both anna and anu have considered what it means to be feminine and womanly. my style selves may be multiple, but the primary axis my style ponderings revolve around is femininity. since the notions of feminine versus masculine and womanhood have been and are being analyzed by more scholars than i can count as i write this, i will say very little of generalizable ideas, but will concentrate on my subjective experience and thoughts.
as someone who takes her pomo seriously, i do not believe in a biological basis of womanhood. (and no, i do not mean that we are not bodily beings and that i don't have ovaries; i just do not think it has much to do with how we understand what a woman is or should be.) what we understand as feminine is a culturally produced performative, an active partaking in the repetition of actions and styles categorized as feminine and masculine. and, yes, we do perform the masculine as well to create an intelligible feminine, because a binary is not comprehensible without it's negation.
my upbringing was not traditional although it probably wasn't atypical for mid-seventies: my mother steered clear of creating pressure for traditional expressions of femininity and made sure i never felt certain things were out of my reach because i was a girl. i was a tomboy princess with a vivid imagination.
from very early on, i was aware that i wasn't a pretty girl. i was the kid with a thin angular face who was congratulated because of her wits or talent, but was never the object of cooing or admiring pinches on cheeks. i claim that being pretty or ugly is both a culturally objective state but also a subjective way of being, and i've never associated myself with being pretty. it does not mean that someone might not think i was pretty or beautiful or that i had never heard of such a thing. neither does it imply that i didn't want to be considered pretty. to put it bluntly: being pretty does not imply feeling it and vice versa, and part of our identity is a reference to a level of prettiness, i think.
physically i grew into a gawky teen. i was extremely thin, myopic and had bad skin. lack of body fat translated into a late bloomer and i think i got boobs around my 18th bday. luckily i wasn't teased (at least to my face) so my feelings of not fitting in were the result of self-observation rather than being cast out.
my subjective experience of being a teenage girl was based on being recognized as one by men (on which i congratulated myself) and comparing myself with the confessions my friends made about their experiences. i grew into a woman who bases a fairly insignificant part of her self-esteem on looks and, simultaneously, takes a relatively large amount of time and effort to think about the exterior.
since i was a little girl i was fond of fashion. i left school one day on the third grade because i felt nausea over socks that didn't match my outfit. ever since then i knew not to leave the house unless properly dressed; if it didn't feel right, i knew my day would be ruined. it still applies to a certain extent. this, by no means, meant that my taste or desire for expression was anywhere near conservative.
as a person who keenly observes i soon became aware of how looks could be utilized: i taught myself the rules of seduction and coarseness, and was capable of changing a look from approachable to hostile with a few carefully chosen accessories. i have probably tried almost every single look and made it work. the chameleon is everything but extinct from my being, but has become subtler with time.
the last ten years or so i've hovered around similar styles of expression. my personal look has become a careful balancing of feminine and masculine, usually pushing it slightly towards überfemme by utilizing masculine codes. because what is the ultimate femininity if not a combination of both binary elements with an added strength often associated with masculinity? sure, creating femininity with feminine signifiers works and is often recognized as safe and comforting. but a play of opposites can fortify the intended effect to an extent that reveals the artificiality of the performative. in my case i've never felt the need to push the boundaries away from a recognizable woman, though, but have been seen as a little boy more than once in my life.
to sum it up, i don't do obvious femininity or cute. i am not girly nor am i very soft. on a more subjective level i have felt uneasy with a traditionally feminine or classic style. perhaps it comes down to my face: if everything else in my appearance is feminine and balanced, my face which isn't exactly feminine becomes exaggeratedly not so. in plain english, i look like the ugly girl i am. i also realized that the most conservative (and boring) of men are drawn towards the safely unattractive but feminine girl. sorry boys, you're predictable...
my interpretation of my uneasiness with my looks is most prominent in my longing for androgyny: with long hair i've felt the need to cover up my body which is recognizably womanly and curvy these days. an integral part of me wants to deny an obvious femininity by disturbing the whole. by cutting of my mane, i can deal with my physical womanly features better. a bald head challenges the ideals of womanhood in ways that reflect the edge i require to face the world. as a choice it invites responses that are sometimes hostile (especially from older women) although positive feedback is probably more common. bravery comes up quite a bit, and it may be a bold move because the locks of a lady are one of the most prominent signifiers of femme.
but because i am not a self-sufficient being, i must reflect briefly on the most important aspect of what it means to be a feminine me. as a woman i am, and want to be, an object of desire and admiration -- and i am not saying this is a gender specific need. in my case this does not mean trying to get as many compliments from random people as i can -- quite the opposite, because i am rather selective on whose feedback i take seriously -- but having the acceptance of my nearest and dearest. before cutting my hair i shed a few tears only because my sweetie would not give a straightforward answer on my decision: my greatest fear looks-wise was that i ceased being beautiful for my loved one. it was a relief to realize that my own posture grew straighter and i saw admiration in the eyes of my sweetheart...
how we feel about ourselves as gendered beings is a reflective state of interaction with the people around us who all take part in the performative and act according to the matrix of gendered codes. ideals of beauty, motherhood, sensuality and such do not merely float in the air, but create integrally what is meaningful and intelligible about being a woman. challenging expectations in your own way force everyone around to reconsider their categories of naturalness, beauty, etc. to reveal the instability of our boxes for people.
looks do matter: essentially, politically and personally. however subtle one's reinterpretation of the matrix of gendered meanings is, i think we're quite often moving towards a less restrictive web of ideals. me thinks it's güt.