Be you, gorgeous
People's sense of fashion or style of dressing, make-up, and accessorising are all deeply personal - and no one else's business
When you are a woman, people have a ton of opinions about what you should or shouldn’t be wearing. Especially so when you do not meet the standard criteria for what society considers “attractive”. You are expected to make yourself more attractive1 and appeasing to the male gaze, yet when you do, you are labelled too vain. It is a hustle and you cannot win.
Fashion influences prejudices and the subtle, subconscious ways in which people form impressions. As a fat woman, it is hard to find reasonably priced and well-fitted clothing that lasts. Lingerie is especially hard to find. Ironically, so is activewear.
I have always hated clothes shopping — it can be hard even as a normal-sized person, because clothes sizes are so arbitrary and it is impossible to keep track of one’s size when it varies so much from brand to brand2 — but it is especially draining when you have to hear comments like, “Oh, this is only xl, it won’t fit you” or “She’s always getting bigger, we never know her size” from your mom or sister.
When I was younger, I'd sometimes be told to dress a certain way — often in some kinds of “Western clothes” because they made me “look thin”. I was also told about how a lot of other kinds of clothes were unflattering on me.
Nowadays, every family occasion is a fuel for nightmares, as I dread having to wear ethnic clothes and listen to people comment on how unflattering something looked on me after I’ve changed into something more comfortable — they say it with a sigh of relief, as if I had assaulted their eyes.
When I dress in ethnic/traditional wear to work (which is often, because I feel comfortable in it), I have seen people make assumptions about what kind of a person I might be, what my intelligence level might be (and what kind of money I might make), even what kinds of values I might hold. I'm one of the most liberal people around - just because I dress traditionally does not mean my ideology is from the 19th century. Yet, I've had peers exclude me for dressing ethnically - I'd be typecast as a stick in the mud for looking like that.
People have sometimes gone as far as to criticise my use of make-up or how I accessorised because they thought of me as vain for doing that. And not just vain, they thought of it as especially unbecoming of me because this was in an academic setting and they considered it vulgar that someone traditionally “unattractive” like me should spend so much time on how I looked and presented myself.
One of my professors3 once commented about the earrings I wore to a lab in my second year of undergrad — I do not remember exactly what he said, but I do remember how icky it made me feel. I am someone who loves to accessorise my outfit with a different matching or contrasting set of earrings and I made sure to never do that in any of his classes or labs ever again.
I once had someone I dated tell me months after we split up that he thought of me as a poor dresser. By that point, this person was not someone whose opinion mattered to me. But as a fat woman, if I had heard that from a current partner, it would've been devastating — because I am already telling myself all that stuff when I look in the mirror, I don’t also need to hear it from someone who I want to be attracted to me.
People’s opinions around make-up, thankfully, seem to be changing — I see less and less people commenting on how much or how little make-up someone wears, but it is still a relatively new win. When I entered the workforce 8 years ago, I was still afraid to wear make-up, at least like I wanted to. It was a tightrope of wanting to look professional and presentable while straddling the notion of looking unprofessional because you’re “too made up” or looking “tired” if you don’t. Now, I feel far more comfortable wearing it however I want or not at all.
It is essential to recognise that not everyone feels comfortable in all kinds of clothing or make-up, and sometimes it even changes from one day to another. We all want to look good, because looking good often has a short and direct relation to feeling good. We have come to that realisation repeatedly these days (given our pandemic remote work schedules) — all we need to do is get out of our nightclothes and into proper clothes to feel good and ready to tackle the world head on.
As a general rule, we would all do well to remember that we are not doing anyone any favours by telling them that something looks unflattering on them or that their fashion sense sucks - their bodies, their choice. You do you, unapologetically.
On that note, here’s a picture of me in all my glory as Chandramukhi 😂🙈
According to research done by Mahalik at Boston College, the 4 main traits women must show to conform to gender norms are: be nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources for appearance.
The same professor shamed me another day in the same lab for not knowing that the protein BSA (bovine serum albumin) was obtained from cows — none of my classmates knew either, and I just took a stab at it and guessed that it was taken from eggs because I knew that albumin was a protein found in egg whites. He acted all congratulatory at my knowledge and said, “Why don’t you tell all your classmates where BSA comes from?” I thought he was being genuinely supportive and appreciative of me till I started telling my classmates and he began to laugh at my face. I wanted to share this anecdote because we all face shame in different forms, and shaming students in a setting where failure and learning are a part and parcel of life forever changes how students show up in class and learn. He could’ve been encouraging of the fact that I knew albumin was a protein present in egg whites, and it could’ve been such a wonderful teachable moment for all of us if he’d taken the time to explain protein sources and language such as “bovine”.