When I quit my job in November of last year, I told myself that 2013 would be the year of saying "yes". So, when I was asked to be a part of the BlogHer13 Fashion Show, I did just that - I said "yes".
In the days that followed, I had to have measurements taken, had to figure out dress sizes and ring sizes and had a conference call to discuss bra color and foundation garments. There were moments when I felt that I was visiting a foreign country and didn't speak the language.
On Friday, I arrived at the Sheraton in Chicago for my fitting and the style team went to work. I tried on several outfits before they chose one for me - a long white suit jacket, a silver, satin fitted camisole, cropped white pants and black and silver oxford shoes. It's an outfit I never would have chosen for myself but, as I looked at myself in the mirror, I did my best to make peace with it but then they added large black earrings and a long black, beaded necklace and I thought for the first time, "I can't do this."
Pushed over the edge by accessories.
I left on the verge of tears.
Throughout the day, I talked with my friends and told them I didn't like the outfit I would be wearing and didn't want to wear the accessories. The conversations were short - quick words in passing, filled with emotion because I felt raw and vulnerable in a way I hadn't in years. It is one thing to step outside the boundaries you've set for yourself. It is another thing to do it in front of hundreds of people.
But quick conversations do not allow for nuance or depth and, without those things, people make assumptions. In this case, people assumed the source of my discomfort was that I was being asked to be more feminine than I normally am, more feminine that I felt comfortable being.
But it wasn't that at all.
People look at me and think that I don't have a sense of style but I do. I care about the fit of my shirts, about the color and feel of the material. I care about the type of cuff and the look of the buttons. I care about the way my shirt looks tucked into a pair of pants, about the way the belt sits on my hips. I care about the way the pants feel when I run my hands down my thighs, the way they fall on my shoes.
People look at me and see my short hair and notice that I wear no make-up and think that I don't care much about my appearance. But let me tell you, I am as vain as they come.
And this is what I know - the world is a stage and we wake each day and decide the character we will play.
We reach into our closets and choose our costumes. We dress for effect, to project to the world the person we want to be. We dress to impress, to intimidate, to seduce. We dress for comfort. We dress to conform and we dress to stand out. Some people do it without thinking but I do it with great intention.
My objections to the way I was being dressed for the fashion show came down to style. I felt the color was wrong for my skin tone. I was concerned the satin top was not good for my body type. I didn't think the cropped pants were flattering. As for the accessories, they just weren't hip enough for me.
None of those things have anything to do with femininity.
So, there are some things I need you to know...
I told the woman who was doing the base that I hadn't worn make-up in 30 years and her eyes went wide and she said, "I won't do too much." I told her, "Do what you do. Don't worry."
I told the woman who did my eyes that I would be walking without my glasses and wanted my eyes to stand out. She smirked, "You have beautiful eyes. Let's really make them pop." I said, "Do it all." Her smile got bigger, "Even false eyelashes?" "Yes, even those."
I told the woman who did my lips that I had never worn lipstick in my life and she said, "Well, um, let's go neutral then." I held up my hand and said, "What color do you think you should use? You're the expert." She smiled and said, "Mulberry?" I said, "Do it."
When it came to my hair, I simply said, "If we're going to do something, be bold."
By the time I was done, I was ready - hair, make-up, suit and none of the accessories that had bothered me so much.
I spend too much time worrying about what other people think of me but, by the time I took my place in line and waited for my turn on the catwalk, I was over it.
I'd said "yes" and when I stepped on that stage, it felt pretty damn good. Of course, who wouldn't enjoy hundreds of women screaming for you?
Since then, I've seen comments about me being in drag. If you think I was in drag on that stage, then you don't understand what drag means or don't understand much about me. I am very feminine though the way I present in the world may not fit that image for some. I did not feel that I was performing as someone I'm not. I felt like I was playing with my own ideas about femininity.
Because sometimes, femininity looks like this:
And sometimes, femininity looks like this:
At least it does to me.
Later that night, when the party was over and we had returned home, Deborah stood with me in the bathroom and we leaned into each other and stared into the mirror at my face that was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I will always be grateful that she was there with me in that moment because she knows me and I didn't have to explain why the moment felt both celebratory and sombre, like saying hello and goodbye. I peeled off the lashes and Deborah helped me scrub my face and we took our time and laughed and talked about my hair and what it might be like for me to wear eyeliner from time to time. And when we had done all we could do, there were still faint traces of eyeliner and, somehow, that felt right.