Black Mirror

One of the best things my parents did was tell me consistently throughout my childhood and adolescence that I was beautiful. Whether or not it was true didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now. Because deep down, despite my current age (40) and all the crazy things dominant culture tells me every day about my supposedly “failing” looks, I continue to believe I am good-looking. Because people who mattered to me during my formative years assured me of it ALL THE DAMN TIME.* (Case in point: my face looks AWFUL in most pictures. I look at these images, hear my father or mother’s voice exclaiming over how gorgeous I am, and I blame photography for not being able to capture my real face.)

UPDATE: I know I have to address race and body privilege as they relate to this issue. I know, too, that in doing so I must engage more directly with the influences of wider culture, not just parental/domestic training. I will do so in an upcoming post. Please stand by.

Feminism took over where my parents left off. Dominant culture tells me, “You’re getting wrinkles around your eyes and lips”; “There are grooves in your cheeks, and you’re starting to get jowls”; “Wrinkles are the worst, and you are not beautiful if you have them.” But feminism assures me that it’s perfectly natural to look older as I grow older; that it’s crazy to treat visible signs of aging like some kind of moral failure; that beauty is only one of the ways to evaluate my worth; and that beauty is not determined by lines – or lack thereof – on one’s face.

That said, as much as I love colour, I’ve learned I like my outfit photos best when I wear black. For whatever reason, I feel most myself, and most beautiful – however we interpret this politically loaded word – in black.

Black Outfit #1: Office Pyjamas

Worn on a cooler day to hole up in my office, slipping out occasionally to take advantage of the fantastically short coffee lines during The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

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Black cotton mesh-sleeve Mexx sweater/tunic: new to blog; Necklace: gifted (remixed); Joe Fresh cotton tank: new to blog; Black cotton leggings: remixed; Also brown leather riding boots: remixed a LOT on this blog

And here, because as you know, I am a genius with the camera, is a close-up of the mesh sleeves that make this sweater springy:

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Black Outfit #2: Convocation

I wore this under my insufferably hot robes at convocation which I attended because, as noted previously, my favourite student graduated. Then I sat in my office trying to write things until I decided I had heat exhaustion and could, therefore, go home and watch the new season of Arrested Development. (My review: Meh, despite repeated ostrich appearances and Portia de Rossi’s cute haircut. I laughed out loud WAY LESS in this season than in others.)

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H&M mesh/lace and lyocel t-shirt: new to blog; Green suede and silver metal belt: new to blog (via mall anchor store); Mexx black cotton (with a sheen) wide-leg trousers: new to blog; Fly London black leather Yayas: remixed

Is there a colour you feel best in, StyleNation?

Also, if you feel like sharing, how did your parental figures get it right or wrong

when it came to building your self-esteem?

21 thoughts on “Black Mirror

  1. Whoa! I remembered how to log in! That alone is cause for celebration.

    I’ve been thinking about my response to this post for days, but I seem to have wasted all my best words elsewhere. Here are some facts: my parents often told me I was beautiful, but always in response to someone else who had told me the opposite. I’ve dated a lot of dudes, but not one of them has ever told me that I was pretty/good-looking/beautiful. (One told me I looked “amazing in the dark,” which…uh…thank you?) (Note: as far as I can tell, he was not a cat.)

    My opinion of my self and my work and my worth is in no way tied to my opinion about my own looks, but somehow, it is still really, intensely important to me to have someone (ideally a male someone-I-like rather than my parents, even though they are very nice people who want me to be happy), one day, tell me that I am beautiful. I don’t know why. It just is.

  2. Pingback: Chambray, Two Ways | In Professorial Fashion

  3. Holy crap do I love that outfit you wore to convocation.

    My brain is too melted to respond to Anne & your conversation except to agree strongly. (Seriously, I momentarily though the potatoes on a (vegetarian) friend’s lunch today were bacon.) Soon this project will be off my desk and I will be able to think coherently again.

    I don’t know that a particular color makes me feel more or less confident — apart from the fact that I prefer color on me, to neutrals. Shocker, I know.

    • Woman. I seriously thought of you when I slapped on the green belt.

      Also, you are in a bad way. Potatoes look NOTHING like bacon. How long ’til the project is gone?

      Finally, nope; not a shocker at all.

      • In my defence, they were a pile of red-skinned potatoes where I could only see the skins of them. But still. It was stupid humid here so I fear that my brain was actually, not just metaphorically, melting.

        Stuff gets done (ideally) by the end of June so four more crazy making weeks. But that’s followed by some sweet time in a city you recently visited (and that you should seriously consider re-visiting), and then the rest of the summer is less intense.

  4. I have my own robe, which I wear 2X a year and it may be my one black garment (plus the fancy colourful velvet hood). I actually no longer wear black next to my face because I think it’s harsh; navy or charcoal are my “blacks”–more flattering. But in New York I feel silly in anything BUT black, so style rules go out the window there . . .

    • Good point re: navy and charcoal being kinder neutrals. I’ve been trying a similar transition and while navy is definitely doing good things, my luck with charcoal has not been good. . . How do we feel about black with a necklace? I’ve been telling myself lately that this is working. . .

  5. This is an interesting conversation that I just don’t feel up to but I have a fashion-related question: do you own your own doctoral regalia from that school we went to? I went to convocation for the first time this year and wore a choir robe because I don’t have my own robes but everyone else does so I felt sort of like a loser even though one of my students told me that I looked professional and studious. Of course I told her I was wearing a choir robe and that I also looked musical. Is this something that we should own as part of our job? I have a difficult time justifying the expense because it is a WHOLE MONTH’S RENT. Or a pair of Fiorentini + Baker boots.

    Also, I had to stop watching AD after the fourth episode because I wasn’t feeling it. But I also hated the third season.

    • I don’t own robes from that institution we went to. But I feel like I probably should. Plus it would be awesomely Hogwartsy to have one’s own robes.

      At my current institution, if we don’t have our own robes, we can wear the PhD stuff from this institution. This is an easy option, but the robes are super-ugly and made of multiple puffy layers of polyester.

      Someone – I forget whom – suggested there’s a way to get one’s employer either pay for or chip in toward said robes. I’ve not looked into this but hope it is true. If they won’t help pay, I’ve considered just buying the hood to put over a generic black robe.

      • We’re allowed to use our professional development funds toward the purchase of regalia but that would only cover half the cost as well as tie up funds I actually use for research and books and, you know, not clothes I will barely ever wear. One of the professors who became Emeritus at the convocation I recently attended was wearing robes from that institution we went to; maybe, since he’s done now, he might want to pass those on to me. I should ask. I think if I were Dean or Chair or something it would be more necessary to have the full regalia, though every one of my students who saw me at convocation emailed me to tell me they were really happy to see me there, which makes me think I should go more often and so buy the fucking robes.

        • Huh. None of my students emailed me. In fact, one student whom I congratulated at the reception afterwards responded, “Oh, thanks Dr. Dubs! I thought I saw your little face up there [on the stage]!” The hell?

          Also, my honours student didn’t show, the little ween. Good thing my favourite student was there. She texted me afterwards to ask where I was as she wanted to “rustle me up” for photos.

          Finally, I checked on (other parts of) the interwebz this aft for cheaper custom robe options. For our particular institution, they don’t appear to exist. Thus, if that newly-emeritus bloke won’t sell you his robes, maybe he’ll rent them to you once or twice a year. Even at $25 a pop, it’d take a LONGGGG time to add up to a pair of Fiorentini+Baker boots. Or a mini tablet with sweet mini-wireless keyboard in an adorable wee case that fits in my bag. Or, you know, retirement savings, or whatever.

  6. How so very awesome of your parents to instill that in you early on – that’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of women decades to realize (if at all). I remember my mom would tell me I was pretty and I would tell her she had to say that. I wonder what made you believe it, and me doubt it. Hmmm. But my parents also focused a lot on all of the things that I did really well, encouraged me to excel academically and develop my talents, and helped reinforce the idea that external beauty isn’t the only thing that matters, which I think were good lessons. Once I understood that, my self-esteem and self-worth was no longer tied to my looks, and oddly enough, once my self-esteem started building up, I felt better about my outward appearance.

    I like your convocation outfit, that top is really cute!

    I’m only 3 episodes in to the new season, and I guess I forgot how much you have to pay attention to an episode that you haven’t seen 20 times!

    • There was a space in my teens where I most definitely did not believe it. But I believed nothing my parents said at that point, and (some of) that wore off in my twenties. We didn’t have cable, so I watched next to no commercial TV when I was young. Maybe that helped me believe it?

      Also, about AD: you’re so right. Probably I should watch, again, just to be sure. It’s still awesome to have new episodes.

      • Well I think for me, so many girls in my class made fun of me for being overweight that I seriously thought my mom was just saying that to be nice. I had a boyfriend in my early 20’s say something terrible about my weight, and I’m happy that at that point, I let it roll off and realized that he was the problem, not me. But it’s hard to do that when you’re younger! I’ve never really compared myself to what’s on TV (and all the girls I remember seeing on TV dressed in super baggy clothes because of the times, so I never felt that different from them).

        We plan to watch and re-watch the new season several times. Then I’ll form an opinion. Thus far I just want to know if Ann comes back…

        • Good point about wider cultural influences. Our parents definitely fought uphill battles there. I was made fun of for being tall and gawky, but I don’t know that it compares to being called out for being overweight. Being tall is clearly an advantage (as I think you know – you’re tall, right? Advantages include: looking teachers in the eye much earlier than one’s peers, winning races in grade school just because one takes longer strides, seeing over people’s heads in crowds and at concerts, not being treated like “a little girl” by boys and men over whom one towers). Whereas being perceived as overweight is a hard, crappy problem for kids and adults as so many people feel they can and should comment, as somehow one’s weight is their business as soon as it passes a certain arbitrarily assigned threshold. I have appreciated your blog posts about your recent weight loss and the struggles you’ve had throughout your life with/against your body (I apologize for not commenting as much as I could. Most often, I am humbled by your honesty and inspired by the work you’ve done to change your relationship to/with your body.)

          On the topic of body-love, as much as I occasionally tire of all the nudity on the Redefining Body Image tumblr, I love the blog’s mission to promote body love and flip off haters.

          And we haven’t even gotten to race issues, yet. Probably I should post something about privilege if I’m going to discuss beauty like an academic and a feminist.

          Finally, I like your AD viewing strategy and will not post any spoilers here. I will, however, look forward to hearing/reading your opinions once you’ve watched things thoroughly!

          My own screenings are necessarily limited by the fact that my partner hates the show. I have, therefore, to watch it when he’s not around in order to avoid the constant stream of comments re: how all the characters are bad people. No matter how many times I explain that their reprehensible-ness frees us to laugh at their misfortunes while avoiding the tiny shards of self-and-cultural-critique available in their characterization, he refuses to get on board.

          • Are we writing a new post here? 🙂

            I’m 5’9, which is somewhat tall for a woman I think. I was pretty average until I had a huge growth spurt at 17 though. I always saw the difference between height and weight as height being something out of your control, but weight is perceived as something that we can do something about. Often times it is, but I think it’s unfortunate that society thinks that we HAVE to do something about our weight, especially if a person is otherwise healthy. I know I could lose more, but I’m healthy and happy with where I’m at, and more excited to be meeting fitness goals rather than weight goals. But gosh, as a chubby kid, I didn’t know how to lose weight, and I especially didn’t know how to do it in a healthy way. I remember going through a Slim Fast phase in junior high, while my mom was on them, and thinking that alone would fix everything (looking back, it feels a little… wrong? sad? that my mom even let me skip meals with that crap, but obviously she was dealing with her own weight issues). There was another girl in my class who was much heavier than me, but she had tons of friends and really didn’t get made fun of because she owned it. I still marvel that an 8 year old was able to do that.

            I’m curious about how race might tie in, especially related to privilege. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m generalizing, but it kind of seems to me that the obsession with being stick thin is more prominent among Caucasian women than other races. And we know even that is a more recent thing, when you look back at movie stars in the 50’s, or even paintings of women in previous centuries.

            Oh, what a bummer that A-Dubs Hubs isn’t into it! My fella used to use his AD DVD collection to entice me to hang out with him way back in the day, and we quote it very, very often 🙂 But I appreciate the lack of spoilers. Rad will too – she texted me this weekend saying how bummed she was that she hasn’t had a chance to watch it! Since that is, obviously, the most important thing in her life right now.

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