeshadow and strange lipstick. It makes me feel powerful – but only in the absence of men who would drain the certainty of that power from me.
Last year, a friend invited me to her spring equinox party. Having hung out with that friend’s crew of pals before, I knew it would be a group of mostly or exclusively LGBTQ women. Queer babes celebrating a witchy holiday with a bonfire, guided meditation, and intention-setting: it was a blast. But getting dressed for the event was almost as fun for me as the event itself, because I had a sense of sartorial freedom that I rarely experience anymore.
Because there were no cis men in attendance, I felt weirdly free to dress how I actually wanted to dress, instead of putting on a “cool girl” costume of sorts. I decided my aesthetic for the evening would be “lesbian witch” with an element of the extraterrestrial, and I chose my ensemble accordingly. A drapey purple cardigan topped off a plain white T-shirt and some obnoxiously bright floral-print leggings. I slipped on my chunky biker boots and hung a rose quartz point on a chain around my neck. As the finishing touch, I clipped two poufs of tulle into my hair, one green and one purple, one on each side of my head, like alien antennae.
I felt powerful in this outfit. My usually-soft femininity felt laser-sharp, aggressively focused, unapologetically intense. And I got compliments on my ensemble all night long.
I’m not a soft, delicate person inside; there’s no reason I should have to attire myself that way. A man who is intimidated by bold beauty will never be able to handle the deeper boldness lurking under my skin. Realistically, any partner who sticks around in my life will need to not only accept my assertiveness but adore it. So maybe I should start dressing more often in a way that shows off my inner dynamo.
It’s okay if some people think I look “weird” or “scary.” Those folks aren’t my key demographic, anyhow.