I’m finding myself worrying about my appearance as I prepare to move back to the small town where my parents live. In my adult life, I have never had my appearance criticized so much as I did when I lived there. In fact, the only other source of criticism in that regard has been from my mother-in-law. She says I wear black too much. I did tend to wear black a lot in the past for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s slimming. Secondly, it’s a classic colour that was easy to resort to when I was less savvy about putting together outfits. Thirdly, I am clumsy and tend to spill things on myself, and stains don’t show up as well on black as they do on other colours. Fourthly, I just think black looks good on me.
I never wore black in a “goth” kind of way, although it seems like people make that mental association when they think of someone who wears black a lot. And my mother-in-law seems to think black is only for funerals. Even my husband, when he sees someone wearing all black, sometimes jokes, “Are they going to a funeral or something?” I think maybe, with my husband and his mom being from England, this could be a cultural difference. I don’t think wearing black is viewed quite as harshly here in Canada. After all, there’s a reason it’s said that something is “the new black.” It’s because black is a classic, flattering colour that’s always in fashion.
But aside from my mother-in-law, in my adulthood it’s always been in this one place where my appearance and wardrobe have been criticized by people. My aunt, in particular, always has something to say about whatever I’m wearing. She’s very much into this whole school of thought where your complexion and hair colour determine what “season” you are, and you should only wear colours that correspond with your season. She believes in it like a religion. So if she sees me wearing a white sweater, for example, she’ll say, “You shouldn’t be wearing that. Only winters can wear white.” Or she’ll say, “I can tell you like the colour blue. But you don’t look good in blue. You only think you look good in blue.” It’s not just the seasons thing though. She also says things to me like, “You shouldn’t be wearing that dress. It looks like a nightgown. Yuck!”
She also criticizes my weight. (I have been diagnosed with PCOS and hypothyroidism, both of which make weight a constant struggle.) Once when I was still single I had the opportunity to participate in a fashion show. She was in the audience and she sought me out afterwards and told me, “It was good to see a heavier girl up there on the runway. When you finally find a man, you should just tell him it’s like he’s getting two girls for the price of one!” That’s her idea of a compliment and is actually the most positive thing she’s ever said to me. She tells me about diets I should be going on, usually completely jackassed, unhealthy, not-medically-sound eating plans that I know better than to try. She can be very insistent about such things. She was on my case about one of these the last time I saw her in 2011. As she was telling me about it, I lost control of my mouth and blurted out, “That is absolute bullshit.” She was unfazed. “No it isn’t! No it isn’t!” she insisted.
It’s not just my aunt, either. It’s friends of my mom, too. From them it’s comments like, “You should be wearing a slip under that skirt. When the light is behind you I can see the outline of your legs.” First of all, does anyone under the age of 60 still wear slips? And secondly… Oh no! The outline of my legs?! All the men in town will obviously be consumed by an uncontrollable, fiery lust if they see that! Pfffft. Give me a break.
Then there were also teenagers at church who, assuming I was their peer when I was actually in my late twenties, were giving me fashion tips so I could look more trendy, despite the fact that I was extremely poor at the time and could not afford brand new clothes. And telling me I would look better if I parted my hair in the middle. Hair parted in the middle looks great on some people, but I think it looks horrid on me and I don’t care if it’s in fashion at any given time or not.
In the bigger cities I’ve lived in, I’ve felt so free to just be myself. I don’t feel like my appearance is under constant scrutiny. Even when I was more socially active than I currently am, and even when I was heavily involved in church, rarely, if ever, has anyone given me a hard time about the way I look in these bigger places. As I’m preparing to go back to that small town, I’m starting to worry again. What will they be thinking when they see me? And because I’ll be living with my parents, I can’t hide. I will be like a sitting duck for all the people they’re involved with.
I’m fairly satisfied with my wardrobe at the moment, but I would like to go to the salon before I leave the city. Unfortunately, I don’t feel I should be wasting our precious resources on something frivolous when I don’t know when or from where our next source of income is coming. I really want a new pair of glasses too, as my trendier black-framed pair is showing signs of wear in their finish and the metal bits on the nose have turned green. I would at the very least like to get them professionally cleaned. But again, I shouldn’t be spending money on things like that right now. I’m going back to a place where apparently appearance matters (whether it’s because of the social atmosphere of the place itself or because of the people I’m related to there — not just my aunt, but I think the people who are friends with my mom feel they have some kind of authority over me by extension), but I can’t be spending money on my appearance at the moment.
You know what one of my biggest fears is? When I was young, I used to be very passive and I accepted everything everyone said to me without protest or defense, but I’m not like that anymore. And I’m afraid that one day I’m going to lose it and say something extremely rude to anyone who criticizes me or offers me unsolicited advice, kind of like what I said to my aunt five years ago only worse. And I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that. That’s not the person I want to be.