The school year is over, graduation has passed, and for the moment I’m at home. It’s weird being back. I can’t say that I particularly like it, but compared to a lot of people’s situations, mine isn’t bad. My friend is talking to a guy who spends his entire summer in his room, reading textbooks. He’s afraid to leave his house, which has already been raided, because he doesn’t want to run into trouble in his neighborhood. I feel perfectly safe walking anywhere where I live, no matter what time it is. This is good, because recently I’ve had to walk to and from work a lot.
So I feel safe. I don’t feel particularly accepted, though. I feel like I don’t fit in with my environment. Looking back, I don’t know how I bore it through middle school and high school, where conformity is everything. I always thought it was my mixed race and fashion choices that made it hard to fit in with people. Now, I think that my thoughts had a lot to do with it, too. They just don’t click with other people’s, and I’m spending too much time repressing rants that I know will just make me look Crazy, Angry, or Weird.
I was at the mall with my friend. I knew that I had to visit her, and I also had to get long skirts for Kenya and Cameroon, so I decided to lump the two things together. It’s weird the things you resort to doing when you know you need to spend time with someone. Having lunch gets old, and an at-home visit was out of the question. What would we do, just sit and talk the entire time without an out? Recently, our most in-depth conversations have been about boys. As an asexual, that’s saying something.
My friend was telling me all about how she and her boyfriend had gone to the beach.
“Yeah, we went to ______ beach,” she was saying, “There are a whole lot of them out there. We’d never go to Coney Island, though, because that’s too ratchet. We saw all these girls wearing short shorts with their butt cheeks hanging out! He saw them, and he was like, ‘If I were their parents, I’d never let them out of the house,’ and I was like, ‘I know, right? Why do they think they need to try so hard?'”
For a second, I really hated her. Then I remembered she was my good friend. “Why do they necessarily need to be trying hard if they’re wearing shorts?” I asked her. “Also, weren’t they at the beach? If anything, they probably just eren’t* trying hard to be covered at all.” She started to respond, but I was annoyed, and also starting to think out loud.
“This is why I love Wesleyan. At Wes, I can wear whatever I want, and no one will think I’m doing it for anyone else. I can actually express myself and not be judged, you know? I have a friend whose cheeks are peeking out all the time. She doesn’t do it on purpose. It just happens, and then she fixes them, but she doesn’t stress over it because she knows that clothes aren’t made to fit black bodies, and there’s nothing she can really do about it.
The thing that sucks is that once you leave campus, everyone forgets about that. All of a sudden, you’re dressing to attract the interest of men. It’s like everything that you do is to put yourself on display for the world, despite the fact that you’re actually dressing because you’re confident, and you like the way you look.”
The ironic thing was that at the moment, I was wearing a leopard-print jumpsuit and red blazer. I looked fierce. Or I looked ridiculous, depending on your mindset. My friend was trying to talk again, but I cut into her. Again. Her voice was too weak, anyway.
“I really don’t like this place. People here have such small mindsets. Everyone just regurgitates things they’ve heard without even thinking about them, like the idea that girls who wear short shorts don’t respect themselves, or whatever nonsense the patriarchy put into their heads as another method of disenfranchising women. You honestly can’t win. Either you cover yourself up and are ashamed of your body*, conforming to a subservient and acquiescing standard, or you dress freely, and have to deal with sexual harassment that people will say you deserve. But it’s like that Everywhere! Oh, I miss my campus. The worst part is that I’m sure some girls are trying hard when they wear little clothing, and they aren’t just dressing for themselves. But aren’t you also trying hard when you induce sweat and discomfort, just so that you can seem chaste and respectable? Didn’t you use to wear crop tops and belly shirts and little shorts before your boyfriend told you not to do that anymore? The problem is that you don’t know who’s thinking what anymore, and in the meantime, everyone’s busy judging everyone else using stupid little unthoughtful examples, and it’s actually like everyone just has the same, copied-over mindset. Oh, people who don’t think are the worst!”
This had turned into a full-out rant that could have been somewhat insulting to my friend, as without noticing, I had implied that her mindset was stupid and she didn’t think on the same level that I did. I wondered if she was upset.
“I know,” she told me. “That’s why I can’t talk to as many people at home these days.”
*I understand that not everyone who covers herself is ashamed. Being completely covered is liberating in its own way, and I’m actually really looking forward to that when I’m in Cameroon. I just don’t like the idea that women who cover themselves are morally superior, or better marriage material, or whatever other bullshit.