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?