I’ll Look at the Sun and I’ll Look in the Mirror

Do you remember your fantasies about your physical appearance as a grown-up when you were a teenager? I have vague memories, but I remember I wanted to wear high heels (groan) and colourful nail polish (ha!). In the 90s, when I started attending university, I really was what I wanted to be: I dressed as a weird combination of Millie Kentner and Kurt Cobain, I dyed my super-long black hair blue once and wore blue (and then red) tattered Converse All Star hi-tops all the time. I didn’t have any tattoos or piercings yet, even if I wanted them so badly, but I was happy with the way I looked like. Despite a boyfriend who thought I had to be different and wear lady-like clothes and high heels, those were the years in which I realized the importance of self-acceptance and independence. Besides that boyfriend, whose mission in life was making me feel like shit for my physical appearance and outfits, I’ve never had people in my life who forced me to be what I didn’t want to. I’ve often asked myself where the difference between what we are and what we would like to be comes from. What are the elements which influence our self-image? What is the driving force behind physical – more or less permanent – changes we go through? Is it the patriarchal society with its sexualization of the female body? Is it fashion – the stick-thin models on catwalks and the abuse of Photoshop on magazines which gives the illusion those bodies are real?

As for me, maybe I should thank my super-ego for never letting me fall into the traps of emulation. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always wanted to be blonde, for example, but I’ve never dyed my hair blonde, because I know I don’t want to become a Donatella Versace clone. I’ve always wanted my boobs to be bigger, but I’ve never got a breast augmentation, because I have no intention to insert a piece of silicon into my body, just for my own vanity. According to Freud’s theories, super-ego aims at perfection, but it’s clear my idea of perfection doesn’t conform to the one which is socially accepted or supported. So, what has moulded the idea of what I wanted to be? It’s still unclear, but I’ve worked on that.

I spent most of my teenage years and my 20s like this. The picture above is a rarity, because I never let my hair down. I was at a friend’s house and she asked me to wear my hair like this just for the picture to be taken. I always felt out of place with my hair loose and as a control freak that was too much to bear. At the time I also wore a (s)watch and shoulder pads, one of the most dreadful nightmares from the 80s. What was the perception of my body at the time? Like most teenagers, I hated it, but my reaction was passive. Call it laziness or whatever, but going through any kind of change was not part of my agenda. It was a frustrating attitude: you want to change but at the same time you feel comfortable in your own skin; it’s not a question of being afraid of the unknown, but you just have something better to do than really worrying about your physical appearance and do something to change it. At the time, I also started wearing glasses – my first pair had a beautiful cat’s eye shape – which emphasized my self-controlled image. If I think about my role models, I loved Versace models, because they showed how diverse beauty can be, no matter what the colour of your skin or your haircut. Did I fantasize of being one of them? Of course I did, like any other girl, but what was the point of trying to become like them? They filled my fashion fantasies and inspired my make-up, though. I’ve always had a thing for “alternative” examples of beauty, because I knew I had to find someone to turn to as a point of reference, since mainstream culture didn’t help me. I liked Neneh Cherry (the sleeve pictures of Raw Like Sushi had such a strong impression on me) and both female and male symbols of Seattle and Olympia music, who have truly inspired my look and the way in which I dress.

Many years have passed and the attitude towards my image has remained quite unchanged. My appearance has changed a lot and my body, too. Sometimes I wish I was slimmer, I wish I had a will strong enough to start a serious diet, but I’m a master at procrastinating, so my hips keep on becoming larger and larger and I feel like the Venus of Willendorf (minus the big boobs, of course). Getting tattoos has completely changed my self-perception, because they have made my body actually more beautiful. In this, I totally agree with the explanation that Hannah Horvath (the fictional character played by Lena Dunham in Girls) gives when asked “what’s with all the tattoos”. She says she got them (they’re illustrations from children’s books) when her weight got out of control; getting tattoos is diverting the attention from your weight to a permanent decoration on your body, it’s an effort to take control of your body. When I was a teenager, my friends and I often spoke about mesotherapy and liposuction: they sounded like a magic wand to change your body. I’m pretty sure some of them turned to these slimming techniques to shape and modify their bodies but what’s the point? Women’s bodies are like battlefields: we undergo painful treatments to look good and wear uncomfortable clothes and shoes in the name of something which always remains vague [1]. Moreover, our bodies are a political battlefield – some people want to decide what is best for us and turn self-determination into a void. We are in a constant state of siege, our minds bombed with images of role models one should identify with (the perfect mother and housewife, the naughty girl, the devilish feminist, the ugly-but-nice girl and so on), and in such a condition I cannot help but ask myself: do I really want to spend my life trying to be someone I’m not? Trying to conform to an aesthetic rule to be accepted in the club of the so-called “cool people”? [2] I know these words sound a bit harsh, but all this striving and pushing and working on bodies is just pointless, or I’m just stupid/uncool enough not to see its point.

As for my present haircut, which is the most “shocking” detail of my physical appearance, it’s a dream come true. I cut my hair short last November, but I felt it was just a prologue to something more radical. I finally made up my mind and I got it cut last week. Getting rid of my hair has been a sort of liberation and it definitely represents another external step of my inner change, which started when I gave birth to my daughter. Before starting to cut, the hairdresser asked me if my husband agreed with my decision; I didn’t want to sound rude, but I simply replied I’m in control of my own image. There’s much to say about this question (are women’s haircuts supposed to be approved by men? What happens if a man doesn’t like the haircut of his wife/girlfriend?), but everyone can draw his/her conclusions…

[1] There’s nothing wrong in wanting to catch people’s attention and to dress/appear accordingly, but isn’t it annoying when women say they wear 12 inches “for themselves”? Do you think it’s true?

[2] This will surely put the final nail on my coffin, since I’m a fashion blogger who couldn’t care less about the fashion pack and current trends. Isn’t it ironic?

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4 comments

  1. Questo post è bellissimo. E Iddio solo sa quanta fatica io faccio a leggere i testi in inglese :D vorrei scrivere mille righe di commento, ma mi limiterò: avrei sempre voluto avere i capelli color rame, nell’abbigliamento e nel make up faccio una divisione tra “cose da Eli” e “cose non da Eli”, e non credo farò mai ricorso alla chirurgia estetica. Con gli anni ho imparato ad amare il mio corpo, anche grazie allo sport, all’alimentazione e alla spiritualità. Va beh, non vorrei fare un commento lungo più del post stesso :D

  2. Commenterò in italiano questa volta, perché il discorso è complesso e in inglese rischierei di non dire esattamente quello che intendo dire. A parte che questo tuo post tocca un argomento importante e sarebbe perfetto come lezione in classe (magari l’hai già fatto), ogni volta che scrivi qualcosa riguardante te stessa mi sento sempre più vicina a te e al tuo modo di pensare. Anch’io negli anni ’90 ammiravo le top model di Versace e naturalmente anch’io sognavo un corpo diverso, una faccia diversa ma proprio come te non facevo nulla, grazie iddìo, per raggiungere questi irraggiungibili canoni estetici. Quello che ammiravo diventava fonte di ispirazione, per correggere lo stile nell’abbigliamento, nel make up e nel taglio di capelli. A differenza tua, però, io ero più lady-like nel look ma facevo dei mischioni terribili perché allo stesso tempo avevo preso come punti di riferimento, Lady D e Winona Ryder senza perdere di vista però certe bellezze vintage come Audrey Hepburn e Grace Kelly. La moda grunge non mi è mai appartenuta (malgrado apprezzassi certi gruppi musicali rappresentanti del genere). Insomma ho esplorato a lungo prima di raggiungere uno stile che fosse mio e sto esplorando ancora. Ho finalmente accettato completamente me stessa, sia nel fisico che nel carattere e credo che l’accettazione di sè stessi sia uno dei più regali che il passare degli anni possa farci. E per chiudere, trovo che questo taglio di capelli ti stia benissimo e mi piaci molto di più adesso che nel ’91 : ) emani più sicurezza, grinta e personalità, insomma sei cresciuta bene ;)

  3. Chi é a proprio agio di fronte allo specchio é di conseguenza più sicuro,capace,potente.
    É fondamentale avere consapevolezza del proprio stile,acquisito con il tempo per alcuni,con impegno e studio per altri.
    Che siano tacchi alti,gonne corte,o cut estremi non cambia…

    La foto sopra parla chiaro,sei sicura di te,senza tanti fronzoli ;).
    A.

  4. It’s a brave post and very thought-provoking. That comment above is right: now you look at ease and confident, like you found your place in the world. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s motherhood. Maybe it’s the journey of self discovery.
    (the hairdresser comment was so rude, you should have told him something “outrageous” like you have a wife not a husband or something. ha)

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