#397: Pretty should be optional.

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.”

“But why?”

“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.

403 thoughts on “#397: Pretty should be optional.

    1. Yes to this! “I don’t want to” is great, but “No, thanks” is better, because “I don’t want to” can easily lead to a “But whhhhhhhhhy don’t you want to?” or a “You don’t want people to think you’re pretty?” or other crappy responses.

      “No, thanks” is polite, but utterly negative and doesn’t leave room for questioning without the other person being more obviously rude (because they’re already being rude since they keep on after you’ve made it clear you don’t want this stuff, but it might be more obvious TO THEM).

      Works for so many things! Think I’ll reserve this one for the next time the MIL tries to force me into an uncomfortable social situation in the hopes that she’ll find the right combination of complete strangers and being trapped to “cure” me of being an introvert.

      1. I agree. I think a broken record approach is even more effective if you say the same thing (or as close to) every time. LW, I let my friends pluck my eyebrows once. Never again! Stay strong. You sound like you’re awesome and you know what you want. Stick to that and don’t let the bastards grind you down. 🙂

      2. “No thanks” is a complete sentence and totally sufficient, but I still like “I don’t want to.” It highlights the whole thing that it’s LW’s choice. When they go “but whyyyyyy?” you can keep responding with “Because I don’t want to,” and after a few iterations maybe step up to “Why are you trying to get me to do something you know I don’t want to do?”

        1. The thing I like about “I don’t want to” is that it also reminds people that what I (or LW, in her case) wants is what matters. Or they have to come out and admit that they don’t care what I (or LW) want.

          1. I agree. And of course some people will ask why you don’t want to, just like some people will ask why if you just say “No thanks.” At least this way they don’t have plausible deniability about it.

          2. If pushed, I might also throw in a “I’m happy with the way I look.” which means that for someone to continue arguing, he/she has to flat-out admit that they consider their own happiness more important than yours in regard to your own personal business. Hopefully anyone that hasn’t yet realized they’re being a jerk will figure it out at this point.

      3. Personally I really really like ‘I don’t want to’, because it’s the whole point of the entire discussion. Why not do it? Because she doesn’t want to, and because what she wants to do is the only thing that matters in this case.

        For me ‘because I don’t want to’ is a complete explanation and fully answers the question ‘why not do this’.

        1. That’s a really good point.

          That technique wouldn’t work for me, but “I don’t want to” IS a totally legitimate and complete reason to not do something. It just comes down to how the individual works best when enforcing personal boundaries.

  1. LW, as you say you’re not interested in fashion and appearance, I suspect you’ve never seen this blog post at A Dress A Day: You Don’t Have To Be Pretty. It’s from all the way back in 2006, but it’s so wonderfully written that it should be a permanent classic. Here’s an excerpt:

    Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

    I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.

    The post is like preaching to the choir to you, but maybe if you show it to your friends and family, they’ll start to understand where you’re coming from.

    1. I like the link, but I’d hold off from trying to sell the friends and family on a whole new way of thinking about appearance. What matters first is that they respect the LW’s boundaries. Going beyond that into deeper feminist education is optional, and likely to lead to a lot of debate and resistance that LW shouldn’t have to deal with just to get some peace.

    2. I love that post. When I am having a Ground Down By The Beauty Myth day, I re-read it. I will say, though, I think the writer’s friends and family are the ones Erin McKean means when she says the naysayers can go to hell.

  2. Oh, gawd. I used to be one of those Make All I Know Pretty! sorts of people. How obnoxious. The broken record approach works, it really, really does, or at least it worked on me. What also worked was when someone I knew and loved made the connection for me that what I was doing was the social equivilant of telling someone who’s had a bad day to smile. That connection was not made deliberately it was just something they said which lit my head-bulb into an OMG moment. What, you mean people might actually not want a makeover for very valid and personal reasons that they are not obligated to share with me, and they hate my pushiness as much as I hate being told to smile (’cause i’d be so much prettier, dontcha know) when I feel sad or stabby? I’m crossing boundaries and alienating friends? You could have knocked me over with a feather.

    1. I also tend to have this problem, not around appearance, but around my interests. The tape in my head is “But this THING! It makes me happy! Therefore if you do it it will make you happy too! Do this thing with me and BE HAPPY!” But owning that this is actually a problematic way to interact with people and not pushing shit on my friends and family members is my issue to deal with, not theirs to accommodate something that they don’t want.

      1. Re: your last sentence? Totally.

        I was mortified when the full impact of my pushiness became clear to me. By that time I had stopped long before but I still wanted so much to go back in time, gather up all my friends, and let them know I appreciated them just as they were. I loved playing dress up (and really, that’s what it was to me, playing) so much that I simply could not grok other people not loving it the way I did or in fact hating it with the mad passion of a thousand burning suns.

        I’ve also had people give me grief over my appearance– an incident in my gender studies class of all places comes to mind, concerning my flaming red hair and a pair of grubby overalls I’d worn that day, apparently I wasn’t “professional” looking enough for a working mom or a college sophomore– but I didn’t make the connection between stuff like that and what I was doing for a long time. I wasn’t being judgemental, I was being helpful! Fun! Except, I most certainly was not, not when it was unwelcome.


    2. Yeah, I have totally experienced that whole thing where ‘this makes ME happy when I do it, so I insist that YOU do it ‘for your own good’, or ‘to prove to me that you’re not a depressing boring person’.

      It’s so hurtful and I don’t understand why people saying things like that don’t see how aweful a way it is to act towards friends. When I hear things like that from a friend it feels like you’re saying you can’t like people unless they become just like you, or you’re so oblivious to me you either don’t notice or don’t care that my choices make me happy and that doing what you want me to do doesn’t.

  3. (insert rant about gender-based differential grooming requirements)

    Go you, with your androgynous self!!!

    You can also reinforce boundaries by stating the consequence and then following up. “If you keep harping on this, Aunt Buttinski, I will hang up the phone.” And then do it. “This conversation is over.” “But blah blah beauty rar!” Then leave the room. But when they’re sweet to you? Be sweet to them, rather than holding the grudge or getting into arguments.

    Oh they’ll be SO ANGRY. How dare you hang up on them? That’s okay. You could tell them, if you wanted to, that if they respect your choices you won’t be hanging up, or you could just ignore it and let them talk to each other about your horribleness. If they’re talking to each other and not to you, YOU WIN.

    With friends you want to keep, you might go with One Last Serious Conversation, wherein you explain how you are Done with this type of discussion, and that you won’t tolerate it anymore. You can listen to the But once, and then respond with something like “I know you say these things because you care about me, but I don’t feel cared for; I feel attacked. I need you to knock it off.”

    Friends who really do care will probably still make mistakes sometimes because people fuck up, but if they’re trying they’ll be like “oops I am sorry” and you shouldn’t have to do more than give them a look or something.

    Also, if it should get to “But you’ll never find a man!!” or something, the broken record is “The right partner will love me as I am.”

    Good luck.

    1. Re: “But you’ll never find a man!!”, my favorite response is “But David Bowie is already taken and it’s him or no one.”

      1. That’s an awesome response.

        I have occasionally gotten the “But you’ll never find a man!!” line about my hairy armpits. People usually shut up when I tell them that having Does Not Shave as a dealbreaker is a dealbreaker for me.

        1. QFT.

          “Prefers irritated, ingrown armpit/eg messes to a happy, comfortable partner” is totally a dealbreaker for me.

        2. Also, as an aside, I have actually yet to meet a straight dude who cared. I suppose they’re probably out there, but ime it’s not the men who are the enforcers of this standard.

          1. My husband certainly tries to enforce it. He admits it’s to do with porn. He is otherwise lovely though, so what am I going to do?

          2. No. Just, no. My best friend in high school was bullied by boys repeatedly because she wasn’t shaving her armpits and legs in a satisfactory manner, i.e. some of her hair was still visible despite shaving.

            And it’s not just boys. My boyfriend when I was 15, who was an adult at the time (19-year-old creep), pressured me into shaving my pubis for the event of my loss of virginity, which was planned in advance.

            So, no. Just, no. Everyone, no matter the gender, enforces shit like this. Because we all internalize it.

          3. Okay. I guess my experience is unusual. I stopped shaving when I was 16, and I had a fair bit of casual sex with straight dudes (I’m a woman) when I was younger, and I walk around in shorts and tank tops all summer, and I’ve never had so much as an eyeroll from any guy. But I believe you guys about your experiences. I guess maybe it’s regional? Or something else? I dunno.

        3. I don’t know how people stand hairy armpits on either gender, but I’m a femme lesbian, so, y’know. My problem with hairy armpits is that hair absorbs odors, so they tend to smell more than shaven armpits.
          That said, shaving pits once or twice a week is entirely reasonable approach. I like the clean-shaven look because ugh body hair, but it doesn’t have to be an every day thing. Me, I get razor burn if I shave too frequently, stubble’s just a fact of life until I can afford a laser job.

          1. I am not a lesbian but for many years I couldn’t stand hairy armpits on either gender either. I am very bad at having double standards and never paid much attention to what dudes were doing growing up, so I definitely internalized “hairy armpits are gross” rather than “hairy armpits are gross on ladies but magically not on dudes.” I was halfway through college before I was capable of being attracted to even the prettiest of men, before that I was always repulsed by their compliance with male grooming standards, which I experienced as “not meeting the minimum standards for civilized normal people, ie, women.” (It was very awkward when my girl friends would wish to bond over ogling dudes with their shirts off and I was like “Why in God’s name are these shameless nasty people taking their shirts off without grooming properly? Aren’t they deeply embarrassed? Don’t they realize that we can *see* how gross they are?”) I only got over it by going to a very hippie college where half the women didn’t shave their armpits either, so I eventually became sort of desensitized.

      2. There are people I know who would use the line about David Bowie as further evidence that a woman who doesn’t perform beauty according to their standards is immature, selfish, crazy, and living in a fantasy world. They wouldn’t get the joke.

      3. I’ve had people tell me “How’re you ever gonna catch a guy, looking like that?” And I used to answer, “With an elephant gun.”

    2. I agree, Carbonatedwit. The right person will love you are you are, and so should friends and family!

      For another broken record phrase you could use is: “I like myself the way I am.” For added punch to the guilt centers of their brains, try : “I like myself the way I am, why don’t you?”

      The second option only works if you are not afraid that they might actually say something extremely insensitive (ex “because your clothes/makeup/lack of makeup/hair/shoes now make you look fat/ugly/stupid/insert insult”), and if you don’t care how uncomfortable they feel after you say it.

      I like option 2, but I tend to err on the side of being blunt (rude).

      1. I really like option 2. It also would perhaps make people who genuinely think they’re being nice realise that what they’re saying is way hurtful.

        As for ‘but you’ll never find a man’ I quite like the idea of replying with ‘I’ll never find a man who only wants me because I dress a certain way and put on makeup?! Man, am I missing out’ in a super-sarcastic voice. Because that’s what they’re saying and that is completely ridiculous.

        LW, you get down with your androgynous, super-cool self. You sound utterly awesome!

    3. With friends you want to keep, you might go with One Last Serious Conversation, wherein you explain how you are Done with this type of discussion, and that you won’t tolerate it anymore. You can listen to the But once, and then respond with something like “I know you say these things because you care about me, but I don’t feel cared for; I feel attacked. I need you to knock it off.”

      I have had good luck with this, with genuine friends who genuinely did not mean to hurt me. For me it was about introversion (which isn’t the same thing as prettiness, but hits a number of the same ‘societal expectation’ buttons), and I had a few serious conversations that went, “I know you want me to [go to parties/Meet More People/get out more/whatever] because you love me and, if you were me, you would be happier with more social interaction. But I don’t want that. I am happy as I am. So when you push, it means that you are either saying that I am too foolish to know what’s good for me, or that you would rather I make you feel comfortable than that be happy myself. I know you don’t mean that, but that’s the message you’re sending, so please stop it. If I change my mind and want to [throw a party for fifty people], I will let you know. Until then, please let me be happy in my own way.”

      The people who genuinely meant well, got the message and stopped, and we could continue being friends without harassment. The people who did not mean well, I quietly African Violet-ed.

    4. This times a million. My only variation from the Captain’s advice is that for LW’s close friends, or for people LW has to see very very often, I think it is worth having the One Last Serious Convo.
      We can try and brush people off, try and gently redirect them when they’re pushing our boundaries, and go into broken record mode to retrain them in how to treat us, but there will be some people who respond so much better to being told directly, seriously that they are hurting us.
      You don’t have to find the Magic String of Words to make them understand, but when I’m dealing with pressure and boundary crossing by people I like, respect and want to keep a more open channel communication, I do make the effort to articulate what I need from them and why. It’s on them to respond to that as they wish, and if they choose not to respect that, then they will absolutely get the Broken Record, the Slow Fade or the End Communication. I’ve more often than not been glad I did sit someone down and explain my side – if not because it affected change, but because it made me (as a chronically too-nice, bordering on doormat kind of girl) feel justified in taking a much harder line with people.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this exact thing lately. I’m not particularly androgynous but I’m plenty weird (isn’t everyone?)

    Cliff nailed it so mostly I’m just writing to say I think it’s awesome, LW, that you’re not tied into people’s standard “I am a culture bearer letting everyone know what’s cool” shtick. But one additional thing you could say is along the lines of “I thought you enjoyed my company/personality? *awkward pause*” or “I enjoy your personality/sense of humor, it would be great if you could enjoy mine?”

  5. Ugh. I get the broken record about my weight every time I go home. I’ve tried explaining, whining, reasoning … nothing ever works. The way I live with it is that I treat it as just another Thing of No Particular Importance I see when I go home, just as sure as I see the highway exit sign and the bank that used to be a Wendy’s. I love my family, but I’ve also got really good as tuning what I don’t want to here into background noise if need be.

    1. Um, no. I mean, it’s working. They say the same thing every time, and they’ve trained you to ignore them.

      Try turning it around. No matter what they say about anyone’s weight at all, give them the broken record response. And truly make it *the same thing* because that’s part of the point. You’re telling them “it doesn’t matter how many times you say it, you’ll never get any other response than this one. Bored yet?”

      1. If Rhubarb’s strategy works for them, then it works. Just ignoring it is another way of disengaging, and it is not anyone’s obligation to Fight the Good Fight or whatever when they just want to have a goddamn turkey dinner. I’ve got a number of spaces where I ignore things that would otherwise be hurtful, because I have some defenses that I can put up in those spaces to make those things not hurt.

      2. This is really condescending. You don’t get to say “um, no” to someone else’s coping strategy. Ignoring it isn’t something that would work for you? Great. But you’re not everyone.

        1. I can tell from the 3 responses that I expressed myself really poorly. My “um no” was about reading comprehension, not about coping techniques.

          I was trying to say that the abuse poor Rhubarb was receiving is not the same as the “broken record” technique being mentioned in the comments here. Ignoring abuse is not the same as having the same response every time to an unwanted topic. The point of the “broken record” technique is that you DO respond, because it lets you take control of the conversation (and shut it down).

      3. Well, it depends what they’re going for. If they just want to say it without being attacked, then sure, ignoring them allows them that. But if they’re saying it because they want Rhubarb to starve x-self in order to fit into someone else’s ideal, then being ignored does absolutely nothing for them and is thus a valid strategy.

        (And even if they do just want to say it without being attacked, it doesn’t really matter. Presumably Rhubarb ignores them because Rhubarb doesn’t want a fight, so it works for all parties.)

  6. There’s a passage in one of my favourite books that this post reminds me of; I hope you don’t mind if I just quote the whole thing, because I just love it so much.

    “He doesn’t look so much like a gnome anymore. It’s funny about people’s faces. If you look at them for long enough they stop being beautiful or ugly and become just themselves. Then you see they couldn’t be any other way because that person’s life has formed his face, and if you love him you love his face the way it is. [Spoiler] has blotchy wrinkly skin and a bulging nose and grizzly eyebrows hiding little piggy eyes and no hair on top to speak of except the tufts coming out of his ears and nostrils, but what a lovely man he is, what a dear man. I’m so touched by his passionate generosity.”

    1. As long as we’re quoting books, here’s one of my favourite bits from A Home at the End of the World (and it’s relevant to the conversation, too):

      “I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. There were so many ways to be a beauty.”

      It resonates with me because a) I’m genderqueer and b) beauty really isn’t limited to just one narrow type of presentation. Blaze your own trail of awesome, LW. The only people you’ll put off are people you wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with, anyway.

    2. Oh… I thought that line was a doctor who original, guess not. Glad I can now credit it properly 🙂

      (for those who care- Amy said it about Rory in the most recent season, can’t for the life of me remember what context) (also- not the big about wrinkles and blotches and grizzly eyebrows. Rory has none of those)

  7. Ahh, yay. I put up with a _lot_ of this through high school — my sister _meant_ well, and when she was done with my hair and makeup I’d look in the mirror, proclaim that I looked like a clown, and stick my head in the sink. This went over about as well as you’d imagine.

    My family’s pretty much given up — I wish I had some advice to give you here, but I think I managed it by pretty much dropping out of their lives for five or ten years. The friends were easier — I just never hung out with anyone who gave me shit about how I looked. And yes, to support the Captain here, that’s a _totally_ cool reason to drop someone.

    No useful advice here, I’m afraid, but a whole lot of ‘yeah, I’ve been through that sort of thing, too’.

  8. Similar kudos from me, and it’s a shame these people prodding you don’t recognize than the most attractive traits a person can have is being happy with themselves. They say far more about their own insecurities by their need to control you and your appearance.

    I’m a huge believer in the idea that it takes two to argue (even when that argument is more of a brow-beating); refuse to play along with their bullying. Keep a careful eye, too, on what might trigger it. For a lot of people the way they look is how they respond to challenges and it’s the only way they know to respond to certain situations. It took a while before my wife and I could find equilibrium on this issue.

    She’s of the “dress the way you want to be treated” school when it comes to business and interpersonal encounters. I’ll tolerate that, to some extent, in my workplace. But I’m not going to alter my comfort level out of the belief that it’s going to get me better treatment in a store, restaurant, or car dealership. My wife may not be wrong – I might sometimes get better initial treatment if I suited up and played a part before certain types of encounters. But I know I can also get it by being firm in my dealings, and that other people’s preconceptions are not my obligations – particularly when they want my money.

    Maybe your family is applying this reductive thinking to your life and the things you want. That doesn’t make it okay for your family to push you around, but maybe understanding it will make it easier for you to be firm with them when they pull this nonsense. They may be trapped by their own preconceptions of how people interact and what they have to do in order to get along. I find that sometimes forgiveness for others is most profitable for -me- and my own peace of mind, and makes pushing back easier by letting me not keep suffering under anger when the encounter is over.

  9. LW, you are cool and you are awesome, and I am another androgynous weirdo (some days I dress in a moderately feminine way, and other days, like today, I kind of look like someone’s dad). If you would like someone to hang out with on Facebook, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I have a number of other androgynous weirdo friends I’ll very happily introduce you to.

  10. I don’t think you should worry about being rude. If someone is nagging you to put on makeup, dress in a gender-conforming way you don’t want to, get a makeover, etc., and they do not take no for an answer, that’s pretty rude on their part. So, you don’t have to go out of your way to be an asshole, but you can say this if they try to start up the Grand Lectures About How You Really Should Try To Be Pretty:

    “I’ve told you X number of times that I am not interested. I know it bothers you but I’m not going to change. Drop it.”

  11. Ooh, this sucks. I’m sorry.

    YMMV, but I’ve had good results with the following tactic, which is perhaps a little rude, but fun:

    Obnoxious person: [Unsolicited opinion about the way I live my life.]
    Me: I’m not going to discuss this with you. If you keep trying to talk to me about it, I will talk about dogs.
    Obnoxious person: [Tries to talk about whatever it is I’m doing wrong.]
    Me (interrupting): First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about Lhasa Apsos . . .
    Obnoxious person: [More obnoxiousness.]
    Me (interrupting): Now I’m going to share some fun facts about Boxers . . .

    Repeat until they give up or get distracted. I’ve had the best results with talking about dogs, but I imagine it could work with any subject so long as you don’t mind talking over people (I understand that it’s not the best tactic for all personality types).

    Good luck.

    1. OMG, I love this idea. It makes me want to borrow Marshall’s horrible fish standup routine from How I Met Your Mother:

      “So… fish. Fish are weird, right? Ever think about the names people give fish? Like… carp. Lemme say it again: CARP. Am I right?” etc…

      Temporary deafness and single-track-mindedness FTW.

      LW, you sounds like a very cool person who’s got their mind in the right place. I don’t have much more to add to the conversation (Cliff’s advice is dead-on), so I’ll just leave you with a quote that I’ve carried with me since high school:

      to be yourself,
      in a world which is doing its best
      night and day
      to make you everybody else –

      means to fight the hardest battle
      any human being can fight
      and never stop fighting.

      – E. E. Cummings

    2. This tactic sounds awesome, and I’m totally going to deploy it the next time I’m in a situation like that.

    3. I use a gentler version of this when I want to change topics immediately. I just say. “That’s interesting. So, I understand that kittens are fluffy!” Meta-message: “I would rather say pointless and inane things than discuss whatever you just said.” I let them talk if they want to, but respond as though they had engaged in my inane discussion of kittens. “You like to snuggle with kittens? Wow, me too!”

  12. I’ve recently been experimenting with a more androgynous style. Men’s clothes and shoes are usually made better at cheaper prices than women’s clothes, so it was a practical thing at first. Then I really liked it. My friends and my boyfriend really like it. Everyone else hates it.

    I get this “pretty” pushback from well-meaning coworkers and family members and sometimes strangers on the street. “You should grow your hair out. It was so pretty when it was long and curly.” Yeah, and also a huge pain to take care of.

    I always just say that I like it this way. Saying, “I like the way I look,” works really well for me, because they all mean well when they are saying these things. They would never come back with any retort after me expressing positive self-esteem, because they would basically be implying that I should feel otherwise, which would make them feel bad. Sometimes I tell them that outright, “Do you think I shouldn’t feel good about the way I look?” I’ve only used it twice, but oh the guilt-face that ensued.

    But what Cliff said, broken record aproach. I use two: “I like the way I look” and “I’m pretty now; I don’t need to change anything.”

    1. Argh, the long hair thing. Yeah, it’s cute when it’s long and I wear it down, and I like it. It also needs washing and styling every damn day, and I have not the spoons to be dealing with my hair most days. When it’s short I happen to think it also looks awesome, and it’s a ton easier to care for. People so need to stop commenting on the way other people look.

      1. My favorite was when I was in a family friend’s wedding and she asked me to get hair extensions and offered to pay as if that was oh so generous of her. HAIR EXTENSIONS! The nerve! The invasiveness! The implication that my hair isn’t good enough! All wrapped up in one request.

        I just said, “So in order to participate in your wedding, I have to look like a completely different person? No thanks! I’ll just be a guest, if I’m still invited.” I was still invited, so I went. I wore a dime-store tuxedo and took a fellow androgynous female as my plus one. We had an awesome time. Everyone kept asking us if we were “partners” because everyone knows girls in suits=lesbians. LOL

        1. Wow. It’s not enough that everybody has to dress alike?

          Sometimes I wish I could get married for the sole purpose of having a wedding that isn’t stupid.

          1. Hey, we had our wedding in a tent on the grounds of a winery overlooking the owner’s daughter’s horses out at pasture. It was fall, the leaves were turning, and we had a pig roast. Only the groom and I dressed up, and I wore a great dark green formal and a fabulous long velvet cloak–because I wanted to, no other reason. The mayor of our small town performed the ceremony, and all the guests stood up as witnesses–no bridesmaids. We had a band, and we danced and drank and the food was awesome. The wedding cake was three individual cakes from the best bakery in town, all decorated in simple white. The wedding was fun, casual, and CHEAP. It can be done.

          2. My husband and I married outside, with Chesapeake Bay in background. Husband wore regular work suit, though new, I wore 100% cotton $300 dress (cheap because last year’s model — gasp!), sister wore a dress she liked, B-I-L a work sut. Minister was named Skeeter or Scooter or something like that, had mail-order credentials (we found him via the cake-lady who’d met him when she was some kind of truck dispatcher), and was wearing a leather jacket and three stooges tee when we met him at Denny’s to talk about him marrying us (his kids sat the next booth over). He wore a mickey mouse watch during the ceremony and held the vows in his week at a glance datebook, and it made me laugh that this guy was given mystical relationship-validating powers by the state. Food was buffet, there were more chairs than guests and no place cards so people could sit where they wanted and move about. Cake was chocolate with chocolate frosting and every crumb was eaten even though we’d significantly upped recommended cake size since it was so much yummier than standard wedding cake. My dad’s band played. It was awesome and fun and there was no wedding drama!!!

            My brother and sister in law married at a summer camp, off season; guests stayed in camper cabins, we did slip-and-slide on a hill with a big sheet of plastic and a hose, people swam in the lake and kayaked before the ceremony. There was a talent show.

            Awesome, no drama, FUN weddings are perfectly possible. You just have to throw out the absurd modern wedding “rules.”

          3. Oh, and apropos of this thread’s theme, my hair was down long and unfussed with because I wanted to feel like ME on my wedding day, not wear some sophisticated updo thing that made me feel like an incompetent poseur all day. And happily I only got a very manageable amount of pushback on that.

        2. Well played!!!!! I am giving you standing claps in my head.

          More importantly (not to derail the convo) – I am impressed you found a dime-store tux. I lerve me some menswear / menswear-inspired clothings, finding a good dime-store tux that fits is so gold!

          1. Alterations are my hobby. I have several books that I’ve picked up over the years and I’m always on the lookout for internet articles about the subject. So the tux only fit in the loosest sense of the word (pun intended, haha). It was two different tuxedos that I coordinated. So hard to find all the pieces of one nowadays.

    2. What is it with people & our hair?

      I actually keep my hair long because I find it’s less work to manage. I want to be able to pull it out of my face. I want to not have to use any product. I hate how it looks short. My mother frigging harps on me about getting it cut. In that “well you’re a grownup now, and grown women don’t keep their hair long,” sense. Piss off. ::grumbles::

      1. Grown women don’t keep their hair long? Huh. I’m thirty-one, and I routinely sit on mine. Guess I missed the memo.

        I’m actually with you on long being easier to manage. Partly I’m sure it’s that I’m used to wrangling three feet of hair, because I’ve done it all my life, but in my case I’m also pretty sure it would get much curlier if I cut it short, and I’d need to load it with product to give it that “I did this intentionally!” look. I wash it at night and sleep on it wet, and it’s perfectly happy like that.

        I get about equal amounts of “Have you ever thought of cutting it off?” and “Don’t ever cut your hair off!” The first I think is mostly curiosity, since they figure to get my hair this long I’d have had to be growing it out for a very long time. The second is generally meant as a compliment, and my policy is to give people a lot more leeway on personal comments if they’re sincerely being nice.

        1. Also, in my experience back when I had three feet of hair*, most people who tell you never to cut it off either have long hair, or cut their hair off and regret it. I never took those comments personally, ’cause it was always pretty clear that they were talking entirely about themselves.

          *which was lost in a breakup haircut that I have never regretted

          1. BREAKUP HAIRCUT! That’s when my hair first went super short too.

            My oldest sister used to have that super long hair. She also dresses pretty conservatively (eg long skirts, blouses) so she used to get people awkwardly trying to ask if she was [x variety of Religious Conservative group].

          2. I have no intention of cutting off my hair no matter what other people say — I have an economic incentive to keep it, in fact, because I model and it gets me work. I just figure the comments are much more about them than they are about me, and don’t pay much attention to them. 🙂

          1. I am also of the opinion that microminis are fun. If I straighten it all the way, the longest bits are just about at the hem of the skirt. Not a look recommended for people who are not good with getting lots of random attention from strangers, but it does make my life easier at times — for one thing, when people notice I’m there, they stop to let me cross the parking lot.

        2. Do you get the questions/suggestions/outright guilt-tripping about donating your hair to Locks of Love? There was a period of about a year where it seemed like I was getting poked about Locks of Love at least twice a week. (I finally found the right response in a Miss Manners column: ask when/whether they’re planning to donate a kidney. Making my hair into a wig might help someone feel better about their appearance, but giving a stranger one of your kidneys would save a life! I love Miss Manners.)

          1. I’ve occasionally gotten “If you cut it off, you should donate it,” but no one’s ever outright told me to do it — it’s always a conditional. Dunno why. My working theory is that my look matches my personality well enough nobody really thinks I should change, and they’re just making vaguely-relevant conversation.

          2. Oh, I know this conversation all too well. I have short hair now for my own reasons, and I love it, but I used to have waist-length hair and will probably grow it out again someday. But most conversations about my hair went thusly:
            Them: Wow, your hair is so long and pretty!
            Me: Um, thanks.
            Them: Have you ever thought about cutting your hair?
            Me: No, I don’t really want to, I like how it looks. [Largely because it was the only thing about my appearance I ever got compliments on.]
            Them: [Continuing as if I’d said WHY YES, I AM GETTING IT ALL CUT OFF NEXT WEEK.] Well, you should donate it! Have you ever heard of Locks of Love?
            Me: Well, like I said, I really like my long hair —
            Them: It’s so great to donate your hair. And besides, you don’t want long hair, long hair is awful.
            Me: I said, I really like my long hair.
            Them: Why, I remember when I had long hair once. I thought it was great, but then I cut it off and it was SUCH FREEDOM…
            Me: I said, I REALLY LIKE MY LONG HAIR.
            Them: It’s SO much easier to wash and dry. I mean, how long do you have to stand under a hairdryer?
            Me: My hair air dries. I don’t own a hairdrier.
            Them: That’s impossible. You must go through a lot of hairdriers. So anyway, it’s much easier to take care of, and it looks so cute and professional!
            Me: That’s great! I’m going to go iron my dog now, but I’m glad you like your hairdo so much.

          3. Also, I kind of love the kidney response. One of my best friends needed a kidney at one point (and will again someday), and I have to admit, when people were all YOU SHOULD DONATE YOUR HAIR! at me I began to wonder if maybe they thought hair was a vital organ like kidneys are. Sure, a good self-image is important to well-being, but blood filtration and maintaining bodily homeostasis is a helluva lot more vital.

      2. I’m 41 and have long hair, and I’ve heard a few comments to that effect. I’m considering growing out the grey and telling people that since I’m soooo old, I’ve decided to go for the full-on crone look. Maybe I’ll get a black cloak and a knobbly stick while I’m at it. 😀

        1. My hair’s not terribly long but I have this problem. I actually kind of like my few grey hairs, because of the novelty, and also because I have lived long enough to have them — I’ve earned them!

          But I love coloring my hair. So I keep covering my grey and I’m like “DANGIT.”

        2. Having spent my younger years as awkwardly (but happily) tomboy-ish and feeling lately like there aren’t any models for being vaguely androgynous and faintly swashbuckling but not-in-the-slightest polished or sleek in one’s 30s, I’m quite looking forward to transitioning into wild-haired crazy old witch-lady.

        3. I can’t wait to go grey! Grandparents indicate that I’ll either be snowdrift-white or streaky wolflike grey, which, how cool is that? Halloween is going to be so much better when I can, depending on the status of my wrinkles, either Evil Crone or Ancient Sorceress it up.

          1. My mother’s brown hair just sort of faded silver-grey, my dad got streaks of white. His beard (which is epic, like Santa beard) is nearly black with white stripes. I never knew maternal grandparents, but both paternal ones had white hair when they were alive. I’d love that, I could look totally distinguished and get a fancy cane.

        4. I’m 36 and right now my hair is shoulder length (although I routinely grow it out to about halfway down my back and then chop it off chin-length–I also change the color pretty regularly). However, when I’m old and gray, I plan on growing it out at least to the bottom of my shoulder-blades or longer and dyeing it pale lavender. Just because I think that would be really cool looking.

      3. I also keep my hair long for simplicity’s sake. I’m a horse rider, and when I go to the stables I can just wear it in a plait or a low ponytail. At work, the hairstyle varies between just having it loose or putting it up in plait, ponytail or bun or any combination thereof. Having very short hair would work as well, but then I’d have the bother of actually going to get it cut often enough for it not to grow out, and I can’t really be having with that.

        When I was in my early twenties, I had a coworker telling me that I should enjoy my long hair while I had it because a woman over 30 shouldn’t have long hair. (I never got a clear reply as to why; I imagine it was so that no man should be fooled into thinking she was younger or something.) Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t get any comments at work about it, though I’ve had a male coworker actually pull my hair once… I do still dye it, though I’m planning to stop when it gets enough gray that I don’t think the dye looks nice anymore.

      4. Ugh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who runs in to this. I’ve had pin-straight, waist length hair since I was fourteen, and my mother keeps giving me this bullshit. I finally cut it short (long, boring story involving split ends and such) and now I’m horrified at how much /effort/ – and money! – it takes to maintain. I’d much rather buy a gothic lolita dress than pay to get it cut and highlighted so it stays this way.

        Still, I’m probably going to put up with it until I move out and come out of the closet etc. The lack of nagging has been nice.

    3. I’m into the “pretty” and dress and wear makeup accordingly. However, I work my hair very short for most of my life. It looked good on me. Nevertheless, there were people who would say “You should grow your hair.” I’d say, “I like my hair this way.”

      Now I’m in my late 40’s – I let my hair grow for a few years. It’s very thick, so it takes work. Along the way, I settled for a nice bob – not too long, but longer than the short-short look I sported for many years. I’ve also stopped coloring, so the grey is coming it. No one is telling me (yet) that I should color it, if they do, I’ll say “I like my hair this way.”

    4. Oof, yeah, the gender politics of hair length are so weird. I’ve worn it short for a few years now, and even when people don’t say that they think I should grow it out, I’ll still get questions like “so, why DO you have short hair?” I don’t necessarily need a manifesto, Well Meaning Yet Anxious Friend.

      But I hate that I sometimes catch myself thinking of it as a balancing act: like, everyone can see my armpit hair today, and also, I happen to be wearing trousers with braces, so I should maybe wear lipstick, just to balance it out? Or people might think I’m sending out a message! And it’s so bizarre and disturbing to have your own brain throw that at you. Does anyone else sometimes find themselves thinking that?

      It’s really fun talking about this with my brother, though, since he’s had long hair his whole adult life. 😀

      1. Solidarity fist-bump over here. I’m a hetero, married, cis woman who also happens to shave her head, and I do still experience a bit of cognitive dissonance myself.

        I admit I do sort of enjoy the gender-jamming aspect of wearing a pretty dress or heels with the shaved hairdo. But the opposite of that is yeah, I *still* find myself auditing if I’ve got “enough” jamming going on (“Hmm, if I wear my stomping boots AND a singlet should I put on a necklace?”).

        The spirit is defiant – but the brains, they can still betray us!

        1. One of my preferred outfits is Doc Martens + well-loved camo jacket + pigtails + short skirt and fishnets. Gender-jamming is good times! Also, I love my utilikilt – clothing worn by men who are secure enough in their masculinity to wear non-trousers in public. 🙂

      2. Ugh, my husband’s father is always getting after him to cut his (gorgeous) long hair off. He (FIL) is super into gender policing Southern male bullshit; not looking forward to dealing with that with the grandkids.

    5. I had short hair as a child, grew it out between high school and half of college, and recently cut it all off into a pixie cut while I was studying abroad. Best decision I’ve ever made because my pixie cut makes me feel like “me.”

    6. Ugh. I get the hair thing all of the time. “Have you tried growing your hair out long?” No, in my 30 years of existence, I’ve NEVER tried long hair. Thanks so much for suggesting it.
      The repeating thing really does work, though. Every time someone brings it up, I tell them I don’t like the way I look with long hair. Every time. Granted, I’m always meeting new people, but the old ones never hassle me about my hair again.

    7. Oh my god, curly haired sista — remember the “you would look so good with straight hair!!” BS? That is reason enough to shear it all off, UGH.


      1. Nothing but love, girl…

        Oh the work that maintaining beautiful curly hair was. A nappy mess of fuzz was easy, but beautiful flowing ringlets without it being flat on the top…feels like I spent half my life on it. I’ll give it to my detractors that it was a thing of beauty, but also an drain of time and energy.

        The people who think you could just take a flat iron to it for a day and then go back to curly the next day have never had curly hair. Plus I live in the hot humid Southeast US, so it would never stay straight.

        1. And my curls are quite fluffy, but my hair is actually rather fine. So if I straighten it, I look like a drowned rat.

          1. Aiyaaaaa, preach! I look totally unlike my bouncy, flustered, raggedy self when my hair is straight. I mean, even my curly mop on its off days is charming — whyever would I spend hours “fixing” something that ain’t broke, and is so incredibly me?

            The only reason I ever spend hours on my hair is because I WANT to look super tidy. Otherwise, fuck that noise, brah, I’m gonna sleep in and let nature style this do.

          2. Sopping wet rats would be adorable if not for the fact that they resent the hell out of getting that way. Mine always stare at me with their dark little rat eyes filled with betrayal — “WHY DID YOU WASH ME?” they say. “I FINALLY SMELLED LIKE A RAT.”

            My hair isn’t very curly as it is, but I think if I chopped it off it would be. I let it air dry, because hair dryers are useless on all this, and the last eight inches ringlet up in damp weather. Curl higher up requires industrial-strength plastic spray to hold. I salute all y’all who have made peace with your curly hair. It looks like loads of fun, but as much as my hair has a mind of its own, yours must be ten times as willful. 🙂

          3. Hah, my hair grows straight and fine; it’s down to below my bra strap but there’s still hardly any of it. and yes, drowned rat might be a fitting description – especially when it is wet. Perming it would be WAY too much faff though

          4. Mine’s long enough to perm annually and otherwise forget about it (it helps that I never go out without a hat). And are you the same Naath whom I spoke to briefly at a Discworld Convention a few years ago? If so, I’m the friend of Mole’s who had the sacred penguin!

          5. Yes, I am that naath. I’d say There Can Be Only One but someone else got the twitter ID so maybe not…

            Mum used to have hers permed monthly, which seemed a huge effort to me.

  13. This is perfect. Thank you, Cliff.

    I’m in a similar situation with my family a lot of the time. Ironically, unlike the LW, I do really enjoy keeping up my appearance and choosing clothes/hairstyles/makeup that make me feel attractive (but of course, I couldn’t care less whether others choose to do so or not!). However, for some of my family members, nothing I do is ever enough. That dress isn’t really “flattering.” That color of eyeshadow doesn’t really “suit my eyes.” That hairstyle doesn’t “frame my face” the right way. And I get ENDLESS comments about this when I go home to visit.

    And when it comes to my weight–which is average–it’s even worse.

    The broken record approach works pretty well for me, although it doesn’t really get them to stop doing it altogether. It just helps me keep my sanity.

    1. I think that’s one of the worst thing about the whole ‘dress as I tell you to’ issue – they’re moving goalposts and if someone wants to manipulate you, you will never do enough. It’s not, in the end, about how you look objectively. it’s about making you try to please them.

      1. THIS.^^^ This is my major difficulty with the whole “commenting on the appareances of others” thing. I present as “feminine” — pencil skirts, high heels, long hair, make up. Every work day. Because I like the way I look and feel in those clothes. And yet, I get comments like “you don’t have to dress up everyday, you know. You could wear jeans sometimes.” It doesn’t matter how you’re doing it; you’re doing it wrong.

        1. “It doesn’t matter how you’re doing it; you’re doing it wrong”

          Which should actually be, “it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s right!” I mean, there are 8 million things that are more important than appearance, and just because “this is how successful/cool/*insert your own annoying word* here people do it doesn’t mean it has to be that way.

          It just drives me up the wall that people have this self-righteous bent, as if ANYONE needs unsolicited advice about how to dress/look.

        2. I get that feeling too. But I’m generally fairly butch and so if I decide to go out in a skirt or even just a feminine top, I start stressing about if I should wear my combat boots or bind my chest just so nobody thinks I’ve sold out and gone back to “normal” (or worse, straight). This is extra silly because I’m currently sporting a mohawk.

        3. Oh, I am so glad I’m not the only one who gets (mild) grief about dressing too feminine, too smartly. I slightly casual’d down at work because I was fed up being asked if I was going to an interview or getting snarky comments along the lines of “ooh, you’re dressed up smart today, going for an interview/trying to get a promotion/going on a date?” every single time. I get amused looks/comments when I say I just like dressing up and don’t wear jeans a lot.

          It’s funny how different crowds will judge you – as you say, nothing is ever right. People just want you to wear their taste in clothes/style, or how you should conform to some stereotype. IN the end, screw ’em, life’s too short, and one day, I’ll be able to listen to that and not those who are judgy.

          1. my last workplace, the dress code boiled down to “please remember to wear clothes, non-managerial staff”. and I don’t like jeans, so I wore a lot of trousers. It took people FOREVER to deal. (it probably didn’t help that I’d previously worked there when I was still in college, so they were used to “skull graphic t-shirt and ratty black jeans” undergrad-me, and then got back 10-years-older “nice pinstripes and a cardigan” me.

          2. You know what’s funny, is that when I was going on interviews while still at my last job, no one knew, because they finally, after YEARS, had gotten used to the fact that “sometimes Miss_Chevious just shows up up in a skirt suit for no discernible reason.”

          3. You definitely aren’t the only one.

            I’m pretty femme, but my mom and sisters are decidedly not. I used to get all sorts of comments growing up about my skirts and dresses and makeup. In fact, I still get those comments sometimes, although most of my family is now resigned to the fact that, weather permitting, I prefer a dress or skirt to pants (and I don’t even own a pair of shorts) and it has become one of my identifying traits. So much so that if I show up somewhere wearing jeans, they all act super surprised and give me a rough time of it.

            It is similar at work. The department that I teach in is *very* casual (some of our older profs definitely go in for the ‘absent minded professor’ look) and I get comments from some of them about my skirts and such too. Because a female physics professor can’t look feminine and business-like and *also* be intelligent and kick ass at the same time.

    2. I enjoy dressing up and being all femme-fabulous as well. But I do it in a Gothy way, which now that I am not fifteen anymore seems to scare people out of making not-nice comments. *evil grin*

        1. See I would say Noel Fielding is glam rather than goth, but he is a good example of wearing (and doing) what you love.

  14. Fist bump!

    My presentation is aaaaall over the place; sometimes I’ll do pretty-pink princess if I really really feel like it. But most days I doing “nerd” (jeans, Tshirt with bad geek joke on it) and I do a good “sweaty marathon runner” impression too :-p I figure my family get it good when I show up NOT covered in sweat, mud, etc. (it really helped, and I can see why not everyone can do this so its not generic advice, when one year I went to stay for a week at Christmas but needed to get in some running so spent non-zero time in their company in my LEAST feminine get up – stinky and muddy in sweats and trainers (pink trainers, ‘cos trainer companies kinda suck sometimes and I wear a tiny size) got them to think rather more positive thoughts about a pair of nice jeans and a funny Tshirt)

    I don’t think you owe these people an explanation for your preferences; and delaying explaining, feminism imparting talks until they reach the minimum “polite interaction” standard is totally fair. You certainly don’t owe them “pretty”, if they want to look at pretty things they know where to find google image search.

    1. “(pink trainers, ‘cos trainer companies kinda suck sometimes and I wear a tiny size)”

      Yes. I wear ladies 5.5-6.5 depending on the shoe. Many shoe companies seem to assume that means I’m twelve and I want glitter on everything. I give up and buy from the boys department. (Ladies size) – 2 = (boys size) in the US. I usually buy skate shoes in boys 4.

      1. When I was a 12-year-old girl I HATED anything pink, glittery, dresses, etc! I’m almost 42 now and I’m totally into pink, but as a kid I hated it. And yet all girls’ toys are pink. Very annoying. Also, when my son was little he wanted a dollhouse, and I could NOT find one that wasn’t pink. 😦

      2. This is one of my major issues with being trans, but unsure on the logistics of actually medically transitioning (due to family). My feet are about a 5 in mens, which almost nowhere stocks. I hate women’s shoes. But shopping in boys sucks. I’m also pretty picky about styles eg the back has to be the right height so it doesn’t rub when my ankle flexes back and I like shoes without laces because we don’t wear shoes inside and I’m in and out a lot. SO frustrating.

        1. There are specialist stores on the internet for small men’s shoes; but of course you can’t try them on before you buy and that’s rubbish if (like me) you have Weird Feet and picky tastes.

          Some boys shoes are AWESOME (dinosaurs! robots!) but that doesn’t really offer the level of “sophisticated grownup” or even “responsible geek”. Plus boys sports shoes are often not made to cope with a fully grown adult’s weight, nor made to last.

      3. (Ladies size) – 2 = (boys size) in the US.

        Wow. This is the best tip ever. I’m also a not-very-ladylike woman with tiny feet. I am so excited to learn this. I don’t know why, but shopping at the boys department for shoes literally never occurred to me!

  15. I get it occasionally about colouring my hair. I earned every one of those grey ones dammit! One of my dear (but problematic) friends once lectured me on how “men don’t find it attractive bla bla” and then, Why look at the tine, I really must go.

    1. Who is this “men” person? I’ve met many a man, but I’ve never met “men”. I don’t think I care if he finds me attractive; he seems like kind of a judgmental asshat.

  16. *Fist Bump of Solidarity*

    I also “nth” the use of “No, but thanks” when folks get up in your business about how you present. I also find it a bit condescending when they do that, too, this silly notion that I’m too dumb to figure out how to dress cis-gendered. It’s like: Hellloooo, I’ve been putting up with this crap from so many sources for my entire life and it isn’t as though I couldn’t just pick something up in the grocery aisle if I was *really* that interested.

    Everyone has the right to choose how they present themselves. It’s too bad we’re bombarded by knobs and knobbishness that tries to tell us otherwise.


    I’m letting my Rageasauras bear her teeth a little bit here and if you don’t mind, I’ll share a story. I have a STEM degree and work in a STEM field and recently, I was recognized by my company and invited to a corporate-wide event, honoring the nominees and award winners. That day, I chose to dress “pretty”, wearing standard business attire for my gender. While my team knows me and didn’t say a word, members of other teams approached me, complimented me, and even went so far as to try to encourage me to dress that way more often. (Don’t get me started about how long it took me to figure out I’m allergic to so many ingredients in beauty products and how much damage my skin has suffered as a result.)

    Thank goodness for “No, But Thanks” because really? Climbing under desks, working in a lab, or moving equipment is so easy and safe in a skirt, heels, flammable leg coverings, jewelry that can snag on equipment, or stuff on my skin that can intermix with noxious chemicals.

    1. Hahaha yes! I used to work in a lab and it was like, only naive new people wore ANYTHING nice to work, because it was only a matter of time before acid holes were in everything. Of COURSE my work pants are screwy patched-up jeans! Patches in weird places because I sewed them on myself so my underwear wouldn’t show hahaha.

      It’s like, whoa, ladies need to wear practical clothes too!? NO WAI.

    2. I had a similar experience with co-workers; I was trying to present androgynously at a job and generally wore a mix of men’s pants and men’s/not-very-feminine women’s shirts, plus one skirt I wore on occasion. The one day I pulled an old dress out of my closet just to be different, my ENTIRE team plus the doctors in my department made a HUGE deal out of how nice I looked, how pretty the dress was, how I should wear that sort of thing more often, etc. It was one of those patterned one-size flea market dresses, even – not anything fancy at all! It made me very aware of how uncomfortable they were with my everyday presentation. I never wore a dress there or anywhere else after that.

      (Although, several years later I do have a comfy skirt I wear around the house.)

      1. Amazingly, people (whether family or colleagues) who get up in your business about your clothing and hairstyle/makeup choices never seem to realize that for a lot of us ornery types the more they act like it’s their business how we look, the harder we double down on our fashion choices! There is NO room for buying a different style pants on a whim, wearing a girlier top than usual, or getting a different hairstyle when you feel like there’s a crowd of overly invested people with their noses pressed to the glass who will make you regret what they think is a good choice every bit as much as what they think is a bad choice, by their heavy-handed “positive reinforcement” which is often liberally laced with express criticism of your usual style.

        1. “There is NO room for buying a different style pants on a whim, wearing a girlier top than usual, or getting a different hairstyle when you feel like there’s a crowd of overly invested people with their noses pressed to the glass who will make you regret what they think is a good choice every bit as much as what they think is a bad choice…”

          Ugh, that is totally true. I hate it when people harp on me about my appearance, because then I feel like I have no control over how I present. I feel stuck dressing in a way that they’re used to so as not to provoke any new reaction.

        2. So true! I’m un-prettifying and somewhat androgynous, but lately I’ve been discovering that it’s possible to dress more stylishly within my off-kilter taste (there are adjectives besides pretty or feminine or polished! One can be sharp! Snazzy! etc!) But I’m so wary about getting sucked into other people’s beauty ideals.

        3. There is NO room for buying a different style pants on a whim, wearing a girlier top than usual, or getting a different hairstyle when you feel like there’s a crowd of overly invested people with their noses pressed to the glass who will make you regret what they think is a good choice every bit as much as what they think is a bad choice

          So, so true! I literally didn’t wear skirts for 15 years because I thought that once I started I wouldn’t be allowed to stop.

      2. I hate that kind of attention. I wore heels to work ONCE and every. single. man. in my department commented on it (and the only other woman works out of a different building, so it was basically everyone).

      3. You know, I’m glad you said this, because I thought about it and I would probably say “wow you look so nice!” too. Not because I thought you looked bad before, but because you’ve done something different and different is interesting! and new! and fun! and tells me something about your personality!

        I’ll keep in mind from now on how it can be taken the wrong way and make someone more uncomfortable.

        1. I think a lot of it can be context-based. I think there would have been a way for someone to say “hey, I like that dress” without sending a very clear “look at that DRESS you wore, how fantastic to finally see you in a DRESS looking more FEMININE for once!” message. It was the tone/content of the comments, as well as the combination of the comments with my history with the members of that office (one of the doctors responded to my request that he call me by my chosen – now legal – name was “I can’t call you [name], that’s a BOY’S name!”) that made it so terrible to me.

      4. Makes me so grateful my workmates (two guys) aren’t like that! One wouldn’t know, or at least never says anything about what I wear; the other might sometimes say ‘Is that a new top?’ or ‘Nice jeans, I like the embroidery’ – a pleasant comment. I wear jeans or long skirts all the time.

    3. Or you could be a person who doesn’t wear jeans, trousers or pant-type things, preferring skirts and leggings in labs, and then get reverse-complimented when you’re not in a dress.

      The entire point of female-beauty culture is that one can’t win, as others have shared here – wear a dress in the lab, and you’re naive and trying too hard! Wear a t-shirt with a slogan in the lab, and you’re unprofessional, unfeminine, and not trying at all! Be a man wearing anything, and you’re good.

      1. Seriously.

        There are some days I just want to wear something that says: “Can’t Win for Trying”

        Think it’s time to pick up my cross-stitch again and make snarky pillows a la Judy Dench

      2. OH MY GOD THIS HAPPENS IN MY LAB TOO. I constantly either feel like I am too dressed up, or dressing too young and too casual for my age, and…it kind of shouldn’t matter? None of the clothes I wear inhibit my ability to do science.

  17. Oh, I’ve been here. As a chronic wearer of the black t-shirt and jeans I catch grief for not dressing up, and grief for dressing up. A lot of the advice above is excellent. “No, but thanks” is one of my favorites. The other one is “Oh, I know how. I choose not to.”

    Jedi mind hugs and a boat load of patience.

    1. Explaining to the very sweet woman in grad school that I knew how to put on make-up, and did, full stage face when I did belly dance on stage, I just didn’t like to day-to-day got such a great reaction.

      1. Seriously. I hate foundation. It feels like frosting. I’m not wearing that just to run to the grocery store.

        1. “It feels like frosting…”

          Bawwwww! This = truth, folks. Which is why, if I feel like doing dress up at all these days which is rarely, I forgo the frosting and just dust on some sugar.

    2. The other one is “Oh, I know how. I choose not to.”

      That got me through high school, when I used to be badgered by the “but you’d look so cute with a perm/with contacts/wearing make-up” crowd. People. I am not your pet or your Barbie doll. Go makeover each other and leave me alone.

  18. I wish I had read this when I was a teenager and my mom would get on me about how I dressed. And my sister. At one point they tried to sign me up for Style By Jury. Yup.

    I used to like that and What Not to Wear but the more i watched the more i came to realize shows like that are pretty much conformist bullshit.

    1. I haven’t watched in a while, but when I did see WNTW, they seemed to be reasonably respectful of someone’s preferences/workplace in their suggestions. The programs I remember were as much about freeing the client/subject from images internalized at puberty or thereabout and presenting other strategies. Yes it’s consumerism, but often people just get into a rut with a “look” that worked at 18 or 25 and needs at least an examination. That said, I haven’t watched in ages, so it might have changed.

      1. No, that’s about right. What I appreciate about WNTW is that 1) they NEVER criticize anyone’s body. It’s never like, “Well, you could wear this after you lose about 30 pounds,” they work with the body that the subject has to flatter her figure regardless. And interestingly, if you shotgun enough episodes, you can see that they give a lot of people largely the same basic rules (balance your top and bottom, pull the focus to your natural waist, etc.), so that anyone watching can at least have a starting point for themselves. And 2) they go out of their way as much as possible to help the subject figure out a more carefully thought-out version of her own style. There are so many times when an adult woman will be wearing the same thing she wore as an 18-year-old on her own time, but then she puts on her work/interview outfit, and it’s always some kind of bland and unflattering “work suit.” What they try to do on the show is cultivate a style where the work clothes and the casual clothes are both reflections of the subject’s larger style, so that there isn’t this unnatural identity splitting depending on what environment you’re in.

      2. I love WNTW; the whole goal of the show is to help women feel good about how they look. If anyone is totally against doing the makeover (eg completely happy with how they look) they can (and have) said no to the money/being on the show.

      3. WNTW has actually had a few eps where they’ve worked with someone who has an androgynous personal style, and showed them how to make that style work in an adult, professional, sharp-dresser kind of way.

        WNTW is conformist, in that it’s all about looking “good”, where “good” has certain rules, but in general the hosts seem to genuinely want the guests to be comfortable and happy and able to use clothes to express themselves. So many makeover shows aren’t like that.

  19. LW, my slightly awkwardly-dressed self stands behind you, cheering wildly.

    Congratulations on working out who you are, and why you dress as you do.

    I’m pretty much in the same boat, and it’s taken me a very long time to admit that I dress as I do not just because I have no money for fancy clothes (respectively, don’t see why I should spend money on them) or because I’m lazy – this is what I feel comfortable in, and, dammit, it should be our decision what to wear and how to present ourselves.

    People who want to manipulate you – even for the best intentions – are not good people to have around, and often very difficult people to have around.

    My snarky self wonders whether it would be helpful to ask people whether they get comission for encouraging you to spend your money. And maybe counter with ‘I would rather give the money to charity. Why don’t you support [favorite charity]. And if they complain, point out that you only encourage them to spend their money according to your wishes when they do the same to you.

  20. Pretty becomes boring when limited to a single aesthetic, especially when that aesthetic is pervasive within your locality. While there’s truth to the notion that one can pull off a style half-assed, this only ever becomes a bother when it is for special occassions. And even then most people have a damn good reason(strapped for cash, didn’t have time to pull an outfit together). “Wear makeup or dress more feminine or switch to contact lenses” means the peeps in your surroundings know jack-all about geek chic.

    Bonus troll point suggestion: indulge them for once, but on your terms. Geek lolita, candy gothic, hipstironic nerd, other obscure fashions that drive the girly up to the point of parody-there’s lots to pick, mix and plunder to your heart’s content. Ideally, you make them foot the bill, and they’ll shut up about it forever.*

    *Hopefully. Or perhaps they’ll like it so much that the socks you get for Christmas will be very long and in weird clashing colours.

    1. There is some merit to getting people who are (overly) interested in your style to engage with it on your terms. This might not be so helpful for the LW, who sounds like she just wants everyone to back off but for other people, if you have mostly well meaning friends or family that like clothes shopping it can be worthwhile to take them to your favourite store to shop for new tops/trousers/shoes for you. They can feel like they’re helping, and maybe get a better appreciation for your choice of aesthetic.

      My mum loves clothes and was always disappointed that I had no interest in shopping or fashion. She more or less got over it when she realised that I was still happy for her to bring home new clothes for me as long as they matched my style.

  21. Fistbump of solidarity!
    I spent my entire childhood fighting against the “you need to be pretty” bullshit. I also grew up in a conservative religious household, so I got the extra helping of “God wants you to be pretty” bullshit.
    As the name implies, I am a farmer. It took a while, but people have finally figured out that to me, dressed up means wearing clothes with no holes and no chicken shit on them. I have no other advice for you, just empathy. I can also offer you buttloads of chicken facts if you want to use Zebracat’s suggestion and run out of dog facts 🙂

    1. “God” wants you to be pretty? I had no idea that was even part of the conservative religious pressure thing. Yikes.

      1. Yep. Apparently, God thinks that not wearing makeup to church on Sunday means you don’t care about him. Sadly, I’m not kidding. There is just as much, if not more, pressure to look like you’re ‘sharp’ as a member of an evangelical church – or at least the one I went to for a time.

        It’s one of the reasons I left. If God didn’t want me for me, then why should I be there.

        1. Skirts. In the cult I grew up in women at to wear skirts AT ALL TIMES. Going for a jog? Wear a skirt. Doing some gardening? Wear a skirt. Meeting friends for a drink at the pub? Hold on – you’re not allowed to go to the pub…

        2. When I was in high school, my best friend’s family were staunch members of an absolutely horrible, abusive evangelical christian church. They did not wear makeup and they kept their hair long and plain. Meanwhile, my own family was fairly ordinary small-town middle class, and engaged in a lot of the same stuff as the LW’s family; I was constantly plagued to wear makeup, change my hair, wear prettier clothes, pluck my eyebrows, etc. I was really upset by this, in those days.

          One day, when I was 17 or so, the topic came up at my friend’s house, and my friend’s mother said, very simply and sincerely, “My children don’t need makeup. They are beautiful just the way God made them.” This statement sent a little shiver of awe up my spine. The batshit religion had this one redeeming quality, and it was so alluring. I wished with all my heart, that my mother thought I was beautiful the way God made me! If they hadn’t been so patently awful on so many other ways, I could have converted right there on the spot.

          We all want what we don’t have. My friend would have loved to wear makeup, curl her hair, wear short skirts and nylon stockings. But it was strictly forbidden. Meanwhile I liked to present the way my friend was required to, and I was hounded for it daily. Still, there are worse things. No one ever beat me for my fashion choices. My friend got caught with a lipstick and ended up with two black eyes.

          I don’t understand people who think it would be nice to be a child again. Were they never children? As an adult, you have so much more control over your life. You can just walk away from that stuff, and say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The nagging becomes a lot easier to deal with, when it’s optional.

          1. I read a blog for people who have left certain kinds of oppressive religious/cultish traditions. They tend to have the no makeup rule, long hair, etc rules as well. One of the authors was plain and had acne and all that, and she talked about how there was just as much pressure to be beautiful, they just didn’t have the tools to change anything if they weren’t lovely.

            but at camp, all the girls would be carefully putting their hair in rollers and otherwise attending to beauty, just not in ways that got them called painted harlots.

            So yeah, although what you heard was totally great on the surface, nobody — not even people in cults! — is free of the pervasive beauty myths.

          2. Hi Lizzie, yes, but I hear urls get caught in the spam trap. It’s No Longer Quivering, on patheos dot com. It’s not exclusively people getting out of the quiverfull movement, but it focuses on that, and especially on women (daughters of the patriarchy). I do not remember which contributor told the story I related above, unfortunately.

      2. Another piece of it is that looking pretty is a duty to your future husband. But it has to be just the right kind of dewy innocent unstudied prettiness, with no hint of allure or awareness of one’s attractiveness. Delicate blushing is a plus.

  22. I’m really sorry you’re having to put up with this shit, LW, and kudos to you for resisting it. After years of the same sort of ‘We have the cosmetics! We can make you better!’ spiel and my mother pulling stuff like physically stopping me from leaving the house unless she could apply bronzer to me, I gave in on the off-chance that this would make her happy. Spoiler: it hasn’t. While I’ve subsequently developed an unholy passion for eyeliner, I still fail pretty hard at being a ‘proper woman’ by her lights. It’s upsetting to feel that people couldn’t just see me for myself and I’m ashamed that I surrendered for nothing. I might have still come around to wearing and enjoying make-up but that would have been a choice that I could have reconciled with myself. (Also I still regularly poke myself in the eye with my kohl pencil. This shit is hard, yo.)

    Ultimately, I feel like those people who want you to be “prettier” may say they want your life to be easier and better, but what they actually mean is they’d very much like it if you’d stop being so awkwardly, you know, YOU and fit into this little box they have waiting for you. Even if you crawl unwillingly into said box, as I have learned to my cost, they will probably still not be happy. More than likely, they’ll look at you critically and say, ‘No, it’s still not quite right. Try putting yourself all the way inside the box, and close the lid. Ugh, I can still tell you’re in there. Maybe if it was a thinner box? With bigger breasts. No, smaller breasts! And hips! And whiter teeth. And a frill around the bottom so we all know it’s a girl box! Why are you being so unboxy? Just get in this box and be unhappy and cramped like I am, Goddammit!’ (I feel like I may have stretched this analogy to its breaking point.)

    How you present yourself in the world and how you move through it is a decision that only you could, and should, make, because for all their helpful suggestions, these people have nothing to do with the everyday business of actually living your life. You’re bigger than other people’s boxes, LW, you contain multitudes. Good luck!

    1. ‘No, it’s still not quite right. Try putting yourself all the way inside the box, and close the lid. Ugh, I can still tell you’re in there. Maybe if it was a thinner box? With bigger breasts. No, smaller breasts! And hips! And whiter teeth. And a frill around the bottom so we all know it’s a girl box! Why are you being so unboxy? Just get in this box and be unhappy and cramped like I am, Goddammit!’


      1. Fistbump of solidarity on having a Boxy Mother! The perils of surrendering to her wishes became horrifyingly clear to me when she indicated that when you’re a ‘proper’, pretty woman, men will sexually harrass you and maybe even assault you and that’s just the way it is. Sometimes it’s even flattering; they like your box! (So to speak.) At which point, I was all, ‘JESUS CHRIST NO WHERE IS THE EMERGENCY EXIT ON THIS THING’.

    2. shevek returning, your entire second paragraph is the best use of the box analogy I have ever read. I love it!

      1. Ha, thanks! I was pretty sure I could hear the analogy creaking at the seams but it pretty much encapsulates the arguments I keep having with my mother about my body and how it’s, you know, mine. My breasts will not fit in the box she has all picked out for me and neither will my brain.

    3. I adore you and your metaphor. Unsurprisingly, I am part of the Boxy Mother club too. I think there are a lot of us. It manifested kind of weirdly for me, because it was never about performing the princess gender role to the hilt (I suspect I would have been disowned if I’d wanted to do that, eee), but about the fact that I was having a personal style at her. Which I wasn’t, but I think we all know how successful I was trying to convey that. I eventually stopped it by refusing to shop for clothes with her, because I was never going to be a clone and she was never going to like that. I have a weird relationship with style now because I wasn’t allowed to develop it when most kids did, but I kind of love not knowing about any “rules” because I take a freer hand than most of my friends.

  23. The only other solution I can offer is the one I used in high school and my early twenties; I got the contacts, and then became a full-blown gothpunk with strange haircuts I carved myself in the bathroom.

    It did work, in a way. Nobody is going to tell you “you would be so pretty if you’d only take more trouble over your appearance!” when you very obviously ARE taking a lot of trouble to look very much as weird as you can get. And you meet some interesting people when your clothes are odd.

    1. I wish I’d been brave enough to try this when I was younger! I totally dug the look but was brought up in a very conservative family. Wasn’t actively dissuaded, I just never realized there was a choice! I mean, my mum actually may have indulged me past the point that most conservative mothers would have… I just always viewed it as ‘other’. The same wy you’d look at magic in a good book- its cool, you’d love to do it, it just ain’t gonna happen.

  24. I haaaaaate it when people do this. I was raised by a mother who was constantly shaking her head at my clothes (this was the 80s, so think layers and baggy sweaters) and telling me that I needed to dress sexier so I could get a boyfriend. Because of this, when my own 14-year-old daughter decided recently that she wanted to start buying her clothes in the men’s department, I said “Sounds fine to me.” She said “What if someone at school notices?” and I said “Tell them to suck it. You can wear what you want.” She does get frustrated because the boys she likes keep dating girly girls and ignoring her in her army jackets and clumpy boots, but she refuses to change to please them, and that’s exactly the sort of person I hoped she’d grow up to be. I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of you too, LW!

    1. My daughter too. She’s almost always preferred boy’s sneakers, boy’s shorts about half the time, and big fluffy men’s hoodies. Girl hoodies are too thin, and she’s a tiny thing so she gets cold easily.

    2. My mother used to buy me boy’s shoes, pointing out they were both better quality and comfier (especially for a person with big, square feet). But she made me swear not to tell, it was our little secret. Not because she disapproved obviously, but she was afraid she’d lose custody :-(.

    3. It seems so counter-intuitive to me that anyone would want her teenage daughter to dress sexier. Maybe “girlier” or “prettier” but I think it was my mom’s greatest fear that anyone would consider me sexy until I was at least 25.

      1. I suspect some women attempt to live vicariously through their daughters; the same is certainly true of fathers and sons. And if a fading beauty finds increased self-esteem in the objectification of her daughter…

  25. Oh, man, LW, all the fist bumps.

    My mother passionately hates how little I care about my appearance and how much I prefer being androgynous. Whenever I get my hair cut – it’s always very short – she makes a point of telling me I look like a boy and that she doesn’t recognize me. My closet is full of tight-fitting blouses she buys for me and won’t let me donate or give away, even though I wear a blouse roughly twice a year. And that’s not even touching on her views on my body hair…

    Apparently people everywhere can see through my clothing that I don’t shave my legs in winter, and I don’t bother with on my stomach or anywhere but my armpits. What’s more, if I don’t make sure to placate them with hairlessness, I will suffer unspecified consequences. Also, if I ever end up in the hospital, I will make the doctors sick with horror.

    She gets really angry when I try to explain myself, decline being denuded, or say that I like how I look, but… honestly, I’m not afraid of her anymore. Her worldview is just really sad.

    1. What? Your mom has issues with the body hair on your stomach? That’s totally wack. Not that it all isn’t totally wack, but what the hell? Stomach shaving is a thing?

      1. She doesn’t have any, or at least none visible. I seem to take after my dad as follicles go.

        1. I get where you’re coming from. Not to be TMI, but as I get older my pubes seem to be migrating northward toward my navel.

    2. We’re supposed to shave our stomachs? But… I love my happy trail!

      This feels just like the time I learned that apparently, other women with arm hair as lush as mine shave their arms, too. It’s like there was some group lesson on How To Be a Societally Acceptable Girl in school – probably around the same time we had the special lesson on periods – and I must have been sick that day.

      1. Any hair except around the eyes and scalp is cause for terror and concern, apparently. Untweezed eyebrows, too.

        …I really don’t get why.

      2. Ugh. I think I missed that lesson, too. I remember one time in middle school gym class (while we were outside, doing the mile!) this girl came up to me and told me that I should wake up at five and do my makeup like she and like, every girl EVER does. Dude, at that point, I was still learning the importance of showering. Don’t tell me that I should start this whole hair and makeup thing unless you want to know how bad I look in black lipstick and just how badly I fail at putting my hair up even in a ponytail. (and yet, even the non-feminine girls know how to do this? Was there a class in elementary school I missed out on? I give up.)

        1. To be fair, I’m bad enough at makeup that if I wanted to use it the way we’re “supposed” to I’d probably need several hours in the morning to fix it every time I poke myself in the eye with mascara or twitch and shower my face in powdered eyeshadow. So 5am would be realistic for me if I ever cared.

          I have occasional twitches towards femininity, which I do like to indulge in, but I simply do NOT have the skills. Pinterest’s beauty section seems pretty much designed to highlight how far from normal my grooming abilities are! How DO those women achieve complex braids in their own hair? THEY CAN’T EVEN SEE THAT HALF OF THEIR HEAD.

          1. Well, you can actually position mirrors so that you CAN see that half of your head — I used to live in a place where I could angle the medicine cabinet against the vanity mirror just so. Handy at times. But mostly you practice a lot and you learn how to do it by feel. If you have a lot of experience braiding things you can often tell strictly by the tension on your scalp whether something is plaited correctly and is going to sit right when you finish it and let it go. There’s also a sort of an art to jamming bobby pins into the pile of hair. You figure it out after enough failure.

            Or you can do what I do for photoshoots, and let someone else stand there for half an hour and do it for you. Although that sometimes works less well than doing it myself. I’ve run into few hairstylists who really have any idea what to do with three feet of hair.

      3. Oh yeah I draw the line at the forearm shaving. I have enough to do with my legs, TYVM. My arms are gonna stay furry.

        1. People shave their *forearms*? AYSM?

          I am fortunate that my young man doesn’t appear to object to any of my hairs that show up in odd places, even the ones I personally object to and evict. I do shave my underarms before spending two weeks visiting his family in Maine, because his mom has Issues with it, and once a year doesn’t kill me. (She’s never said anything to me, but apparently she criticized her daughter once for appearing in the paper after competing in a swim meet with unshaven pits.)

          And my mom — who otherwise was ahead of her time in not pushing me to get married and give her grandkids, and in insisting I go to college and be able to support myself — told me as a teenager that boys wouldn’t go out with me if I didn’t pluck my eyebrows.

          That said, I did give my daughter an eyebrow waxing for her 12th birthday — but that’s because *she* objected to her ‘unibrow,’ and I checked with her before gifting her with it.

          1. I’ve never really understood the eyebrow thing. I mean, I’ll trim the errant wild hair, but maybe mine are just naturally shapely or something because I’ve never really understood plucking.

          2. My eyebrows don’t really have edges, the hairs just get sparser and eventually fade out. They look a lot better if I clean up the stray hairs, especially the ones under the outer corner of the brow.

            However, it hurts like #(*%@#*&, so I usually leave them alone.

          3. *shrugs* I like the way clean shaven skin looks, and sweaters are less itchy. One of my friends epilates mainly to get rid of the sweater itch, and I was surprised because I didn’t know anyone else who ever removed their arm hair.

    3. As a doctor, I always feel uncomfortable when women apologize to me during an exam for not shaving their legs. I wonder what jerk made them feel bad about an essentially normal bodily function.

      Plus, I don’t shave my legs either.

      1. I didn’t shave my legs when I was away from home at college, even though I took leg-baring gym type classes. No one ever commented, but I was always both sick with fear that they would, and trying to come up with some witty response. I didn’t want to apologize for it! But I probably would have.

        1. I got nothing but love in college for not shaving (it was the ’90s! Riot Grrrl! Flowery dresses and combat boots and unshaven legs!) but when I went home for the summer my mom told me my underarm hair was disgusting, and yanked a facial hair right out of my face with her fingernails.

          i think i just figured out part of the source about my awful anxious hatred of this dumb close-family wedding with lots of dressup events in a warm state that i have been stressing out about (I will shave for it. But. I will not look “right” and it’s not my clothes, it’s the series of events/places I would never choose to go on my own.)

      2. When I was in Peace Corps, our training was held in the country next door, and I remember when a current volunteer from our country came to visit us trainees, and the biggest question all of the women had was whether Panamanian women shave their legs. Like, do we have to worry about conforming to this beauty standard here? And he answered no, they don’t, which was a big relief to me. Until I got to my site and realized that most people don’t shave, period, because facial hair is most often scant as is body hair, at least in my community. I had a good laugh at myself at that point.

      1. She was a nurse once. I hope it’s not something she actually believes – she’s lied in the hopes of getting me to act more feminine before.

        (if you leave acne alone, apparently your flesh will decay and worms will grow in it. I’m not sure why she thought I’d believe that. I know the difference between zits and zombies, I promise.)

        1. See, my great comfort when going to the doctor is that I’m *highly unlikely* to have the weirdest or grossest problem they’ve seen all week.

        2. I know the difference between zits and zombies, I promise

          I just wanted to admire that line again.

          I now, however, have visions of the sea worms I saw at the aquarium the other day, sticking their heads out of zits and looking about with somewhat puzzled expressions.

          (And that would *definitely* qualify for ‘weirdest problem the doctor sees that week’…)

      2. Hahaha good call. I have legit heard women express anxiety about grossing out OBs and nurses by not having removed all of their pubic hair before going into labour. It’s like… you do know what birth involves, right? You think some *curly hair* is gonna freak them the fuck out?

        1. It horrifies me that some people believe that it’s unacceptable to leave one’s pubic hair the hell alone. Of all the places I don’t want to shave …

        2. Hahahahahahaaaa…. sorry. Med student here. It’s just too funny… people have absolutely lost touch with their bodies.
          And about the really gross things… they wouldn’t want to know. Really. It’s depressing sometimes.

    4. As someone who works in a hospital: we see every possible permutation of body hair all day long and have looong since stopped caring.

      1. I figured any medical type who’d be sick at the sight of an unshaven woman would be new. 🙂

    5. What does ‘won’t let you’ mean in this context? If it’s okay that I ask. What would happen if you did donate them, give them away, or just boxed them up and gave them back to her?

  26. …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?
    => Aaaaack, ALL the rage! The nerve of some people, I simply cannot!

    LW, echoing everyone else I think it’s great that you don’t let yourself be talked down – you seem like a wonderfully confident person who feels comfortable in her skin and also like a super cool person to hang out with, so go you!

  27. you know the funny thing is that even when you dress feminine it’s still not enough. I hate pants. I think that they were invented by the devil to torture us. I live in dresses and skirts. My mother still complains about the way that I look. You don’t buy glasses that frame your face right (they don’t make contacts in my prescription). You don’t wear the right color tights with your dresses (apparently red and brown dress cannot be worn with cream colored tights) You don’t wear flattering enough tops with your skirts. You don’t match colors right. Your hair color (I dye my hair bright red because I lie it that color) doesn’t match. You should carry a purse that matches your clothes. You should wear matching shoes. On and on it goes. My response to that? I wear what makes me comfortable repeated over and over until it finally stops. It works well.

    1. The beauty work nevers ends. Also, I am soooo with you on the pants thing. DEATH TO PANTS.*

      *unless you like pants.

    2. Another pants-hater here. It’s true, you really can’t win when you’re up against sexist societal programming. Long skirt? Those make me look fusty and old-fashioned, apparently. Short skirt? Oh noes, my chubby thighs and (practically invisible for god’s sake) leg hair will traumatize innocent bystanders!

      Naomi Wolf, bless her heart, once said this: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience,” which I think is really perceptive. I think you could say exactly the same thing about the fixation on feminine presentation, and that realization has helped me shrug off a lot the appearance-policing that comes my way.

      1. Oh Naomi Wolf, why can’t you be right about things more often?

        I have felt, for a long time, that beauty culture is not about rendering women attractive, but about rendering them invisible. Ideally, if every woman is thin, large breasted, sexy looking but not sexual, and on and on and on, there will be nothing distinguishing us from any other one of us. I feel like the world is trying to shape all of into the archetype of “woman” which usually involves cutting off metaphorical limbs.

        This is why the world needs androgynous weirdos and gothic lolita girls and women with hair long enough to sit on and mohawked women and chubby femme girls and super skinny girls and shaven girls and hairy girls and old women with gray hair and old women with bright blue hair. The more that we are able to show off our unique souls and personalities, the faster the gender revolution will come.

    3. I am so with you on the pants thing. I really dislike them, especially tight pants. I like shorts well enough, but I cant wear them to work and the one time I wore a skirt to work I got sent off to change. Some of my more macho friends wont go out in public with me if Im wearing a skirt, despite me pointing out that skirts essentially allow you to hang iut in your underwear without being arrested.

    4. Monday evening there was a discussion in the Canadensis household about who was currently in posession of the family title for Mr. Grumpy-Pants. The discussion kinda fell apart when I noted that none of us were actually wearing pants, and that’s the normal state of affairs: I have something like seven versions of the same skirt, Mister and Master Canadensis prefer kilts (AltKilt FTW), and the dogs, well . . . they won’t wear nose-socks, much less pants.

      I really need to write the words to “Mr. Grumpy-Pants” so that we can sing it to the tune of “Mr. Fancy-Pants”.

    5. Stuff carrying a purse that matches the outfit. I carry a bag that FITS ALL THE THINGS.

      (I do take different bags to formal events, but that’s generally because I can get away with not taking a gazillion pills and all my cards; for every day I need a bag which can carry more than my keys, phone, cash and ID)

  28. LW has totally summed up some of the people in my life right now. I seriously thought I’d left the “LET US SHAVE YOU AND CUT YOUR HAIR AND DO MAKEUP AND MAKE YOU SHOW SKIN” crowd behind in middle school, but it’s back in GRAD school.

    I’ll have to try the broken record. And the getting up and walking away. But it’s HARD, especially when you have to deal with them frequently.

    My problem is that when I get nervous in social confrontations, I tend to start smiling, and the current crowd is taking that as “you really want this! you think it’d be good/fun/etc!”, and I don’t really know how to deal with it once it gets to that point.

    1. In this case, I really prefer having a go-to response. Because when I’m not prepared for an encounter, I will also smile automatically. But when I already thought about a response (“I don’t see the point. Please don’t bring this up again.” or whatever) it’s also more easy for me to not smile, at least not reflexively.
      (But don’t beat yourself up about smiling and not doing the reaction ‘right’. Come backs need time 😉

    2. Ugh, in grad school? That is really horrible — I’m sorry. I’m sure you went to graduate school to be a decorative fixture in the classroom. :[

  29. As the mom of 3 girls, I’m loving this. My general approach is to let them do as they wish. Eldest wanted a blue streak in her hair? Sure, let’s go buy the dye! Middle wants multi colored stripes? Why not? Youngest wants to join in, well, it won’t show up too well in your hair but ok!

    And when someone makes a comment (like the pediatrician, who’s actually pretty cool) I just shrug and say I’m taking all the rebellion out of it.

    1. I know you used to be able to get hair mascara stuff that would show over dark hair. It washes out easily obviously but at least she’d get the fun of having it for a bit.

    2. Oh man, my mother is supportive like that. Rebelling against this kind of family is like punching fog, a fog that is trying to hug you and tell you how much it loves you just the way you are.

    3. I applaud you on the lassez faire attitude about appearance. My mother, who was a bit of an iconoclast hereself, never got on my about what I looked like (I was a Goth in high school). If my grades were good, she didn’t give a good goddamn about what I wore or looked like. As a result, we didn’t fight about things like what I was wearing to school, or Grandma’s or whatever.

      (I suspect she would have drawn the line at a tattoo or certain piercings, like gauging, although I never had any interest in body mod. She may also have drawn some lines at high levels of sexualization, but I was not a Lolita goth, but a more traditional vampire/velvet frockcoat type.)

    4. HAIR CHALKING. I got a set of pastels for hair chalking and do my son’s hair with them. They show up pretty well on dark hair & wash out after a couple shampoos.

  30. LW, nothing too constructive to add on the ‘how to combat it’ front as I’ve got very far away from my family (‘you’re too short, you need to wear heels’ ‘your hair makes you look like a boy/lesbian/cancer victim’ ‘you dress like a gay man’) so I don’t have to hear that shit anymore.

    However, I do have a friend who sometimes goes the other way and is not happy if I grow my hair(!), although I think this is more to do with a ‘fear of change’ rather than a ‘I’m trying to control you’ urge and she is generally very supportive and lovely. But if she does say something odd about how I look, I’ve developed a blank faced smile, accompanied by a ‘Thank You’ and then a subject change routine that keeps it away from my self-esteem and my rageasaurus. It’s pretty effective and fairly non-confrontational and is a spin-off from the Capt’s standard of ‘Thank you, I’ll think about it’. It’s a broken record technique though unfortunately.

    1. I love “you dress like a gay man” What does that even mean? It sounds like it could be vaguely a compliment if you think that all gay men are sharp dressers, but otherwise, what difference is their between a gay man and a straight man? Why be so specific?

      1. I was going through a trilby/scarf/cord trouser/velvet jacket/thick framed glasses/eye make up phase and it was all very Quentin Crisp so I can sort of see where she was coming from and these days I would totally take it as a compliment, ha! I wish I could be bothered to put that much effort into how I look now 😀

      2. My response to that- well my brother is gay and usually wearing a glitter wig and sequined minidress. How on earth does that resemble what I’m wearing?

  31. I used to get that because I dress very simply. When family became increasingly aggressive (they wanted me to be in beauty pageants and would not take ‘No thanks’ or ‘I don’t want to’ for an answer), I just answered one aunt with:

    “I don’t want to look like a whore – that’s your area of expertise, not mine!”

    and, well, it made for an uncomfortable afternoon, but the aggressive need for make overs soon stopped.

    1. What’s wrong with looking like a whore?

      We can define our own looks, and say “that’s not right for me” without hating on others. Otherwise we’re just participating in a different arbitrary appearance standard.

      1. What’s wrong with shutting down someone who won’t let well enough alone, in language that works for that?

        I agree with you, Cliff. Using “whore” as a perjorative is rude to sex workers just as much as using “asshole” that way is rude to people who like anal sex.

        I get the impression that the poster is maybe still in her teens, and adults can be so blindingly rude to teenagers, just ignoring them in ways they’d never ignore another adult. So she had to go to extraordinary lengths to stop the verbal abuse — and it worked.

        1. It’s not so much that it’s offensive to sex workers (although it is), but that it agrees with the idea that there’s a right and a wrong way to look. “Yes, there is an objective standard of beauty, you’re just wrong about the details” isn’t the right message.

          At the same time, yeah, I do understand saying something like that in an argument to have an impact. You can’t pick the perfect words when you’re caught on the spot just trying to defend yourself. I should have acknowledged that more.

  32. A passive-resistance approach I learned a long time ago: Agreee with everything, then change the subject.

    Critic: You would be much prettier with makeup!
    LW: Yes, I would be much prettier with makeup. *Change subject.*

    Critic: You look like a boy!
    LW: Yes, I look like a boy. *Change subject.*

    Critic: You dress like a slob!
    LW: Yes, I dress like a slob. *Change subject*

    This only works with people who are really looking for an argument, though.

    1. I don’t think I could do this. Agreeing and repeating would, for me, resulting in internalizing the message. I would end up believing them. Probably that says something about where I am accepting myself as I am though – that I need to loudly disagree with people who say such things because, sometimes, I’m still in danger of believing those same things myself.

      1. This is making me imagine telling someone, “Yes, you think I dress like a slob.” It’s more pointed/argumentative than MordsithJ’s approach, but it makes me laugh, and has the benefit of being 100% true.

      2. I also can’t bring myself to agree and repeat, but for different reasons. It feels kind of slimy to me… the problem is that this person is trying to insult me, and if I just agree with them I am implicitly insulting myself.

        A similar approach that I do use is to just smile politely and say “Thank you!” in as charming a tone as you can, then immediately change the topic to something pleasant.

        Them: “That haircut makes you look like a boy!”
        You: *beams* “Why, thank you! Have I told you about my new puppy?”

        Them: “you’d look so much better with makeup!”
        You: “How sweet of you to say so! Did you see that article in the paper today…”

        Variations can be “you’re so sweet to say so,” “Aww, that’s so nice!” or basically anything generic and appreciative. It really confuses people if you act like their insult is a compliment, but you don’t actually have to agree with them… just act overwhelmingly happy. They have nothing to argue with since you didn’t disagree with them, but you don’t come across as having low self-esteem. It’s gotten me through many visits with my grandmother over the years.

  33. In college I sent my mom a Barbie doll with a note to the effect of ‘here’s something you can dress instead of me’. I don’t recommend that approach, I feel now it was a bit mean. But she did cut down on the comments.

  34. I’m usually with you on most everything you say but the last bit of advice, I just can’t get down with.

    This approach of “cut people out of my life who don’t understand me and replace them with people who are just like me” makes me uncomfortable. I firmly believe it’s important to have a variety of friends, many of whom are quite different from yourself. That’s how we keep our perspective on life broad and open.

    Obviously you shouldn’t keep people around you who make you feel bad about yourself. But the LW seems like she seems just fine about herself, she’s just tired of this particular conversation. And keep in mind, these friends are absolutely submerged from birth in a culture that dictates beauty = worth… they just want the rest of the world to appreciate their friend as they do. So instead, I would take this approach with the well-intentioned but ultimately offensive friends:

    1. Next time the subject comes up, explain that you don’t want to hear it one last time. “I understand that you’re trying to help, but when you tell me I need to change my appearance, it makes me feel like you don’t accept me for who I already am. I know you don’t mean that, but I’m not willing to have this conversation with you anymore, so please stop bringing it up.”

    2. From that point, do the broken record approach: “No, I’m happy with how I am. [change subject]”

    That way, she doesn’t have to lose her friends. And maybe over time, the friends will start to see her point when they realize she is happy and fulfilled regardless of her appearance. A win for everybody.

    1. Friends aren’t a duty either. They’re people you spend time with because that time makes you happier. They’re people you can relax and feel safe around. If you’re having to endure your friends, that’s… just not how this “friends” thing works.

      Someone you stay with out of a sense of obligation, to add diversity to your life, and because maybe you can educate them to eventually respect your boundaries–I’m not sure what the word for that is, but it’s not “friend.”

      I do agree that friends deserve a second chance. I wouldn’t want LW to drop otherwise-awesome friends because they suggested a makeup party just the once. But it sounds like she’s been handing out second chances–and third and fourth too–and is still getting her boundaries crossed. At that point, it is extremely okay to drop a friend.

      1. I think you misunderstand the diversity thing… I don’t “endure” my friends in order to add diversity to my life, but I don’t shut them out if they don’t completely see from my point of view, either. If I did, my world would be a small and lonely place, wouldn’t it?

        I assume these people do more than just nag her about her appearance, and there is a reason they became friends in the first place. So I still don’t feel comfortable with the “dump your friends and find people like you” approach to solving problems. From my understanding, this seems like a trivial reason to distance yourself from friends and family who care about you.

        I’m not saying I think you’re wrong, I’m just saying the advice doesn’t entirely sit well with me. I guess it all depends on how much this issue is bothering her vs. how much she enjoys hanging out with her friends and how important they are to her.

        1. Assuming this is pretty important to her, if they cared about her they would shut up about it when she asked them to stop. If they don’t, then that is a sign that they don’t really care whether they make her unhappy/stressed/uncomfortable.

          If the price of admission for a friendship is “be uncomfortable/unhappy because of frequent harping on appearance and ‘fixing’ it”, I have a hard time imagining a friendship SO awesome I would pay that price.

        2. I don’t think the problem is that the LW’s friends are different from her. That’s fine. The problem is that the friends don’t RESPECT the LW’s differences or choices or boundaries, and yes, that is a thing worth breaking up over if they aren’t able or willing change.

        3. Of course one should not dump a friend because of differences of opinion. The distinction lies not in opinion but in action — in what a friend DOES when you say “hey, that’s over my boundaries.” I had a rough period with a good friend a few years back, and one of our sticking points was a couple of comments she made about my appearance (“Why DON’T you wear makeup, anyway?”). But in the course of working things through, I told her I didn’t appreciate that, and that sunk in and she respected it instead of continuing to bug me about it. So now I look how I want (ie, makeup pretty much only when I am going to a special event, because I like it as a fun girly bit of dressing up but do not want to be bothered on a regular day) and so does she, incidentally (ie, I don’t ask her “Why DO you wear red patent leather clogs, anyway?” because red patent leather clogs are her jam), and we don’t look or always think the same, which works because we respect each other.

    2. I don’t need my friends to be like me. I do need them to like me, and to accept that I’m the person I am.

      If someone is genuinely curious, I’ll take the time to answer polyamory 101 questions or try to explain why I like bird-watching. If it’s code for “how can you do that weird thing?” we can either change the subject, or I’m going to reconsider the friendship.

      1. Yes indeed! I have very femme friends, butch friends, androgynous friends and friends who flit about between all states just within certain kinds of dress. We’re all very different, but we all get a long great. The difference is, my friends get the difference between personal style preferences and the concept of “right” and “wrong” style preferences.

        Same with family, My nan hates tattoos and piercings, and doesn’t get a lot of modern style trends like goth or hipster. But that hasn’t stopped her from embracing the fact that her grandchildren DO like those things, and supporting that. She bought my young cousin a pair of amazing lime green DMs one Christmas, and complimented her on the style choice of pairing them with black and white striped tights, because she knew my cousin felt amazing dressed like that. She’s also fallen in love with another cousin’s choice to dye her hair from deep brown to pale pink during school holidays, because “it suits her style”.

        Diversity requires that each person respect the differences between themselves and their friends. And that is something LW’s friends and family are not doing.

        1. My college friends and I did NOT look like we matched. When called upon to go out together, we’d all be dressed for separate occasions. Not one of us cared.

          It did make the more conformist girls on our dorm floor a little batshit, though. We considered that a bonus.

    3. I agree that it’s not necessarily a good idea to surround yourself with people who fit some cookie-cutter mold and not allow in anyone else. However, I think there’s a *huge* difference between “refusing to tolerate any difference of opinion in your friend group” and “refusing to tolerate others’ lack of respect for your personal expression.” People can be different without being jerks to each other.
      Also, speaking as an introvert with an anxiety disorder? I feel unsafe (even though I know it’s usually totally illogical) around *most* people, and spending long periods of time ready to go into a full-on fight-or-flight response is EXHAUSTING. My group of close friends who I see regularly is small, and though I still have a pretty significant amount of differing opinions on various topics within it, I don’t think it’s fair to make “having a large and diverse group of friends” a requirement for “being a discerning and decent individual”.

      1. <– introvert with social phobia. I have a lot of friends who are VERY different from me, including some with quite different political views etc (which as a policy student if actually pretty important to me, esp since there are a lot of human rights issues that get labeled "political" like "do gay people deserve to be allowed to exist?"). The difference is we know we don't agree and don't try to change each other's minds all the time.

  35. Sympathies, LW…my family is much the same way. This is what I’ve explained to both them and others, and I think it’s starting to sink in: If I have to change something so trivial or superficial about myself in order to be acceptable to someone else, then I am ultimately, probably, not going to be found acceptable to them for much deeper reasons. They will find something else equally trivial to gripe about, or the something superficially trivial turns out to be only an expression of a far deeper core aspect of my personality or gender that they’re not going to be able to deal with. Someone who’s disproportionately hung up on me not wearing makeup, is *going* to find something much more seriously objectionable about me, eventually, whether I wear makeup or not. Someone who needs that from me is not someone who *I* want to be with, because I’m not going to be able to continually do the work of looking like something that I’m just not.

    1. That seems like a fair assessment. As a teenager, my mom would (very occasionally) make remarks about my weight: nothing mean-spirited, but definitely leaning towards the “you should be thinner” thing. Finally, when I was in college she made one of these remarks, and I simply said, “Mom, could you please not do that anymore? I know you love me, and want me to be okay, but when you say these things, it feels like everything else I am and do doesn’t matter, because I’m not thin enough.” She apologized, and we’ve been able to move on and enjoy our relationship. My stepmother who keeps insisting that my clothing choices are “ugly” and “boring” (her words for “preppy”)…well, I just remind myself that I don’t have to please anyone who thinks it’s okay to bully me into doing what she wants (and that leggings aren’t pants. They just aren’t.)

  36. Or add a sexy tooled leather gun belt to your standard ensemble, with loaded water pistols. Give people one last warning (if you’re so inclined) and from then on just squirt ’em in the face when they bring up this crap.

    I know. Maybe not a practical fantasy, but a very appealing one.

    1. I just LOL’d so hard I spat my yoghurt on my keyboard. Now my office buddy is giving me strange looks…

  37. I wonder if any of it is because a woman not caring about appearance takes away a chunk of ‘normal’ feminine conversation and interaction, and other women feel panicky because they have no apparent way of showing closeness or friendship. This makes them try harder to ‘convert’ the uninterested party, so that they can stop feeling uncomfortable. A bit like a man in a pub refusing to discuss football?

    If I can’t talk to female friends about hair, shoes, makeup, bags, jewellery or whatever, I get a bit twitchy because, how do I show someone I am directing nice caring attention her way without saying, ‘I like your blouse’?! I recognise this is ridiculous and a little bit sad.

    I must also confess that if a friend or relative looks unfinished or is wearing something unflattering, I have to stop myself suggesting improvements. I have no idea why this is. I think it might be out of some deep-rooted but inappropriate protective impulse – if you go out looking like that the Mean Girls will get you!

    Clearly, if you don’t care about a topic or have different tastes, someone going on and on about it is very bad. Yes, the answer is to talk about Real Things instead, but a lot of people are brought up not to do this, particularly with family. I’m not saying anyone should have to put up with unwanted appearance-baiting – but would it help if the victim offered something else on which to drape the conversation – something comforting and of mutual interest, like, I don’t know, er, baking?

    1. Yes, the answer is to talk about Real Things instead, but a lot of people are brought up not to do this, particularly with family. I’m not saying anyone should have to put up with unwanted appearance-baiting – but would it help if the victim offered something else on which to drape the conversation – something comforting and of mutual interest, like, I don’t know, er, baking?

      You have just summed up in a nutshell why I bring my knitting to family gatherings. It gives everyone something to talk to me about without having to ask questions about my awkwardly irregular life.

    2. Interesting! And it does make sense. Do you find it harder to talk to male friends, or do you have alternate default conversation topics that work with them?

      I think it’s still possible to show nice caring attention about surface things to non-appearance-interested people. It just involves paying more attention to what they DO want people to notice about their appearance choices – “Hey, great activisty buttons!” “I love the racing stripes on your sneakers – racing stripes make you go faster, you know!” “That jacket looks so tough, it really suits you,” “Your nails got shorter, are you taking up guitar again,” etc.

      1. +1000 to this comment (and its question)

        An alternate, semi-neutral approach, if one really must comment on clothing/accessories, is to ask them where they got it.

    3. [CN: dieting-talk]
      Naomi Wolfe also has something really nice about this (also in The Beauty Myth – I know she’s had a lot of misses since!), which is that in this toxic, beauty-obsessed culture, telling another woman she looks beautiful can actually be a great act of resistance. Probably delving into dieting/shopping/make-up talk too deeply is not a great way to go. But looking at another woman, giving her a big smile, and telling her she looks great (and I really love enail’s suggestions above) I think can be a really nice thing, and I’ve started to do it more often. It’s actually interesting the response you get, because particularly when you don’t fashion-speak it much it’s obviously quite unexpected (I’m no good at fashion-speak, so this is me making a virtue of a necessity, but my compliments tend to be just like “Wow, you’re looking gorgeous!” or “Hey, you look amazing, that scarf has so many colours!”).
      I think what’s often nasty about talking about appearance is that it kind of treats women’s bodies as works in progress. So: where’s the dress from, how long did you have to diet to fit into that bikini, you’re getting really good at accessorising, nice work on the blow-wave, when did you get it done? Whereas straight-out admiration isn’t so often expressed. So I don’t think you need to entirely dump the compliments 🙂

      1. I do this – randomly compliment people (strangers and friends) – all the time. And, barring one time (which the person apologized for afterwards), I’ve always gotten a positive reaction. Just make it specific, honest and non-pushy – “Wow, your tattoo is fantastic!” Never “wow! your tattoo is fantastic. You should get a full sleeve because the people of sexual interest to you really go for that.” Lots of people put tons of effort into their appearance and genuine appreciation of that should be shared in a non-judgy way.

      2. Yes! I got a compliment from a store clerk a few weeks back. Normally I don’t bother to dress too well, but that day I’d sort of just upped my game a little — still jeans and a top, but an AWESOME top and matching nailpolish and a super cool big necklace which I was actually really nervous about because I’d never worn anything that big before. The compliment was “you are so well put-together” and it was just the nicest compliment because it didn’t say “you are pretty”, which doesn’t really have much to do with me as an active participant, but instead “you clearly put thought and effort into this thing you did, and the end result is AWESOME”. I was going 😀 for the rest of the day.

      3. I’ve been trying to do that “compliment people in passing” thing more of late. Partly I’m doing it as a way to deal with my own social anxiety (Look! Interaction with someone that has no negative side-effects! Yay!), and partly because I know how nice it feels to have someone say “Great shirt!” or what not at me, and…well, partly because I see a lot of people wearing awesome things and I want to note how awesome those things are. Adorable hair scarves! Awesome striped dresses! Kicky jackets! God, I wish I had any sort of fashion sense–but I can at least compliment in others.

        I’ve gotten one or two rather neutral reactions, but mostly people seem happy. And I imagine if I were sticking to complimenting people I know, the happiness percentage would go up.

      4. Also, “cool” and “awesome” are adjectives that don’t scream “Buy into the Beauty Myth” and are suitable for most non-conforming identities. “You look so cool in that” “you look awesome today” “Cool hair”

      5. I do a lot of “Hi! Fab coat!” as I buzz past people. “Nice hat!” “Great dress!”

        The response has always been a startled look and then a smile and “Thanks!” I do hope they’re not just being polite and that they really were pleased, because I do it for two reasons: I got pleasure out of seeing their cool coat or whatever, and I wanted to give them pleasure in return.

        1. I think this sounds really nice. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the site ‘street luv’ where people share *positive* stories of being talked to by strangers?
          Point is, a compliment from a stranger does NOT have to be a bad thing. It’s all the awful gender crap that goes with it that sucks. Your compliments sound wonderful, and a great exercise in ‘positive assertiveness’

    4. Humans are wired to help each other. An urge to help someone who’s having unintentional fashion difficulties isn’t a bad thing, though you’re probably being wise not to act on it most of the time. Ever watched the My Little Pony cartoons that are popular right now? One of the ponies is very glamorous, and loves to make things (and other ponies) pretty, because that’s what she does. She doesn’t try to make over the group tomboy unless it’s requested, but boy does she have fun when she gets the chance. Nothing wrong with that.

      I think you’re right that fashion is often used as a bonding mechanism, but my impression is that casual situations with a semi-stranger is not usually where the you-should-be-more-____ stuff comes from. It’s more likely to come from people who know you and therefore think they can speak with authority about what is For Your Own Good. I agree that a topic change is a decent way to handle it, though. Mm, brownies. 🙂

      1. Yeah, exactly! Rarity is a full-on fashion designer with her own boutique, but she only ever makes over her friends when they’re going to a big party. Gala? Wedding? She makes them beautiful*. Other than that? She dresses herself up and they admire her and that’s that. This is how fashionable people with manners are around unfashionable people. And they exist, too.

        *while keeping their particularities in mind! She makes pretty dresses for HER FRIENDS, not for some generic standard of pretty!

        1. And no-one tells Fluttershy that she’s too sensitive, or tells Applejack to get rid of her accent. At least, no-one but the villain du jour, who will be thoroughly embarrassed by the end of the episode. The show’s too sugary for me to watch through more than a couple of episodes now, but damn, I wish it had been around when I was little.

          1. This is a total tangent, but I adore the fact that Fluttershy’s sensitivity is treated as a normal personality trait, not something to be fixed. I was astonished (but pleased!) in the episode in which Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash bond over practical jokes, because the show explicitly made a point of saying that practical jokes are only fun if the person you’re pranking will find it enjoyable too. Fluttershy would think it was hurtful and embarrassing, not funny, to be pranked… so Pinkie and Dash don’t prank her. And it’s not about her being lame or a bad person. It’s just that she has different ideas of what’s enjoyable, and they respect that.

            I’m so used to media where being sensitive, anxious, or shy is something you need to be talked out of–or where you just are expected to suck it up nad harden up–that it surprised the heck out of me. But in a good way.

          2. Yes, I loved that episode too! And there’s a moment where the villain says something rude that embarrasses Fluttershy, and Pinkie immediately gets furious and says “No-one talks to Fluttershy like that!” even though it’s a comment Pinkie herself could easily have handled. The writers of that show Get It.

    5. I I feel this way too, sometimes, about wanting to “fix” things about people. I used to be a costume designer, and my brain runs naturally in Editor mode, where I constantly want to tweak things and make them better than they are. Since other people don’t appreciate this, I’ve turned it into a mental game for when I’m on the bus. And when someone is looking really nice, it gives me an excuse to make a slightly detailed compliment.

  38. I do want to chime in as someone who has been on BOTH sides of this issue.

    I originally Did Not Care, but then I found my style and omg I felt so much happier and in my own skin! It was lovely. But it took confidence and having people encourage me helped. What DIDN’T help was when they were dictating the style I liked. That in fact made me feel fake and yucky when I tried it. So screw that noise.

    Now, for the friend I did this to, I did not pressure her to try specific looks- I just wanted her to try things that would make her look better, try a lot of them, until she found her style! Because it made me happy when I found mine, and SHE WAS ALWAYS DEPRESSED AND COMPLAINING ABOUT HOW PEOPLE PERCEIVED HER.

    She complained about not having anyone hit on her. She complained about how people would judge her for her clothing at work. She complained about how people thought she was a slob. All. The. Time.

    So LW- if you do not complain about these things, then I find (because I don’t like shaving and like tattoos and hear the refrain of “but guys will never hit on you!” in those areas) the best answer is simply saying “But I’m not really interested in finding x (boyfriend, “better” job, etc), so why does it matter?” Even if it is only a half-truth (you are interested, but don’t want to do y for it), it doesn’t matter. It’s the easiest way to make them lose their argument.

    If you do, then stop and check yourself. Ask yourself what you are willing to do and not do for those things to happen. Become at peace with it. Be your awesome self.

    1. I just wanted to agree here.

      I haven’t been on both sides of the issue, but I have been the friend who listens. I was the one who, when My Little Ponies came out, everyone looked at me and went “YOU’RE RARITY.” So with that disclaimer, if you fall in to the category the commenter above described, i.e. not happy with how people perceive you*:

      If you want clothes that do more to convey how you want to present yourself, don’t give up on fashion/having cool clothes just because some people are assholes and think there is only one way to present yourself if you are biologically female. There are companies out there like Saint Harridan (www dot SaintHarridan dot com), that make clothes for female-bodied people that present androgynously/masculinely. They have awesome suits! They are not my style, but they need more love, and there are other places like them that do more casual masculine clothes for women. And did you know Harley Davidson makes really cool high heels? I didn’t until I was looking for heels that fit a certain friend’s style. There’s all kinds of stuff out there. Go poke the internet and all kinds of nifty things fall out. A lot of Lolita sites have Dandy/Prince fashion, if you want to thumb your nose at people by getting frilly occasionally without looking feminine.

      Find the clothes that make you feel happy and good when people look at you. And there’s the added bonus that if your clothes suit you and make you feel confident, the people who approach you are much more likely to be people you actually want to talk to, since you’re seen as intentionally sending out signals about what kind of person you are. You might make cool new friends that way.

      *you being the letter-writer or someone else browsing the comments, whichever is applicable, and who falls in to the described category.

      1. I went to SaintHarridan but all I got was a Kickstarter page. Do they have an online store? My sister would LOVE that (and her birthday is right before Christmas).

  39. Chiming in on the ‘if you dress feminine, you still lose’, over here: I work part-time as a barmaid to support my studies, and whilst I don’t usually wear make-up day to day, I do when I go to work because it’s part of my ‘armour’ (like the fake smile and the super-friendly waitress voice) that gets you through a 10-hour shift. I also dress nicely (because having fun with clothes makes me happy! goddammit!!) and the *amount* of comments I get, even from fellow (usually male) staff, about how me and the other girls probably secretly like being leered at by customers, because look how we dress up for them!, is unbelievable. I even once let myself be persuaded to dress down, and shockingly – SHOCKINGLY – a young thin blonde barmaid still gets hit on even when she’s in jeans and a baggy t-shirt. (“Is that your boyfriend’s t-shirt? Come straight from his place? He’s a lucky man.” Ugh.) The whole girly thing also lends a certain (ridiculous) shock value to the whole “I’m-currently-doing-a-Masters” thing. My favourite one of those was “what does a pretty girl like you need with an education?”. The…same as anyone else needs…with an education…?

    1. I hear you on the subverting expectations! I enjoy being able to sometimes be sexy (in my free time) or feminine (in my work time) as a way of highlighting that neither of those things is incompatible with being mathy.

      1. Exactly! When I was in high school, I was on the academic team, and that whole circuit was pretty heavily male. I was also a cheerleader, and would sometimes show up for competitions in my cheer uniform, complete with pom-poms on my shoes and a ribbon in my hair. None of them took me seriously, until I was shutting them out of the game. It was fun sometimes, but it was also frustrating to be condescended to by boys who thought I couldn’t possibly understand the vagaries of the Bismarck system of alliances because I wore a short skirt and a shit ton of glitter.

        1. Oh my. I wish I could have been there to see that. As person who was taught to draw a mental divide between the ‘pretty girls’ and the ‘smart girls’, and to always be on the correct (smart) side of the line, I am only recently becoming truly open to the understanding that it is possible to be both. This is great because it means I am finally ‘allowed’ to think of myself as being pretty. I think that stupid, fictitious and all-too-prevalent fallacy that women can only be one or the other is the reason I have always had difficulty considering my appearance in any terms more attractive than ‘plain’. Now, I get to celebrate being BOTH, and your description of MiniMarillenbaum aceing academia in glitter and pompoms is just too delicious for words!

          1. I bloody hate that divide. I got it too, although from outsiders rather than my family. (My family found other things to drive me bats over.) It is entirely possible to be beautiful, in either a conventional or unconventional way, and to be intelligent, also in either a conventional or unconventional way, at the same time. You do not need to be either in order to be an “acceptable” human being, but I have personally made money doing both, which seems to be the weird litmus test for unbelievers — if someone will pay you for it, then it must be true! I think this is very silly, but I guess you work with what you’ve got.

        2. Seriously. I’m a woman in physics. I’m also very femme. And apparently one can’t be both at the same time.

          I get looks and comments, usually from students, pretty much constantly (most of my colleagues are used to me by now). Whenever I teach the intro classes for engineers (mostly young men) I like to double down on the fashion and femme-ness, because it always confuses them to have a female prof (the only one in the department who teaches intro classes) who is smart and into stereotypically girly things. The reactions are priceless and some of them get really pissed off about it.

          1. Thanks for this. You set a great example, and you also help do my job! (Where my job often = teaching students about things like hegemony, heteronormativity, and gender roles.)

            This is way off-topic to the original post, but I am so grateful that my students see example of folks who are gender-non-conforming in a variety of ways (and yeah, that kind of includes a girly physicist, sad as it makes me to say that).

        3. Not really femme, but I am kiind of feminine in presentation in a nonmasculine-side-of-neutral sort of way (women’s jeans and girly T-shirts, mainly) and also blonde, tiny, apparently cute (and not in the “hot” sense of the word) and occasionally indulge in *gasp* public knitting. Some of the reactions I get when I tell people I’m doing a PhD in maths make me wish I could take a picture. Honestly, I sometimes enjoy building up their assumptions just to tear them down…

  40. As a fellow weirdo, here is what the multitude of observations on human society and people in general have lead me to conclude: if an individual chooses to live by the standards of a culture that is different from the predominant culture, then those who DO live by that predominant culture – often not by choice so much as by lack of choosing any other way to live – assume on a subconscious level that said deviant is rejecting that culture, and therefore all individual participants of that culture. Somehow, your decision to present yourself in the way you do is taken as a personal affront to those who do not live by the same code you do.

    I get this ALL the time. I do not drink alcohol, do not smoke cigarettes, nor “self medicate”, and I have lived that way, by choice, for as long as I was able to understand that I had that choice to make, which is longer than my adult life. The reactions I get when I tell people I don’t drink – especially in bars – is amusing at best, ridiculous and confrontational at worse. Often, I get asked “why” in a challenging manner. In my younger days, I would feel the need to justify my decision and try to placate the questioner’s hurt feelings. These days, I have run out of damns to give. “Because I choose not to” is my basic answer these days, and if that isn’t enough for the person, then they aren’t interesting enough for me to want to continue that conversation, or be in their presence.

    Dealing with family is tricky, though. Most societies favor strong familial bonds, and often place the importance of blood relations above everything else, sometimes regardless of what a person might do to create conflict and drama within those bonds. My relatives, from the earliest days of my memory, were difficult to get along with (or at least the vast majority of them were). This became worse for me as I grew up as a “weirdo”, someone who’s guidelines are different from what most of my relatives recognize as ‘normal’. I have so many relatives in my generation alone that we could occupy every unit in a regular tenement building, and possibly spill into another. I speak to only a small handful of them willingly, and of those, only 3 with any sort of regularity.

    Separate yet connected to that, I learned from step-relatives that the most important aspects of a lengthy relationship is respect and loyalty. You don’t need to be related to someone to give and receive both. Thus, early in my adulthood, I decided that I would create my “family”, and being a blood relative did not grant automatic admission. It might be rough, but if your relatives really do cause that much grief and stress in your life, you might want to reconsider exactly what “familial obligation” means to you, and figure out if you need/want to distance yourself from any of them or not.

    1. Sometimes, when people I don’t like in the first place get pushy about alcohol (I don’t drink either, mostly because it makes me feel terrible), I embellish on my family’s medical history involving depression and alcoholism and the two of them combined, in great detail and at length, and enjoy them getting more and more dismayed and hugging the beer they were pushing on me closer and closer to their chests. Then we never speak again and it’s fabulous! YMMV.

      1. I have a few ready “horrible things that alcohol has done to my family” stories that can and often do get me the sort of reaction you described. Then I came to a realization; why should I have to divulge personal, sometimes traumatic stories about life to keep some closed-minded person I’m never going to see again from suffering butthurt of his own doing?” So I stopped bothering. If someone can’t handle the fact that I do not divulge in their lifestyle, then it’s a damn shame. I no longer feel a need to justify specific life choices of mine. I’ll happily discuss them, though, if something positive will come of it.

        The non-drinking thing isn’t the only aspect of my life that gets this sort of reaction, but it’s the handiest example I could think of, as it seems no one gives a crap if I look pretty or not. 😉

        1. You shouldn’t have to have traumatic stories to be able to choose not to drink alcohol!

          I don’t like the taste and am not much into being drunk, so I don’t really drink much, but some people seem to need to make an issue of it, and so sometimes I get all uppity and Officially Don’t Drink. But there’s no reason it should be such a big deal! It’s nothing to do with them!

          1. I agree, I *shouldn’t* have to have traumatic stories to support my choice, which is why I don’t bother telling them any more. 🙂

            And I agree on the taste; I simply can’t enjoy it, nor the smell. I also agree, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But like with the issue of dress with the original poster, some people can’t handle deviations from their norm, and if those deviations are a choice, they take it personally.

            Hooray for those who can accept differences with an open mind. 🙂

      2. I usually just tell people when they get pushy about alcohol that I have control issues. Namely, I like to be in control. Usually, they back off. When they don’t, a solid “No.” is the line I hold.

  41. Cliff and the awkwardeers have all the first-bumps and self-acceptance covered with their awesome advice, so I just wanted to add something practical which has worked for me. For family/people you care about keeping, it might be worth thinking about some nice thing you might want from them that you can sub in when they suggest a makeover etc. If they are doing it from a (hella misguided) sense of doing something nice for you then it might be easier for them to adjust if they can channel that into another direction. (If they’re not then bugger bollocks to them!) I went on holiday with my uncle and auntie recently and they seemed obsessed with treating me to have a facial or massage at a salon. I absolutely refused, they persisted, and eventually I realised their persistence was because they wanted to treat me to something they just didn’t get that what was nice to them wasn’t nice to me. In the end I suggested they buy me something I liked instead of the facial, they did, the beauty salon thing was dropped and everyone was happy. All best from a fellow androgynous wierdo!

  42. It boggles my mind that anyone cares what someone else looks like, even more so that they would actually SAY THIS TO THEIR FRIEND. I just don’t understand it even slightly.

  43. Ugh, yes. See, now, I’m in the opposite boat: after I became comfortable with who I am, I decided HEY MAKE-UP AND CLOTHES ARE REALLY FUN TO PLAY WITH AND MY BODY IS A CANVAS FOR EXPRESSING HOW I FEEL — so now I wear bright lipstick and pretty dresses and do my hair and stuff!
    And it’s really frustrating when suddenly people are like “woah you will never get a man if you wear that much make up” (lol guys I’m gay jokes on you), or get all “when did you start painting your nails??? WHY ARE YOU PAINTING YOUR NAILS AND WEARING LIPSTICK NOW YOU NEVER USED TO!!!” My mom is generally pretty cool about all things, but she sometimes accidentally gets up in my beeswax for this, since she is a non-make-up-wearing-individual.
    (Also I decided that hey tattoos and piercings are COOL and I want some — cue people saying “you will never get a jobbbbb that will be on you FOREVER HOW WILL YOU FEEL WHEN YOU ARE OLD”)

    Basically, it is super frustrating when people get all up in your business about your appearance! It’s my fuckin’ appearance — what *I* want to look like is nunya business! I dress in a way that makes me feel comfy, that makes me feel good. Why should I dress in a way that makes YOU feel good? Stop vomiting your expectations all over meeeee! DB<

    Props to you, LW, for sticking with what makes you comfortable! A person's appearance is a manifestation of their personality, so you should always do what YOU want with it. You sound mad chill and together, so good for you! *shakes pom poms*

    1. what is WITH “how will that tattoo look when you are ooolllld” anyway? SAGGY AND WRINKLY LIKE THE REST, I WOULD IMAGINE, for the love of monkeys.

  44. My reaction to LW’s haranguers was “Why?” – like a child going through the Why? stage with everything.

    “You should make yourself pretty!”
    “Because you’ll never get a man otherwise!”
    “Because all men ever only like pretty women!/Society will collapse/Getting a man is the most important thing in the world in space/etc”

    Might not work, but it’d have the benefit of annoying the crap out of them.

    LW, totally agree about not wanting to be hit on by random men (or any men). When I wear makeup and dress nicely, it is Not. For. Strangers’. Benefit. It’s because I like it. Mr Kittehs’ doesn’t actually care how I present myself.

  45. I want to go out on a possibly unpopular branch, but I think I can stay on the Tree of Awesome.

    I think it’s good to try new things. Case in point – for years I have been Super Anti Leggings. They not pants, people! Leggings are for football players and maybe Renaissance Festival, nowhere else. But Team Leggings wore me down. They were everywhere, and everyone kept talking about how comfortable they are.

    Finally I broke down and tried a pair on, and OMG actually life changing. I wear them all the time now, but as an under-layer beneath my voluminous, floor length skirts. I call my style Warrior Amish. My legs stay warm and I don’t flash anyone when the wind gusts. If I need to run or climb or do the splits for some reason, I’m covered.

    LW, there might be an element out there that you think you hate, that you could actually incorporate into your androgynous awesomeness. Hopefully it’s not super-condescending of me to suggest that!

    1. Totally with you on leggings being underwear – which is how you’re wearing ’em, by the sound of it. It’s how I do, too. Treat them as tights, I say: does one have one’s arse hanging out under a top, with only tights on? Nope. Leggings are seriously comfortable (especially if your legs chafe easily, like mine do) but trousers they ain’t.


    2. I’d say the difference between your joining Team Leggings and LW’s experience is that Team Leggings wasn’t pushing it on you, they were just omnipresent and raving about how great they were. Which makes it something that you can get worn down on in a positive way rather than an attack.

      That said, it’s easy to get so into the habit of resisting stuff people try to force on you that you close yourself off to the kind of gentle and positive encouragement that can get you to try things you might like to try. Even for things I kind of want to be talked into, I need people to back off and let me come to it on my own, and the more it’s something that people harp on about at me, the more space I need to be able to consider it without it being something soul-crushing and conformist.

  46. Can “good luck, and stay weird” be, like, the awkward army motto? Or maybe Keep Calm and Stay Weird.

  47. LW, I admire you for sticking to YOUR style in the face of opposition, and I sympathize with you for having to deal with people who constantly want to ‘improve’ you. I’ve gotten some of that myself, being a woman who prefers a comfy casual, make-up free, and undyed grey hair appearance. For me, the broken record approach has worked – “Why?” Is my favourite response. I have also had great success when I use a supremely confident tone of voice/attitude when responding, to imply that I’m pretty darn near perfect as I am and I couldn’t be bothered to spend a single second more on this topic. When faced with this response, the ‘improver’ tends to stutter to a confused halt because a woman who presents as I do couldn’t possibly be happy with herself…could she?

    For what it’s worth, I have always found those people who march to the beat of their own drum to be far more appealing than cookie-cutter-conformists. Reading the comments on this letter tells me there are many more with that attitude 🙂

    1. Someone who was trying to be a bit mean once asked me if I’d considered getting a nose job. “No, whatever for?”

      “You’d be prettier.”

      “But … I’m married. Prettier for WHO?”

      1. Prettier for yourself, always! (Also, suggesting that someone surgically fix one’s self is beyond crass.)

  48. WOW these people are out of line and you are totally within bounds to nix them. It is possible they think you have low self-esteem or something and want to try to help (I know at least a few people who have seemed down on themselves, and it is pretty insane what clothes that fit properly and a decent haircut can do in the right circumstance, male or female). Possible that they are super misguided, well-intentioned (but still rude, pushy, irritating) people. But if they still push after you have said, “look, I appreciate that you want to do something nice for me, but you are barking up the very, very wrong tree. I love the way I look, right now, androgyny and all. I’m glad your look works for you, but this is what makes me happy. I already AM beautiful, and if you don’t agree, can you at least agree to respect my feelings on the issue?” then fuck them. People who can’t get their minds around the fact that some people are different than them will probably always fail at making friends who are different than them, especially when they try to force them into complying. That isn’t your fault, you’re not obligated to put up with them being ignorant and disrespectful. They can have fun with their bland social circle, and you can make new, awesome friends who don’t have some ridiculous superficial checklist for the people they spend time around.

  49. Has anyone else gotten the “If you aren’t pretty and feminine, you’ll never get a job/be successful” message too? Like, apparently you’re required to wear a skirt to an interview, or they will hate you on sight? I have no idea where my mother got that idea. (Or the idea that it was polite to say “Women never look good with short hair”, just before her daughter chopped all her hair off.)

    1. Oh yeah, I got that one for years.

      It helps to apply the Passive-Aggressive Translator to stuff like this.

      “I am secretly worried that others will think you don’t look professional and will never get a job!”
      Translated: “I don’t like the way you look and wished you look more like what my definition of ‘professional’ is!”

    2. Sadly, there is a grain of truth to that one. For the interview, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to try to conform, as much as you are comfortable with. I have always worn pant suits, take out the nose ring, and put on a little make-up. I should add that I am in engineering, so ultra-femininity is not really called for (thank dog, for my personal taste). I just bought my first skirt suit after 10 years as a professional in the field wearing pants every day. I needed a second suit, and it fit me, so I bought it. I think it was on sale, too. After the interview, it’s a personal judgement on how much personal style you are willing to sacrifice to fit in. And fitting in at work is soooooo important.

      I feel like work is a different ballgame. It’s all very nice to cut certain friends out of your life, but you can’t really cut certain co-workers out of your life. And while you can live (miserably) without friends, you can’t really live without a paycheck. So concessions and accommodations at work don’t bother me nearly as much as concessions and accommodations in my personal life. They do bother me some, and I am not willing to 100% accommodate norms. But I’ll bend a little to get along.

      It’s a very individual decision, and there is no single right answer.

      1. It’s really just ‘fit the dress code of the company’, isn’t it? Not every job interview is for office work, let alone high-flyer-corporate land, but the way people talk, you’d think they all were. I’ve had plenty of jobs and never owned a suit (let alone one with a skirt) in my life. Dressing neatly and not in jeans has been pretty much the go.

        1. It is “fit the dress of code of the field” (companies tend to be pretty uniform in this respect in a certain field). That’s why I specifically added my field so that my manner of dress would make sense in context.

          Anyhow, feminine dress for women improves the chances of being well received regardless of formality level. I think it’s a little strong to say that they will hate you on sight if you don’t. For many fields, no one will care. For some fields, every one will care. But there is social engineering, and I put wearing my more feminine blouses to the interview in the same boat as having a firm handshake.

        2. It should be, yeah. That said, I’m an engineery/web/graphicky type who wears a Witty T-Shirt and black jeans EVERY day to work, and I have tattoos etc. And yet our contractors are in a suit (black) tie (dark blue), black shoes, perfect white shirt (all men) or dress (black) and high heels (black) with stockings etc…

          One day while one of them was sweating in a jacket, I said to her: Seriously, it’s summer, it’s Australia – lose the heels, heavy makeup, and stockings, you’re dying, and no one here is going to mind!

          Her response was: She has a uniform that the contracting group enforces no matter what. For women that was high heels and a skirt, shirt, jacket, and makeup of the approved colours. She had no choice, but she hated it.

          I thought mutinous thoughts of anti-discrimination suits on that one (especially the compulsory high heels!), but I wasn’t the one who’d be fired for not following it.

          Compulsory makeup! For female programmers!

          1. Anti discrimination suit is right! That’s just ridiculous, especially in our summers. Someone tried to put me in high heels I’d go straight to the union on oc. health and safety grounds – I wear orthotic insoles.

          2. D: Compulsory high heels? Ewwww…

            (says she whose knee braces would show below the skirt and through the stockings and whose ankle braces ditto except they might not fit inside the shoes… And I’d HAVE to wear them if I wanted to go to dance class that week)

      2. For the interview, I can see it. My personal rule is to go “one click up” for the interview. Like, if the office is slacks-and-a-blouse businessy, I’d go with a skirt suit when I interview.

        Likewise, my spouse just interviewed at a video game company. His “one click up” was a polo shirt and jeans. Game companies are not formal. 😉 (he got the job, too.)

    3. These days if anyone tries that on me I get to just respond with a blank look and, “But I am dressed professionally.” Trousers, business shirt, tie, waistcoat sometimes – very business appropriate! Any business that wouldn’t hire me because I wasn’t wearing a pencil skirt I do NOT want to work for.

      1. You are right, you wouldn’t want to work for them. But sometimes, they are your only offer. And then you have to balance eating regular meals with compromising on how you dress. That’s why I put work in a different category from family and friends.

          1. Oh yes. Being unskinny and preferring short hair can be a nightmare. My barber is retiring; it took a long time to train her to give me the shaved-sides haircut I want, and now I have to find someone new. I am traumatized.

    4. Oh gods, this is my mom. She actually told me (when I stopped shaving my legs) that I shouldn’t, that if I didn’t shave my legs, I’d never get promoted. Well, I’ve been promoted twice since then, and gotten a boatload of awards…turns out it’s not all in how you look, after all!

      It’s kind of frustrating too, because my mom is super tomboyish herself, and pretty feminist (in I think a 3rd wave kind of way?), and she never has worn makeup and doesn’t really care about clothes, but *man* does she care about body hair. (Or, perhaps more accurately, about how society perceives body hair.)

  50. I loved this advice! There’s such a cultural narrative around women wanting to look as ‘pretty’ as they possibly can that I think for lots of people, it just doesn’t even occur to them this isn’t true for everyone. All the movies where the nerdy girl says she’s happy with the way she looks, but secretly wants to be made over, to start. It’s inconceivable to some people that a woman might genuinely *NOT* be happier if she looked ‘prettier’ (or was skinnier, etc). If she isn’t as pretty as she can make herself, well, maybe she doesn’t know how! Or she is too lazy! Or she’s trying to make a statement! It has to be some *character flaw* that makes her not want to look her ‘best’.

    I think this makes it harder to get through to some people “no, I really *don’t* want a makeover”. The cultural narrative also includes women at first rejecting ‘help’…but then being so much happier she got it! I see it with all kinds of weird things. “No, I really don’t want a boyfriend, I want to be single”…can’t possibly be true, there must be some Deep Seated Issue that can be fixed!

    Life would be so much easier if people would just take others at their words. (And also if nobody got mad when they were taken at their word!)

  51. Any advice on how to build up the self-esteem to feel like this? Every so often, I (cis woman) get a comment on my (masculine) appearance that knocks me for six. I was born boyish looking, probably unattractive by a lot of people’s standards. I always will have a big nose and a long face. I wouldn’t mind how I look if it didn’t mean I get insulted. Usually to my face. I’d like to be a tougher person, but I’m not able to hear things like “is that a boy or a girl?”* without getting close to tears.

    * I know this is way worse for the genderqueer/trans* people, and don’t mean to in any way diminish that.

    1. People who say “is that a boy or a girl?” aren’t nice people who were suddenly awestruck by your hideousness into speaking bluntly. They were poopheads to begin with, looking for anything to pick on.

      I don’t know if this helps, but I used to imagine that people who insulted my appearance were regular decent people who just happened to be so horrified by my looks that they were shocked into speaking out of turn. It turns out this is not true at all. They are real-life trolls, and they were assholes long before I came along.

    2. Cliff Pervocracy is totally correct, these people are assholes, I would add that they are ugly, deep down ugly to say such a thing to you. One can only hope they grow into something better.

      What struck me, you said “I wouldn’t mind how I look if it didn’t mean I get insulted.” I think this is where you need to look, you do mind, you haven’t accepted your own beauty and when someone says some awful bullshit thing you believe it. I see all people as beautiful unless they show me they are ugly – I guess that’s a cliche but it’s true for me. Seeing others this way helps me to see myself this way. I don’t know if this helps at all, I didn’t realize I actually am/was good looking until my 30s and I’ve only gone back to having self image issues recently due to major awful shit going down that brought the aging thing on rather quickly.

    3. I get mistaken for a boy a lot, especially in colder months where I’m wearing baggy clothing. When I was a little kid, I took great delight in that; as a teenager, I was defensive and mortified; these days, I’ve gotten back to between “mildly irked” and “mildly amused”, depending on how it’s handled.

      So my advice, for what it’s worth:

      Accept the being angry at people who say horrible things. “is that a boy or a girl?” is not an acceptable phrase for anyone to utter aside from when staring at a newly introduced infant. (And even then it’s problematic, but, culture.) It is right and acceptable for you to be angry when people say rude things about you. The problem is them being rude, not you being yourself.

      Because at least for me, the first step in getting past being crushed by what strangers thought of me was to get angry about it. It’s none of their business. They have no right to say such things, and they are the people who are in the wrong.

      It’s like they’re trying to throw mud at you. They’re the ones with buckets full of mud, and they want to put it all on you, like it’s your problem. And of course it’s upsetting to you: mud is flying in your direction! But rather than trying to feel zen about the nature of mud, which is a separate issue, I think it helps more to start with: “Heeeeeey, they’re the ones carrying those buckets around. I’m not the one with a damn Bucket Of Gender Presentation who feels compelled to wing it at everyone who doesn’t fit the special guidelines printed on the pamphlet that came with the bucket.”

      Be angry. It’s like an umbrella. And I really think that going, “No, fuck them, they’re the ones with a stupid bucket when I’m just walking around bucket-free, and they’re the ones who are wrong to try to make their mud my problem” is the first step towards putting up your awesome Umbrella Of Mud-Repelling +3 and ignoring them.

      1. About “is that a girl or a boy?” – which, by the way, totally isn’t rude when it’s coming from kids at that figuring-the-world-out stage…

        When I was slightly more androgynous than I am now, if I heard it, I’d usually offer to talk to the kid, and the parents were very relieved. My answer was usually a long-winded version of this: “I’m a girl, but you can look however you want and still be a boy OR a girl.”

    4. I don’t know if this will help, but I know if I get called on my appearance like that (it’s usually been for me, “are you pregnant?” rather than gender-based stuff but it still makes me want to cry) it prompts in my head a shame spiral of, “OMG I HAVE DONE SOMETHING WRONG I AM TOO FAT AND THAT IS WRONG AND I HAVE FAILED”. So trying to train myself to think, “No, THEY have done something wrong by being rude and saying that, I am NOT in the wrong at all” can help? I am lucky that my best friend totally understands this and is very much not in the makeover camp, so I know I can go to her and be all “Someone said this ;_;” and she will respond very much with “That was incredibly rude, how dare they?” So… I don’t know if your sadness at such remarks is prompted by terror that you have somehow got a Black Mark In The Scorecard of Life, but if it is, that’s my two cents!

    5. Something that I find very cheering about appearance is looking at this: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/incharacter-slideshow#slide=1

      A bunch of actors acting, making all kinds of crazy faces. So expressive and awesome-looking! And I found that the ones that can make the most amazing faces are not the ones that are the most conventionally pretty, but the big-nosed, wrinkled, the bushy-eyebrowed etc. I wasn’t thinking about pretty when Iooked at this and, separated from my wishes and fears about beauty conventions, what I like to see – and really, what I’d like to be – is interesting and full of character, not blandly pretty.

      Also, maybe it’d help to remember that, while ‘pretty’ rests heavily on having fairly average features (and/or on decorating oneself in particular ways), many people who are considered really ‘beautiful,’ even in our convention-loving society, have quite extreme, unconventional features. ‘Beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ are much closer relations with each other than with ‘pretty.’

      …maybe these sorts of things are only cheering to weirdos like me, I dunno.

    6. This happened to me ALL THE TIME in middle school, when I had a short (Beatles-like) bowlcut. I’m a ciswoman with strong features and a very flat chest, and let me tell you, those comments at that tender age were just the worst.

      I eventually learned to embrace my body type and general physical appearance, but it took many years and a lot of support from friends.

  52. I feel you, LW. I used to live with people who seemed to see me as a makeover waiting to happen. When I first moved in with them I found it hard to refuse because although I didn’t see the offer as a makeover as a generous gift, they clearly did, and I didn’t want to seem ungracious. So I let them put makeup on me and do my hair, while feeling very uncomfortable as I hate to be the centre of attention and be fussed over, and while the hair was really nice, the makeup looked just awful. I never wear makeup and the girl who was putting it on me absolutely caked it on, so I looked incredibly weird and it didn’t suit me at all, though they probably thought it did. And then there was all this pressure to be incredibly smiley and grateful and say how much I liked it because they were doing such a nice thing for me…urg, I felt so uncomfortable. Luckily they let me decline any other makeovers graciously, so that was ok. I just wish looking a certain way didn’t make you appear ‘pre-made-over’ to some, rather than ‘awesome woman totally happy with her appearance.’ I blame makeover movies. Can we have a reverse version of one of those someday?

    1. I love that idea! A movie where the female lead is all pretty and glam and her mum loves her and strange guys hit on her all the time and she hates it and feels inauthentic, until she finds true geeky friends who encourage her to wash off the makeup and wear sweats to game night and she sells all her designer duds on eBay and uses the money to open a cafe where people play geeky games and she is happy!

      1. Alphakitty, have you seen Whip It? It has pretty much that exact plot, except with badass roller derby women in place of ladygeeks. 😀

      2. Also the book “Gibbon’s Decline and Fall” has a similar subplot, where one of the women is stunning but loathes the attention, so her roommates dress her in baggy clothes and give her a giant copy of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to hold as a shield.

        1. That reminds me of my favourite technique for getting rid of unwanted men. “Oh,” I say brightly, “what are you reading at the moment?” This scares off quite a number of them, but if they’re foolish enough to press on, I enthusiastically recommend “Middlemarch”. I then do not see them for dust.

          Of course, if I ever get one who replies, “Oh yes, excellent book, I’ve read it several times, but isn’t Dorothea irritating?”, then I may possibly have found my soul mate. 😉

          1. It’s kind of relevant, too. I’m thinking of the part where the former beauty pageant queen says “It would be nice to live in a world where you weren’t expected to be uncomfortable just because you’re female.”

  53. I love this answer, I really do. Because you’re clearly dealing with a rational woman here who has already *tried* giving these people the rational arguments in her head as to why she shouldn’t *have* to do this. But I sadly learned a long time ago that there is a whole class of people out there that DON’T CARE if you have a reason, because it doesn’t match up with their view of reality…people who are otherwise lovely people and you enjoy hanging around with them, and you don’t want to get rid of their friendship over it, but they just can’t wrap your head around your answer on this one topic… The best thing to do is to stop giving them answers to argue against. Anything else is just beating your head against a wall. “I don’t want to” is an answer that has no argument. There’s nothing for them to say, nothing for them to push against. And if you refuse to take the conversation any further, eventually *they* will give up! I do so love having the upper hand in the annoyance battle, though…

    “WHY don’t you want to?”
    “I just don’t want to. Thanks for the offer.”
    (hide smirk or it doesn’t work)

  54. LW, this is a thought I had whilst reading your letter. It could be that your friends/family/ect all see your style as a commentary on theirs. You said you felt fake when you tried being the typical pretty girl, and the truth is they likely feel some degree of that.

    I always rolled my eyes at those girls who spent *hours* getting ready. They seemed such shallow creatures. But the human animal is an adaptive creature, even if what we adapt to is pure crap. Girls value their appearance because we’re rewarded for it (more or less).

    So there you are, being perfectly happy with yourself (AS WE ALL SHOULD BE), and it can make a girl feel jealous, disappointed with herself, or even angry at you. They may want to know why you can’t be more like them, instead of seeing that they should be more like you. So, they do what people do best when on the defensive, they attack.

    I think the Captain is completely right that a broken record is the best approach to take at this point. It sounds like debate and dialogue hasn’t worked. But you might just throw out there that your style isn’t a commentary or indictment on their life choices. You’re just being you, and that’s a beautiful thing no matter how you dress!

    1. Some people do legit like being femme and have fun spending hours on themselves. I don’t think it’s necessarily jealousy because they all want to be slightly-androgynous weirdos. I think it’s just a failure to accept “you do you, and I do me.”

      Once again, I don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to take down the beauty standard by saying “no, no, there’s a different correct way for people to look!”

      1. For some reason this exchange inspired this comeback: “whaddaya say you stop making me feel like a troll for preferring comfort and a more natural, unprimped look, and I won’t start sneering at you and making you feel like a superficial, vain bitch for spending as much time and money as you do on your appearance?”

        Only to be used with people who’ve crossed the line, mind.

        1. I will say, the idea that wearing “I-don’t-care” clothes is somehow inherently more comfortable than “pretty” clothes is hilarious to me. Jeans and a t-shirt is the least comfortable thing I can imagine wearing, I will take a short dress and leggings over it every day of the week (and have, for a solid five years now). I mean, not snarky comments need to be totally logical, but still.

    2. Why should someone feel fake for putting in hours on their appearance? I’m not a person who enjoys clothes and makeup much, especially since I work outdoors with animals, so I rarely bother with fancy outfits. But there are some times when I really do want to look Pretty. Job interviews, stage performances, someone’s wedding… I want to make a good impression, and part of that (for me) is dressing up for the part. The clothes may not be perfectly comfortable, but it’s worth it to me because I love feeling polished and pretty at an important event. It’s not “fake” just because it’s not how I look when I roll out of bed, it’s real because it shows something about my personality – just as much as the days I go around in patched clothes and bird shit.

      1. I understand why some folks feel fake for doing so – if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. But I’m with you, BayTree, that it’s not automatic. Some of us have put in a lot of thought about the Beauty Myth and the standards and this and the other and we *still* like to do the femme thing, at least on some occasions. In fact, for some of us this is an essential component of self-care; for others, it just isn’t.

        Let’s all just stop judging each other and appreciate that each and every one of us – whether it takes us two minutes to get ready or two hours – is deliberately communicating *something* with our appearance. And let’s try to respect all of those messages, the entire spectrum of them.

      2. But we’re all different. For some people, putting on a lot of make-up and going to a lot of trouble about their appearance really is fake. For other people, it isn’t. For me, walking around in a collar and tie is completely natural. For another woman, that might very well be fake and she’d feel uncomfortable. What is fake for one person can perfectly well be authentic for another.

      3. I agree that it isn’t fake, as long as you’re doing it because you feel like it. It becomes fake when you are coerced into doing it because someone else thinks you should. That comes with such a strong message that who you are and how you ordinarily choose to present yourself to the world is not good enough that it takes away any sense of pleasure.

        Honestly, I don’t think at all ill of anyone who likes to spend that kind of time on their appearance. I just DON’T, and I get pissy about being shamed for that.

        1. *nods* Yup. It doesn’t feel good to have someone pressure you into presenting as something you’re not. I have awful memories of my sister’s wedding. Now I love my sister dearly, but she is a self-confessed control freak, she had an idea in her head of *exactly* how everything was going to go and how all the principal characters were going to look, and I was head bridesmaid. The other bridesmaids were little girls, so they were not dressed the same as I was, which meant that in theory I could have worn anything in the appropriate colour scheme.

          But no. My sister, for reasons best known to herself, decided I needed to wear a strapless gown, and since my mother was paying for the damned thing I couldn’t do a lot about it. I *don’t do* strapless gowns. I don’t even do them when I’m feeling feminine. I find them uncomfortable, I feel insecure in them, and worst of all I burn as soon as look at the sun and the photographs were going to be outside. I spent a large part of that afternoon feeling like a fish on a bicycle and trying to stand in any scrap of shade I could find.

          I tried to smile for the photographs, I really did, because I didn’t want to be the one to spoil the show, but I’m afraid some of them show me with an exceedingly fed-up expression on my face. That would be because I was, in fact, exceedingly fed up!

  55. Oof, had to check to make sure I didn’t write this. I don’t get it so much these days, but I’ve got that One Friend–she’s a fashionista, a great seamstress who makes wonderful clothes and costumes, she’s cute as a button and stylish as hell, and I think that’s nifty…

    And every time she was over (working on sewing projects with a roommate) she’d threaten me with a make-over. It was going to happen, because EVERY woman likes to feel pretty, and they can only feel pretty this way. (I’m with you–I can put on the pretty things, but it’s the exact same as putting on a costume for a play or a convention. Heck, even cosplay feels more natural half the time–at least those are characters I relate to.) Etc, etc. I’d say no, no thanks, I don’t like that, but apparently I act cute when I’m uncomfortable, so that leads people like said friend to think that really, what they need to do, as a great favor to me, is play my whimsical fairy godmother, and pull me out of my shell to reveal a beautiful swan “just for one night.”

    And sheesh, yeah, the idea of guys hitting on me was brought up, and again, I’m right there with you–I don’t like people hitting on me. At. ALL. It’s just not a scenario I’ve figured out the right social script for, so I either shut down or use one I learned from a movie or a book (like Abed in Community), which is never what I actually want. So I can’t figure out why friends would want me to dress in a way that is unlike us and have guys attracted to THAT presentation, when really, it’s nothing like me.

    Um. Anyway. No real advice, Cap’s is pretty solid. Keep the faith, buddy.

  56. Rather off topic, but I notice some of you guys are asking ‘How the hell do other women even DO that?’ If you’re really curious, I can probably tell you. Some of it is kind of interesting in a nerdy sort of way — there’s a lot of materials physics that goes into makeup, f’r instance. I wear jeans and sweatshirts and no makeup at all most of the time, but I’ve had to learn the fancy stuff for work.

      1. Did! Over on mine, so as not to thoroughly derail this.


        No such thing as a stupid question. I made it to fourteen or fifteen before one of my friends hauled me over and asked if I wanted lessons. She happened to be a local beauty queen who was flung into the smart-kid classes with me, and her aunt was a regional saleswoman for Mary Kay, so I learned loads. It was a much better and far nerdier foundation than I’d ever have gotten from a magazine.

  57. If anyone thinks pretty is determined by how you dress or paint your face, they are shallow. For anyone above who has been told ‘they would be pretty if’… Screw that. YOU ARE PRETTY*. It has nothing to do with what you wear as long as you feel comfortable and genuine and happy.

    *unless you think pretty is lame or gross or just totally ick. In which case you probably just look spiffy. Or cool.

  58. Hah, I have the exact opposite experience. I love dressing up and doing my hair and makeup. It’s my morning routine and a part of my style and self expression. However, my family and friends are NOT makeup people. I don’t wear makeup to make myself look different, but I get told not to wear a mask (?!). My friends ask why I wear skirts, since pants are obviously the more practical choice. They look at my nail polish and tell me they could never be as high maintenance as I am. They’re somehow all convinced that I’m materialistic, so insecure that I need to paint myself just to face the world or best of all, trying to catch a man. Funnily enough, I’m the only one of us who deliberately chooses to stay single.

    It doesn’t matter if you want to be androgynous or boyish or glamorous or girly. Not a bit. Good on you for sticking to your guns, LW. Most of the time people mean well, but if you hear this often enough that you’re considering dropping your friends, then I’d go with the broken record tactic. It works! Whenever someone tells me I don’t need to go dress up to meet them, I just say “well, it’s not really for you” and go ahead with the khol and navy nail polish. They get the point sooner or later. If they harp on about it, ignore them or avoid them. There’s much more to you and should be much more to your friendship than your appearance.

  59. I have a somewhat similar situation in my family, but in this case the victim of attention is a teenage boy. His stepmother cannot get over how he ‘mixes’ styles. If he wants to be goth, fine…if he wants to be preppy, fine…but how DARE he wear pieces from both styles?

    In general, this poor kid can’t do anything ‘right’ in her eyes. He has autism and I swear she never refers to him by name…he’s just the ‘autistic one.’ She corrects how he runs, how he walks, how he speaks. I feel so bad for him because he’s constantly getting the message that who he is, is WRONG on every level.

    There are other people in the family who are equally horrified by her treatment of this child, but no one will say anything. I blew up at one point and had a three hour long conversation where I just basically begged her over and over to stop crushing him. I was trying to explain it from the POV of someone who was very different as a child (and still is), but the only message I ever got from my mother was ‘you’re fine.’ I owe all of my considerable self-confidence to that. She just…didn’t get it. At all.

    This sort of thing is NOT well-meaning. I think acting like it is and making excuses for the behavior just fuels it. My broken record response to coworkers and others is “This is not open to discussion. I like how I am, and my opinion is more important than yours.”

    1. That sounds so sad. I’d follow up with a conversation with the boy’s father, who’s really the one responsible for allowing this abuse to go on. But mostly I hope you’ve said all this to the boy directly, and strongly expressed how he looks fine to you, and will no doubt look fine to many other people as he grows up and gets to leave behind the family he had the misfortune to be born into. It’s very hard at that age to realize how close you are to a major life improvement simply due to legal majority.. Any glimmer of hope is worth having. And knowing there’s at least one adult who likes you the way you are is a whole flashlight of hope :-).

  60. Fist bump of solidarity!

    You know, as a girl in plays and what not, I’ve been wearing makeup for those occasions. I’ve never really felt the urge to go wear ‘pretty’ things like high heels and the lot. (I call them torture devices) My motto is: ‘If I can run in it without issue, then I like it.’ I’m glad that you’re standing up to your family LW. I find myself often wondering why people go through that much effort for the benefit of others. I’m glad you seem to understand that as well.

  61. I think I have a similar experience, but failed to get to the point where I can ignore my family. I am just fresh out of a mental hospital after an attempted suicide of sorts; I kind of developed various ways around it, hiding my family’s voice in my head, but it always comes back. Last year it all came to a head and I lost the only meaningful relationship I ever had or will ever have and checked out of the hospital prematurely (=as soon as I could convince medical personnel to release me). My family has no idea what has happened, but they do know I’m single again now and are quick to talk about my weight, the way I look, and my ‘deviant’ life decisions, and here is what’s weird, in my current thoughts/plans concerning suicide, my family’s voice in my head (“Oh, that’s so typical of him”, “oh, he WOULD do something weak like that”) both stalls and compels me. As I am letting my life fall apart around me, academically, financially, I feel it’s odd that I am developing in a direction that I think my family always expected of me. I used to have a resistance to this in my head that pushed me to academic and personal success but it feels like this past year left me with no strength to push for. Not sure why I am writing this stuff here.

    1. I’m glad you checked yourself in and are taking care of yourself. A lot of therapy can help you differentiate shut that voice in your head up, or at least redirect it away from hating on you.

    2. I hope you are doing okay. Something has gone wrong with the Captain Awkward site for me (firefox 16.0.2) and I’m seeing what appear to be comments/text behind other comments, so I’m not sure if I missed something. But the Captain’s reply to you sounded as if she had read something other than what I’m seeing.

      I wasn’t sure if you had checked out prematurely this time as well, but I hope you’re in a better place than you were before – you talk as if you are continuing to let your life fall apart (to use your own words) and that worried me.

      As someone who has been in a similar place not too long ago, I hope you have people (including a good therapist) helping you with what’s going on now. I know a good therapist is hard to find – after nearly 20 years of seeing therapists, I’m finally just now tackling what’s behind all my other issues with the help of the right one.

      1. I’m getting that with Firefox too, triangle – only on my home laptop, though, not at work. Very odd.

      2. I’ve been seeing those comments behind the boxes, also big black panels, since the new theme was introduced.

    3. If you have loved and been loved before you are lovable.

      If you ave succeeded academically and financially you have the ability to do so again.

      You are “just” handicapped by the fact that you are facing life’s challenges while struggling to overcome the effects of regular doses of poison. Because truly, your family is toxic to you. Regular doses of cyanide in your food would not be more so.

      And as hard as it is, you need to understand that the problem is not you, but them. They are the ones who suffer from a terminal lack of imagination and generosity and are debilitated by fear. They are so foolish and arrogant as to think there is one correct way to be, and that they have figured out what it is, and that because you are not that you are defective.

      How do I know? By the way they are treating you. People who are not what I described don’t treat family members like that. While you? As dispirited as you are, you reached out to give the LW some moral support.

      I know you’re worn down and depressed by now; who wouldn’t be? I still hope you can find the strength to recruit some new members of Team You to help you sing your own lovely song louder when the naysayers (including the ones in your head — yes, we all have them and they do NOT speak truth) start chanting their soul-destroying slogans. The right therapist. Internet friends if ones on the ground are not available. Distance yourself from your family as much as financial logistics allow. Make up mantras for yourself that you sing loudly in your head to drown out your family as needed.

  62. Long-time lurker emerging to cheer on the LW. I’ve been a no-makeup, don’t-want-every-man-hitting-on-me person for years and it’s wonderful to see there are so many others out there too. We are so surrounded by the makeup! beauty! pretty! bandwagon one can feel quite besieged and alone sometimes. Thankfully few people have bugged me about makeup, but I have long hair and have spent my whole life having to deal with women saying “why don’t you do something with your hair?” “god I’d love to have your hair!” “if I had your hair, I’d be trying new styles every day!”. Back in the 90s when perms were the rage, I succumbed and allowed my hair to be permed. I thought it looked hideous and was baffled when everyone at work said how good it looked. I finally concluded that they were probably really saying “thank god you’re finally conforming to How You Should Look” and let the perm fall out after a few weeks. I tried using makeup for a while but I never felt beautiful or even pretty. I just felt like someone who’d smeared paint on her face. It all seemed so pointless that I gave up. Thereby saving myself a good deal of money and time, I might add.

    I haven’t read all the comments yet so maybe this has been said, but the total identification of ‘beauty’ with ‘makeup’ in all marketing aimed at women really gets my back up. I’m old enough to remember when womens’ magazines had ‘hair and makeup’ sections, not the ‘beauty’ section. To say that putting on makeup makes you beautiful, that you are only beautiful if you are wearing makeup, is an awful message to send to women. And when you try to point it out to people (“Oh, so men therefore can’t be good looking, since they don’t use makeup”) they seem to have no idea what you’re talking about.

    1. Too true. Beauty in the past was never about how much makeup you wore, or what kind you used. In fact, in the Western world, women who wore makeup were considered whores. And frankly, there were generations of people who fell in love without the level of obsession over “beauty” with which we currently subjugate ourselves. So why should an arbitrary, and fairly recent, definition of beauty hold sway over modern culture? Because just like so many other areas of our lives (art, science, even religion), “beauty” has become a commodity. If it sells, it is worthy of our notice. And anyone interested in anything not subject to the whims of marketing and media is ostracized. It’s sad, really.

      1. Um. I agree with you that as a society we are too obsessed with beauty. However:
        a.) Citation needed on “women who wore makeup were considered whores,” because that is an extremely vague statement and was certainly not true for All Of Western History Before This Tawdry Beauty-Obsessed Age;
        b.) I am super uncomfortable with your apparent implication that women who wear makeup SHOULD be considered “whores” (which I hope was just awkward phrasing on your part?) because this plays into a ridiculous stereotype about women who wear makeup or like to put effort into their appearance, AND
        c.) You also appear to be using “ha! they are just like promiscuous women/sex workers!” as an insult. That isn’t cool at all.

        I generally prefer not to wear makeup, but lately, about once a month I have been experimenting with dressing up a little more. I will probably never become any kind of fashionista, and that’s just fine, but it was hard at first, because one of the many reasons I have found putting effort into my appearance intimidating is because there’s hardly any leeway between wearing “enough” makeup to be properly feminine and wearing OMG TOO MUCH, UGH, WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?

        One of the worst things about beauty culture is how it enforces The One Right Way To Be Pretty, but the solution to that isn’t to tell everyone to follow your One Right Way. It’s to be true to yourself while being open to other people’s decisions to be true to themselves.

  63. Oh, I can relate to this. I love wearing skirts and jewellery, but I’ve never liked make-up. I hate how it feels on my skin and I really couldn’t be bothered most of the time. But my mother is constantly hassling me about that, about how I *should* be wearing make-up and would I not make more of an effort etc etc. Once she was even telling me that I should be out competing with other girls in appearance! Thing is, while I dress very feminine I don’t have girly hobbies. I’m a martial artist and of course this has her saying “would you not do something more ladylike?”

    When an asshole tried to mug me a few years ago, I was glad I didn’t listen to her! You keep doing what you need to do, LW and keep being awesome. Sounds like you’ve a lot of people on here telling you that they know exactly how you feel.

    I think for some women, primping and all that is ritual, it’s a shield that makes them feel safe, and then you have someone coming along who *doesn’t* need that, and they just can’t handle it. So they cover it by making the other person feel awful for daring to think another way.

  64. AMEN TO ALL THIS. I’m in a similar situation: my mother is convinced that I don’t know not to wear jeans in a professional setting because I don’t care about what’s in style. Just because I think that wearing what, to me, are clothes that are uncomfortable or useless (sweatshirts with 3/4 sleeves, I am talking to you) with disgusting color combinations isn’t my idea of a fun time doesn’t mean that I don’t know that yeah, you should probably wear a suit for a job interview and maybe a little bit of makeup. And don’t even get me started on the hair thing. My boyfriend has long hair. I have longer hair. If it were up to my mother, we’d both have styled haircuts, never mind the fact that boyfriend’s hair wouldn’t look good short and I know that, having had shoulder-length hair, it has all the bother of long hair without the styling ability.

  65. Late reply is late, but my preferred response is “I already look fantastic, but thanks anyway” or something along those lines. Usually makes the asker laugh, then we can change the subject.
    Then again, I have an ego that’s prone to eclipsing the sun. The LW sounds pretty awesome so maybe playing up that awesomeness is a valid tactic there too.

  66. Saw this on NPM on Facebook and thought it totally appropriate:
    When Jada Pinkett-Smith was asked why she let her daughter Willow shave her head, this is what she said:

    “This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete.

    The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to them
    selves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power, or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes, and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be. More to come. Another day.”

  67. I get these comments too. I actually am a more traditionally “feminine” girl. However, I still don’t wear makeup or do many things that think would make me more beautiful.

    The thing is, I am absolutely doing what makes me beautiful. Which means dressing in the way I choose to dress, and grooming in the way I choose to groom. Changing my appearance will make me LESS beautiful in my own eyes… I can’t imagine how that would be in the least bit productive for me.

    I do love feeling beautiful. And that means feeling like myself! The funny thing is I have plenty of people who find me sexy and attractive, and I do many things different from the norm. (no makeup, no bra, flat shoes only, lusciously furry underarms.) I would much rather *feel* beautiful, on a visceral level, than do something that makes random other people think I’m beautiful.

  68. Yes to all that! I’m sometimes in your situation, LW. I am an advocate of feeling comfortable in what I’m wearing. So sometimes I just go around in my jeans and a T-shirt (I kind of dislike dresses. Not all the time, but a lot), then there are times where I want to dress up and wear make up and paint my nails and stuff. And I do it because it makes me feel good, and I find it fun. People I know and like always compliment me when I do it. People I know and don’t like often say why don’t I try to look like that all the time. I often just say that I do it because I feel like it, not because it’s required of me.

  69. Yes to all of this.

    I have always not given a shit about what people think of my appearance (or me in general… probably a defense mechanism from a crappy home life when I was pretty young, but one of those defense mechanisms that somehow turned me into a mature functioning human way earlier than my peers in that department). But man, has this been a problem for my family.

    I hated jeans until I was in like 7th grade (when I discovered STRETCH DENIM and suddenly my life was transformed…you mean I can wear jeans AND have fabric that actually moves with me and doesn’t chafe or restrict positions I can sit in?). This meant I wore sweatpants and stretch pants nearly all days unless I got badgered into something else. (Oh, 90s fashion… if you had only held on a few more years, I would help been so in-style in middle school.) My mom was well-meaning, but in a way that made me feel so shitty about myself (*if* you wore this, you would be so cute oh, honey that [thing I loved that was comfy and made me feel comfortable in my skin but probably, in hindsight, wasn’t flattering to my figure] doesn’t look good on you., oh, that makes you look chubby, but this other thing wouldn’t). I know her intentions were probably to help me develop a sense of style that both worked for me and looked good (and I did, eventually, when it started mattering more to me to look “good” (i.e. be able to present in a way that was acceptable professionally and/or made me feel attractive when it mattered to me to feel attractive). I started absolutely refusing to go shopping with my mother when I was about 12 and would make my grandmother (who is in many ways a horrible person but who would shop on her own, let me do my own thing, and never really paid attention to what I bought if it was around the spending limit) take me for my birthday, which was near the start of school. I refuse to this day to shop with my mother, who bless her heart, still doesn’t get it. (You bought me a pink and orange skirt for my birthday *last year*! Did you miss that this is literally the only pink or orange item I own?!)

    Anyway, for all my mother was well-meaning, my sister was not. In addition to the badgering for make-overs and let-me-help-yous, etc., she would REFUSE TO DRIVE ME TO SCHOOL if she didn’t like what I was wearing. (You know, make me truant. Which is illegal. Because she disagreed with my fashion choices.) And I ever went through an extreme fashion phase (I kind of regret never being goth just for family reactions), just plain tops and plain bottoms most days. (That that me being in an extreme fashion phase would make her extreme behavior okay, but it was all the more baffling for being so extreme when I was fairly boring in presentation.)

    And don’t get me started on my last boyfriend (a bipolar anorexic whose self-image issues manifested by constantly criticizing my presentation (which I care more about today, but still in an “I want to look good… but by my own standards and fuck what anyone except maybe my boss thinks” kind of way). Because I am given to not caring, it took me a long time to realize how Not Okay all of this was and how I needed people on Team Me who either didn’t care or even liked how I presented.

    But now I am starting to date an adorkable boy with big puffy curly hair he doesn’t bother to style at all and whose idea of nice work clothes are well-fitting jeans (and damn… they fit well) and a dorky tee-shirt and who shrugs when he has holes in his shorts and who tells me I am adorable in an oversized tee-shirt and loves my lazy day gauchos and asks why I bother when I change into real pants for leaving the house. I like this boy.

    tl;dr: You are not alone, LW, in your people-are-shit-when-it-comes-to-policing-presentation choices, and I express my support in a rant of solidarity with no other advice beyond, fuck ’em (ignoring but not cutting out is a valid strategy, as is cutting them out–whatever makes *you* comfortable). And also, not all people are shitty, so keep looking.

    1. You sound awesome, and middle-school you sounds like she would have gotten along well with middle-school me. I think my usual outfit was black leggings and this grey sweater which had somehow expanded in the dryer instead of shrinking so that it was about two sizes too big for me and covered my hands at all times. It was so comfortable and warm! I think I only stopped wearing it because the drooping sleeves ended up smelling like chemicals from all the time I spent in the science classroom/lab.

      Also, I am glad to know that such adorkable boys exist. My female friends, while their personal styles vary widely, are not anxious makeover artists clamoring to prettify me — but one of my male friends keeps taking me aside and telling me I would get asked out lots if I would just wear a dress and makeup more often, and that this is the only thing standing between me and True Love! And I pointed out to him that True Love wouldn’t be very true if I was pretending very hard to be someone I’m not just for the sake of passively hoping to occasionally be asked out. Let dudes date who they’re comfortable with! I figure there has to be some guy who is into tomboyish science geeks who dress up only when it’s fun, and dress comfy the rest of the time.

  70. I’d also like to offer a supportive high five to the LW. I’m really glad that you’ve been able to maintain your autonomy and realise openly that what they’re doing to you is totally out of line.

    It took me years to come to terms with the way I was treated with regards to my appearance by people who feigned being friendly but in reterospect were clearly anything but friendly. I’m a mixed race woman of black West Indian, black British and white British heritage and I grew up and when to school in a very multicultural and multiracial part of London. I have quite thick and curly hair that I usually keep in braids and at school I was one of the few girls who hadn’t had her hair chemically relaxed or heat straightened. When I was about 14 or 15 a handful of the girls with a similar racial background and who had had their hair straightened gave me regular grief and unsolicited advice for what to do with my hair. They tried everything from cornering me in class and giving me detailed instructions on haircare that I hadn’t asked for to teasing me that I’d never get a boyfriend with my hair as it is.

    They pretended to be trying to ‘help’ me but what they were in fact doing was bullying me for, in their eyes, failing to perform my gender and my race in a way they found appropriate. I wasn’t the only one they harrassed. Though the teachers in our school came from diverse backgrounds themselves they didn’t really catch onto the insidiousness of this kind of behaviour. They saw bullying connected with race as something that happened between races and not within racial groups. It took me a long time to really focus on all that was wrong with what they did. Ten years later and I still feel mildly uncomfortable and insecure talking about my hair with anyone.

    So yeah. Rock on LW and thank you Cliff for writing this because this kind of pressure really does have long term consequences.

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