In addition to pay gap, catcalling, and general gender discrimination, women-identified folks often have to deal with body policing. From the minute we step out into public, we must be conscious of our body presentation. Are we wearing too much? Are we not wearing enough? Is anything see-through? Are we asking for it? Do we even know what “it” is?
Although fashion is meant to be an extension of identity, women are far too often forced to reconcile the difference between their private and public selves, often choosing to look “presentable” instead of feeling comfortable. The remark “you look comfy” used to make me scrutinize my outfit choice and wonder if it was appropriate for public – as if style and comfort should not go hand in hand. Even though I find myself shopping more frequently in the “male” section of clothing stores, my gender expression can range from overtly feminine, in the normative sense, to androgynous. The complexities between gender, identity, and fashion have forced me to reevaluate my standards of body presentation and wonder why I care about society’s discomfort.
I rarely wear a bra; in fact, the only times that I find myself choosing to put on the cotton equivalent of boob jail is for professionalism or when I feel uncomfortable not wearing one. I’ve also not held a razor to my armpits or my legs since the summer, mainly because I can’t be bothered, somewhat because I’m trying to stick it to “the man”. These actions first resulted either accidentally or out of laziness, but now, my active rebellion and abstention from these societal mandates have resulted in me feeling more in tune with my femininity and less gendered simultaneously.
While societal pressures result in some people getting up hours early to perfect their look, I prefer to sleep until the last possible minute, get up, get ready, and get out the door. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to put time into your appearance, but I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from robotically doing what I felt like I needed to in order to feel desirable according to society’s standards. The first time I went without a bra, a result of a late wake-up and me still being half asleep, I felt exhilarated. After I spent the first half of the day walking like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I relaxed and even felt pride walking.
Through my adventures in gendered rebellion, I realized that feeling proud and being able to walk tall despite the stares was what I had been aiming for since middle school. Deciding to go razor free and braless had less to do with me wanting to appear as a wild feminist, which I am, and more with comfort I found with my body. Once I decided to make like Rage Against the Machine and take the power back, I felt pride in being an owner of cleavage (kind of), areolas, and nipples. I recognize the small-boob privilege in being able to walk without a bra and only illicit a few stares, but this is the problem with society. Breasts are arguably the single most policed body part. Society says when, how, whose, how much, and in what contexts cleavage, areolas, and nipples should be shown. As long as they are small and perky, noticeable nipples are fine but anything bigger should be covered up. Mentalities like this are rooted in shame of the female body, a form that was once highly celebrated in art, literature, and society.
This journey has been constant self-exploration and a test in pushing boundaries. I started off wearing sweaters without a bra, which quickly changed to thick shirts, and now I’ve been known to swear chiffon shirts, both opaque and translucent, without a bra. I went from hiding unshaven legs under pants to wearing a floor-length dress with a high slit and shorts with my hairy legs.
Everyone has a different body, and yet, we are given standards of maintenance that are universal among genders. I love making people uncomfortable; hopefully it allows for self-reflection as to the reason for the discomfort. I have been able to appreciate my body in its natural cisgender female-identified state, which I recognize is not the case for everyone, but I have also been able to transcend gender norms that require me to identify as one, and only one, gender.
The fluidity in gender is mirrored in my disdain for standards that require extra effort or discomfort. I can show off my pride for being an owner of breasts, but I can also wear “men’s” shirts without feeling like my body wasn’t made for them. Not shaving my legs has saved me a ton of money and time, made me feel like a badass body-positive feminist, but it has allowed me to closely align myself to the male form, if I so choose. The expectation in society is that men are to have body hair, thus, this allows me to feel like I’m a part of the boys’ club. Like at any given time, I can lift up my pants and compare my leg hair with the guy next to me.
From undergarments, hair care preferences, and clothing choices, I have decided to value my comfort and choose my own standards of presentation. I realized that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do and no one is going to feel the discomfort but me. Sometimes I want to wear dresses and lift my arms up on the dance floor, sometimes I want to wear bow ties and feel ruggedly hairy. But in both these situations, the most important factor is the “I want.” If I’m walking down the street and you notice my bralessness or hairy armpits/legs, try not to stare. What you’re seeing is a sometimes girl/sometimes boy/sometimes both/sometimes neither enjoying the freedom of comfort. My public self is not dictated by normative standards but by my own values of body expression. Fuck it.