So I saw something on Facebook the other day about how someone (self-appointed, without a doubt) has decided that leggings are not, in fact, pants. They have 2 legs, cover my kiester, and I still have to wear socks with them, so they’re pants (as opposed to tights) in my book. At the time, I tried to brush away the minor irritation that such a headline caused me, because I just knew that the article (which I didn’t read at the time, because I’m a fat woman in America who’s been reading women’s magazines for 42 years–well, actually fewer, because I quit reading them a decade ago–and I know better) was going to be spewing body hatred along the same lines of memes “Spandex is a privilege, not a right” and this summer’s very special, “In the warmer weather, please remember to dress for the body you have, not the body you wish you had.”
NOW HEAR THIS: I know that thousands of years of misogyny and fear of bodies and sexuality, and 150 years of mass production and rampant consumerism, have allowed–nay, encouraged!–us all to believe we’ve been deputized as members of the body and fashion police, but goddammit, I defy you to produce the badge. What? Don’t have one? You sure?
That’s what I thought.
What other people wear, if those people are not your minor children, is none of your business. No, seriously, not even a little bit of your business. The fact that other people probably spent exactly zero time that day planning their wardrobe choices in deference to your personal principles of propriety and aesthetics is eminently appropriate, and if you don’t happen to think so, we should have a little talk about boundaries.
I was sitting in Club Congress the other night at the Of Montreal show, marveling at the variety of clothing and hair expressions walking past me. I myself was sporting a sleeveless blouse I could’ve worn to work in an office, a pair of jeans with a thick black leather belt, and a pair of black Chuck Taylors, with a chain wallet because I hate to hold on to a purse at shows. (I have a chain wallet because I kept misplacing my wallet, not to mention the contents therein, and I decided dummy-strings, which were the answer to mitten loss when I was 8, were still the answer now.) You tend to see a lot of sartorial variety downtown anyway, and at Congress specifically, but I think the effect was heightened even more by the band that was playing. I mused on how I liked living in a big city, where people do their own thing and others don’t really bat an eye. This would not have been true in most of the places I lived growing up, where conformity was king. When I was a freshman in high school, if you didn’t have a Forenza shirt, a pair of Guess jeans, and Keds on like your 19 closest friends did, you were hopelessly out of style
I was hopelessly out of style, but I approximated as best my budget would allow.
Anyway, I dig people doing their own thing, because what appeals to people fascinates me. For example, dance as an art form doesn’t speak to me at the soul level. It doesn’t touch me. Never has. But for some people, it is the reason they breathe. And when I meet people who tell me that they’re “just not that into music,” I don’t understand that at all, because I love it, and live it, and I don’t get how that’s not true for everyone with a soul. And I wonder what it is that draws us to one thing and not to another. Why does one person love an Eames chair, and another prefer a velvet upholstered fainting couch? Why do some of us dream of mermaid’s hair, and others an asymmetrical short cut? I tend to assume that when people leave the house, what they saw when they last looked in the mirror was what they like and what they intended. So when I watch people going a very different way, appearance-wise, than it would ever occur to me to go, I wonder at the different aesthetic senses we each must have. It doesn’t occur to me that they’re wrong. They’re just doing what appeals to them, as they should.
And what may be astounding to some is that while my eyes were delighted by the spectacle, my life was affected not one bit by other people choosing to please themselves instead of me when it came to their dress, makeup, and hairdos.
And that’s because I’m not invested in controlling others’ bodies and what they put on them, even indirectly by giving them the side-eye or whispering rude critique under my breath. I don’t think anyone has to earn the right to wear bikinis or leggings or Spandex or body conscious clothes with peekaboo cutouts or cleavage or shortness by having the “right” body. I’ve listened to enough gorgeous supermodel-type people talk about how they’re criticized for their supposed imperfections, which are airbrushed to oblivion, to know that there’s no such thing. If the most beautiful among us are still not beautiful enough, the standard’s broken, not the people to whom it’s applied.
Likewise, I don’t understand the argument of “what will your future partner think of all your tattoos/piercings?” when it seems perfectly sensible to me that any future partner will dig what you’ve got going on, otherwise they’re not really partner material. I’m more surprised that anyone would think it reasonable that you should decorate yourself (or not) according to the speculative preferences of someone you’ve never even met.
What I really don’t understand is why we all feel the need to be up in everyone’s physical business, making judgments about who should wear what, what their bodies should look like while they’re wearing it, and what it says about them. If I hear one more comment about someone’s “slutty” outfit, I’ll probably scream right out loud, wherever I am. If the outfit is going out and getting itself some, more power to it. It’s got as much right as the next person, and frankly, how sexually active the next person is isn’t any of my business, either (hey! I sense a theme developing!), and if I happen to know, it matters not at all to me. I judge people for their ethics in sex, not their frequency.
Which brings me back to the article that spawned all this (which I’m not going to link to for obvious reasons), because I finally read it in preparation for writing this, and as it turns out, the body hate in it was negligible (for a piece like this, anyway). Instead, the author’s complaint was that leggings are not pants because they are meant to hide our nakedness.
How very biblical.
She argued that tight Spandex doesn’t do much good in that department; sure, you can’t see bare skin, but you can see every dimple, every outline.
To which I say, “So what? Are you so removed from a natural understanding of human bodies that seeing that is going to freak you out? Do you not see a naked person at your house, possibly more than one, every single day?” I do. I take her into the shower every morning. It’s all so nonsensical. It’s like the dread “visible panty line.” If you see it, you know I’m wearing panties. Even if you couldn’t see it, you’d probably assume that I was wearing panties because the odds were in favor of that reality. Who decided that women should wear panties, but look like they’re not? Who decided this was A Thing we should be concerned with? It’s ludicrous on so many levels.
In public, I suppose I wear clothes to cover my nakedness, because that’s the convention ’round here, but in reality, at home, clothes exist to keep me comfortable. I put them on when I’m cold, and I take them off when I’m hot, unless it’s so hot that I’m sweating in unmentionable places, in which case I put on some clothes again for comfort. That is to say, if you don’t require fig leaves on a philosophical level, then the only reason to wear clothes at all is for protection from the weather and comfort.
And it doesn’t get much more comfortable than leggings, especially soft ones that keep you warm without binding or chafing. They move and breathe and are generally comfy, which is, 95% of the time, my reason for wearing anything. If we really just needed to cover our bodies, we’d all be in loose t-shirts and leggings, all the time. And frankly, I don’t see any problem with that. Obviously, we costume ourselves in lots of different ways for lots of reasons, but if you want to get serious about clothes and their purpose, you have to admit that most of the thoughts, traditions, and expectations we have about that moving target, “appropriate clothing,” could do with a lot of unpacking and examination, and most of them aren’t practical or reasonable; they’re just conventional.
If you don’t like wearing leggings out of the house, then by all means, don’t wear leggings out of the house. But don’t carp if other people do, because other people? They’re totally different people, and they get to do what they want. Supposedly we live in the land of the free, but so many people have so many rules for everyone around them. I’d find that tiring. I did find it tiring. That’s why I gave it up in my twenties and learned to let people be. No one owes it to anyone else to be thin, beautiful, fit, traditional-gender-role-specific, or dressed flatteringly, especially to the lights of some random onlooker whose preferences are unknown and, more importantly, utterly irrelevant. We’d do well to remember that before we go getting all judgy.
Getting over yourself: the quickest route to peace and contentment I know.