How I Express Feminism in the Way I Dress (or Not)

 It looks like Santa's sleigh!

It's Fashionable Feminist Day in this lil corner of the blogsophere. And I don't consider myself a fashion blogger (I still can't say "I write a beauty blog" with a straight face), but there's certainly overlap. I've always enjoyed playing with makeup more than I have shopping for clothes, and in fact the latter usually feels like going to the dentist. As great as it feels to occasionally put together a bang-up outfit, the fact is most of the time my mind just doesn't work that way. I try to wear what looks good on me and what I can put on without thinking about it too much, and leave it at that.

But the minds behind Fashionable Feminist Day asked this question: How do you express your feminism in the way you dress? And my answer surprised me.

Fact is, I don't. In fact, sometimes I dress in ways that go against my feminism. I think we're all past the point where we can say that the answer to "Can feminists wear high heels?" is a loud, heel-stomping "Yes." Because, duh, it's fine for feminists to want to look hot, because we're embracing our sexuality, and if that means wearing stilettos that means wearing stilettos and YOU GO GIRL, you ROCK ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF.

And, okay, I'm fine with that--but if we end the conversation there, we're robbing ourselves. Of course there's nothing wrong with feminists wanting to look pretty! Most feminists I know are! But I can't escape the fact that when I don a pair of high heels, I am prioritizing the line of my leg over comfort, mobility, and health. (I have lower-back issues, so this is a health issue for me.) Still, I wear them, and like them, and like the way I look in them, and indeed like the way I feel in them—more put-together, more sophisticated, more polished. Just like the makeover that won't die, wearing heels expresses a part of me that often goes silent. I like hearing the click of my heels on the pavement; it makes me feel like I'm a part of what makes this city so special--more so than when I'm, say, sitting at home in my yoga pants despite having done no actual yoga today (does doing the neti pot count?). But that professional feeling--that slick, city-girl feeling--is about my abilities and work history, not my shoes, right? Or at least it should be, because isn't that the entire goddamn point of this feminist thing?

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel conflicted about the way I sometimes present myself. The minute I prioritize my looks over my own personal comfort, I am doing something that goes to the core of what I believe--about myself, about gender roles and expectations. It's not enough for me to say that it's fine to be "feminine AND a feminist" as if that's a surprise to anyone. Sure, some still equate feminism with hairy-legged man-haters, but the company I keep has progressed beyond that point. It's not enough to just say "Oh, it's my choice so it's fine": It is my choice, yes, but wearing shoes that can't carry me comfortably for eight hours isn't a choice I'd make if wearing high heels didn't connote something about myself as a woman that I wish to project. I don't damn any woman for how she presents herself--I don't think--but I do know that as full of bravado I might feel leaving the house in a cute pair of heels, by day's end I'm wondering if it's worth it.

So, what can I do as a feminist to reconcile my self-presentation with my politics? I can ask questions. I can explore the reasons why we wear what we wear; why we present ourselves the way we do. I can listen to the smart, sharp feminists who don't feel this conflict, either because they've fully embraced the contradictions or because they've made choices that are more aligned with their politics. I can listen to non-feminists too, and learn from them: Not every woman who shuns makeup and dresses solely to please herself identifies as a feminist, and they have lessons to teach me. And every woman I know, feminist or not, has given thought to the face she presents to the world. Whether she critiques it, engages with it, challenges it, or jumps in wholesale, it's not a blind choice, and there's an intention behind it. Looking at those intentions is at the heart of what I'm trying to do here at The Beheld.

I don't expect to come to any grand conclusions or even to change my actions--I like wearing high heels, I like having that extra little oomph. But without examining it, or by blithely stating that it's my choice and I'm a feminist and so therefore it's a feminist choice, I stop short of the place I'd like to wind up.