One of the most unfortunate aspects of venturing forth into the public sphere is that it requires us to witness other people's unfortunate sartorial choices. I seem to recall Fran Leibowitz doing a whole riff once on the horror of "polka-dots" or t-shirts printed with pithy messages ("If we don't want to hear from you, what makes
you think we wish to hear from your shirt?"). I myself shudder at the sight of grown men wearing baseball caps turned backwards. How do we screw up the fortitude to leave our houses every day, given the barrage of visual abominations we are forced to contend with: flip-flops, tattoos, Scrillex haircuts... yoga pants?
My only concessions to vanity these days are (1) having my hair professionally colored on a strict monthly regime, and (2) biweekly manicures to maintain my "perfect" acrylic nails. I blame the cross dressing circle I sometimes hang out with for the latter indulgence. Their nails always look fabulous: I know one cross dressing engineer who sprays his press-ons with model enamel and an air gun. (Their wigs, sadly, are another story.) For all I poke fun at the cross-dressers, who sometimes represent to me "the worst of both worlds", they have taught me a lot about how to perform my gender. (And I knew that I had overdone my makeup when I was identified as a cross dresser in a gay bar once.)
It's not that I've become indifferent to fashion. I love pretty clothes. It's simply that I enjoy seeing them on other people as much as wearing them myself. Maybe that's a function of my age. As we get older, and our youthful beauty inevitably wanes, we turn outward, away from the mirror. So we take up gardening, painting, photography, and other hobbies that invite us to look beyond ourselves for visual pleasure.
Unless we're Iris Apfel, that is.
When I was younger, it was an ongoing challenge for me to find fashionable clothing that fit, even though I was only a size 16-18 in college. In high school, it wasn't being fat that held me back socially so much as not having the proper clothes to wear for dances and sports. As a result, I learned to configure "uniforms" that basically consisted of jerseys and jeans, or black knit pants and blazers that could have doubled as kevlar armor. I managed to look presentable (albeit a bit matronly), but dressing remained a chore, never a pleasurable means of self-expression. That's why I find the young "fatshionistas" (of widely varying degrees of girth) on blogs like Hey Fat Chick fun to follow. Most of their get-ups would not be "age appropriate" for me (i.e., too too short), but sometimes I get ideas about what I could wear, and where I could obtain such items. And I'm always inspired by their gumption, their joyful defiance, their refusal to be repressed, ignored, or "shamed." A young fat woman nowadays has an array of choices that would have
boggled my mind thirty years ago. (Unfortunately it is also true that
unless she lives in a large city, she still must shop primarily online, which requires its own skill set.) And although I am not a "fat apologist" by any means, I celebrate that young women of all sizes can enjoy dressing in ways that exercise their creativity and make them feel good in their own skins.
A former student flagged me down as I was crossing campus. As is often the case, I apologized because I couldn't remember her name. "That's OK," she said. "It was fifteen years ago, after all." "But still, you remembered me," I said. "I recognized your dress," she said.
So this has been making the rounds, both in manosphere and feminist places: rape-repellant sportswear. It's been amply pointed out that whoever engineered this getup is absolutely clueless about rape prevention, since he/she thinks that it is merely a matter of preventing a penis from entering a vagina. In the case of stranger rape, what are the chances of this saving your life at the point of a gun? Still, it made me chuckle a bit as I recalled how I devised my own "anti-rape" outfit while I was traveling solo from Kabul to Istanbul when I was 22 years old. I basically wore a lot of tight layers: underpants, layered with a pair of stout tights, and on top of that a rubber girdle. Over this I wore a slip, a blouse, a sweater, a jumper dress, and a coat. Boy, it was hot in there. Also, going to the toilet (overflowing squat toilets, mind you, on moving trains) took me about twenty minutes and gave me quite a workout. However, I did encounter one incident in which my home-made rape prevention outfit was called into action. Going through eastern Turkey, the conductor fetched me out of a "family" compartment where I was happily hanging out with a troupe of friendly Kurdish folks, and forced me into the back of the train, where an empty car had just been added. He then proceeded to (attempt to) rape me. He didn't have much luck. He was a relatively slight man (probably about 150 pounds) and I was a stout woman (probably about 175 pounds), and I immediately employed a kind of passive-resistance technique, curling up into a ball on the seat, like a very large hedgehog might. He couldn't even cop a good feel; with all my layers of snug, thick clothing, groping my breasts and buttocks was probably as exciting as patting down a well-upholstered couch. Frustrated, he began smacking me on the shoulders (fortunately not in the head, which was the only exposed part of my body), and then finally stomped out of the car, whereupon I immediately made a beeline back to the safety of my Kurdish family.
When I complained to one of the male members of the family, he asked me wearily what I had expected, traveling alone? At least he couldn't blame me for the immodesty of my attire.
There were a few such scary moments to come, however careful I was to avoid being isolated or surrounded exclusively by males. The aggressors and would-be rapists were almost always men in positions of slight authority, i.e., hotel keepers, ticket agents, museum guards. Women, if they were in the vicinity, were usually quick to come to my defense.
I considered trying to pass as a man, but my body type (in those days, distinctly pear-shaped) and childishly round face made that difficult to achieve in western dress. And, as a Turkish friend later pointed out, would hardly have made less of a target of rape in those parts of the world.