I bought myself nail polish for the first time ever the other day. It was blue and sparkly, and took me a long while to pick out. I got up bright and early the next morning and fished out my make up bag, which was hiding behind my laptop case. Taking up the nail polish, I applied it, without much skill, but with a lot of joy. Then I fished out various make up implements and used them to stick some make up on my face, including blue, green, and gold eyeshadow that someone had just given me for my birthday, which was odd as I’m categorically sure she’s never seen me in make up, but also very nice. I sat and stared at my nails and grinned.
I’m interested in the performance of femininity for political reasons. I am interested in femininity because of the many ways in which a singular narrative of womanhood fails us, because feminist discourse on choice is deeply lacking, because to give up the feminine is to deride something because it has been associated with women, and I’m not up for misogynist purging in the name of social justice. But I’m also interested in this performance for reasons that aren’t so political. Rather, they are political, but not in ways conventional feminism would have it, and today I’m not up for talking about my body and my gender performance along lines that don’t acknowledge the specificity of non-white and disabled womanhood.
Putting this much and this kind of effort into performing the feminine is significant for disability reasons. Some of those are personal, and putting on that nail polish came with a sense of wild happiness and triumph. Generally, disabled women are regularly disallowed from expressions of the feminine and full membership in their own gender. Putting something into that, expressing sexuality and personality and specificity, that’s powerful. It’s also significant to put thought into something for oneself, care about oneself, in a deliberate manner, where women are encouraged to perform particular modes of femininity without thought, and do little for themselves beyond that in our roles of holding up the world behind the scenes.
But, again, it goes beyond all that. Sometimes I want to make space for my body outside of the political, to have it be not subject to patriarchy, but also for it to not be deployed as a weapon of significances, misattributed and otherwise, in every feminist fight.
Consciously getting dressed is helping me to connect to the past and those around me. I’m fortunate enough to have a number of older friends and family members who give me clothing that hasn’t fit in thirty years; a beautiful pink suit, a black jacket from England, a red dress of a kind that is newly back in fashion, a cardigan that must have been worn by three or four generations of my family. Wearing these clothes is an exercise in connection as much as femininity. This is my history, these are my friends, these are the people who have watched over me for all my life.
I’ve often been the kind of person to pull on a t-shirt and a denim skirt for convenience, but I’m enjoying sometimes being deliberate in how I go about dressing. And I’m being deliberate in how I dress in ways that expand my gender expression, something I’ve been badly missing since I finished drama school. I’m now a kind of woman who might wear a full skirt with her great-grandmother’s crocheted shawl one day, and don chunky boots and a sports bra and tuck up her hair in a hat the next. A kind of woman who sometimes grows out her leg hair and dons a petticoat just for the fun of incongruency. A kind of politics that’s just for myself, that doesn’t make me feel desperately sad at the diametric pulls on my body, something that fills me from the inside with rightness.
Just now, loving myself means doing something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl, and looking at that chipped polish flying about on my fingers on the keyboard is sealing and healing up something inside of me. I want to hold on to all the ways of expressing my gender, personality, sexuality, and specificity that are available. These have been produced in wonderful and coercive ways both, and I refuse to give any of them up, because it is worth knowing that expressions of the self are worth cleaning off and saving, that healing comes from acknowledging everything of who we are, that history and love should always be taken up.