When I was in third grade, I told my mom that I wanted to cut my hair. I remember going to the hairdresser, getting my hair chopped to a chin-length bob, and how it felt so liberating to choose my own hair style. This was my first instance of self-expression. Soon after, my sharp bob transformed into a pixie cut (which my mom would spike up with Dippity-Do, my old hair gel of choice). During this time, I resembled a scrawny hedgehog, almost like Ciri’s dad in The Witcher. In case you haven’t caught on, I was a unique kid.
I distinctly remember a day in Grade 5, walking into the gym of my elementary school, when my style became a target. I was outfitted in a pair of my brother’s jeans, a sparkly pink belt and a navy blue shirt with a green alien on it. One kid quipped: “The only thing that looks like you’re a girl is your belt.” This wasn’t new.
Clothing has no gender
Growing up, I was always annoyed when I was repeatedly mistaken for a boy just because I didn’t fit into a traditional female stereotype. Although I wasn’t wearing pink and pigtails like many of the other girls my age, it did not mean that I wanted to be called a boy. I was a girl.
Clothing should not be gendered. The only reason that my peers and adult strangers assumed that I was a boy, or were confused by my style choices, is because we are taught in our society to think that certain clothing is made for “little girls” or “little boys” and that we need to adhere to those specific ideals. In reality, clothing is just clothing, and it is all about how you personally want to express yourself.
At the time though, I did succumb to the pressures of society. In order to try and mold myself into something more socially acceptable, I started wearing more skirts and big dangly earrings. This didn’t really help. While other girls around me were fashioning themselves to look like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, I was aspiring to look like Elton John performing Crocodile Rock. So despite my attempts to tame aspects of my style in order to fit in, I was made fun of by the other girls for not matching my clothes.
My style journey
This journey of trying to express my own style continued as I grew. I dyed my hair pink and shaved the side of my head in my first year of university but when it got too expensive to dye again, I let the pink fade and the bleach come in. During this time, I got a job that preferred natural hair. I dressed in business casual, lost almost 40 pounds and — for the first and only time in my life — I was a thin, traditionally-feminine blonde. During the year that I looked like this, I felt less safe walking alone when it got dark. More guys hit on me in bars and middle aged men often treated me in a way that was either patronizing or sweet. This didn’t feel right.
My traditional style has always led to a lot of staring, borderline glaring (usually from older men) but I don’t mind. I’m happy being myself, I like myself and I don’t care if people think I’m less “pretty” or “acceptable.” However, it can be frustrating that I am treated differently on the days that I choose to dress more “masculine” and less “pretty.” Of course, it was not better when I was more aesthetically pleasing to a lot of men, because I felt patronized and vulnerable. It’s as if, when men don’t find me sexy, I have nothing to offer them because of course a woman is just her body, right? Fuck that.
Fuck your ideals
Since then, I’ve gained back the weight, my hair is cut shorter, dyed pink and blue and the side is shaved again. I’ve gotten more large tattoos, a septum piercing, and am back to expressing myself accurately through my style. I’m happy.
Women are not just a body to behold or a pretty face to mansplain to in order to make yourself feel big. Women are who they are to themselves; a being that holds infinite power, way beyond sexual magnetism. I am not my body, I am me. My place in this world isn’t to please and to make the public feel comfortable with my aesthetic presence, it never has been. Not when you were confused about whether I was a little boy or a little girl, and it definitely isn’t now that I’m an adult woman. It does not matter how I dress, clothing does not define my gender because clothing has no gender; it doesn’t have to match, and it’s no one’s business how I want to look but my own.