I wanted to write a blog post about my style and how my style has changed over the years. It’s hard, because I don’t really remember what my style mindset was like in high school. I know I wore a uniform, but on the weekends I just wore what I bought/my mother bought for me. Usually, they were really nice clothes, but I was told how to put them together by the store clerks, suggestions from my mother, etc. I never really put that much effort into it. I was a size 0, my hair was blown straight, and I still couldn’t look into the mirror without dissecting how I looked. My skin was bad, or my thumbs were too fat (I remember telling my mother that and she said if that was my only problem, I was lucky). The girls I went to school with just looked better. Their thighs didn’t touch when they walked and their hair was naturally straight. They could wear brand-name bags to school and not worry what they looked like or what people might think. They didn’t have to copy anyone, they just were. Of course, I don’t know if that’s actually how they felt. I know it’s how I felt. I was bullied relentlessly about how I looked from a young age. Either my hair wasn’t straight enough, or I was too skinny. I sought to look like the girls I went to school with and the women who who appeared on the magazines I had read so eagerly. They were who I wanted to be.
When I went off to college, I was still small, dressed in almost entirely labels, and felt like I didn’t completely fit in. The first time I got a whiff of what it was like to be myself, I wore a patterned dress with patterned tights to a magazine launch party. I was 21 and truly felt like I was closer to the Haley I knew existed. I refused to take off my sweater, even though my best friend insisted, I was still uncomfortable existing in anything more than a baggy sweater to cover my stomach. I could talk the talk, and I was all for embracing myself, but I couldn’t walk the walk. I hid. I tried to be like my peers. I fought the urges I had to wear something simply because I was drawn to it. I had learned from a very young age that it was dangerous to give too much away. When I would accidentally slip and show too much of myself, I would beat myself up for it, starving myself the next day to makeup for the frivolous calories I ate the day before, making sure I could still feel my clavicle, checking my spine in the mirror. Though I complained later about how people called me too skinny, I was secretly in awe. I had learned to control my body, and that feeling– to a teenage girl– is a powerful one.
By the time I graduated from college, I was in an abusive relationship with an ex-girlfriend (we would continue to return to and live with one another for a tumultuous year). Her first complaint had been that I was too skinny for her. How could a girl like me want a girl like her? She set the precedent and I followed. I started gaining weight. I no longer fit in my size 25 jeans. I started eventually shopping plus-sizes. I filled out. When I looked at photos of myself, I felt, disgusting. But also like I could see myself. Once I cut my hair real short, I walked down the street and felt the wind on my scalp. I felt grounded. There was nothing to hide under (I think, a book, or an entire series even can be written about women and their hair). I posted a photo of myself and the first comment from another woman read, “well, now you need makeup.” I learned that being completely naked was wrong, unholy. What god would accept me? Or better yet, what woman?
I sought myself. I was hard pressed to find the “true” me. I spent money. I dated men. I drank. I dated women. I put myself on the Internet. I used my body as currency. I became you if you’d give me the time of day. And so, I became less myself. I don’t remember how I styled myself from right out of college (around 22), to around 24. I was miserable. I used Instagram to convince I needed more, not less. I kept getting bigger. I kept trying to find a solution. I drank and was sober and prayed and was angry, and there’s a part of me that still is. But, recently, I seek the mirror. My wife laughs playfully at my silly poses, the way I smile at myself when I see my reflection. I don’t know if anyone realizes how valuable my reflection is to me now. I seek to clothe myself in a way that makes me smile when I catch myself in a store window, or bathroom mirror, but I don’t starve myself, I don’t copy someone else just because. I am not seeking to please you by dressing me. I am dressing me because my body is the altar that I live in every day. When I wake up, I dress her, because she deserves to feel comfortable (comfortable— there’s that word that so many women are loathe to admit they want to feel or say they shouldn’t). I deserve to feel confident, cool, collected, and creative. Those are just the Cs. I want to feel the alphabet when I dress myself, and if I sit and think about it I do.
My style evolution started as a little girl, when I–big-eyed–would wander into my mother’s closet. Her clothes felt foreign to me, but when she wore them she transformed. As she got sicker, they still acted as a kind of armor, and no one knew what she hid behind them. I did the same. I learned to layer, first to hide, but then, to be free, to be honest with the world about what I looked like, while still maintaining a boundary made of brightly colored sweaters. I took my heart off my sleeve, and wear it in my smile in the accessories I buy, handmade, with love; in the outfits I coordinate, with care and abundance; with knowing that to be seen is a powerful thing. I want to look good doing it, and I am no longer ashamed.