That busy-ness, a few extra challenges at work, and a bit of sleep deprivation (once spring kicks in, I start waking with the birds and can't get back to sleep) had me really doubting what I'm doing on this blog. Somehow, my last post has me cringing at my self-exposure and wondering whether I should continue, and, if I do, whether I should move away from the clothes/style coverage. It's all too easy to imagine colleagues, students, or even friends and neighbours mocking not just the superficiality of my dalliance with fashion but worse, my assumption that I might know anything about it or that how I dress might be worth anyone's interest.
I'm not fishing here. What I'm trying to do is get back to one of my original goals for this blog -- writing to find out what I think, taking the space to register and analyse my feelings, observations, and responses. So I go back and look at my last post and try to think what it is that makes me cringe. First, there's the reaction many, if not most, women have to seeing themselves -- dissatisfaction with body size/shape. I zero right in on a waist that's shorter and thicker than I'd like. But again, not fishing, and for the most part, I'm getting better about accepting and even liking the way I look, and I try not to indulge thoughts to the contrary. No, I think that what primarily makes me cringe is the act of putting myself forward, as if for approval. What I imagine,and dread, when I look at the post again, is someone saying "Who does she think she is?" -- echoing the expression Alice Munro used as the title of one of her collections, an expression designed to keep people, especially young girls in Munro's tales, in their place. By posting my photos, I'm making a claim that I "think I'm something" or think I'm worth looking at or think my clothes combinations are worth sharing. Partly, then, I'm risking people thinking that I'm vain; in the uncanny synchronicity I've experienced before with Une Femme, she's written a thoughtful post arguing against the constraining accusation of Vanity and wishing for a word that somehow validated taking care with, and pride and pleasure in, one's appearance.
But if my cringing is not due to my usual dislike of the camera's truths about my body, neither is it simply a result of fear that people might find me vain. To get closest to its roots, I remember an incident from my teens. A late developer of whom it was once said in Grade 7, "Flat as a board and never been nailed" (by a classmate who I'm quite sure hadn't yet done any carpentry, despite considerable bravado, not to mention cruelty), I'd switched to a large (2700) public high school after doing Grades 8-10 in a small (less than 200 students) private all-girls school. Quite shy and intimidated, if intrigued, by the opposite sex after being segregated from them for years. One evening, walking home after work (a part-time job at the library, couldn't you have guessed?) down one of the central streets in New Westminster, I heard whistles from behind. I ignored them, but by the next block, there were more, and then more. Feeling a bit anxious, I just walked faster, wishing I could turn to see who was trying to get my attention, but positive that if I turned, I'd find a group of young men ready to laugh at me for thinking I was worth looking at. Not until I was nearly home did I hear my dad calling my name and chuckling, and I turned furiously to see that all along it had been he and my mom. I couldn't explain my anger to him because it was so confusing to me: a painful and humiliating combination of wishing that guys would find me attractive enough to whistle at and a conviction that no one would.
I know that I did not post photos of my dress-up game because I hoped for whistles, but there's a shy 16-year old deep inside who's upset that I'm drawing attention to myself in a way that might lead to ridicule. Her fears are compounded by my journey through late middle age where "Who do you think you are?" is phrased in warnings against Mutton Dressed as Lamb. At an age where women have tended to disappear from public view and/or consideration or, if they fail to do so, suffer intense scrutiny and criticism, writing and posting photographs about one's appearance feels uncomfortable, requires owning and wearing one's own supposed foolishness.
To support my suspicion that gender and age play a part in my discomfort, I decided to compare "what I'm wearing/what I wore" posts on several other blogs (mostof my readers will already know, I hope, that this is a common feature across the blogverse, not simply a format I adopted to showcase my vanity!). What I found interesting is that the few men's blogs I looked at are characterized by Thomas's posts on what he's been wearing lately: the photographs feature his unsmiling, if well-dressed, self. Similarly, in the young women's blogs, I looked at Cuffington who posts an almost-daily snapshot of what she's wearing; generally, like Thomas, she's not smiling.