Friday, November 09, 2007

My Invisibility Cloak

Andrea wrote a post this week about colour, and the pleasure she takes in it. Colour has always been one of my drugs of choice (along with Cold F/X – have you tried it? it’s like caffeine, only better). When I’m down, a quick shot of deep yellow always gives me an endorphin rush (this is one of many reasons that I’m rarely depressed in the fall; the other reasons have to do with years upon years of nerdy joy at the return to school after a long summer with no marks).

(Let’s break here for a quick hit of colour.


Don’t the hints of gold in that photo just make you go tingly all over?)

My decorating tastes have always inclined toward the juvenile side. I like lots of bright poster-like wall hangings, and I’m not afraid to admit that I have not one but two bunches of fake sunflowers in my house. When I moved into this house I spent days just reveling in the wall-colour: after years of beige-walled apartment living, I exulted in my yellow kitchen, my mellow green living room walls.

So I read Andrea’s post with a real sense of recognition, right up until I got to this paragraph:

No matter how hard I try, I can't understand the appeal of neutral outfits. OK, neutral as a base for bright colour, if you must. But an entire outfit of black and grey? Tan pants and white shirts all the time? Black shoes with black socks? Are we trying to camouflage with the asphalt? It all seems so dreary.

I’ve been known to wear red and even, occasionally, a bright, true yellow. But most of my wardrobe runs to black, tan, and brown. Not only that, but I actually shudder at the thought of adding in some teal, turquoise, or magenta. It’s not precisely that I would look bad in these colours, but rather that people would look at me. Not necessarily in a “Why is that woman wearing an old-lady teal jumpsuit?” way. Let’s assume that these are carefully selected, flattering and fashionable clothes. Still, wearing them would go against the deep instinct I have to cover up and hide.

Clothes have always been about concealment, for me – even in my thinnest days, I chose outfits that would draw the eye away from my thighs, that would cover up legs that were the wrong length and shape. I don’t mind people seeing my shoulders or face ... but still, I feel most comfortable in neutral clothes that invite the eye to pass right by.

This surprises me about myself. I am not a timid, shrinking person. For a living, I stand up in front of nearly a hundred students several times a week and attempt to compel their attention ... and I enjoy it. I’m a blogger; I think we can take it as read that I enjoy attention.

But there is some deep reservoir of – what, shame? body hatred? modesty? that motivates my choice of clothing. There is some lingering residue of “Don’t look at me” that forms a strange, contradictory part of my make-up. Even as a teenager, I avoided outfits that reeked of trying too hard – I could not bring myself to don the preppy uniform of Ralph Lauren and Beaver Canoe; the goth uniform of white make-up and black clothing felt equally foreign. I have always been determinedly bland in my fashion choices, eschewing colours and styles that attract the eye.

(This is a bit of a lie. In high school I showed up to school one day wearing eight-inch construction boots and a floral-print dress. Another day I wore a Scottish tam-o-shanter. I rather reveled in the stares, the blank incomprehension – and then I returned the following day wearing tapered jeans and a baggy pink sweatshirt, the ’80s version of the boot-cut jeans and navy-blue v-necks that are staples of my wardrobe today.)

Last month I had lunch with a blogger I’d never met before. When I arrived an hour late at our designated restaurant, I pulled out my cell-phone. Before it could ring, I saw a woman peering at me curiously with that “Are you who I think you are?” expression on her face. “I thought it must be you,” she told me later, “but I was expecting someone a lot bigger. When I saw you I thought, ‘That can’t be Bubandpie – she’s not 400 lbs!’”

I’m a bit appalled at the idea that I whine about my weight so much that you might think I’m morbidly obese. But I’ve thought of that conversation several times in the last few weeks and I find it oddly comforting. It comes to mind when I get dressed in the morning, tugging long shirts over my midsection and hoping that they will render invisible the bulging girth, the postpartum secret that is so embarrassingly public. It’s helpful to realize that to anyone but me, I simply look like an ordinary person – not especially thin, not grotesquely fat, but ordinary. Why is that something to be ashamed of?

49 comments:

Suz said...

Nothing. Nothing to be ashamed of at all. I've always loved clothes, but have always favored the browns, blacks, and grays, even during the brightly colored '80s. It's been less perplexing for me because my house is also rather bland, but I've always assumed that my choice in clothing was due to my desire to control the attention I receive. I would rather lurk in the background and gain attention in my own time by something I say or do than have it naturally bestowed as a result of my clothing.

Blog Antagonist said...

It's not. But the images that we are inundated with every day try to tell us that unless we are blonde, blue-eyed plasticized sex dolls, we have no value aside from that of reproductive and domestic drones.

Oh, boy..you almost got me going there.

I like color too. I wear black occasionally, but I mostly wear burgundy, orange/coral, green and purple. I'm a redhead.

Patois said...

I'm really left wordless after reading this. I have to ponder on what it means. To me, of course. As I do the same, using my clothes to hide, to blend. But I'd never thought of it until reading this. Which makes me not only someone who wants to blend in but also someone who doesn't know herself.

Beck said...

Oh, that hit me. I am currently on a diet and I'm not even overweight - just sort of grouchily unhappy with the way I look and I'm making myself (and everone around me) miserable with my irritable starvation.
And for WHAT? So I can look like I'm 14? I don't know.

bubandpie said...

Patois - That was exactly my reaction to reading Andrea's post - a sense of instantly recognizing in myself something I had no idea was there.

Suki said...

Indeed, nothing to be ashamed of at all.
I guess there's another way of looking at this - "look at me, not my clothes."

As for me, I'm the kind of person you won't miss in a crowd. And it shows in the way I dress - warm, fire colours(reds, yellows) for Tshirts, clinging just enough to show off curves without displaying the fact that I don't have washboard abs. Jeans... which are versatile and all that I can afford right now. :P. Silver jewellery always - neither gold nor imitation. I like the "real thing" but I dont overdo it. And of course a bandanna. I'm probably one of 100 Bengalis in the 5-million Kolkata population to wear a bandanna.
So dress is about accentuating my positive points, but keeping it toned down enough to dare people to see beyond it.

Very interesting post and comments, I must say!

Anonymous said...

You won Best Parenting Blog, yes?

Swistle said...

I get a buzz from color, but I ALSO get a buzz from well-done neutrals. Like Angelina Jolie's clothes. Or combinations of several shades of cream and tan and brown. Mmmmmmmm, yummy.

Also, you are the CUTE kind of ordinary. Really cute. You are pleasant to look at, and I like you more after seeing what you look like.

radical mama said...

I love neutrals! Colors, especially bright colors, tend to come and go. One year everyone is wearing orange, the next it's coral, and then teal. I hate having to change out my wardrobe every year! I'd rather vary the knit, or the pattern, or the lenth, than the color. That's what jewelry and scarves and purses are for. IMHO, of course. (However, if I had unlimited money, I would totally do more color than I do now!)

And you look great, btw.

Gwen said...

In clothes, for me, a little color goes a long way. I love your brown jacket in that photo, by the way. A good brown, to me, is an excellent, delicious COLOR.

And I've never thought of you as being morbidly obese. Instead, I think of you as a woman coming to terms with a new, different, and imperfect body. Like most of us.

This post got me thinking: I don't dress for attention, but I do try to look a little different from everyone else. I don't want to stand out, but I don't want to blend, either. Is that because I live in the suburbs and I desperately want to pretend that I'm not just one more soccer mom? Or am I truly the tiniest bit quirky? I think, sadly, I'm going to have to go with the former.

Andrea said...

I think that's what's most perplexing about this conversation for me. The fact is that I wear the bright colours to make me happy--and if it makes other people stare, well, ok. Whatever. I'm not going to dress to please or displease anyone but me. I think other people think that I'm dressing for attention; but I'm not. I'm dressing so I get that little colour hit all day from the corner of my eyes.

Yesterday I actually wore a low-cut orange top, a green and brown plaid skirt, brown socks, and the knee-high pink suede boots, to work. With my light blue wool winter coat. I really don't know what other people made of it. If they stared, I didn't notice. But then, I'm an intj, and I tend not to care what other people think. ;) And I don't feel like it's getting attention for the wrong reasons either--because, I don't feel like I'm getting any extra attention (or not much, and when I do it's positive).

Chaotic Joy said...

This is a hard topic for me, as you know. My weight consumes me sometimes. I am, I think actually overweight, although not tremendously so. The hardest part for me is feeling that somehow I am less of a person, because I have this area in my life I can't seem to get control over.

As for color. I do like color, but as my weight yo-yos up, I tend to leave it behind for something that I hope helps me to blend in.

The other day though, I saw a woman who was somewhere near my size, and she had such a sense of confidence in who she was, she was just beautiful. It made me realize that the drab doesn't actually hide me, it just makes me look like I am trying to hide.

Thanks for being transparent on this issue.

painted maypole said...

you look fantastic in that picture. and positively filled with joy, which is better than a flat tummy any day.

Chaotic Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Joan Koch said...

Red has always been my favorite color since I was a little girl. In pictures of me at 18 months, I have a bright red sweater. My first tricycle was red. My blog has a red banner. My red living room makes me happy as does my yellow kitchen, my blue bathroom, and my green bedroom. I struggle with depression, and red is the only reliable anti-depressant for me.

My favorite coat is a bright red fleece jacket I inherited from my mom when she died 3 years ago. When I wear it, I sometimes feel like she is giving me a hug. When I meet someone in Manhattan, I am easy to find--straight silver hair wearing red. It's sad how few New Yorkers wear red.

Yet I am an introvert. By the time you are 62, the silver hair absolutely cancels out the redness.

Julie Pippert said...

Dear B&P, such a lovely post I rambled on, an don, and on. So, as you replied in your own post, I'll do the same. :)

I like the two bottom pillows, but not the top. :)

With me, color hardly matters because it can't ever hide me.

Julie
Using My Words

the dragonfly said...

Everyone has different ideas about color and wearing color. Nothing wrong with that. Me, for instance, I wear red or orange nearly every day! That's just the way I am. :)

Jenifer said...

As I sit here in black socks (that go into black shoes) and my jeans a grey turtleneck, I am not really sure what to say. I certainly don't loathe my body, but I am not proud of it either. I want my turtleneck untucked to hide my belly after c-section poochiness. I want the colours to meld together to what really? Distract from what is underneath?

This posts resonates in many, many ways. And from your occasional photos you have posted I have never imagined you were overweight at all. It is funny how we perceive ourselves though.

The other day I wore a pink ribbed turtleneck and both girls commented on how pretty Mama looked. It makes me wonder what kind of message - overtly or otherwise am I sending.

This post was great B&P.

Bon said...

i had a similar response to Andrea's post - i too love colour around me, in my home and in accents on my person, but dress almost exclusively in neutrals. and part of it, for sure, is the sad old vestige of body shame you write about, my failure to make peace with this droopy belly et al.

but also, i like the understated look in clothing. not just to disappear. but because i like the way i feel in it, sleek and tailored. the right piece with bright colour? fabulous. most pieces that are colourfeel. make me just feel garish.

it's not just about being seen but how i see myself, style-wise.

Bon said...

colourfeel. hmmm. interesting slip.

love the photo of you and kiddo leaping in the leaves, btw. beautiful.

Mad Hatter said...

Ya, bon. I like to wear splashes of colour but beyond that I simply feel uncomfortable. Colour on me makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. Colour around me fills me with joy as my crayola house and postered-office walls bear testament to.

I linked the whole she-bomb to body image over at Andrea's so I won't belabour the point that so many of us are already in agreement about.

niobe said...

I wear pretty much only grey, black, and navy blue (which I tend to buy because I mistakenly think that it's black).

Also, Cold F/X is one of the key ingredients in crystal meth. Or so I hear.

Janet said...

I pretty much wore exclusively black in high school. I was closer to goth than prep, although unwilling to take it to the extreme.

Now my wardrobe is rather neutral, with a few exceptions. Today I'm wearing jeans and a grey sweater. Yesterday I wore jeans and a grey turtleneck. Yoinks! That's a lot of grey. However, the brownish-orange boots that I was coveting yesterday are probably a good sign that I'm not depressed, just a little boring when it comes to wardrobe.

Kyla said...

I wear color, but only because I tend to wear the EXACT SAME THING every day, only in different shades. I have to branch out into color or it would be like only wearing one or two outfits repeatedly all week long. I love my jeans and Old Navy polos. 'Tis my momiform. LOL.

Julie said...

There's something else to consider, too. Wearing colorful clothes usually requires that you have more clothes. You can easily get away with wearing the same black shirt twice in one week but you really can't go unnoticed if you wear the same orange one twice, eh?

I'm totally with you here, though. For me I think it has slightly less to do with not wanting attention and slightly more to do with now wanting it to look like I tried for something and failed at it -- like I tried for a certain look but couldn't pull it off. Throwing on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt looks like you didn't try so you can't really look like you failed to pull it off.

Anyway...

I figured out what your google reader thing is. Thanks. : )

Florinda said...

I relate to the neutral-clothing thing a lot, and I gravitate to darker colors. But I've understood for awhile that, for me, it comes from not really wanting to be seen (and since I'm small, I'm easy to overlook anyway). However, I do mix reds in with the black and navy pretty often, so I guess I'm ambivalent about it.

This is a great topic, by the way...

Aliki2006 said...

It's funny--I love color around me, in my house and on my walls, but I shrink from wearing color myself! I favor browns and blacks and grays. I wish I could pull off the color!

JCK said...

Thanks for your honesty. It is a difficult issue to talk about. All the body image stuff. I have so much less of it now than I did in my 20s and 30s. For me, age has helped and the irony is that it is so much easier to keep extra weight off. Who knew?

The fellow blogger you met may have also meant that she had found you "bigger than life" on the page, not just a reference to your actual body. I don't know as I haven't been reading you that long, but I just love your honesty and ability to challenge us to think. Hey, isn't there an award for that out there somewhere. ;)

kgirl said...

Nuthin wrong with bootcut jeans and a blue v-neck. And I think you're purty.

Jenn said...

Ordinary?

You?

Never. No matter the color of your clothes.

flutter said...

You are hardly ordinary. Do you read My Marrakech? Oy you'd die for the colors....

Marian said...

This false "shame" fashion folks often ascribe to wearing neutrals and/or not wanting to stand out too much reminds me a little of the twisted shame that is sometimes put on an introverted nature.

the new girl said...

Me too!
Me too!

In fact, one time a patient asked me why I dressed like a Quaker.

huuu?

A Quaker.

Black, off-white, grey, c-o-v-e-r-e-d up. lol.

Over the past couple years, I've been adding in splashes of color. But usually with a black/grey/tan base. For me, it's definately 'don't look too much' and that would probably surprise people who don't know me really, really well, since overall I'm pretty outspoken.

Karen said...

you always look perfectly lovely and most of all happy in all your pictures. Once I left New York I slowly but surely adopted a more toned-down dress (in style and color) and am self-conscious now of when I sort of kick it back in gear and "dress" - everyone does notice and it hardly makes me more comfortable that people are complimentary; I think there is some part of me that finds safety in the role of the harried mother who has no time for heels and coordinating scarves...though when I wear a headband and eye make-up I look like a gypsy from eastern Europe, or rather more noticeably Jewish than I do in ordinary time - which round these parts isn't a problem...until suddenly, surprise! - someone makes it one. And I am proud of that part of my heritage, but why don't I dress the part?

slouching mom said...

I don't think I've ever identified with you quite as much as I do right now, after reading this post.

So I'll just say, me too.

Lawyer Mama said...

Nothing at all. Nothing.

I love color too. Love it. But I also tend to wear it. I'm like Gwen. I want to be different. But not *too* different, if that makes sense?

I love the brown jacket too. A rich brown definitely counts as a color.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh, and, um...speaking of clothes. I tagged you for a shoe meme. Please forgive me.

KAL said...

As someone whose daily uniform is blue jeans and a neutral top - one that covers my twin skin :) this post really resonated with me. I also love, love, love color and I live in bright riotous shades in my home but shy away from it on my person. Much for the same reason. Hmm... you've given me something to think about.

jen said...

i'm just over here seeing if you are actually going to to Lawyer Mama's shoe meme. (that's a wicked meme)

and your F/X line cracked me up.

Christina said...

I can really identify with you in this post. I didn't really think about my clothing color choices until I read this. Now that I think about it, most of my clothes are neutral colors or muted colors.

I bought some new tops last week, and I just realized every one of them was brown, save for a muted heather green one with a brown design in it.

I do want to be unnoticed when out in public. Blending into the background is so much easier than someone looking at me and thinking, "Wow, look at that chubby midsection. She shouldn't wear anything form fitting."

Anonymous said...

there's nothing wrong with that.

I wear dark neutral colors for one simple reason:bright colors hurt my eyes. I can't stand to look at them for more than a few seconds.I love calm soothing colors, dark blue-greens that remind me of the ocean in addition to the black, brown,tan, navy, and grey. My mother and sister think that I am hiding or ashamed and they keep buying me orange and yellow and red even though I have explained my perspective to them many times.It's a matter of comfort; I am accosted with bright colors on a daily basis as it is without having them follow me around.Even if I were to wear these colors, I have no idea how to match them. I've never really connected clothes with identity, I wear what is comfortable in basic versatile styles.I honestly don't know what is fashionable and I don't much care since I tend not to like the newest fad.i think most people look better when their clothing is simple and natural, rather than dressed up or looking to impress.

Angela said...

I tend to wear more neutrals because it costs me less money....but I also tend to pair a black pair of pants with a bright colored jacket...and I looooooooove jewelry, with all of its texture and color.

Redneck Mommy said...

My house looks like the inside of a Crayola carton. My husband thinks I'm a tad immature when it comes to paint choices, but since I'm here all the time and he's not..he has to live with it. Snicker.

As for my wardrobe...well, I reflect my colour loving ways with what I choose to wear. I have no tan or greys...and very few whites or blacks. I love me some colour and it never occurred to me that I was drawing attention to myself. Hmm.

No wonder the psychologist figures I'm a bit of an exhibitionist...

P. S. I think you look great!

edj said...

I am exactly like you--but I tell myself that blacks and greys are "elegant" and "classic." Guess I'm the more self-deluded.
You look great! I love that photo. There's plenty of colour in it.

Emily said...

Just catching up, so I can't comment on each of the fantastic posts you've put up in my way too long absence. But, I want to say that I think we all have some physical "flaw" that is huge to us and unnoticeable to others. For me, it is always some little pimple or another. (Actually, they are quite big. I'm 34. Isn't it enough, already?) I love bright colors, but half the time I find myself avoiding reds because they would pull out some blemish. The point is -- I suspect even Catherine Zeta Jones feels some part of her is not up to snuff. Why this is? No idea.

Lucy said...

I totally related to this post. My home is vibrant - reds, oranges, greens, whites, etc. But my clothes? My friends laugh that they match me when they're wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. That's what I wear almost every single day. Today I'm wearing grey. I used to wear more color, especially red, but I was thinner back then (and I had time to scour thrift stores for unique and funky finds).

I am fully aware that I do not wear colors anymore because they draw too much attention to me and my much rounder body. Also, as one commentor said, I can have fewer clothes. Plus, I don't have time or money (or honestly, the inclination) to be stylish. Black is always in style. So I feel that with jeans, a black shirt and silver hoop earrings, I'm pretty safe. It's boring, but with little kids, my life is exciting enough that my clothes don't need to be exciting.

Besides, black hides a multitude of spills.

bren j. said...

Hm.Thanks for that post. In my present world of postpartum-weight-that-will-not-go-away, it was comforting.

The colours in my wardrobe are like comfort food - if it tastes good and I like it, why change the recipe? Oddly, when I was pregnant, I bought a shirt that was TOTALLY not a colour I would ever have chosen before and it looked great. So now I figure I'll add one new colour per year and see how it goes... :)

Magpie said...

I think you look great.

I lean towards black shirts and jean too. All the time.

Kathryn said...

You look great, and I loved this post since I'm currently dealing with the fact that I have never felt so ugly as I do now...I should be more accepting of my body, but I just can't. I'm trying to deal with the natural thickness that comes with having lots of kids, but it is hard. Thanks for such a good post, again I really needed that!