People are always telling me I could be attractive if I wanted to, and I acknowledge the truth of this – thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t care about my appearance beyond being clean and presentable. I’m not interested in putting more effort in just to please other people, and I’m perfectly comfortable looking like the slightly androgynous weirdo I am.
But it seems like I’m the only person comfortable with it. Friends and family friends and stepfamily I have to tolerate are constantly threatening me with makeovers and wheedling me to wear makeup or dress more feminine or switch to contact lenses. It makes me dread being around them. I tried doing the “pretty girl” thing once, felt like a fake the entire time, and got weirded out by the extra attention. I don’t WANT random dudes hitting on me – NO, EVEN IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS. MAYBE ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS – but these, er, “friends” never accept this, and seem to take my stance as a personal attack. It gets extremely tiresome. Can we please just play Apples to Apples and not debate about my wardrobe? Just once?
So, some of these people I could feasibly break contact with. Am I justified in doing so (or is there some magic explanation that will get them off my case)? And as for the ones I still have to deal with for the foreseeable future, is there any way I can get them to drop the subject without giving them room to launch into their usual bullshit tirades about how society would implode without rigid gender roles and women looking nice for their man?
First order of business: fistbumps. Major fistbumps to you for knowing what you want and standing up for it despite the torrent of society-wide and local pressure for you to internalize the message of “beauty isn’t a choice for women, it’s a duty.”
Because you’re completely right. Regardless of your gender, how you dress and present yourself is your business. Whether you want to look like a goth, a hipster, a pretty girl, a not-pretty girl, a boy, an androgyne, Batman–it’s your right as a human being to express yourself through your appearance. And for Chrissakes, it’s bad enough that so many jobs and schools have asinine gender-based dress codes; your personal life sure as hell doesn’t need one.
But you already know this. And your family friends and stepfamily sound like they’re so far from knowing this that you can’t take the reasonable-intellectual-discussion approach with them. Trying to make ideological arguments or engage them in a dialogue about their motivations only opens the floor for debate, and you shouldn’t have to win a debate to get permission to dress yourself.
So instead, take the broken record approach with them. Whenever they bring up the subject of your appearance, respond with a brief, polite, but extremely not-inviting-of-further-conversation “no, thanks” or similar. And repeat it as many times as you have to.
“LW, we should give you a makeover!”
“No, thanks. I don’t want to.”
“But [blah blah reasons sexism guilt just-try-it-once-okay blah]”
“I understand you feel that way. I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You’re being rude.”
“No, I just don’t want a makeover. Let’s move on. How about them Seahawks?”
Keep your tone civil and calm even if theirs isn’t. It’s very hard for the other person to escalate the argument to a fight if all your responses are calm. (And if they do, it becomes crystal clear to all observers who the rude one really is.)
I’ve been in much the same boat as you, LW–I’m a plain-dressing androgynous person with a mother and coworkers who want to pretty me up–and this is the only approach that’s consistently worked for me. It takes a while, and people may get even pushier before they give up (in behavioral psychology, this is the extinction burst), but eventually people do figure out that a subject that produced the very same “I don’t want to” 85 times in a row really isn’t worth an 86th try.
That’s for people you can’t cut out of your life. Being a broken record works–that’s why I recommend it to use on people you can’t easily get away from–but it’s not much fun. It’s not something you should have to do with your friends. Friends are supposed to be on your side in battles like this, not form another front you have to fight on. So yes, you are absolutely justified in breaking off contact with friends who won’t take “I’m happy with my appearance just as I am, and it really bothers me when people try to change me” the first time. That’s not a magic explanation, but it’s an explanation, and friends shouldn’t require magic to stop doing something they know bothers you.
And try and make some slightly-androgynous-weirdo friends, on or offline. Get some people that you can absolutely trust to have your back on this. You need someone you can go to when your stepfamily’s running you ragged and know that they’ll say “what a bunch of jerks, it’s none of their business how you dress.” You need a place where you can go play Apples to Apples and not even have to worry that anybody gives a crap what anybody looks like, and these places are out there for you.
Good luck, and stay weird.