But Vanity’s a Sin

Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream. Donatella Versace.png

How many dresses do you own?

Didn’t you just go shopping?

How often do you polish your shoes?

Why are you so obsessed with where this came from and how much this cost?

I get asked questions like this more than I like admitting. And that may surprise people. We see fashion and clothing as vital parts of self expression. What you wear isn’t just about clothing your vulnerable meat shell from the elements, it’s an important part of expressing gender, race, interests and more. It sends a message when I wear a graphic t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie. It sends a message when I wear a 50s skater dress. And cosplaying shows very clearly that I obviously like being the center of attention.


Heavy. Short. Scarred.

Those are the things I have to say about myself.

But you’d likely never know that based upon how I dress and take care of myself.

I have a multi-step Korean-inspired skincare routine that takes me from clay mask to face wash to sheet masks to serums. I dress well. Many of my friends give me a hard time about how extra my fashion sense is. Recently, I’ve been stepping up my clothing for work, as well. And people have taken notice. My signature timeless style of dresses with pitch black tights have been well-documented. I like shoes and purses and clothes. I like looking good and I like attention.

But I am also hilariously insecure about my body and my looks.

I’m worried about my stomach and how short my legs are. I’m worried that my butt is too big and that my chest isn’t big enough. And despite my skincare routine, I suffer from acne, large pores and hyperpigmentation.

I take care of myself because in those moments of self-care I am aspiring to feel more beautiful.

I dress well, I value my face and I discuss fashion because it helps me feel beautiful at least for a moment or two.

I cosplay to, for a moment or two, become a character with a level of confidence that I clearly lack.

I write characters with more self-confidence than I have.

I do these things in hopes of one day being able to pull that confidence into my daily real life.

Now, there’s no conversation about vanity that isn’t also met with all of the hypocrisy of being a woman and being encouraged to be modest while also being so confident that it hurts.

As a lady, I am told to be modest and not try too hard to be noticed. But I am also shamed if I go out in sweatpants I’m told that I should “dress up just in case”. I have vivid memories of my grandmother saying that I may meet my future husband anywhere so I should always look good.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the strange junction between a woman looking good and feeling good about herself while also then being called “stuck up” or “vain” or “high maintenance” for caring about how she looks. Let’s also not forget that if I wear a low cut dress or a tight shirt that as a biological female I am “asking for it”.

The whore/virgin dichotomy that extends even to how I dress fascinates me and that applies to females as well. To women, at times, my choices for black tights, vintage patterns and low cut dresses and shirts is just as scandalous and offensive as it likely would be to one of my other Southern foremothers. I’m judged for wearing shapewear because I should “love my curves” while also then being judged for not having a smoothed out silhouette. That barely even covers the fact that people still feel the need to judge and comment how much I spend on clothing, serums, sheet masks and shoes. And unfortunately, I am not always mature enough to simply write off such comments. I’m happy to say where I get my sheet masks and where the dress was from and that only adds to the at times uncomfortable silences between “Where did you get that dress?” and “What did you do to your hair?”

It was only a few decades ago that a woman was more than mention that she spent hundreds on her hair, at least fifty to make sure she was entirely hairless and that her outfit was likely hundreds of dollars not to mention the thousands in jewelry or additional hundreds in makeup, shapewear and more. But humility is once more en vogue so mentioning how the more attractive sausage is made is now less a virtue and more a vice. The rise of social media influences has reversed some of this modesty. Now, it’s once more to spend a lot of money and time on some things. It’s alright to have brushes that cost you hundreds but your clothes should be perpetually thrifty. I’m supposed to wear little to no makeup but am also judged for letting my hyperpigmentation and dark circles remain uncovered on my face. Not long ago, an older acquaintance commented on the fact that I should wear lipstick more often.

Vanity works in a certain price bracket. It works for a Kylie Jenner or a Violet Chachki but it doesn’t always work for a social media manager who has a penchant for cameos and too much foundation. It’s not always alright for me to spend forty or so dollars on concealer but the dress I got at Goodwill equally raises concerns.


My perceived vanity helps me cope with my insecurity. Wearing a nice dress or getting my highlight just right help me feel better about how I look. When I was younger, I was told to value my looks and as I got older, I was told to value my mind. There was no middle ground. Either I focused on looking great or I focused on being a studious young woman. The idea that one is judged based upon clothing and style were drilled into me as a young one. I had a part to play and my family knew that no matter what I wore I’d face being sexualized, exoticized and fetishized: there was no room for error for sloppy dressing or anything like that. But all the while I was told to worry about how I looked and told to make sure I looked my best and took care of myself.

That all took a backseat for a while and I stopped caring about how I looked outside of costume because I was sexualized and fetishized no matter what. I’m fortunate enough to have come back into my own style-wise and hope that what many read as vanity in me just trying to cope in a world that doesn’t always value a lady with cellulite and acne scarring.

Stay beautiful, fair readership: in all the ways that word entails.

 

At the Intersection of Fish and Fab

 

“And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.” ― Lady Gaga.jpgThis may be a surprise to literally no one but I love drag culture. And while I have my issues with the LGBT community and even my issues with RuPaul’s Drag Race, I am proud to call Ru “Mother” and I love the roots and history behind what drag is today. I love the steps between Tandi Dupree and Sasha Velour. I love that when faced with a mainstream culture that would not yield that so many LGBTQ folks just built their own culture. And while drag culture has been influential it has only recently been mainstream. All of that mainstream limelight has now become an influence to so many other creators. So today I want to talk about cosplay, fashion and how I connect to being a better cosplayer and person through drag, music and high art.

I love fashion. Clearly. I cosplay. You don’t get into cosplay and not want all eyes on you. And that being said I also do love fashion in general. It’s no wonder that Paradise Kiss is one of the few shojo animes I can tolerate. I love watching a good garment come together. I love the styling and the efforts people have to do so an outfit comes together. I’ve been watching a lot of Marco Marco shows online. Marco Marco is a designer who specializes in men’s underwear and leggings but that also extends to conceptual dresses and avant-garde body pieces. If you’ve never seen a Marco Marco show, you should. Like seriously, it’s all on Youtube. Just watch one. I’ll wait.

Are you done? Awesome, back to the show. I love the way that Marco Marco plays with gender, body shape and uses elements so foundational to the LGBT culture like voguing and ballroom couture as parts of his show. The way music plays into every show and every look is pivotal. But you already know that since you watched at least one show now, right?

But let’s take a step back. Let’s go back to a simpler time. Let’s go back to the 70s. Voguing in the drag community is a dance style. Depending on who you ask Madonna did it first but most drag mothers will say she took it from the drag scene. And it’s exactly what you think it is. It’s serving fierce looks and fierce dancing mostly with your hands and arms but a good Vogue routine should be a full body experience. Think disco ParaPara. And being able to pull a look together that you could lip sync and serve face to was vitol and influenced drag culture for decades. Things didn’t get impractical until the Club Kid era in the 80s-90s. And that has continued even now. We’ve seen mainstream fashion take cues from drag and LGBT icons like Grace Jones and RuPaul. We’ve seen fashion shows become pop culture spectacles again as opposed to these haughty affairs for the upper crust. The way music plays into fashion is huge for me and as a kid who grew up with things like DanceDance Revolution and ParaPara where your clothing can actually impact your score. ParaPara is what got me to always end in a pose when it comes to cosplay and having to remember that your gender affects your score in ParaPara links it back to music, fashion and form. There’s nothing like cosplaying while dancing and having your friends cheer you on or egg you on so you either graciously succeed or comedically fail.

Fashion’s a tricky subject for a girl like me. At my smallest I was still plus-sized and I did my best to dress my body and dress to my tastes which is always something in between sailing in Martha’s Vineyard and prep who probably took your boyfriend in sophomore year to androgynous vaguely edgy but somehow still preppy bog creature. My style has evolved some from high school to college to young professional. But drag has always inspired me. Playing with shape and proportion. And despite how plain my exterior can be, I do have a serious passion for fashion. I love Project Runway and shows like it but more importantly my heart always comes back to RuPaul’s Drag Race.  The way big girls dress themselves and the way the majority of these biological men can use the power of clothing and makeup to transform into women that are not gonna lie prettier than me.

Needless to say, I watch a lot of Drag Race when I’m working on costumes. It’s good background noise and the beats of the music and the sounds of men as women fighting over who wore it well. And all the while RuPaul’s encouraging words keep me steadily sewing and painting within the lines when required. And when I have to sit down and think about it, I am so inspired by these fashionistas and trendsetters when I work on my costumes. I want to be a better makeup artist because I can see what Kim Chi can do. I want to style and put pieces together because I know Latrice Royale can style her body so well. I want to conquer my anxiety and perfectionism because I know Katya can and did get over hers. I look up to Violet Chacki and Raja for how well they can serve face and I think about that every time I overdraw my highlight line or don’t go far enough with my eye shadow.

We all have plenty of different inspirations and drag and fashion happen to be two of mine. I work hard to be a better cosplayer because I know Mother Ru would want me to. RuPaul is like my patron saint of fashion, a statuette of her sits on my mantle that I have to provide offerings of thread, lace, ribbon and glittered candles. Drag motivates me to try dyeing fabric and painting my nails even though I’m wearing gloves. Drag motivates me to be more aware of my accessories in and out of cosplay. And when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you let that light show to the rest of the world.

 

Body Positively Shamed

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.Coco Chanel.png

I am a shapely thing and by shapely I mean I have a shape. Round is a shape. I think at my smallest weight post-puberty I was maybe 180 lbs. I’m also only 5’1’’.  But in all of that, I’ve always struggled with finding myself “empowered” by my body. I’ve never felt attractive or pretty in conventional senses and I feel the most “in my skin” when I’m in costume. So with the recent trend of “body positivity” I’ve been caught between a rock in a hard place.  How does one stay true to who they are while also embracing positivity and not shaming anyone and not be shamed themselves?

I’m not one for crop tops. I’m not one for super short shorts. I dislike short skirts and dresses. I don’t like showing off my stomach and if I can hide my imperfections, I’m much happier in a one-piece swimsuit than a bikini: hell, I just recently started swimming in just the suit and not in a full t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit. But with this lovely trend of “being body positive” and “ignore the haters” it’s been encouraged that women of all body shapes should wear whatever they want. And they should. If it makes them comfortable.

I love seeing big girls in crop tops and skinny girls in oversized t-shirts. I love seeing men in skirts and women in suits. Wear whatever the hell you want. But don’t feel like you have to compromise who you are. At the end of the day, I’m a relatively conservative dresser (even in costume be it male or female). As said before, I’m not comfortable showing off my midriff. So even though I think the girl on the boss rocking a crop top is fierce, it just isn’t my style.  And I will never condone anyone shaming someone who feels comfortable in what they’re wearing. It’s difficult seeing plus-sized models rocking an outfit and being shamed online with some of the most hateful venom I’ve seen online. It’s disappointing. What’s even more disappointing is mentioning that it isn’t exactly my style to wear something so short and being told that I should just “loosen up” or “be more in tune with myself”. I am in tune with myself. And that means I don’t want to show the world my stretch marks.  

Body positivity from what I’ve understood it means accepting who you are and I’m not ready to accept that I have zero torso and wide hips. I’m also getting older. I’m a Southern lady. There’s no excuse outside of a Truman Capote beach party that I as a person pushing 30 to wear a mesh crop top. No shame to the gents and gals at Pride rocking the same look, though. I’m short so that doesn’t mean that I want to wear heels that would make it easier for me to reach the dishes on the top shelf. But it comes from a legitimate place. Women’s bodies are hilariously (and by “hilarious” I mean it’s demeaning, cruel and disgusting that this is still a thing that happens in 2017) policed by mostly men and sometimes other women. Women are told not to wear certain things and they become the targets of criticism if they dress a certain way. And with such a history of being told what and how to wear things I get how bigger girls and guys can bristle at being told simply to lose weight or diet before wearing something. Fun fact, if it was that easy sometimes to lose weight I doubt obesity would be the problem it is in most of the developed world. And there are such a variety of body shapes that occasionally even relatively healthy people can be bigger in clothing sizes then you’d expect. Additionally, telling plus-sized models all the “health problems” that come along with being of size is just tragic at times. I am fully aware that my size puts me at risk for countless things, you know what the number one cause of mortality is? Being alive. If cheesecake shortens my life then viva la cheesecake.

But one thing I keep coming back to is there’s a difference between dressing for your body and dressing as you want. I can’t wear maxi dresses, I’m short, I look like someone threw fabric over me and left me to rot in a cloth coffin. Ill-fitting clothes, shorts that are too short and show me more of your business than you may expect and other moments when fashion fails you are somehow different from “policing bodies” as it is just “fashion knowledge”.  

When I was younger, I loved What Not to Wear and I still love Project Runway. Fashion is important to me and knowing how to dress your body is vastly important: and it’s easy to be a feminist and still desire modesty. I don’t consider myself any less a feminist if I’m showing off my neckline than I do if I’m covered up. And what I wear to mass or a sacred place is vastly different than what I’d wear out with friends or even to convention. There are sometimes that certain pieces of clothing just aren’t appropriate and claiming “body positivity” isn’t helpful when it’s used to excuse inappropriate fashion choices. A flower crown may be great for Coachella but less than ideal for a job interview.

I mentioned cosplay earlier and it’s one I wanted to pick back up briefly. I started cosplaying many years ago and quickly felt uncomfortable as insert generic Japanese school girl costumes. So I found crossplay and made a mark cosplaying as male characters. I felt far more empowered bound and in pants then I ever did in a skimpy miko costume. Suddenly, if I was objectified, it was on my terms. Suddenly, I had control over how much skin I was showing. It wasn’t until I was much older that I felt comfortable cosplaying Fem! or female characters again but I did so my way. I don’t show a ton of skin. I keep my dresses and skirts long. I cover up. I wear tights and usually shorts under dresses. I pick alternate character costumes and the times that I do show off skin it’s for small photo shoots. And it’s my history with cosplay that made me so comfortable at times ignoring or augmenting clothing items. When you’re my height and weight it’s very difficult to buy anything off rack to tailoring, hemming and adjusting colors and seams became second nature.  The additions or subtractions got to be fun signatures to me while also asserting that somewhere under the confused former punk turned prep aesthetic of my current wardrobe that there was something uniquely me in there somewhere.

The moral of the story is stay confident in what you want to wear. I leave the house plenty of times in a graphic t-shirt and a skirt or skinny jeans and I’m damn near 30. Tall girls, wear heels. Short girls, wear flats. Men, continue to slay the makeup game and contour better than me. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. And respect what others are wearing to make them feel comfortable. For so many people fashion and what you wear is so much more than just fabric. It’s an expression of gender identity. Of pride. Of what you love and what you stand for. And whether you’re out and proud or modest, be kind to each other and what their wearing. Each outfit tells a story and each story deserves to be told.