I am reunited with my laptop after a weekend spent at Touba Diallo. More on that later. For right now, I would like to ponder over a discussion that I had with my mother. In short, she told me that she felt that I did not put put in enough effort into my appearance.The changes she suggested? Brighter colors, more ornamentation, and styled hair.
I replied, in a rare moment of saying exactly what's on my mind,with this rare gem: "If I was thin and white, would you feel I needed to make these changes?"
If you think of a stylish white woman , especially when she is thin, minimal ornamentation and neutral colors and "effortless" hair can be considered part of her coolness.transpose the lack of ornamentation, neutral beiges and greys, and understyled hair on a fat woman or even a fat woman of color and I bet your bottom dollar that many would find her appearance lacking, "sloppy" even. I find this outrageously unfair because if you have read any fashion magazine since the mid-nineties, there has been a place for minimalism and understyling. Is this place only for thin, white, girls? I surely don't think so!I think that anyone can look good with a pared-down style if they want to dress that way. I feel like the coolest girl in the world when I'm wearing neutral colors, barely any makeup, and slightly messy hair. I feel like Patti Smith.I definitely don't feel sloppy.
Among African Americans, there is this pressure to look good all the time.A black woman walking around with unstyled or badly-styled hair will get a fair amount of side-eye from other black women more than any white person in their life.This goes way back to when African Americans were encouraged to maintain a well-styled appearance in order to show that they were worthy of the respect they were demanding. I feel that the game has changed, where looking unstyled is the new cool "thing" among fashionable people.The closest way that African American women have been playing with the new rules is with Natural Hair Movement...to an extent. It seems that the only acceptable way to wear your natural hair is when it's styled in some way. There are as many tips for defining curls or styling natural hair than there are for doing anything with relaxed hair.
There is a sort of pressure to look fancy when you are fat as well. Big Prints and huge jewelry are the few things that bigger girls can pull off more than thinner girls...or at least we're told that. It is hard to find clothing without embellishment above a size 18.A simple sheath dress or tshirt is a treasure hunt (Hint: Gap's XXL fits much larger sizes, and their "favorite" brand has very simple cuts and colors). Trendy "Harem" pants? You can find ten of them in different stores and sizes. It's, once again, making only one mode of existence acknowledged in a world full of diversity.It's great that fat people are allowed to dress just as fancy as thinner people, but there are some sorely ignored styles.
Being fat and black, I have to deal with the politics of both aspects of my life. If there is no judgement for the color of my skin, there is judgement for the size of my body. Sometimes I am judged for the combination of both characteristics.having both identities and both types of judgement to deal with, it can get overhwhelming. Why can't I just go out with jeans and a T shirt with my hair in a simple messy bun? When a thin, white person is done up the same way, they are considered effortlessly fashionable.Why is it that when I dress the same way, it's because I didn't put in enough effort?When you change around the words, they mean the same thing, but in different sizes and colors.
My mother was surprised by my answer, because it never occurred to her that my appearance was a form of rebellion. Just like the Afro she sported when she was in college, there is a kind of subversive nature to looking less than "unkempt" in the cultural eye. Her mother, my grandmother, had looked upon her daughter's afro with confusion and concern. It wasn't styled, it wasn't ornamented. Her afro was just a magnificent sphere of her own hair. Because of that unadorned hairstyle, there came a way for African American women to express themselves beyond what society felt more comfortable with.My mother can now understand where I'm coming from when I don't dress up.She's struggling with accepting it, but I feel that the dialog has begun.