Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cloaked in Authenticity

Note - I just found this post from two years ago on a Wordpress acount I made but never used more than once. I originally titled it "The Girl in the Prom Dress" but I like this title better. Two years ago.... This was a prescient post. I like it. I don't think it's on this blog so I am posting it here.


I was flipping idly through some pictures that had been posted to my Facebook account. I stopped short when I saw my prom picture. What a different world, I thought. Never again will you ever see me in a dress. Much less a sleeveless one, with long hair, a necklace an even, of all things, a handbag. Although I have to admit, the dark blue color sure did look good on me.
My friends all wore long, flowing dresses, but I stood barefoot in a simple, short, dark blue dress loaned to me by a friend only a few hours before, when I had made a last minute decision to go to the prom. Dances are not my thing, but despite my objections I decided to give it a try. My hair was long, blonde and curly, one of the few times I have had hair longer than an inch in the last ten years.

Then I flipped to a picture I had just added recently of me on a hiking trip with some friends. The picture was far from glamorous. I had on a grungy grey sweatshirt, white cotton pants and very short to almost non-existent hair. This, or some variation, is my usual outfit. The picture was less than flattering, but I didn’t care, because after all, it was me. My smile was joyous, and to me that meant everything. I had captured the joy of the day with that picture.

Many times, over the years, I have been told by well-meaning people that I should change my appearance. People would like you better, they say. You’d get along better in the world, they say. People judge by first appearances, they say. Why don’t you grow your hair out? Why don’t you wear nicer clothes? Is that really the nicest clothes you have?

What they, or at least the world at large, often don’t understand is that I don’t have the luxury of looking nice. Severe sensory issues prevent me from wearing almost any piece of clothing known to man. I need soft, loose, cotton clothing to be comfortable. And even in that category, well, very few things work. I have spent several hours in large clothing stores before and came out with nothing. My dad once took me to Bloomingdale’s on a New York City trip, and all I came out with was a Tamagotchi t-shirt. And that was good for me! Everything is too tight, the textures are uncomfortable, the seams are sewn in the wrong place, it sits on my body wrong, it’s got buttons, and so on and so forth. And that was before I developed chemical sensitivity issues, which complicates the issue even more.

Because of this, a good clothes day for me is when I can actually wear them. Anything, that is. I’ll take anything that doesn’t make me want to start screaming when I put it on.
As for my hair, I can’t stand the feeling of hair on my head. It just feels heavy, and when it gets too long, it is literally the only thing I can think of until I get it cut.

I’m a firm believer that people should be functional in their clothing. I don’t understand why people torture themselves to wear high heels that make their feet hurt all night, or squeeze themselves into an outfit that makes them feel like they can’t breathe just because they think it looks good. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m not comfortable in something, I’m going to be grouchy and irritable all day or night because of it. This will
affect my interactions with others, and give them a bad impression of me. It will affect my experience of them negatively as well. The effects of these uncomfortable, intolerable clothes will send my stress levels through the roof, and make my coping abilities nil. Now, why would I choose to have clothes or hair that looked good over being able to function in the world and having a smile on my face when I interact with others?

When I looked at the prom picture of me, with my curly blonde hair and my perfect dress, for a moment I felt a stab of envy. This is the kind of girl I could be. I could look like other people my age if I wanted to. It’s possible. I could look, well, more “normal.” But then I remind myself how foolish this is. What did I really want when I looked at that picture? I wanted what went along with my perceived notions of what that girl’s life would be like. I wanted the life of a typical 20-something. I wanted people to like me; I wanted lots of friends; I wanted a life of social ease and happiness. It’s an illusion, of course. Because that isn’t me. And you don’t get friends, social ease and happiness by being something you’re not. My warm smile, my enthusiasm, my care and concern for others? Those will, in time, get me friends who mean something to me, and they’ll do it whether or not I’m wearing a Tiffany dress or a Marshall’s grey sweatshirt. Mascara, tight clothes and expensive haircuts do not a make a person into who they are. Integrity, kindness and being true to oneself do. So when I look at that prom dress now, I am glad to have it as a memory of a time when I tried something new and succeeded. But I am even happier that the real me was still waiting for me, unchanged, when I got home that night.


  1. What a great post, Kate, and so true! I especially love the title and the last sentence. And I agree about long hair being heavy - I'm about ready to chop mine off!

  2. Kate, you are one of my favorite cyber people....authentic. What a privilege to know you. excellent post.

  3. I am very glad I stumbled upon your blog! I am your newest follower :)

    Mindful Rambles

  4. Thank you for writing this.

    I've always been having such a hard time accepting myself, the "commandment" to look perfect at all times drummed into me since early childhood. Wish I was able to "approach the subject" like you do.