Sunday, 25 March 2018

My fashion dilemma and my eyebrows

Image via: Glam4Good

Before I start, don't even bother to read on if you're only interested in a photo-log of my 'journey'. It's not happening. 

I've always had an antagonistic relationship with fashion. I was the first born, so mum had fun dressing me. And to top it off it was the 70s, so I was a freaking little hipster in floral smocks, corduroy overalls and red Mary Janes. When you have your first baby you enjoy adorning your new little bundle of joy in cute outfits. You get a ton of presents and hand-me-downs and you revel in your first opportunity to give your little 'mini-me' an identity. Within the first year though, you soon realise the importance and necessity of practicality. This usually follows your first experience of a colossal shit explosion, when suddenly Bonds onesies with zippers down the front seem like the only logical solution. 

I grew up in the 80s. It was short shorts with piping, tracksuits, glo socks (one pink and one yellow), jelly shoes, more corduroy, sloppy Joes and grandpa tops, denim and more denim. I was a teen in the 90s and that's when I went anti-fashion, because as a teenager, you're anti-everything, AS IT SHOULD BE.

It started slowly. My friends and I obsessed about INXS and that was my introduction to band t-shirts. I grew my collection steeply for the next decade: The Cure, The Stone Roses, The Pixies, The Clouds, Hole, The Beatles (it was retro), Lenny Kravitz, Rat Cat. I wore band shirts to identify my taste in music and reveal the concerts I had been to and therefore my personality. I didn't have a lot of money. I had a job from the age of 13 though, so I did have some and it allowed me to make independent choices about what I wore (and listened to); clothes and music were all I spent my money on. I remember saving up to buy my first pair of Doc Marten boots and it was exhilarating. To this day, when I feel like treating myself to something special to wear, I buy a pair of Docs.

I swung between Goth and Hippy - let's face it; the ingredients of Grunge, never committing to either and on some level always knowing that teenage fashion was just a bunch of bullshit to sell you stuff and convince you that you needed to 'pick one' subculture to fit into. The minute something became 'mainstream' was the second my generation, Gen X, rejected it. 

When I was perceived by others as Goth, it was because I was wearing black. I loved wearing black, I still do. I related it to my cultural heritage of the traditional Maltese dress called the Ghonella. Black is an easy and practical choice. I loved lining my eyes in heavy black eyeliner. It made me feel scary and powerful; a throw back to the days when mum dressed me as a Gypsy for Maltese Carnival. I have big eyes and when I line them they look huge and foreboding. If I didn't want to make eye contact, I wore black makeup because no one could look at me for long without turning their gaze away. It accentuated my rage. I plucked the shit out of my eyebrows. It was fashionable to have thin, arched, 1920s eyebrows in the 90s. They looked feminine, but they also made my giant black-lined eyes look even bigger. I dyed my hair black or blue black.

When I wasn't feeling dark I was indulging in the trend of bringing back 60s idealism, psychedelia and shit loads of Pucci and paisley and I dyed my hair red or burgundy. I discovered the local Indian fashion shop that sold beautiful cotton maxi skirts and dresses, cheese cloth blouses and paisley scarfs. They also introduced us to silver jewellery, gemstones, crystals and incense. Looking back and still today, I'm aware that I was possibly appropriating culture, especially more recently since piercing my nose. I haven't made my peace with any of it yet, but I have awareness. I just like what I like. Again, I'm sure my traditional Maltese peasant dress roots has something to do with my taste and definitely explains my love of crocheted lace. I had crocheted dresses and cardigans that looked like doilies and wore them shamelessly. I have previously written about my crochet addiction.

The dichotomy of black and colour suited my personality of extremes and I could go one way or the other, or a bit of both. I confused a fellow student at Sydney University during a first year Sociology lecture. When I met her I was wearing a black Robert Smith t-shirt, over a short black mini and black opaque stockings beneath my black Doc boots with purple laces. She was a proper Goth, only ever wore black and lace and described to me in detail what her funeral was going to be like. The next time we met up I had on a green and yellow cotton Indian skirt covered in Aztec suns, a Stone Roses t-shirt with holes in the shoulders and my black converse Chuck Taylors. She snubbed me! She was disgusted that I was bright enough to hurt her eyes and her dark, dark soul.  

Which brings me to my dilemma with clothes and body adornment/image now. I stopped dyeing my hair a few years ago. It coincided with me having three young children and making a bet with my hairdresser that I wouldn't cave. I've now fully embraced my greying hair and enjoy the discomfort it provokes in others, in particular, other women. I still get told things like "you're too young to go grey", when in fact I'm looking my actual age and the hairdresser (not the one who I'm WINNING the bet against) still asks if I will get a colour today. During my last haircut, I received unsolicited and extensive advise about dyeing my hair. I didn't hesitate to mention that my husband never gets asked about his greying hair and that I'd been dyeing my hair since I was 15 and knew all about tints, rinses, bleaching, peroxide, lemon juice, roots, foils and permanents, but had chosen to save my time, money and scalp and resist the need to be infantilised.  As women, we are not allowed to grow old. We are compelled to stay child like, free from body hair, coarse hair, white hair, wrinkles, crinkles, wisdom and strength. As we get older and lose our ornamental value, we become invisible. In the media, the workplace, public spaces and anywhere where power and influence lies. This is the general rule. Women break rules all the time. And the way to break this stupid rule, in my opinion, is to get old and get visible. Get hairy, frizzy, grey, louder, stronger and in everyone's face - like men do. When men do it we don't blink an eye. We commend them and give them a parade for being 'silver foxes'.

I'm fighting the pressure to address my body hair. I don't systematically monitor my body and spend time, effort and sometimes pain to make myself prepubescent anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still groom and shave when I feel like it. Literally when I get in the shower and go, "you know what, today I'm finding a razor and spending an extra 10 minutes shaving and moisturising." These efforts are getting to be few and far between. I literally can't be arsed that often. I've also stopped plucking my eyebrows. This has been really hard to stick to. I had thick, uneven eyebrows as a teen. I'm positive that I if I'd left them alone, I would have been able to just tidy them up and the caterpillar-brow fashion of today would have been entirely accessible. However in a bid to succumb to the pressure to look more feminine and less ethnic, I plucked the bajayzus out of them and now they WON'T FUCKING GROW BACK! Well that's wrong, that was just the initial panic, but my failure to give a shit meant that I have been able to neglect plucking them and ignore their asymmetry for long enough for them to bulk up a little. For when I'm going out somewhere and feel like wearing makeup, my discovery of a very subtle eyebrow pencil gives me the opportunity to colour them in (on a cool day when I don't have sweat pouring down my face) to even them up a bit. However, I will admit, that I'm paranoid that I've become that chick. The one with the coloured in eyebrows and not in a Kardashian way, but a disconcerting and strange way. If I knew then what I know now I would never have touched them and I wouldn't have made fun of that mum at school who drew her entire eyebrows on depending on her desired facial expression! When I colour my eyebrows in, I feel like I look like Bert from Sesame Street.

So, here I am; 42, grey hair, hairy legs and pits, coloured-in eyebrows and I have nothing to fucking wear. I hate clothes. I hate wearing them, I hate styling them, I hate looking like a Big W catalogue, because let's face it, that's what everyday people wear. Myer is for wankers. I have for a long time now refused to buy expensive clothes. I'm not that person. It would be a lie. So I buy cheap clothes, but I'm not that person either because, you know, I object to slave labour and disposable fashion. I would love to make my own clothes because I know what everything would look like. In summer, I'd wear cotton peasant skirts and dresses with tank tops and in winter I'd be in jeans (more specifically, elasticised jeggings) and slouchy tops. I envisage going out in pajamas as a fashion. Draw string and elasticised pants made of linen and cotton, and loose fitting tops with low necks so I don't feel like I'm suffocating. I could make my own clothes, but fabric is expensive and I have not the time nor the patience. I hate clothes, but I can't walk around naked!

So now, I look for a bargain where I can get it, at the big department stores or online. I'm still part Goth, part Hippy at heart, mostly dressing like a toddler, happily aging and breaking the so called rules. In the end, I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror and then for the rest of the day, people have to look at me so in fact, it's their problem what I look like. It's none of my business what they think of my attire. I know when I open my mouth to smile and speak, when I look someone in the eye to connect, that's when who I am takes shape. And if they can't see beyond what's concealing my nudity, that's their dilemma not mine.

Friday, 9 March 2018

When you grow out of toxic people

Image via Pixabay

I was once a doormat. 

Like most girls, I was raised to be nice, accommodating, polite, in control, quiet, easy going. When I say raised, I don't just mean by my parents. If anything, they lit my fire. The part of me that yes, does its best to be kind, but stands up and resists if I feel like I'm being abused or taken advantage of. I mean raised by society generally. I'm referring to all the little messages that told me my discomfort was something I had to tolerate in order not to upset anyone. In some ways, aren't we all conditioned this way? Isn't that the aim of good upbringing? To guide children to develop empathy by growing into emotionally mature and self-regulating adults, so that we can be fully functioning citizens and good, humane people? All good. That's what I'm helping my "just-out-of-toddlerhood" kids to do. No tantrums, acknowledge your feelings and meter your responses, relinquish ego and self-centeredness and do your best to be a positively contributing member of society and help others to do the same.

The biggest lesson we are supposed to learn as we mature is tolerance. Absolutely we need to be tolerant. It is the only way to make the most of and extend the time between when we are affected by something negatively and our response to it. The longer that pause is, the better our response or ability to remove ourselves. And when we fuck up, with practice, we get better at making amends.

Lately though, I have been thinking a lot about this question. When does tolerance become complacency? When does the strength to self-regulate and empathise turn into the weakness of being worn down and allowing ourselves to be abused.

When I had kids, something very vivid turned over in me. I don't think it was sudden, but rather an accumulation of a lifetime of getting to know my own limitations and what I could withstand, in both myself and in others. For others it might be another milestone that forces that change; a death, illness, divorce, sudden loss of income. 

It wasn't just about me anymore. I think when we become parents, we have this stark realisation that we are responsible and obligated to being the best version of ourselves so that we can model this existence to our children. Maybe it's not even about parenting as such, but instead a reliving or re-experiencing of childhood, by seeing the world through the eyes of our children, that forces us to re-calibrate.

I started being incapable of tolerating bullshit - and yes that's a quote from Jerry Maguire proclaimed beautifully by Regina King who played Marcee Tidwell, the pregnant wife of Cuba Gooding Jnr.'s Rod Tidwell. You can hear it here.

Actually, I was never capable of it. I think deep down we all know when something isn't right, but we aren't always strong enough or in a position powerful and autonomous enough to be able to articulate it, let alone push back. That comes with time and wisdom and privilege. Personally, I felt that sense starting to get stronger in me the moment I became a parent the first time and by the second and third kid (twins), I couldn't deny the force inside myself to demand what I felt and knew was right for the well-being of both me and my kids, and what I felt was just. I acknowledge that this can be subjective, but generally there is a universality to right and wrong.

Which brings me to the idea of toxicity. The topic is about toxic people, but I mean toxic situations as well. When I was younger I knew when something felt wrong, but I felt powerless to control my proximity to it. That's when my tolerance kicked in. I reveled in a sense of martyrdom and pat myself on the back for being able to withstand arseholes and shitty circumstances. Afterall, wasn't that what it was to be a good person? To sacrifice your own happiness for others and to turn tragedy into comedy. Surviving your pain and anguish and using those lessons to be a beacon of hope and experience to others. I still think that way sometimes and try to pass on what not to do or put up with to my kids.

But when my self-assuredness forced me to cross over, I started to feel that sense of invincibility, and I began to shed the people and situations that made me miserable. I started to see clearly the things I could neither change nor accept and I walked away. Easily. Without looking back. 

But that's not the end of the story. I'm still a work in progress, aren't we all? It is naive and unrealistic to think that you can do that forever and with every person and circumstance that feels wrong. Some things you simply cannot shed. Some people, some situations...well you simply have to make peace with them. And that is where I find myself these days. I'm tapping into that pool of tolerance, and it's currently very shallow, to find the ability in myself to rise above that which makes me bristle, that I simply cannot fix or walk away from, with the hope that the volume of the pool will replenish. What has shifted is that it's no longer about feeling like a powerless doormat, but a formidable warrior. And here is what is different. I'm naming it. I'm pointing it out and flashing a flood light over it. When my comfort is compromised, I don't pretend it's ok and I don't run. I vocalise it, I face it and I stare it down. Suddenly it doesn't feel so poisonous or dangerous anymore and more often than not, the toxicity dissipates or better still, the garbage takes itself out.

My tolerance is growing as is my empathy, but it's a different understanding to the one I had growing up, that I just had to be good and pleasant when things were shitty. I have come to the realisation that we are all toxic sometimes. What about the times when I'm toxic? I'm not always an arsehole, but I am sometimes, and I want people to excuse and forgive me when I fuck up. We're all fallible and when we start to see that, we get a bit of perspective. That doesn't mean we have to put up with bullshit people and situations and we all have limits and triggers, but acknowledging that to others we may be no different, certainly helps us to pull our heads in. Some people will leave our lives and it won't be pleasant. They'll be replaced by others and eventually we find the ones that are going to stick. The one person that will never leave you is you, and that's the person you need to make peace with.