Dressing Your TABOO, Appropriately
by Annette Wagner, M.A.
Taboos restrict and funnel our lives every single day. Think of something seemingly simple like clothing. Coffee date, job interview, Friday casual – they all bring up images of what’s appropriate to wear.
Did you know that one of the names for these kind
of red high heel shoes is “fuck-me-red pumps”?
Tell me, what would your mother or father have to say about that?
Would you dress like that if you could?
Have you ever?
Would you let your high school daughter dress like that?
Am I making you twitch yet?
What I just gave you is the idea of a particular kind of woman. Perhaps I am describing Marilyn Monroe, a hooker on a street corner in a busy city, or a party-goer heading to a dance bar with her girlfriends. The shoes, clothes, hair, and makeup send a message about female sexuality. About the availability of a woman’s body. About attraction and desire.
Men typically have a customary response to this kind of image. So do women. Women may smirk knowingly or judge harshly or sigh wistfully or gaze in disbelief. The way we respond is based upon the taboos of the culture in which we are raised.
In Western culture, taboos are what dictates the image I gave you is about sexuality and not, say, motherhood. The woman described above is not a good girl according to western cultural rules. Why? Because any woman who shows off her sexuality through her clothing is invoking the TABOOs around BAD GIRLS. Bad Girls dress fast, strive to look sexy, and have no fear of showing off their body. Flaunting their female body in all its glory is the underlying intention.
Now let’s make this personal.
My boyfriend recently watched me strip my clothes off before coming to bed one night and said chuckling, “You’re proud of your body.” I smiled. Damn right, I’m proud of my body. I’m 56 years old and a sexual woman who fearlessly wears miniskirts, skintight tops and pink rhinestones. I even have a magenta ringlet in my hair.
This is not how I was raised. Oh no. I have a secret to tell you. I spent years completely out of touch with my sexuality. Years being embarrassed about being female, clueless and afraid to wear anything vaguely sexual. Years seeking and not finding, feeling repressed and lost. Never really understanding what made me look sexy even when I wanted to look sexy. I was the girl who would go to a bar with her friends and no one would talk to her.
All those years, there was this presence showing me images of myself wildly dressed. Sending me words to say and ways to act that I never had the courage to even consider. My Muse. She was there the whole time. I swear she manifests in the pink streak in my hair.
My first memories of body and clothing were ones in which I was told what I had to wear. A dress because I was a girl. A uniform because I went to a Catholic school. A hat because we were going to church. No jeans because good girls didn’t wear jeans. No bare skin. Never be seen naked. It was NOT ok for a boy or a man to pay any attention to my body. If they did, I was a whore. If I pierced my ears, I was a slut.
Notice the pattern?
Females are dangerous when they are sexual
so their sexuality must be covered up appropriately.
Appropriate is the key word here. What is appropriate to me is not necessarily appropriate to you. Case in point: I spent my high school years rebelling. I still remember the brilliant turquoise blue cape-coat with fake fur on the inside I used to wear. I wore it until it was stained and faded. One day it was gone and my mother and I had a huge fight because she had tossed it out. She thought it made me look ugly and I loved it. It both covered my body and made a statement.
After college I ended up in high technology and my clothing style shifted and neutralized and became much more “normal”. Except on Halloween when I broke out the wild costumes. It was when I left high technology many years later that change snuck in big time. I began studying for my masters degree and stopped wearing clothes I was “supposed” to wear or “expected” to wear.
Mom clothes. Baggy clothes. Cover up clothes. Neutral clothes. Business clothes.
Clothes that said I was normal. I stopped wearing a bra and went back to camisoles. Cut all my long hair off. Started wearing toe rings. Considered tattoos. As my perceptions of myself radically transformed, my clothing style followed. My Muse was not done with me however. Is she ever? The tipping point came when I was training with Shiloh Sophia and the very first cohort of Color of Woman students and I was visited by Skunk.
Have you ever watched a skunk saunter through your backyard with their head held high, seemingly without a care in the world? It is amazing to watch as long as you hold your nose carefully closed.
Skunk energy is about how we reflect what we believe about ourselves into how we carry ourselves. When I discovered this message, I took a long hard look at myself in the mirror, literally and figuratively.
How do I CARRY myself in the world?
How do I HOLD my body?
What do I WEAR?
How do these choices REFLECT what I believe about myself?
This began a creative conversation with myself in which I consciously changed how I presented myself out in the world to better match what I believed about myself AND, most importantly, what I wanted to believe about myself. My Muse says sometimes we need to believe in the person we are becoming before we can become that person.
In the process of calibrating my outward self with my inward beliefs, my Muse transformed herself into a black haired punk with a wicked wit and a warrior stance. Oh, and black studded pointy cowgirl boots. Not someone to mess with!
I used the Color of Woman training venue to practice. I’d show up for our training weekends with a suitcase of outrageous outfits and wear a new one everyday. I walked the streets of Healdsburg in pink ruffled miniskirts, padded bras, slinky camisoles, and pink rhinestone flip flops. I discovered the efficacy of black lace and leggings. I added another piercing to my left ear and began wearing mismatched earrings. I bought myself a wild pair of black studded cowgirl boots when I graduated. I let my hair begin to grow out into wild curls.
In my life, I spent way too many years moving from shame, hate, making my body not exist, to loving every square inch of it. To a place where I dress exactly the way I want to. Where I strut my stuff when I feel like it. A place where I have officially made the choice that I do not give a flying fuck what everyone else thinks of how I dress.
Having said that, I will note that the Critic does like to sneak in and point out that I dress like a teenager. That I am too old to wear tight clothing. That everyone will think I am a slut. And so on. On the other hand, my 12 year old daughter tells me what I wear is fine – because I am an artist and artists dress crazy. My boyfriend? Let’s just say he has no complaints.
I’ve finally come to place where I recognize the role of taboos in my life and can make conscious choices about whether I want to challenge them or play along. Going to a school event for my daughter tonight? Maybe I won’t wear the black leather miniskirt and torn-off sleeves t-shirt. Or, maybe I will.
Pushing the envelope on a taboo is one of the best ways to shift culture – and I LOVE turning culture on its head. Blame in on my Muse. I do!
So tell me, when’s the last time you dressed up
in “red high heel shoes”?
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Annette Wagner, M.A., is a Visionary Artist, Color of Woman Intentional Creativity teacher, Art Doctor, author, and shamanic practitioner. She paints in the Contemporary Symbolism style and works extensively with metaphor, symbol, and color.
Annette studies with American Master painter Sue Hoya Sellars and has a Masters in Women’s Spirituality from Sofia University. Her background includes over 25 years of hi-tech experience including 21 patents. She is owned by her dancing daughter, two cat beings, and her Muse. You can view her artwork, visit her Etsy shop, and read more about Annette at: www.annettewagnerart.com