I’ve really struggled to write this post. I’ve picked at this three or four times. Normally when I write, I just do it. It comes out and it’s done. I rarely edit and if I do, it’s mostly just for spelling. But in the span of half an hour or so it’s done and out into the world.
I’m not sure exactly why I’ve struggled with this so much. I think part of it is it’s a difficult subject to articulate without sounding either woefully insecure, or like I am trying to humble brag. This isn’t about fishing for compliments to boost my self esteem or body image- and it’s not a thinly veiled cry for attention either. It’s about observations, and appearances. Nothing more, nothing less.
Ok. Now that that’s out of the way.
A few times a year I volunteer at some fundraising type events. I wear a cocktail dress, and the highest heels I can stand and it’s my job to get folks with money to spend it. I hustle for a good cause.
At first, I refused. I would get on my soapbox and claim that I was more than just another blonde girl in a black dress. It’s not that I think I need to wear a paper bag over my head when I leave the house, but I’ve just always identified more with the brains end of the spectrum than the beauty side. Being ‘smart’ is always something I valued way more than what I looked like. And if I had to throw money behind one of those assets, I’d go with brains for the win every time.
It also felt like an affront to my views on feminism at the time. It seemed a little objectifying and stereotypical that as a woman, my role for the evening was to wear a cocktail dress and coerce donations from folks. When I would volunteer, I’d always opt for a ‘serious’ job- like taking tickets or sitting at the registration table.
But here’s the truth. Those ‘serious’ jobs? They’re really boring. And nobody wants to talk to you. And you spend a lot of time watching the party through the doors while you sit and be ‘serious’ in the lobby.
So I started volunteering for the pretty dress wearing jobs instead. And the strangest thing happened. I didn’t feel stupid. In fact, I actually started to have a really good time.
I remember one night the summer I first moved back to Halifax. It was one of those perfect summer nights- warm and sunny, but not sticky and oppressive. My roommate and I decided to dress up in party dresses and go downtown for a drink. Just for shits and giggles because, summer. I can remember walking down Spring Garden Road and the amount of positive attention we received was actually kind of mind blowing. People treat you differently when you wear a dress and put some effort into it. People treat you differently when you look like a classy lady and not just a bar star in a cheap polyester dress. People pay attention.
And you know what? It feels good. Sure, it’s overwhelming and kind of creepy in some cases, but everybody likes a compliment. Everybody likes to be noticed. Being smart doesn’t make people stop you on the street.
But there’s the rub.
Or is it?
Because here’s the other thing. Being accosted and oogled by strangers is also exhausting. And eventually, I always end up feeling pretty empty. Maybe that’s just me and my love of personal space and intense dislike for talking to strangers. And so the fact that I can walk down the street on any normal day and just do my thing is actually pretty ok with me.
But that’s not to say I don’t like the occasional foray into a different world…
After all, there’s going to come a day when nobody will ask me to wear a nice dress, to do my hair and wear too much make-up and borrow fancy jewellery, because nobody is going to want to see that. So I should probably embrace it while it’s still an option.
Big ups to the late great Lou Reed for tonight’s titular inspiration.