Shopping for clothes with my mama has always been a pain in my ass. From my elementary school years of wanting the polka dot patterns and Happy Bunny tees to my teenage years of needing that two-piece bathing suit and a pair of Sperrys, she’s never failed in responding with her usual stern look, followed by a simple “No.” Yep, no matter what fashion statement I’ve aimed for, my clothing preferences have never quite aligned with my mother’s expectations of my physical appearance.
So let’s fast forward to present day 2016. A smidgeon of American society is striving to advocate for body-positivity, sex positivity, and gender neutrality, and as a recent college graduate, you better believe I’ve been influenced. Mind you, not influenced to change everything about myself but to slowly unveil parts of my identity that I had otherwise chosen to keep from others. These newfound comforts and joys in my body, my identity, and my experiences began to leak throughout my physical appearances and clothing choices.
Loneliness? – pierced a ring through my nose. Mental Break ? – visibly tattooed my body and began to wear all black. Self-identifying as queer/poly ? – wore tight chokers and changed my hair to silver grey. Rejection? – chopped all of my hair off and dyed it bright purple. Seclusion? – grew out my leg and arm hair and began to advocate for cushy tummy visibility and appreciation…and the list goes on.
All of these beautiful modifications and transitions of myself occurred during time away from home, so the need to defend and explain each part of myself was unnecessary…until now.
August 20th, 2016, after years of living independently, I finally returned to my mother’s house with high-waisted black shorts, a black halter top, a black choker and rose quartz necklace, Doc Marten black boots, and a shaven purply-lavender head.
Her reaction? Staring with an exasperated look, it was as if she just didn’t care. But I knew I hadn’t gotten out of this that easily.
Sure enough, minutes, days, and now months later, my mother continues to scold me with that same stern look. Only this time, rather than a simple retort, there is conversation. “Why are you always wearing black?” “Why such dark colors?” “You don’t like to wear dresses?” “Do you need clothes Chantel, I’ll buy you some.” And of course my favorite, “If I was your size, I promise I would be wearing cuter clothes.” Ah yes, the back-handed compliment, with a light sprinkle of body-shaming on top.
But you know what? I don’t blame my mother for her blunt criticisms of my appearance. Instead, I compare her traditional beliefs to my own beliefs of women’s physical appearances to create dialogue and tension around why we choose to dress the way we do. Or are we really choosing for ourselves at all?
I realize that I’m back in the south where women are expected to be presentable at all times – meaning neatly combed hair, polished nails, shaven visible body parts- presenting oneself as a lady. This “lady-like” agenda was put into effect by men. Standards were created by men of what women should be wearing and in what manner should they be presenting themselves.
And to that I say fuck your patronizing patriarchal expectations and limitations on women’s bodies. Fuck the patriarchy for colonizing the minds of our parents and their parents and all those before them into believing that they must adhere to the expectations forced upon them.
My clothes are a part of who I am. They express my feelings, my experiences, my beliefs, as I choose each piece thoughtfully and confidently.
I wear black because I think it makes me look like a fucking bad ass. These black clothes against my black skin show that regardless of how much melanin I have I can still rock any color that I please.
I wear black because it reflects my emotions and mental health. At a time when I was swallowed by darkness, I chose to burrow deeper into it by hiding behind my drab-colored clothing.
And I wear black, simply because I love the color.
Because I choose to never put on a dress and always wear combat boots doesn’t mean I’m not feeling like a lady.
Because I continue to reach for the sun, displaying my fuzzy armpits and tatted arms, doesn’t mean you get to revoke my privileges as a woman.
Just because I choose to go to the barber and ask for a fade every two weeks doesn’t mean my gender and sexuality is instantly decided and categorized.
I do what I please when I please. I can stop when I want. I can continue for who knows how long.
I’m a fluid individual.
So these days when I load my shopping cart full of black clothing or items that are not “lady-like” and someone wants to question my judgment about how I dress myself, I’ll make sure to stop them before they start with a stern look, followed by a simple “No”.