I’m currently reading ‘Bodies‘ by Susie Orbach. I’ve never quite got round to reading ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’, so this is my first experience with Orbach and I have to say, she’s got some pretty bloody interesting things to say for herself. In a nutshell, Bodies basically explores how, in the last thirty or some years, our whole concept of what a ‘body’ is has changed from being merely the physical structure housing a person, to being the sum of what a person is, and as such, something that we must now ‘perfect’ in order to ‘perfect’ ourselves as people. Or bodies must be tamed, made to conform to ever decreasing notions of of what is physically acceptable, or we will be found wanting as people.
This made me laugh (wryly):
‘People whose wardrobes are so various, jangled and changeable as to engender in the observer a sense of not knowing who they are encountering from one meeting to another are not living easily in their bodies.’
For a large portion of my adolescence and early adulthood, this described my wardrobe perfectly, and whilst I knew even then that I wasn’t ‘living easily in my body’, I never connected my sartorial promiscuity precisely to that fact. I just imagined I was too damn hip to be tied down to one fashion tribe.
But then I guess I did kind of make the connection eventually. About ten or so years ago, I came to the quite startling revelation that every single item of clothing I’d ever bought and never really worn had one thing in common: they were perfectly good items of clothing, but only for people who weren’t me. More precisely, they were for the person I wanted to be. Even more precisely, they were for the people I wanted to be; because when you want to be anybody other than yourself, there are a lot of choices. It took a little while to rid myself of inappropriate clothing choices completely, but from then on in, I couldn’t stop myself from asking Is this me? Or is this the glamourous Soho private club member who is universally considered to be the life and soul of the place and who occasionally crawls across the piano in a sequinned shot-to-the-hip number and croons soft show tune interpretations? Or is it the stylish Left Bank intellectual who spends her day reading Sartre before donning a YSL mac and spending the evening drinking absinthe at the Zinc bar, later picking up some skinny-hipped youth and orgasming over Simone de Beauvoir? Or is it… You get the idea, I think.
A lot of choices.
And as I got older I began to find it increasingly ridiculous if I did purchase something which the answer to Is it me? was no, no it really isn’t. I had fondly thought that I was just growing up, but I realise that I was ‘growing in’, growing into myself. And in much the same way as women under the age of about 35 almost universally find it impossible to attain the ‘capsule wardrobe’ so beloved of fashion magazines, I could no more have limited my fashion ‘choices’ when I was younger than I could have made sense, in any shorter time than I eventually did, of the events of my childhood and the effect they had on me. I had to grow into my self – into my actual self – before I could accept my body for what it was and clothe it accordingly.
I think it’s because of my own journey that I have endeavoured to encourage Boogie to be unthinking about her own attire, to view clothes as simply coverings which change according to season and activity. I want her not to have to walk the same journey I did. I want her to just ‘be’ in clothes in the same way I want her to just ‘be’ in her body. I want her to ‘live easily’ in it. Given the preoccupation we now have with the body and the clothes it wears being projections of our very selves, however, I wonder whether I have done the right thing. Boogie may not yet judge her own body, or her own clothes, but others will, and indeed already do (apparently, she ‘dresses like a boy’, said with a smile of faux-concern). Am I effectively preventing my daughter from understanding the relationship between how you look and dress, and how you’re treated by others? Is it possible to teach her to understand these things without making them chains to bind her with? Is it possible to teach her to comprehend others’ perceptions whilst at the same time making her aware that she doesn’t have to accept those perceptions as relevant to her?
I’m honestly not sure, but one thing I do know: if she does end up on the same journey as me, I’ve got way more wrong that giving her the wrong clothes.