The other day I wrote an (see here) article about being a ‘good girl’ and alluded to the notion that to be deemed such, you also have to fulfill a primary defining factor: you have to be smart. Scratch that, you have to strive to appear smart and NOTHING ELSE.
The qualification is do well in school, get teacher’s approval and therefore your parents’ approval too. That cheap gold sticker next to your name on the board is all you (are supposed to) ever want.
Straight As defines you. Straight As makes you a ‘good girl’. Smart, good girls do not wear makeup, or so I was taught.
It didn’t help that I was part of a program for gifted children which meant that I was involved in a culture of academic snobbery even in high school.
Again, I was also taught that smart girls do not pay attention to feminine vanities like worrying about the outfits you wear, your make up or your hair. If I wanted to fit in with the other smart girls, I needed to follow suit.
It was unfortunate, to say the least, because I adopted a mindset – along with many of my peers, I dare say – that envisioned us (those in the program) as superior and anyone else (those not in the program) as utterly inferior in every way.
Of course all of this was compounded by certain feminist ideologies that also informed my thinking – I thought true feminists were only those who burned their bras and refused to worry about what Chanel had in store for its next season because such things are frivolous.
In any case, by the time I was 19 my identity was very much that of the feminist Straight A student and over achiever who shunned everything and anything that didn’t fall under that which identifies you as a smart girl (and therefore a good girl) because somehow, in my naivety, I had lumped being a prejudiced asshole/academic snob with being better. Make up is a social construction! Oh and you suck for following, by the way.
What a terrible way to think and see the world! How stupidly black and white, how prejudiced and exclusionary and mean!
To be honest, I didn’t really think that way entirely. Secretly, I liked playing with lipstick and curling my hair. Secretly, I was obsessed with shoes.
But I was a part of a specific culture and I couldn’t express this! Not if I wanted to still be known as a feminist and not if I wanted to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to be shamed – worst yet shamed by really smart women – that I was being silly for enjoying these things.
My OOTD blog therefore started out as a bit of a guilty pleasure: me exploring my own style and self in a safe zone – that is without the judgement of my friends and peers.
When I went on to academia, I still carried with me the inhibition of being someone who truly enjoyed fashion and yet also wanted to be taken seriously as a scholar. For quite some time I felt my identity was fractured and torn: Jenny, the fashionista NO – Jenny, the feminist and academic.
And then at one point I was just like, who the fuck cares what they think? Why can’t I be both?
Why can’t I be a smart and high achieving woman but also a fashion lover? I can still be a proud feminist and wear my god damned lipstick.
I can do and I can be anything I want to be.
So I learned to stop letting what others think of me bother me when it came to my taste in fashion as well as my taste in books. I have finally found myself and believe in the beauty of uplifting others, not tearing them down.
And I hope that many other young girls out there take this message to heart. You should take pleasure in the things that you like, regardless of what it is, and do not let anybody tell you otherwise. Don’t apologise.
You are all things awesome: smart, funny, fashionable, sporty, a scientist – you name it! I think it’s high time we help push each other up and forward, not bring each other down.