One of my best friends is never without lipstick. It was something she was taught from a very young age, by her mother, to always have on a little bit of makeup. The suffragette, bra-burning women among us may well balk at the idea, but I think it’s splendid. In fact, I think that in this day and age, playing dress up — no matter how subtle or how extravagant — can be the very expression of self-empowerment and feminist independence that so many generations of women have fought for.
This evening, I’ll be heading to my cousin’s wedding party. Not one to stick to ‘norms’ (whatever the hell those anyway pfft) he’s opted out of the traditional Chinese ballroom dinners and is throwing an intimate do at a wine bar instead.
This can only mean two things: lots of alcohol and lots dressing up!
So now this is how dressing up can be a good thing (and not just a frivolous, pointless activity that so much of our post-modern sensibility has begun to scoff at):
See, obviously, I’m not the bride, so nobody is going to be paying much attention to me. I could dressed in my pajama bottoms and nobody would give a shit. I also highly doubt there are going to be too many eligible bachelors there for the pickings. I’m more likely to be surrounded by marrieds who will look down their nose at me and ask me when it’ll be my turn — I’ve already had one aunt ask me that, to be followed with, “Well, Jamie, don’t wait too long!”
So I’m really not out to impress anyone tonight — BUT MYSELF.
This is where playing dress-up is the most fun — when you do it all and entirely for yourself. I’ve got my fingernails painted an obnoxious neon pink, to match the equally obnoxious neon pink clutch. Picked out a shout-out-loud neon yellow dress, to match an equally loud, chunky yellow heel.
And yes, I know neons aren’t in anymore and it’s autumn and haven’t you been following the A/W runway reports which show that it’s all dramatic black florals and burgundies. But SHUT UP. I’m going to wear whatever the hell I want.
(Enjoy the fashion trends and be in the know but don’t necessarily follow them. Dress up for you and wear what you like, always, not what you think the runways are telling you to.)
I even got matching neon-tinted eyelashes to complete the whole neon crayon look I’ve got going in my head.
But of course.
And I’m not advocating we do this all day, every day. I’m not entirely agreeable to the idea of being a slave to what you’re going to wear, having to wake up 2 hours earlier every morning just to put on make up, even if you’re not going anywhere but the grocer (Because then, surely, dressing up doesn’t become so much a choice and an enjoyment but a necessity, and something you’re doing in response to the fear of not looking good — i.e. not empowering).
The great thing about tarting yourself up should always be that you maintain choice and agency throughout all of it. So whether you’re dressing yourself up to rival a bored Datin, wanting to look like Little Bo Peep or are in a fuck-it-all-I’m-wearing-my-cotton-sweats-and-tshirt mood, you’re the one making a choice and being happy with it for the rest of the day. (This works I think, in much in the same way as selfies do, which I’ve also written about).
I maintain that the act of dressing up, when done with the right, independent and happy frame of mine, can be very empowering. It can be an act of really loving your body, giving it a treat, enjoying its beauty and quirks, not being afraid to play, experiment and show it off. It is about appreciating every part of yourself — your inward qualities as well as the outward parts of you.
Playing dress-up, as much as any other spiritual practice, meditation or contemplation, is about really listening to and responding to your body, both the outer flesh and the inner impulses. We know that one affects the other. We often spend a lot of time taking care of one to the exclusion of the other: we either invest a lot of time in developing our inward qualities but neglect the physical health of the body; or we invest all our time and effort into creating a perfect outward body but forget to look after the mind and the soul.
We want to be beautiful, to be admired for our looks, our talents, our personalities. What we might often fail to remember is that we can’t be admired for one without taking care of all the others. We’re all too familiar with the experience of meeting incredibly good-looking people only to find out that their personalities stink. Or meeting wonderful, kind people with amazing personalities who are slunk away in a corner somewhere where nobody will ever notice or see them — they’re too ashamed of what they look like, don’t feel like they’re worthy enough of dressing up or wearing something pretty.
I say pish to all that. Looking after every part of you is important. This doesn’t mean you go to the extreme of spending every waking moment looking after ONLY yourself, your feelings, your makeup, your outfit. Me me me me doesn’t cut it either.
Find that balance, so that you can love the you in the mirror as much as the you that you spend all day with. Love your fingertips as much as your creativity. Love your face as much as you love your strengths and weaknesses and character. Love your belly as much the emotions that arise out of your gut.
Love your body enough to give it that extra special treat of a nice outfit, a massage or a really super workout; also love your mind and spirit enough to also give it the extra special treats of good literature, spectacular conversations and quiet moments in the day just to receive peace (more on this in another post!)
As for me, I’ve just come from a gorgeous afternoon of yoga. Am now writing and drinking flowered tea (my version of a quiet moment with peace). And am soon off to start playing dress-up.
Party photos to follow to celebrate good times and many good people.
Love and be extra beautiful this weekend xxx