Since starting my appearance series, I’ve come upon a lot of writing on the intersection of appearance with gender, (a)sexuality, and/or sexism (mostly, but not all, from the archives of various ace blogs), and I wanted to share in case anyone is interested. My previous posts also include many links to articles that I’ve found interesting and insightful.
This one isn’t actually writing but is rather a great photography project showcasing the variety of ways that people present their gender identities.
Ily writes that having an androgynous or gender-ambiguous appearance can make people perceive you as younger than you are, which can be frustrating: “[A]ndrogyny seems to have the same connotations with youth as asexuality. Before puberty, everyone is ‘asexual’ and androgynous to an extent. Most people didn’t remain as such after puberty, but a few of us did. To be seen as an adult, do we have to ‘pick a side’?”
Ace Eccentric writes in one post about her struggles with formal clothing as a neutrois person with dysphoria, and in another about gender presentation and being neutrois: “It’s been causing me a bit of anxiety lately, not having any idea of how to express myself in clothing. I don’t want to be stuck in the men’s section of the store any more than I want to be stuck in the women’s section. I like things people consider masculine and I like things people consider feminine.”
Sara K. writes about wearing typical female clothing as a sort of protection (an interesting contrast to my feeling of vulnerability when I appear typically feminine): “[T]o me, femme clothing gives me the freedom to be as tomboyish as I want at work. […] my femme clothing will balance out any excessively tomboyish behavior. If I wore the type of clothing I wear outside of work, I would feel less free to be myself at work. The femme clothing is a shield – with it, I feel safe, without it, I feel exposed.” She explores this idea again in a recent post.
This post by The Thinking Asexual, while not entirely about appearance, discusses the intersection of appearance, gender, and sexuality: “Women are taught to use their femininity to be sexually appealing to men, and it’s often hard to separate a woman’s being feminine from a woman being sexually seductive and attractive. The aesthetic hallmarks of femininity [makeup, high heels, long hair, short skirts, revealing cleavage, etc] are also a woman’s way of being sexually inviting.” (This post was also of interest to me because it explores the ideas I wrote about in my latest Carnival of Aces post.)
Captain Glittertoes writes about the unique censure male-assigned-at-birth people who express femininity experience: “Transmisogyny and/or femmephobia is something that affects all MAAB people that deviate from the norms set by masculinity. Those norms are stricter, with less room to move, than the norms set by femininity. Although FAAB people who deviate from those norms still face problems (for sure!) masculinity in FAAB people is more accepted and met with less violence than femininity in MAAB people.”
This parody list of modesty rules is a perfect illustration of Christian culture’s contradictory standards for women—that they must both be attractive and not cause men to lust: “Wear a little makeup to highlight your God-given beauty. But don’t wear too much makeup. Actually, don’t wear any makeup, because it is secular and draws attention to you instead of Christ” (the author is currently doing a series on modesty and I’ve been enjoying her other posts as well).
This Everyday Feminism article discusses the conflation of beauty and worth, and the idea—espoused by a variety of different people and movements, not just mainstream culture—that it’s important for every woman to feel beautiful (even just inwardly): “We need to start teaching ourselves that womanhood doesn’t constantly need validation. My womanhood can thrive without your approval. Further, my womanhood comprises a hell of a lot more than my fashion sense. Womanhood and femininity are not inextricably intertwined, contrary to popular belief. You don’t need to be feminine to feel like a woman, and you certainly don’t have to be beautiful to feel like a woman.”
A good follow-up to that article is this post by Elizabeth, where she writes of her discomfort with being complimented on her appearance: “Honestly, I’d like to just say, ‘I know’—meaning, ‘Yeah, I know you think I’m attractive, let’s move on’—but people read that as narcissistic or otherwise rude. […] I just want to brush those compliments aside, because they bug me. It’s not like I’m trying to look pretty. […] When people compliment me on my writing, or something else I’ve done, I feel good about it. But when people compliment me on my appearance it makes me feel awkward and bad, because there’s so much focus on women’s appearance in general, and because it makes me the object of a lot of other people’s envy.” (Like her, I’ve gotten the “You’re too thin, you should eat more!” comments, and agree that they’re quite frustrating!) She also discusses her feelings about other people finding her sexually attractive.
Olivia writes about doing what she wants with her appearance and not caring what other people think: “Even for people who enjoy fashion and beauty, attractiveness is something that society demands. It’s a way for the world to exert power over you and your body by saying that there are better and worse ways to be. I love feeling as if I’m actively choosing to do something that I’ve been told not to. […] It feels good to recognize that I feel like I belong to myself alone when I choose to dress down or let the world see my ugly side.”
I discovered that the May 2013 Carnival of Aces was on appearance, so there are lots of relevant posts there as well. Particularly of interest to me were:
Laura’s post on being an asexual hijabi: “I’ve come to realize that part of what I like about hijab and part of why I think it feels so natural to me, is that in my experience it does desexualize me in the eyes of most people and that this makes my interactions with them more comfortable for me.”
Sara K.’s post “Why do I take a ‘male’ approach to dressing up? Because I’m an ace” (also an interesting discussion of what the difference is between typically masculine and typically feminine approaches to appearance): “I, however, don’t want to get sexual offers from anybody. Therefore, I do not want people to think I am putting effort into increasing my visual appeal, even when that is exactly what I’m doing.”
Queenie’s post “Musings on appearances by a mixed race ace”: “For some reason, people cannot conceive of the way I dress, my sexuality, and my ethnicity going together. […] being asexual and being Latina are often seen as polar opposites.”
And finally, not a Carnival post, but Ily writes about her own asexual style: “Now that I think about it, this outfit screamed ‘I am asexual!’, a thing I never told him out loud. Clothes may seem superficial, but they expressed something important when words failed me.”
If you’ve written on appearance or know any good blog posts or articles on the subject, feel free to share!