MY THOUGHTS: Don't Dress For Your Body

by - March 20, 2018

I want to preface this by telling you guys that I am not a fashion blogger even at all. I mean, if you've ever read this blog you already know that, but I felt like I should really drive it home. I am not a fashion blogger and I am not even really fashionable. I think when I was a little bit younger, I fancied myself fairly fashionable and paid more attention to putting together interesting outfits and trying out trends, but if I'm honest, these days I'd choose leggings, crew necks and flip flops or moccasins over pretty much anything else made of clothes.

However, I don't think the conversation about "dressing for your body" is one about fashion at all. Not really. And I think that as a woman who tends to spend too much time thinking about the way the world talks about and treats women, I don't need to have an interest or background in fashion to have a few things to say about this issue.

I remember back when What Not To Wear was popular on TV and so many people were tuning in every week to see what Clinton and Stacy had to say about what strangers were putting on their body. I was absolutely one of them. In retrospect, around that time there were a lot of shows like this that I think exploited and shamed people under the guise of making them better, and I hope that if TLC decides to bring this show back they take a few cues from the Queer Eye reboot, which focuses more on encouraging people and giving them confidence rather than tearing them down to build them back up again. I also hope that they stop telling women to dress for their bodies.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that there's anything wrong with a person choosing clothing to highlight or disguise certain things in order to make themselves feel more confident or beautiful. That's not really what I'm talking about here. We, as individuals, don't make those choices in a vacuum, and my problem is more with the "rules" of dressing for one's body and the implications of them than the choices that individuals make and how they feel about those choices.

In my life, I know a great many beautiful women - and almost none of those women have what we're told is the "ideal body type". As far as I can tell, the ideal body type according to the people who write these kinds of posts is long and lean with perfectly symmetrical curves. While this is a body type that some women do genetically have - those women are not the majority and with all of the different body types that we as women have, we are shoved into this idea that we should choose clothing that will make us look as close to that ideal body type as possible. Short women should try to look tall, bigger women should try to look smaller, althetic women should try to look more curvy, etc. etc. It has never made sense to me why no one calls out the fact that this is body shaming disguised as helpfulness.

As I was researching for this post, here's a quote from an article I found that just really drove home the problem for me. "Very few women have an ideal body shape. However, when you understand your body proportions and a few tricks, borrowed from the art world, you can dress for your body type and create the illusion of the perfect shape!"

You know what? Pardon my language - Fuck that!

Think about it, all those rules are about highlighting the things that fit that body type ideal, hiding the things that don't, and tricking the eye to make you look closer to it. Dressing for your body is never presented as a way to celebrate the body that you have, but instead a way to make your body look the most like the body you're "supposed" to have. And it's bullshit. It's misogynistic bullshit that tells women that we're not good enough as we are.

On the surface, it can almost seem like it's no big deal. Most women don't like something about their bodies and it can feel good to know how to hide those things, using those tricks can make you feel more confident in your clothes. Nothing wrong with that - I think all women should be encouraged to seek confidence - but there's a few fundamental problems with this way of thinking when you look deeper. 

The idea of the "ideal" body type is just an idea. It's not real. It's not backed up by anything. And if you look throughout history, even recent history, it's always changing. When I was in my formative years, the waif look was oh-so-fashionable and as I was coming in to my naturally pear-shaped curves, I knew that my body didn't fit into the ideal and I learned to feel shameful about it. In the oughts it shifted to a more althetically curvy ideal, like the Victoria's Secret models that were everywhere and "ideal" was a toned body that wasn't too muscular and still had curves. And now we're seeing more of a focus on impossibly generous, but still proportionate curves with full, round posteriors and large breasts being valued more highly. However, while it changes, one thing remains the same... The fashionable "ideal" body type is never inclusive, it never celebrates the diversely beautiful shapes that women come in, and we learn pretty quickly all the things that exclude our bodies from being ideal pretty quickly.

So what is my point of all this? I feel like rather than telling women to rely on clothes that trick the eye to feel condfident, we should be allowed and encouraged to feel confident about what's actually there rather than what we're convincing people is there. Beyond choosing clothes in the right size, don't dress for your body. Dress for you. Wear what makes you feel happy and confident. You CAN wear that colour or cut or style if YOU want to. We don't have to be limited by our body shape or our age or the restrictions that we put on ourselves, and our beauty should never be defined by an "ideal" but by our own reality.

Because this is the internet, a place where it's commonplace to not stop and think about the message before running away with it, I want to be very clear. None of us are making choices in a vacuum. We all have those things ingrained into us from years of being told that our bodies are wrong. And we will all continue to have those things in our heads as we make choices in the future and I'm sure most of us will still choose the clothing item that is the most slimming from time to time. And that's fine. Like I said, this isn't about the choices of individuals, but the wider messaging that comes with the idea of dressing for one's body, and I want to see a world where little girls don't learn that the way that we as grown women did. 

I like to think about this the very same way I think about makeup. I know that there are a lot of issues when it comes to women and beauty. I know that it's bullshit that women face judgement when it comes to makeup on all fronts, from not wearing it at all to wearing too much or not enough and on and on. I know that I don't love makeup in a vacuum, I know that the fact that I love makeup is in part because of cultural influences that have informed those feelings, but I still choose to wear it because I love it and I will defend that right to the end. I will also defend any woman's right to make her choices when it comes to makeup whatever those choices may be. And I think that we should all be aware of those things when we're making those choices. It should be the same with what we wear. 

We should be allowed to feel beautiful whether we adhere to cultural norms or not. But we should also be aware that enforcing those cultural norms and telling women how to best present themselves as women is damaging to our self esteem, to our experiences as women, and to our ability to live our lives to the fullest. So let's just... try not to do that anymore, shall we?

So, no. Don't dress for your body. Dress for yourself. Dress for your life. Dress to feel good in your own skin. Dress to celebrate the body that you have, one that carries you through your life and that you should love and appreciate. Dress to express who you are, rather than who you think you're supposed to be. Or don't, I suppose. Make the choice that feels best for you, but do it recognizing that we don't make those choices in a vacuum and that there are a lot of things that we've been taught about ourselves and the way the world perceives us that are just gendered bullshit.

I don't know if this was helpful to anyone, but I sincerely hope that it was. 

Thanks for reading!

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