(Vintage dress, Pamela Love and random necklaces, hidden Madewell boots. Photo by Emma)
So I wore this outfit to Pitchfork and felt beautiful, I felt comfortable, I felt like I was displaying the truest version of myself to the world. But it'd be disingenuous of me to not mention a tiny, nagging voice in the back of my brain.
"You're too old for this."
"Oh shush," I replied, tying up the laces of my boots. "I am a Grown-Ass Woman. I can do whatever I want."
"Exactly. You are a grown woman. And you're leaving the house in a see-through prom dress and a dead flower stuck in your hair."
I thought briefly of Piper Chapman's stint in the SHU. A voice kept her sane, but this was the voice a real human, or a figment of her imagination (I'm leaning towards real)? Are we oftentimes dismissive of little inconvenient truths that stop us, briefly, from performing an action that could have unforeseen consequences? Outcomes that are either totally fucking inconsequential or catastrophically ruinous in some regard?
YES, YES I KNOW. I know that I am not actually old. I know that I can do whatever the fuck I want. I know that Advanced Style exists. I know that ageism is ugly, that it is a tool of a patriarchy that dictates that youthful attractiveness should be the end goal for all women, and we are damned if we don't live up to that impossible ideal. I know that little voice I heard is full of shit.
And yet, for as liberated as I fancy myself, I couldn't shake this socially-constructed conscience from nagging at my heart strings. A lifetime's worth of indoctrination has told me that as I age, my appearance should mature, lest I become a Pathetic Thirtysomething Desperately Trying To Reclaim Her Youth. This caricature of women demeans our age as a indicator of life experience, and instead a stuffs us into a box labeled "Dried Up/No Good". I'm not 30 yet but I can't help but feel a cultural expectation that I have to change. That I have to start wearing slacks and Celine and Michelle Obama cardigans. That because youthfulness is the baseline standard of female attractiveness, trying to preserve bits of it is both an unspoken goal as we age, but it can't be too obvious or the snide remarks of patheticism begin."You're too old for this, too old, too old, too old..."
Growing up is really fucking awesome because for the first time in my life I feel like I can handle bullshit. Minor life annoyances no longer reduce me to emotional rubble (well not everyday, anyway). And I credit feminism with helping me overcome toxic thoughts about my body and the bodies/lives of other women. But we all know that our own thoughts do not necessarily correspond with our beliefs. This isn't hypocrisy; it's human nature, but it's also the result of living in a culture that raises us from birth to adhere to a strict standard of beauty. There is an enormous difference between Knowing something and Feeling something, and few things are more unpredictable than our emotions. Luckily I posses the wherewithal to roll my eyes at my own silly thoughts. But I can't lie and pretend that I don't have those thoughts sometimes, and that they trouble me.
Every single day is a uphill trudge in maintaining a body-positive outlook. We are fighting a battle in which we are sorely outnumbered. So when we inexorably succumb to the beauty standards that we hate, we mustn't hate ourselves, the hate lies in the System that has planted these ideas in our minds.
We live in a world in which it easier to loathe yourself than it is to love yourself.
I love my body and what it can do. And I love growing up, and getting to know myself as an adult. But there will be moments in which that love falters, because to love yourself is not unconditional love; while the notion of such is certainly appealing, it is neither possible nor realistic. Not in this world. So I offer this - stay true to yourself, and that includes acknowledging when you find yourself thinking regressive things. Body positivity is a conscious thing - it something that you must actively do, every single day. I whispered back to the voice "Are you real? No, you are not. You are the product of this patriarchy, and I will not allow you to hurt me."
With my boots laced, I stepped out of the house in this old prom dress, and went about my day.