Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

A Deepening Of Yesterday's Trivial Entry

Yesterday's entry frustrated the hell out of me. I found myself writing this incredibly superficial schlock that prayed to the gods of stereotypical caucasion femininity and utterly mortified my feminist sensibilities. I re-read the thing before posting it and hated it even then, but I have been determined to try to keep from attempting to carefully craft myself on this site. I intended to post it when I wrote it, so I did. I could have deleted that sad testament admitting to cultural influences (Cosmo, cheerleaders, suburbia, my mother, Anna Nicole Smith) I would prefer to pretend have left me unaffected, but that felt like lying. For me, that is not what writing here is about. I could only post the entries that make me sound witty and smart and cool and funny and attractive, but what would be the point? I don't write here just to make people I have never seen or met think I'm cool. I don't know why I write here, but that's definitely not it.
So, back to yesterday's entry. I felt embarrassed about it, and not just because it came off like a trivial girl mag piece about the fundamentals of lighting as it regards glossy versus matte lipstick. I was embarrassed, because buying capris is not a simple act, because my body and my view of it have infiltrated almost every sector of my life. I was embarrassed, because I bothered to focus on and stereotype the mundane experience of shopping, giving myself over wholeheartedly to trivializing the real and meatier matters at hand.
One of these issues is that I was abused as a child. I'm not going to get into any of the particulars at the moment, but I was, and I am fairly certain it happened before I was five years old. I look back on that, and I see how the experience forced me to suddenly view my body as something separate from me, an object, a thing not under my absolute control. My body became something to subdue, because I had been made to feel a psychological/emotional/spiritual pain that I did not understand; it was the fact of my body that allowed me to feel the hurt, and so I learned to engage my mental self in a battle against it. I learned to control my food intake when I felt strong and to see it as personal failure when I gave into my cravings for fatty food. I learned to hurt myself with tweezers and fingernails and hot metal to assert my power over the pain I felt. I learned to dress in oversized clothing in order to ignore the visual fact of my body and at other times to dress in tight clothing to show the power I felt in my own skin. When I find myself in front of a changing room mirror trying on pants, it is a battle of my own will. Am I leaning on the side of proving my personal sense of strength and confidence, believing that I am worthwhile and attractive, or am I leaning on the side of feeling mortified by the vision of my obviously ugly and uncontrolled body being poured into pants that were obviously intended for a prettier form?
Another of these issues is my mother. Ever since I can remember her speaking to me, her tone and her words rarely expressed approval about my physical appearance. Most often, she has said things such as: Weren't you going to change your shoes? (as in, my choice of footwear was inappropriate), and You should wear makeup, because no one will notice you without it, and You have a very plain face, and Don't you want to feel pretty? (as though I was choosing to be ugly when I didn't want to wear skirts when I was younger), and I'm taking this picture out of the photo album because we can see how big your belly looked when you sat down last summer (no kidding, she did that to me at Christmas), and You have to smile more if you want boys to notice you, If you curled your hair it would soften your face, and Hold your stomach in when you're standing, and on and on and on it goes. When she does bother to compliment my appearance, it is usually for wearing something she has given me that doesn't suit me or for dressing in the way that she requested I would before I even came to visit. Such compliments are backhanded, because I am being praised for being unlike myself. She was one of few people who bothered to comment on my physical appearance with regard to its attractiveness when I was a little girl, so her words have stuck with me -- plain, orphan, boy, swayback. I stand in front of the mirror in a clothing store: when I turn sideways I see the belly I never pull in enough when I'm standing, when I face the mirror I see a plain and unremarkable face that only family could love, when I check out my backside I wonder if I still resemble my fat aunt.
Then there was high school and friends who were discovering a more mature femininity. They would ask me why I did not wear makeup or why my hair was so plain or why my clothing was less revealing. I did not know how to answer them. On sleepovers and after school, they would coerce me into allowing them to put eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blush, powder, and lipgloss on my face. They would not let me see myself until I was "done", and then I would be confronted with a mirror that showed me how the applied camouflage only served to highlight what my friends had obviously hoped to cover up, or at least that's how I felt about it. For me, covering my face with makeup only served to accentuate the negative I was looking at. I didn't have the words to explain to them that makeup made me uglier, that curling my hair made me uglier, that girlish skirts made me uglier. It was like how when you put a frilly dress on a big, hairy man and it only seems to show off how unlike the typical woman he is. I sometimes still feel like my friends are dressing me up when I try on clothes. I look in the mirror and think that this is somehow supposed to look different, that these were made for other women's bodies, that they only show how much I am not a part of this.
During highschool and the few years that followed it, I also struggled with my sexuality. It ate at me. What was I? When I was in high school, I never heard the words for anything but your most garden variety deviancies. First, I knew there were fags, and then I knew there were lesbians, but I was not properly either of those. I was on the outskirts of any kind of sexuality I knew of, and I didn’t know how to express that about myself. Clothing is a major expression of one’s individual nature between the mid- to late-teens, so what was I to do? I didn’t feel comfortable with the girlish, but I didn’t feel much like a boy either. I did my best to dress amorphously, wearing mostly items that either biological gender could wear or items that at least kept themselves strictly out of the girlish realm. I ended up in a lot of black, plaid, jeans, and parade boots, which my mother lamented regularly. My clothing seemed to be a defensive act then. I felt safest de-sexed. If I felt sexually invisible, then you couldn’t see me either. Safe and lonely was better than exposed. Put me in a pair of ill-fitting pants in a change room, and this girl comes out. Looking too feminine can scare me, looking too masculine can scare me. There is rarely a happy medium when my identity won’t stay neatly pinned down.
Now I am thirty-one, and people in their early twenties have the nerve to tell me that I look good for my age, as though this is some kind of compliment. I am suddenly older than a lot of the women shilling for anti-wrinkle creams on television. The pamphlet that comes with the Pill tells me that I am four years away from the age at which I should reconsider taking it. I don't know how I feel about this. I think I like the age and hate the societal expectation of early-twenties youthfulness for its women. I find when I am shopping for clothing that it is difficult to find stuff that is both non-teeny-bopper and non-old-lady that does not make me look like a suburban housewife. Truth be told, my city is not known for its great shopping, but I still feel that perhaps my demographic is being bypassed somewhat. This does me no psychological good when I am standing half naked in a poorly lit cubicle wondering why I have tried to stick myself into a pair of capri pants that make me look like the "hip" aunt accompanying the Olsen twins on a photo shoot. Maybe I would do better with the female equivalent of Sansibelts in the mature ladies store across the mall. Oh, wait, there is that suburban moms store upstairs that has the same spring flowers appliquéd on every mix-and-match set. Am I freak of nature, or what? Okay, I know I'm not, but sometimes, on top of all my body issue woes, I get the feeling that the world truly is working against me. I was hoping to be past all these issues by this age, and now I find myself in a whole new era with a brand new resolve to keep me floundering. It's ridiculous. At least this stage of my life isn’t feeding me any new ways to hate myself. I have seen all this before, and frankly, it is getting boring. It’s tiresome. Boring and Tiresome, the half-witted half-brother cousins of Dysmorphia.
I grow weary of this. I want pants to just be pants and pretty things to just be pretty things and my body to just be my body and not an extension of how out of control it is to be molested as a child or a twisted knot of gender expression. I am getting better at this. I no longer binge or put myself through periods of starvation. I keep my hair short, which somehow makes me feel more natural. I accept the fact that I feel like a hot momma in jack boots. I love the peach fuzz on my earlobes that kids used to laugh at in outdoor phys ed. Yesterday’s embarrassment eats at me, in part, because I hid behind the veil of girlish sentiment that has been fed to me since birth, the veil that subdued me and scared me and made me feel guilty for years about not being a glossy, happy, clear-skinned, pretty girl who was bouncy and had a ponytail and shaved her legs every day. There once was a dream of femininity that I could not attain, and now I won’t, and I think that’s the difference in who I am now. Going shopping for clothing still raises all kinds of ugly issues, but now I know why. I am aware of my own history. I am much wiser than yesterday’s entry would admit, and I am less helpless.

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