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Mirror, Mirror: A Reflection on A Sartiorial Journey


I've been absent for the past week with a few VERY GOOD REASONS. Firstly, I've decided to make a capsule collection, because I felt like giving myself something to work towards in terms of my new-found love of self-made clothing. I have about 5 projects I need to get out of the way first, but I've started preliminary sketches, and I have yet to make a budget plan (because let's face it, who else is going to buy me an insane amount of white faux leather). Secondly, I might just be a journalist for my school's annual fashion show. I got a job description, and to my knowledge, this job and the media I'd be working with have yet to be created, so it'd be my job (along with a few others', presumably) to create, gather information, and write for a blog(how 'bout that!) and a magazine. I was planning on finishing up the application Saturday, but I spent more time that I planned thinking about all my time constraints, mostly extracurricular and pretty personal, but I've finally decided to take a chance and do something that involves teamwork. I do still have a mock write-up to do, though, so that's going to be my task for the rest of the day.
As summer slips away, it's most natural for me at this time to imagine how cool and fly and swagged out I'm going to be in the upcoming school year. And as someone who loves the ideas of reinvention and self-betterment (I've lost count of the number of times I've changed the blog's layout in the past year), I'm always looking for ways to best present myself, both inside and out. I've had some time over the past month and a half to not only catch up an unholy amount of shows, but also to reminisce about my sartorial journey thus far (heavily influenced by cultural reactions to gender and skin color, so if these topics make you uncomfortable, you have about 2.75 seconds to run) in an effort to better understand what I want to do with the blog, and more importantly, fashion, in the future.

I, like many adolescents, behave strangely most of the time, either due to "the awkward phase," or just a natural predisposition to flout social norms. Sometimes, both. The first thing I became aware of in my formative years was that I was poor. Sure, the first thing I heard was that I was Black, but I didn't think much of it. I remember asking my mother whether what the kids at school had said was true: were we poor? And she looked at me with such resolve and passion, and asked me if I felt poor, if I was ever deprived of anything I needed. The short answer was no. There was a radio, computer, TV, couches, tables, chairs, food, family, and I always got any book I wanted (and some that I didn't want). My many fleeting hobbies were indulged, from knitting to singing to drawing to painting and playing piano. But I began to realize that there was a social advantage to having more money. Did it necessarily improve your "quality of life?" Depending on your socioeconomic status, not really. Was it nice to have? Most likely. Soon after, I began to experience the discomfort that came with being a "stereotypical black kid" in the 4th grade. The only other black female in my class was quite well off, and could afford to buy presents for people's birthdays, go to our friends' houses, concerts, and most importantly, she knew how to swim. And y'know, I was the kid in the skirt 3 sizes too large because "I'd grow into it." It wasn't the most difficult of lives, not by a longshot, but who wants to be drowning in cotton during dodgeball?  I lived my life, not caring to be a "hot" girl in middle school, but still pining after every boy who was polite enough to say hello to me. When applying to a competitive high school, I remember a friend of mine asking me to rank our top choice as my second choice, because, let's be real, I'd get in anyway, since I was black. But they'd probably pick a black girl over an Asian girl any day, because they have a minority quota to fill. And that was when I realized that some people believe skin color to be so much of an advantage that they'd feel cheated in any scenario where a case could be made for race. And so I decided race blindness was the way to go.

That is, until a pseudo-boyfriend of one of my best friends told her over AIM, unaware that I was in the same room, that she was more attractive than I was for a few key reasons; while we were both exceptionally weird and ate too much ice cream and laughed too loudly for our own good, it was okay for her because she was a small, cute Asian, and I just scared all the boys off because I was black and strongly built. Was I really deemed unworthy by prep school males because of things I couldn't control? At first, I just became very aggressive when it came to boys. I thought that if I forced them to get to know me, they'd realize I was AWESOMESAUCE and want to put a ring on it. When that method became rather unhealthy, I just began to hate my body. I wanted to lose weight, get lighter skin, make my boobs bigger, get longer hair, use contacts, get Invisalign, and be taller. Luckily for me, the worst of it lasted for less than 10 months (though every so often I look in the mirror and think about how much nicer life would be if I were prettier, how I wouldn't complain if I got catcalled once in a while...which is completely wrong to think, but, let's face it, I'm human).

This is where fashion came in. I decided that if the aesthetics I was given weren't quite cutting it on their own, I was going to dress 'em up until I could capture one person's attention without saying a word. I wanted all the people who didn't know I existed, or who'd been put off by my aggressiveness, skin color, thin wallet, or general unattractiveness to look twice. I wanted to dress my way to power.

{DISCLAIMER: I do not suggest using this as your main reason, because it's not actually healthy. It doesn't necessarily work. And most importantly, you're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it to get back at others. No matter how benign making people regret not giving you a chance seems, it is still revenge, it is still destructive, and it is awfully hard to not spiral out of control.}

By the middle of 12th grade, my motives had shifted and I was now dressing up because everyone complained about the dress code, and I wanted to see how creative I could be with my outfits without breaking any rules. Doing that brought me the peace of mind I'd lost when I was looking for the sadness in certain people's faces. Those people didn't mean anything to me. I didn't know them. I shouldn't care what they thought. But I'd been pushing away the people who did matter, my friends. And I wanted to make them happy. In fact, I made more friends in my last two trimesters in high school (mean kids of the past included), because I woke up every day to see someone smile. My attire became a tool. I realized that a lot of people, whether or not we admit it or are aware, look at attire and then a face. In this society, our faces is not your most valuable asset; our belongings are. So I thought, hey. If I shoot this person a smile when they work their way up to my face, both of us are happier for it.

This seems like a natural stopping point for the story, because the protagonist (that's me!) has found her true purpose in the sartorial world. Sadly, not so. I believed myself to have shattered enough people's perceptions of race and class in high school, leading to my being categorized as...myself. I was anything I wanted to be, and anything someone wanted to relate to. I was a pseudo-thespian and a pseudo-jock. I was a concert band kid and a writer. I was an artist and a misfit. I was Black and "spoke white." I was bad enough at math for everyone to know, but not SO bad that I was considered stupid. Didn't get in trouble, but was always active. Life was great. In college, however, I realized I had to do it all over again. Here were people who didn't know me, who didn't care to make time to know me, and were content in judging me against the actions of everyone who might look like me. I was an attention whore and a disgrace to blacks, and everything in between. I was asked by a peer to stop dressing ostentatiously because people would assume that my attire made me stupid, and thereby stereotype all blacks on campus as stupid. I was quite appalled. The first semester of college is when my social activist lean began. How dare you use completely inappropriate terms to define someone you don't know? How dare you project the actions of one against the potential actions of all? How dare you ridicule or congratulate me for not hanging out with "enough black people" and tell me to my face that I'm not "really black?" And, most importantly, HOW DARE YOU THINK I'M DOING THIS FOR YOU?

Which is where the conflict really kicked in. I was doing this for others, or at least that's how my high school career had ended and my university one had begun. But if I was so enraged at the presumptuousness displayed by complete strangers as to why I dress the way I do, why was I doing it? Boys weren't the issue, attention wasn't the issue (though I have cut down on going out because of disgust at the way society teaches and allows men and women to treat one another - measuring worth by one's level of attractiveness), self-hatred wasn't the issue. I can't tell you that I've got it all figured out, but I do know that I'm closer to the answer than I was since my last reflection, which was coincidentally, almost exactly a year ago today. The ability to express oneself through words or images is a powerful gift. As a blogger, I cannot let it go to waste, regardless of what niche I'm in. I have no choice but to use the clout I have and will garner in the future through the web to take a stand for causes I believe in and want to spread the word about. Fashion, now a very important part of my existence, will always be a tool. It will always have a purpose for me.