Appearance, part 4a: appearance and gender (me)

When thinking about this post I started wondering: Is appearance the only way that gender is expressed? I think most people would agree these days that behaviors, actions, and interests aren’t gendered—while in some circles playing football may still be seen as typically masculine and staying home with the kids as typically feminine, I don’t think most people would say a man is enacting a feminine gender by taking care of his kids, or a woman enacting a masculine gender by playing football. However, if a man wears makeup, or a woman wears a tux, that is viewed as a deviation into a gender that doesn’t match their sex. So is appearance then the only marker of a masculine or feminine identity?

Switching gears a little, the main thing I want to discuss in this post is the overlap of appearance and gender for me. In February of this year, I started thinking about my gender identity, for probably the first time ever. I’d always known I wasn’t typically girly—I stopped liking skirts and dresses before I was 10, I never liked pink, never wore makeup. But I’d never wondered, “Do I actually identify with the feminine gender?”, because I’d been accepting that if I was female-bodied, I was also feminine-gendered. In February, though, after reading an article on Facebook’s new gender options, I finally considered how I see my own gender, and realized that I don’t strongly identify as feminine.

That thought led me to the realization that I dress more like a man than a woman. I always knew I didn’t dress in a particularly feminine way, but hadn’t considered that I actually dressed in a masculine way until then. I dress very simply—no fancy/decorative clothes (hardly even any patterns or pictures), no jewelry, no accessories like scarves or hats (except very occasionally or for warmth)—and I also don’t normally wear any female-specific clothing like dresses, skirts, or heels. So, looking at my style through the lens of the gender binary, as I did at that time, I concluded that my overall style was definitely more of a typical male style than a typical female style. (Thinking about this more since then, I’ve realized that in western society there’s a lot less of a typical masculine look than a typical feminine look, an idea I’ll expand on in a future post. When I was first having these realizations about myself, though, I concluded that if I had to pick the guy box or the girl box, my clothing choices and overall look fit better in the guy box.)

My next gender/appearance realization took a little longer, but in April or May, it hit me that the only reason I had long hair was because long hair is seen as the norm for women. When I was young, my parents had let my hair grow long (or else I had told them I wanted it long; I did have short hair at one point in my childhood) because having long hair was what girls did. And I had passively accepted that, despite encountering many short-haired women and at least a few long-haired men, and despite often being annoyed with my hair. Finally, though, I realized that I could change my hair if I wanted to—there was nothing to stop me.

So I chopped off my hair, and I also started making a conscious choice to exclude certain items from my wardrobe. I got rid of the few decorative scarves I did own and wore pants rather than a dress to the next wedding I attended. This was partly because of a desire to stand up to the patriarchy by not listening to what society says women have to do, appearance-wise (“Because you have a vagina, you should wear a skirt”; “Because you have boobs, you should look different from people who don’t”), but it was also because I’m not a very feminine person, and thus I don’t want to be read as one. I don’t want people to see me in a dress and make assumptions about me that aren’t true (so this is yet another reason why I don’t feel comfortable when presenting as feminine).

I also came to the realization that it wasn’t my goal to look pretty anymore. I did still want to look good, though, and I would catch myself thinking about “pretty” as my desired look, realize that word wasn’t right, but then not know how to actually describe what I wanted.  Finally I settled on “pleasantly androgynous” as my aim, and that rang true. I don’t want to look good in a feminine way or a masculine way; I just want to look good as a person.

I was never enacting a feminine gender very strongly, but when I finally stopped to actually consider how I felt about my gender, I found that my gender was very tied to my looks—both in that my looks were already reflecting how I felt about my gender, even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it before, and because realizing how I felt about my gender led me to make some changes to my looks, and to how I conceived of my ideal look. So that brings me back to my original question; even though it’s not really the point of this post, I’m still curious—is gender really only manifested in looks?

I’ve even been wondering if gender actually equals looks, but I don’t think that’s true, because I know people can be perfectly secure in a feminine gender identity but not want or feel the need to look particularly feminine all the time. Maybe looks are just how you show your gender to the world, when you feel like doing that.

Writing this post both reminded me of other thoughts I’ve had about gender in the past and spurred some new ones, so I’ll be writing a follow up (or maybe several) before too long. In the meantime, you can check out my other posts on appearance here.

6 thoughts on “Appearance, part 4a: appearance and gender (me)

  1. Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist December 16, 2014 / 9:30 pm

    I’ve even been wondering if gender actually equals looks, but I don’t think that’s true, because I know people can be perfectly secure in a feminine gender identity but not want or feel the need to look particularly feminine all the time. Maybe looks are just how you show your gender to the world, when you feel like doing that.

    I actually found that the realization that I wasn’t a woman made me feel more comfortable with making my appearance more feminine. I like wearing skirts and skinny jeans, and if not for my sensory problems I’d wear makeup more often. I like feeling pretty when I see myself in the mirror, and I am the only person whose opinion matters on whether I’m pretty. None of those things feel gendered to me.


    • cinderace December 19, 2014 / 12:03 am

      Thanks for the comment! I appreciate getting another perspective on this. So do you feel that appearance isn’t–or at least shouldn’t–be as gendered a thing as it’s often made out to be? Is gender more of an internal thing, rather than the external thing it’s sometimes seen as (by me, at least, who’s recently concluded I’m genderless, and will be posting about that soon)? Certain looks are perceived as feminine, others as masculine, but maybe that’s actually pretty arbitrary and just societally dictated (especially since what’s seen as feminine and masculine varies between cultures), rather than there actually be anything intrinsically masculine/feminine about those looks. So maybe some people do strongly connect gender to appearance, but it doesn’t have to be like that and there’s not such a strong connection for everybody?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Alice December 22, 2014 / 3:07 am

    Hi cinderace – thank you so much for this interesting post! This is a topic that means a lot to me, too.

    I’ve published a response on my own blog here.

    Look forward to talking soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Silvermoon February 23, 2015 / 3:32 am

    You know, it’s funny, because I’ve kind of been the opposite? Like, when I was younger I didn’t care what I looked like and there were a lot of baggy shorts (because they were practical). But after leaving high school I started wearing skirts and makeup- I absolutely love the fun of eyeshadows- basically, becoming much more feminine. And I don’t know if I’m gender queer or not tbh because I’m new to that stuff (maybe gender neutral?)- I don’t identify strongly with being a female, couldn’t care less if I were misgendered (not that that will happen…) but If I am, I don’t find it has an affect on what I want of my appearance.

    I think to an outsider, appearance may be one of the only indicators/expressions of gender but to the individual… I dunno.


    • cinderace February 23, 2015 / 11:09 am

      Thanks for the comment! It’s really interesting to see how different people perceive the intersection of appearance and gender. As you said, people around you are often going to make assumptions about your gender based on your appearance, so even though I was already naturally inclined toward more gender-neutral clothes, when I consciously thought about my gender I started purposely avoiding feminine clothing because I didn’t want people to think something about me that wasn’t true. I’m not going to tell most people in real life that I consider myself genderless, at least not for now, but I can show it in a way through my presentation, and that just makes me more comfortable than looking feminine and having everyone think of me as feminine when I don’t feel that I am.

      Also, as I wrote in a later post, femininity feels connected to sexuality to me, so for me being unfeminine is also an opt-out from sexuality. So appearance and gender have always been very connected for me, but I’m realizing more and more that it isn’t that way for everyone, and I enjoy hearing other perspectives. :)


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