Monday, February 11, 2013

What took you so long?

I’ve talked briefly here before about how I wasn’t always femme, and how my interest in skirts and makeup and glitter has taken me a long time to accept – truth be told, I still haven’t really accepted it. But I’m at least exploring it now. The real joke is that I’m 32 dang years old. I’m firmly over thirty now, and I have no idea what to do with my hair on a daily basis. I have no idea what the appropriate thing to wear to a formal dinner would be, let alone have a suitable outfit. I’m still taking baby, tentative steps into this whole fabulous world.
So what on earth took me so long? A fascinating conversation today with two lovely Tweeps of mine, @heathergracious and @helisalmiakki has brought a couple of realisations to the surface that I’d like to share, because I don’t think I’m the only one with these experiences.

@helisalmiakki started this whole train of thought off by asking if anyone else ever felt held back in terms of beauty and being bolder with their appearance because they didn’t want to be seen as trying too hard, and I was a little startled by how much I agreed. See, something that I don’t think I really put into place until now is that for the longest time, “pretty” girls were the enemy for me. I realised quite early on I was never going to be particularly popular. I still held out hope, of course – hell, I still do. But by about 14 it had sunk in that being popular was just not something that was realistically going to happen for me. I reacted to this by rejecting right back all the classmates that had rejected me. I cataloged everything I thought was wrong with them – they were stupid, they were illiterate, they were going to get dead end jobs, they didn’t care about anything important – and bundled this all up into a little package with a label on it – popular. From then on, whenever I came across anyone or anything that was popular, I automatically attached all these other assumptions to it. Popular girls were obviously stupid, and vain, and vacuous, just by virtue of being popular. Truth be told, some of the girls in question WERE stupid and vain, but not all of them. But the truth didn’t matter to me at that stage – it was easier and more comforting to roll it all into a neat bundle of "other”, and reject it with the kind of deeply heartfelt and sincere sneer only a teenager can muster.

Because I had co-incidentally decided I didn’t want to hang out with the popular kids at about the same time they decided they didn’t want to hang out with me, I ended up growing up largely surrounded by the nerds, the geeks, and the stoners. They all thought the same way I did about the popular kids. The popular kids were stupid, and therefore everything they did was stupid, and we didn’t want to do any of it. They played a lot of sport, so we would go to extraordinary lengths to avoid any kind of sport at all. They all cared a lot about how they looked and what they wore, so we went out of our way to show how little we cared. They all wore bright, attention getting colours, because they were bright, happy people who loved our small country town. We, of course, wore black as much as possible, and talked endlessly about how much we hated our town, and couldn’t wait to leave. The popular kids loved getting drunk and hooking up in the backs of their cars, so we would steal supplies from the chemistry lab and go on totally platonic bombing raids of the teachers houses instead. By this very teenage logic, makeup was stupid simply because the popular girls were interested in it. Doing makeup was stupid, wanting to do makeup was stupid, and you were stupid if you used it. You’ll probably be shocked to hear that growing up in a friend circle of stoners and outcasts in the mid-nineties resulted in a wardrobe that largely consisted of long flowing skirts (often tie dyed by hand), with the gaps filled in by jeans and oversized shirts. Unfortunately, it seems to have taken me a lot longer to ditch the associations with makeup than it did for me to ditch the floor length skirts.
Since I was a judgemental little proto-Cassie, I’ve met dozens of inspiring, fabulous, incredibly femme people who are not at all, in any way stupid or vacuous, or even shallow. They’re none of the things I ascribed to makeup wearers as a teenager, but still there is a voice in the back of my head telling me that when I play with makeup, people with think I’m stupid. It tells me that if I wear dresses and heels, people will assume I’m vacuous. I still worry that liking these things doesn’t just make me LOOK like I’m stupid – I worry that it DOES make me stupid. It’s the same thing that stops me from joining a gym – I don’t want to be a Gym Person, who only talks about their protein intake and how many reps they can do. I feel wary of playing with makeup because I’m afraid it will make me into one of Those Girls – the girls I hated as a teenager, or rather the (largely false) impression I had of them. I'm scared one of the people I used to make fun of will catch me playing with their toys, and tell me off.

Not only does this little voice tell me that I am stupid for wanting to play with these things, it always likes to add that I’m not even any good at it anyway. Not knowing what the hell I’m doing with makeup and beauty “stuff” most of the time certainly doesn’t help this anxiousness. It sucks to be a noob (as @heathergracious so eloquently put it), and getting into this whole world at such a relatively late stage just makes the paranoia worse. It’s stuff I feel like I’m supposed to know by now, like driving a car, or how to sign up for health insurance. Mind you, I can’t drive and I have no health insurance. But I feel like I SHOULD. At least the lack of confidence in my makeup skills I can work on – one of the upsides to being a diehard nerd is my ability to research and retain information. Someone asked me the other day how the hell I remembered the names of all the sites I buy polish from, and the various brands they each carry, and I was baffled at the question. I’ve been STUDYING beauty. I’ve been RESEARCHING. Of COURSE I know the suppliers. I may have bailed out of Uni, but it wasn’t for lack of skill at researching voraciously and soaking up new information at a rate of knots. THAT I can do.
For once I don’t really have a feel-good conclusion to this. I just wanted to share some feelings, and a little bit of my backstory. I thought it might be nice to let you all know that while I sometimes come across as knowing what I’m doing, I’m really still wobbling along on training wheels- even though I’m thirty-two dang years old I'm still a bit of a reluctant femme.


  1. Awesome!
    As I mentioned on twitter I'm certainly not a reluctant femme, but I was a mousy femme until I realised I should just wear the things I love(mostly that means socks and dresses).
    In the last year I added winging my eyeliner to my repertoir of makeup skills. HELL YES WINGED EYELINER!
    Anyways. I also love researching these things. When I was getting shellacked regularly last year the beutician thought it was weird I knew all the names of the colours when she didn't. Brains like holding relatively useless information it seems.

    1. How great is winged eyeliner?! Also, a "mousy femme" conjures up a very Disney image in my head, and I love it.

      I think it's a nerd thing, to remember all the useless details. Maybe not, but it seems to be mostly nerds who do it habitually :)

  2. It was interesting to watch your conversation on the tweets today; I think it's easy for men (especially single-sex educated ones like me) to really underestimate the importance of costume and makeup for young women building an identity. Which is not to say boys don't have peer group uniforms - they absolutely do; but they're vastly less involved, and seem to be markers of what you're currently doing, rather than who you ARE. It seems that it's much easier to reinvent yourself as a young man, or have a wide range of facets without getting blowback from the people around you.

    Case in (appallingly anecdotal) point: I spent all of high school in the nerd group; with the academics, gamers, roleplayers, goths, musos and SE-Asian-kids-who-weren't-cool-enough-to-hang-with-the-cool-SE-Asian-kids; but towards the end of high school, it became apparent I was really quite good at fencing, despite having shown little aptitude for sport previously. While still not the butchest of sports, I suddenly had a "jock" uniform to wear sometimes, and some level of acceptance from the arsehats who had previously made everyone's life painful ('Course, I have also mused that the combination of best mate Mattley's leather trenchcoat and the Columbine shooting might have had some impact on that, too...) - but it was never brought up as an inconsistency or a betrayal, and I never thought about it that way, either.

    I'm very unsure if my experience is shared by anyone else; but I'd be interested to know how people you've known over the entire period have reacted to your new interests and skills.

    1. You make an interesting point about male teenagers putting on and taking off "costumes"...I remember there were two boys in my year that were both good at sport and did 4 Unit Maths. But rather than shift between the two sides, they gathered together a few more in between boys and made their own layer of social strata, somewhere between me and the popular people. They would talk to me and my friends, but we were never invited to their parties, and in turn the top strata treated them the same way. I wonder if the size of my year contributed to the strata system - but you would think with only 40 of us, there would be more social mobility simply due to lack of options.
      I'd also be very interested to find out more about how gender segregated education affects this sort of thing. I've known a few "boys school" boys, but you are by far the one with the most social skills when it comes to interacting with women.

      As for people who have known me over the whole period, sadly those are very thin on the ground. I think my mother is possibly the closest candidate - I don't talk to anyone from high school anymore. Hell, I don't really talk to people I hung out with in my 20's anymore. Mental illness is SUPER for long term friendships.

  3. I had a totally different experience to being shut out of the cool kids group. The popular kids all went to parties and socialised....meanwhile I sat at home painting my nails, experimenting with my hair and trying new makeup techniques. I read my Kevin Aucoin books and dressed myself sit at home alone.

    Now, years later, people often comment at how good I am at my hair and makeup. I always explain that it took a lot of practice. It's surprising for a lot of my recent friends to find out that I would practice sitting alone at home on a Friday night.

    Most of the high school 'popular' kids are now married with kids and heavily overweight. And me....well....I'm one of those Gym People! Don't be hatin'....

    1. I'm sorry for hating on gym people - you're right, I shouldn't snipe. I'm just bitter because people who exercise regularly have way more energy than me ;)
      I'm so jealous you discovered Kevin Aucoin so early! I had never heard of him until an ex's girlfriend gave me "Making Faces", and even then I didn't really look at it for a year. BIG mistake. That book is fucking AMAZING. How did you come across his work?
      As for how the "popular" kids turned out...well, I don't mean to hate, but most of the ones I know of from my school ended up exactly how you've described.

    2. My mum had a copy of Making Faces when I was young which quickly became mine! I loved his story, and I love knowing that he was never a trained makeup artist. It's just about experimenting and playing around....makes it much more achievable to 'do' makeup...and much more fun!

    3. His playful attitude to makeup is definitely one of my favourite things about his work. His writing is so encouraging for you to just have a bash, so different from so many makeup artists, who are all about careful precision.


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