Why I hated dresses (and why I wish I hadn't)
From the time I was maybe seven to the time I was thirteen or fourteen, I hated dresses.
I don’t think that’s altogether too uncommon a thing among young girls. Yet looking back, I am ashamed.
I did not hate dresses because they were uncomfortable.
I did not hate dresses because I didn’t like how they looked.
I hated dresses because they were girly.
And girly was bad.
I was always a passionate reader. And the heroines of the books I read were never girly. No, they were best friends with boys. They liked jeans and sneakers, not dresses and heels. In all the books, all the shows, all the movies- the non-girly girl was the hero. The villain? The popular girl. The one who loved makeup, the one who wore heels, the one who was a cheerleader in a short skirt. The one who wore dresses.
Over time, this doctrine began to be drilled into me more and more. Femininity was bad. It was the tough girls, the ones who eschewed skirts, the ones who played with action figures instead of dolls (despite little practical difference between the two) who were the heroines of every story. And so what femininity I had I pushed away as soon as I was old enough to consciously do so. The Barbies I secretly enjoyed dressing up were abandoned in favor of the Spider-Man action figure, the Legos. And this continued for years. I remember being six, seven years old or so, being offered a bit of lip gloss by a classmate. I remember feeling strangely guilty for accepting, even though I enjoyed it. I remember years later in sixth grade when I went shopping for a nice new outfit, glancing with longing at the rack of dresses before turning away and buying a new pair of pants and a sweater instead. Because feminine meant weak. Feminine meant shallow, vapid, foolish. In books, on TV, the message was clear: girly girls never won.
Kim Possible was an anomaly to me. Here was this girl- this girl whose best friend was a boy, this girl who saved the world, who fought and was smart and funny and strong- and she was, out of all things, a cheerleader. The very symbol I had been taught to think meant the height of pettiness, the queen of mean, the evil school ruler. And yet she was none of those things. In fact, I remember not liking the parts where she went to cheer practice. Because even as an elementary schooler, those things- strong and feminine- were so disparate in my mind it was nearly impossible for me to reconcile them. (There was a brief time when I wanted to be a cheerleader in elementary school. I never did become one.)
My world was built on a mindset of certain types of girls being bad, and other types of girls being good. When I saw cheerleaders, I did not see the athleticism of their builds. I did not see the dedication in their memorization of dozens of moves, routines, and cheers. I saw stereotypes- they were unintelligent, they lacked depth. I prided myself on a “I’m not like THOSE girls” way of living, never considering that THOSE girls were fully developed people in their own right- just as smart, just as strong. Perhaps stronger, because they did not shy away from who they were.
It has only been in the last few years that I have begun to disable this mindset, this internalized misogyny, this quiet self-doubt and self-loathing. To know that a coat of mascara does not shut down a girl’s mind. To know that a shorter skirt does not equal an emptier brain. Today, my closet is nearly a quarter full of dresses, the ones I wanted to wear but thought I couldn’t. Today I know that I can wear a skirt and be smart, strong, good.
And so I wear my closet of dresses. I wear dresses to show that what is feminine is not inferior. I wear dresses to show that loving girly pursuits- baking, pedicures, shopping- is not something that is mutually exclusive with speaking your mind, with respecting yourself, with knowing your worth, with being kind, with being a well-rounded human being. I wear dresses for the girls who are afraid to in hopes of showing them they shouldn’t be. I wear dresses for those who were ashamed as I was. I wear dresses in hopes that maybe one day children- girls, boys, those who identify as any other genders or none at all- will not have to go through the quiet shame I did. I wear dresses for the ones who want to but can’t, because I am lucky enough to be part of the “acceptable” group to do so- cisgender girls. I wear dresses because I like to. I wear dresses to make me feel beautiful, to make me feel strong, to let myself express myself after so many years of thinking that it was a bad thing. I wear dresses for the seven year old who was afraid of being caught with lip gloss. I wear dresses for the nine year old who didn’t understand you could be strong in one. I wear dresses for the eleven year old who felt guilty for wanting them.
I am sixteen years old, and I wear dresses to be free.