Guest Post: Style and Privilege

This post comes from reader N., who contacted me a while back with some astute and eye-opening feedback. I’ll let her explain.

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I first emailed Sally a month ago when I first got into reading fashion blogs. I started thinking about the feelings that I got when I looked at incredibly gorgeous people in incredibly gorgeous clothing. I’m talking about blog envy, of course.

It’s something most of us have felt at least once, “Why didn’t I think of that color pairing first?” “If only I could work an SLR.” “I wish I could afford a closet full of Jimmy Choo’s.” “My legs never look that smooth and tan. Not fair.” We see it. We envy it. We get over it. It’s inevitable. It just comes with the territory of fashion blogs and readership.

However, when I started to read this blog in particular, I came to the conclusion that most of the envy I felt towards blogs sounded less like what I typed above and more like, “I wish I could just stand in the street and take pictures of myself,” “Why can’t I just wear my purple dress outside?” “I wonder what would happen if I stood outside in that outfit.” Let me explain.

As a teenaged girl just recently recovering from an eating disorder, I learned that fashion was the only thing that made me feel amazing. (Ironic, I know.) I didn’t have to do anything because I could just throw on something beautiful and I would feel beautiful. With my hair done, makeup put on, shoes shined, and guns blazing, I could actually hold my head up high. I’m not quite sure if everybody feels that when they first discover fashion, but I sure did, and it immediately became one of my favorite things in the world. However, fashion is and was something that I kept inside the house.

By the great, wonderful chance of birth, I happened to be born in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in one of the most dangerous sections of one of the most dangerous cities in America, give or take a couple of statistics. As much as I love fashion, it’s simply impossible for me to throw on my favorite outfit and step out of my house unscathed. You see, where I’m from, something as simple as what you choose to wear can mean catcalling, people touching you, and even driving up beside you and asking, “How much?” And they’re not asking you how much your new wedges cost, either. I’ve even had family members and friends get mugged because, duh, being somewhat fashionable shouts, “I have money! Please relieve me of it. Thanks.” My neighborhood is called “the Badlands” for a reason.

Most days, I just throw on a ratty school sweater, jeans, and an old pair of moccasins before going out. I throw my hair into a messy, frizzy bun (hair that’s the texture only a biracial girl like me could have) and I’m out the door. Did I mention the same people that harass you for daring to wear pretty clothes also harass you for doing the opposite? I’ve had the words “ugly,” “trifling,” and “ghetto” all thrown at me while walking down the street and to be honest, it feels uncomfortable. Not because random people are shouting at me, but because me-in-a-raggedy-sweater doesn’t feel like me. Just the same way I’m sure Sally or Audi or Gabi or Weesha would feel out of place in ugly clothes they feel don’t represent them or who they are. As a young girl recovering from several years of an eating disorder, it feels doubly awful because the one thing that I always wanted to be was pretty and now that I have the mindset to convince myself that I am, my environment still prevents me from physically showing people how much I’ve come to terms with myself. Many people forget basic privileges like this.

If any of you reading this have a fashion blog, I’m not sure you know how great it is that you can just step outside and take a bunch of pictures with your head held high, showing the world your fiercest/cutest/sweetest poses. And when you open your closets or your armoires or your bureaus in the morning and you say to yourself, “I’m wearing X, Y, and Z today and I’m going to look awesome!” you probably don’t stop to realize that many people can’t really do that. Realize how much of a privilege it is to simply be yourself when you step out the door. How you can present yourself as a vintage pinup or the sleek, embodiment of androgyny or a walking Alexander McQueen mannequin and the most you have to worry about is a few stares or sideways glances.

Be happy with yourself and your choices. Not all of us can show ourselves to the world.

Image courtesy Infradept

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61 Responses to “Guest Post: Style and Privilege”

  1. Heather

    It took amazing guts to write this article. Having spent time with both ghettos and eating disorders I will say this… it gets better. With the way you write and think you can have such a wonderful future.

    • LinB

      Too often we insulate ourselves from what is ugly, and dangerous, and awful. We assume that everyone in the world has the choice to live in the gentle, lovely place that we ourselves inhabit. It is time for persons of reason to band together and fight to make every place a gentle, lovely place. Until then, I echo Heather in saying, “It gets better.” I pray that you are able to endure your circumstances until either the place improves, or you can escape the place. With your family, if they’ll come with you.

    • AK

      Thank you so much for sharing your point of view, N. You demonstrate a lot of wisdom, thought, and you’re a great writer. I hope you’re able to make a good life for yourself — you can do anything you set your mind to.

  2. Vildy

    I live (I presume) across the river from you in the latest most dangerous, poorest city. I also have heard “how much?” – liable to happen anytime a girl or woman wears a skirt. Everybody in my family has been mugged, my husband they tried to kill and didn’t seem interested in his wallet. The police, when called by a bystander, only wanted to know what he was doing here. (buying, selling drugs?) He was going to work by the bus around the corner – he since bought a car.

    I don’t get any of the negative catcalls and get quite a few nice comments. But I do have to force myself to let myself be “seen.” I have to debate with myself every day about what I am willing to be seen in. I rely on coats a lot but then I get a reputation as “the jacket lady.” When I pick a purse to wear, I have to mentally be willing to say goodbye to it.

    I do find, in general, that when women look pretty in this kind of environment, they’re treated in a more smiling, benign, cheerful way. My philosophy is that it isn’t very macho to want to mug a pretty lady as your first thought of how to interact with her. So most of the time I do force myself.

  3. J.

    I second everything that Heather just wrote (except that I never had an eating disorder). Go far and good luck, girl.

  4. Vildy

    I wanted to add that I’m only afraid for my physical safety and, though the people who see us are certainly a part of how we dress because we are all part of the social fabric, I don’t care about any negative comments I would receive. Why would I take their opinions if they’re that rude? That seems more about them and nothing to do with me.

  5. Christy

    First of all, this is an amazing piece in and of itself. I never comment, but I am today.

    Secondly, I am a high school teacher and desperately wish you could write in my class instead of where you are. You are a beautifully gifted writer, especially considering your age, and my hope is that you use that gift to go somewhere else for college, and fully embrace the you you long to be.

  6. mary

    wow. I’ve never realized this was an issue for some young women. N —you’re a great writer…I applaud you for being a deep thinker at an age where so many just follow the crown. Godspeed!

  7. Rach

    N,
    I hope someday soon you get to wear just whatever you want and hold your head high without others’ hate.
    Thank you for your eloquent and powerful words and know you have touched people.
    Imagine where your promise will take you…
    With love x

  8. Louise

    This is the most powerful thing I’ve read in a long time. Thank you, N, for sharing your perspective and part of your world. I hope you will continue writing. If you have a blog, I would love to read it. I would love to see photos of the outfits you can only wear in your house, and share your fashion world in that way.

  9. Tragic Sandwich

    This is a wonderful, powerful post. I hope the author finds ways to show herself–certainly her skill with words is one way she’s doing that here. And I’m sorry that her surroundings limit her ability to do that in some of the ways she’d like. Living in Los Angeles, I recognize what she’s talking about. My neighborhood isn’t like that, but I’d be blind if I didn’t realize that many in my city are.

  10. JB

    I agree, an excellent piece of writing, and a good lesson in perspective for many of us. However, I would like to respectfully point out that being able to “be yourself when you step out the door” is often not as easy as the writer implies. Even if personal safety is not a consideration, style for many people is limited by office policies, by job descriptions, by the need to run around after young children, by not having a car, by physical disabilities. Trying to find a style that allows you to “be yourself” despite your circumstances is a challenge that many of us face in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done!

    • Claire

      A thoughtful, insightful follow-up point to a thoughtful, insightful article. We are all indeed fighting various things to various degrees (in my case, several disabling and chronic health conditions that are “invisible” and therefore overlooked/misunderstood by others), and it really helps to keep perspective and find compassion for others (very hard to do at times!). Pain and struggle can be so embittering. But I agree that it can get better. Best of luck in keeping up the fight, N. Take care.

  11. BC

    You are a wonderful writer. I can only hope that some teacher or guidance counselor has recognized this and is working with you to find you a great college where you will shine. If you have the strength to overcome an eating disorder, you can do anything. I try to remember my blessings every day, and you have reminded me of even more of them. Please try to hold on and know that people who have never met you are pulling for you to succeed. And even though fashion is important and I yearn for you to be able to present yourself the way you want to, your inner beauty is more amazing than any outfit you could imagine.Stay safe and stay strong.

  12. Anna

    N, like the other commenters, I am full of admiration for your maturity, your perceptiveness, and your talent. You see what a community you have already gathered here — people who are all pulling for you to succeed and shine. I hope you will return in a year or two (or maybe even sooner) and let us know how you are doing.

  13. Cecelia

    I had misgivings when Sally started bringing in guest bloggers, and I was right. This used to be a fun FASHION blog, now it is getting very preachy lately. Please get back to fashion, the reason why people follow this blog to begin with.

    • Amy M

      Cecelia,
      Please don’t assume to speak for all of us who follow this blog. I think these guest posters have added a whole new dimension to the blog. This post in particular could really only have been written by a guest poster and, to me, is very welcome.

    • Sally

      Actually, this blog has always been about the intersection of style and body image so there has always been emotional, intellectual, and challenging content here. And as I’ve mentioned, inclusion and diversity are important goals for me and for this space. Including other voices and perspectives is essential as I am only one person with one very narrow viewpoint.

      I’m thrilled to have brought on such insightful and intelligent contributors, and always choose my one-off guest posts with care, including this one which I feel presents important ideas that many of us may not have considered. I understand that change can be tough, but it also pushes us to challenge ourselves. I want readers to have fun here, but I’ve always wanted them to be presented with unique and thought-provoking content, too.

    • Sue

      Cecelia, surely you have missed the point here? This IS about fashion. It’s about a young, talented writer who loves fashion as much as we do, but who sadly cannot step outside her home dressed as she would like to. This post brought tears into my eyes when I think about how my own daughters had the freedom that this teenager doesn’t have to wear lovely clothes when they left our house. I’m sure that Sally will continue with her fashion posts and I hope that N. will develop her writing talent and maybe start her own blog. If so, I hope that she shares it with us.

      • cecelia

        Nope, haven’t missed the point at all. Sally, you can change however you want to, but you’ll be losing readers. The last 4 postings (I don’t count the “sale” picks) have all been by guest bloggers. 2 out of the 4 had NOTHING about fashion (and this post is all about race and classism, NOT fashion.) Time to lighten up and get back on track. I can read depressing stories in many outlets, I come here to figure out what shoes to wear with jeggings and hair removal adventures.

        • cecelia

          Edit- my error, the Hillary Clinton piece WAS by Sally. However, I stand my the rest of my post.

          • Hannah

            Cecelia, I know you’re going to get a lot of people defending the way Sally runs her blog, but I feel I have to say something. Already Pretty has never just been a “fun fashion” blog. For the past years that I’ve been following the blog, Sally has always focused on issues of body image (which certainly includes the topic of this article), in addition to the posts on style (as opposed to fashion, which has different connotations). I remember in the last year or so Sally asked if people wanted to see more of her outfit posts, since before then she was only posting a few each week.

            I highly doubt she’ll lose readers posting about important issues like this – fashion blogs are everywhere online. I could give you half a dozen off the top of my head which can tell you what shoes to wear with jeggings. Many people, including me, read Already Pretty because Sally makes the effort to explore the heavier topics involved with getting dressed in the morning, and we think that is important.

            Also I’m not sure how you’ve been counting, but in the last 4 posts – not including the sales posts – I see 2 guest posts and 2 by Sally.

            • Amy B.

              Sally, you’ve gained at least one regular reader with this post.

        • Kristin

          I think Cecelia’s point, put in a less blunt manner, is that although AP has always featured posts about body image and women’s issues in addition to the style and fashion posts, there’s been a noticeable shift in gears in the last few months with more guest posts and more posts about body image, etc. Sal explained this the other day: she’s becoming more involved in women’s issues and the blog content is changing somewhat to reflect this. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s Sal’s blog to do with as she pleases.

          I can understand where Cecelia is coming from in that I personally *enjoy* the style and silly posts more and it’s mainly what I come here to read. The other content (for me, personally) ranges from interesting to depressing to stuff that I don’t really think about in my day to day life. To be honest, I miss the sillier, more carefree posts about the cats, going to the fair, and other funny things that used to be sprinkled throughout the blog but the change in content isn’t going to dissuade me from reading.

          Now to actually get back on topic, I enjoyed this post because it served to remind me to be thankful for what I have and the fact that I can enjoy it (in this case, clothing) without worrying about getting harrassed or potentially robbed for it whenever I leave my house. There are folks out there who would doubt the authenticity of this guest post because of the level of writing for the stated age group and because they feel that teens don’t worry or think about style when they’re facing difficult circumstances such as poverty, sexism, and racism. I think that’s a shame because it seems very narrow-minded and presumes to speak for every teen out there. People can still want to look nice and feel like themselves despite whatever else goes on in their life, you know?

          • ValC - MN

            Having visited a lot of blogs, I quickly discovered which ones that I like to visit for certain viewing pleasures. I have some blogs that are strictly high fashion that I could never afford but I can appreciate how the bloggers fashion outfits. Some of my fave blogs combine fashion with beauty, combine fashion with lifestyle like cooking/decor/travel, discuss only fashion industry news, just showcase picture collages of shoe/clothing/accessory combos with no actual pictures of the blogger wearing an outfit, or some blogs dealing strictly with accessories, etc. By having a rotation of different types of “fashion-tinged” websites, then you get filled on fashion with a little from various sources – not just strictly one place. (For the blogs by the mommies or newlyweds, if I don’t want to read the child or hubby posts, I just skip over that post and look at that blogger’s fashion-skewed post instead. I still appreciate the blogger’s site; I just skip over some parts.)

            While I first came to alreadypretty (because of a guest appearance Sally made on the local Lori & Julia), I kept visiting the site because she wrote not only about her outfits and how to wear or find certain items, she also discussed women’s issues, showcased local fashion shows/boutiques, and local women’s businesses. She also exposed readers to other websites (random or fashion) as well as music.

            My advice for Cecelia is to still visit Sally’s blog but just focus on the fashion pieces if she doesn’t like some of the content. She will still find plenty to view. I try to visit once a week or so, and if I find a post I am not “feeling” that particular day, that is fine because I found some things I liked and can visit again a week later to find something else likeable.

            Also, with Sally’s business opportunities growing, she can still provide daily web content by featuring guest bloggers. I know quite a few fashion bloggers who have gained other opportunities from blogging which has reduced their time to post regularly. So, I appreciate Sally’s effort to keep her blog going with good content.

  14. Brianna

    N,

    Your story really opened up a new world to me. I never realized the obstacles that one could face when deciding what to wear outside of their own insecurity or indecision.

    Thank you for this, you truly changed my perspective.

  15. Laura

    N, thank you for sharing this, and Sally, thank you for giving her the opportunity. N, you’re miles ahead of many grown women in terms of self-acceptance, and I hope you’re able to find the opportunity to show it.

  16. Lizzy

    Reader N, thank you for your spot-on commentary. There is no end to the list of vulnerabilities imposed on those at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion: You may not be able “just stand in the street and take pictures of myself” today, but you can let that idea inspire you. You can feel and you can write — you can change your experience. For example, can you take pictures of yourself outside in your “safe” clothes? You could start an anti-style blog, complete with commentary like what you presented today. It would be my privilege to watch you move through this, whether it means transforming your community or leaving it. Sally, thank you for running this column today.

    • sarah

      What a great idea, Lizzy! Though if your neighbourhood is this dangerous, Nichole, maybe get a picture indoors and leave the camera at home?

      Still, keep on writing, Nichole!

  17. Nichole

    Hello, everybody, this is Nichole (or, “N”).

    Thank you so much for reading my post and thanks for your lovely commentary. It’s so nice to see that I have people supporting me and my writing. It’s also wonderful to hear your take on my issue and my story.

    • ONEWEIRDWORD

      I think a bunch of us are hoping that you have a blog somewhere, Nichole! You’re a lovely, eloquent writer.

      • Nichole

        Oh, thank you so very much, but sadly no, I don’t have one at the present moment. Although, reading everybody’s lovely comments are kinda persuading me too… if only I had the time!

        Thanks,
        N.

    • A

      Nichole,
      You have a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing it with the world. Hope you think about ways to find support for all your dreams.
      Love,
      A

    • ValC - MN

      Nichole,

      Thank you for the different perspective and for showing how the environment/neighborhood have affected how you dress or approach fashion outside the home. I pray that you can get opportunities which let you improve your neighborhood situation and opportunities which allow you to continue writing. You are a gifted writer and hopefully you can enter writing competitions or gain a internship writing for a newspaper, fashion column, or even start a blog where your writing could get the attention of others so you could pursue writing as employment if you would like.

      Maybe camouflauge to wear one special thing one day. For example, maybe wear a fedora or beret over your hair that you have styled nicely, but then display your pretty “do” when you get to school or wherever you are going. That pretty sweater/top/cardigan you are wearing with black pants, you can disguise under a regular black jacket. So, on the outside, you look like a regular person in all black which allows you to not be noticeable, but when you get to your destination, you actually have a cute item on that makes you feel special that day. A pretty scarf or jewelry can maybe be “hidden” under your top or in a bra (funny, but true) while on the outside, you are in a plain all-weather coat or button-down shirt, but you can display it when you get to your destination. Perhaps a cute top that doesn’t wrinkle, nice jeans, non-wrinkle maxi skirt, or cute shoes can be placed in a plain backpack or tote and you can change when you get to school, etc. Knowing that your cute item can soon be worn when you get to your destination, your attitude can stay uplifted while you traveling through the dicey parts of town/neighborhood. This way, you can incorporate your true style – albeit in small chunks.

      As for the negative calls, try to ignore them or for the less confrontational ones, confuse the person with “Oh, thank you; God bless you” or “peace and blessings to you” or “sorry, no; thank you” or something so “sugary, sunshine” that they feel that they can’t get to you or upset you. However, ignoring people or that “sorry, no; thank you” said in a sweet, ditzy way usually works for me. (Having developed early at a young age, you develop different tactics at getting past commenters.)

      With all these postive well-wishers and prayers, one day you will get a chance to display your true fashion self.

  18. alice

    Thank you for this post, this was something I’ve never experienced or even thought about. I wonder if you could start a fashion blog of your own (perhaps anonymously), taking pictures indoors, so that at least you can share your fabulous outfits with other like-minded folk on the internet and have an outlet for your true self. I know I would visit!

  19. Beth C.

    N, I wish I could just give you a big ol’ hug.

    I’ve always been pretty girly deep down, but right out of college I worked in an industry that is extrememly male dominated and one job especially that was basically manual labor that was really bad. Now, since it was heavy labor, I obviously didn’t expect to wear a miniskirt and heels, but the way this place worked if I wore or did ANYTHING that even suggested I was female I would be opening myself up to all kinds of harassment and ‘teasing’. Even if I was all dude on the job but changed in the bathroom after I clocked out to go meet friends it was then Open Season for days. It wasn’t teasing, it was harassment. A lot of the guys I worked with didn’t think women had any business doing the job, so unless you were 100% ‘one of the guys’ they would make your life hell. If you complained to the manager about it you were told to get a thicker skin because it’ll happen anywhere.

    Basically, while it obviously isn’t really the same as what N. is dealing with, I do totally understand that feeling of wanting to be able to express yourself and your indiviuality but not being able to because to do so would bring more repercussions than it is worth. It sucks. It also sticks around even when you don’t want it to. Even now, 15 years later at my normal office job, I always hesitate before putting on a skirt for work. It isn’t something that I need to deal with anymore, but still in the back of my brain is a little voice asking, ‘is wearing this today worth it?’ I’ve also spent all that time trying to build back my self esteem and realize that yes, I actually am pretty and it’s OK to think so and show it to the world.

    So, N, I hope you can find a place and a time when you can wear what you want when you want. Like others have said, you are a very tallented, effective writer and I wish you all the best in the world.

  20. Lisa

    N, thank you for a wonderfully written, thoughtful piece, and all the best to you in your future endeavors.

  21. Caroline

    What a moving, thought-provoking piece of writing. N, I hope your obvious talent propells you to achieve all you want.

  22. Jenna D

    N, you must be a great admirer of Sally’s! Your writing style is so similar to hers, it’s uncanny!

  23. tina

    I teach a social inequality course and I focus on different issues pertaining to the various social classes. I will be discussing N’s post in class. Thank you so much for posting this.

  24. Isabel

    Thank you Nichole for writing this. I’m thrilled to see all the complements for your writing skills (congratulations!). And I’m fascinated by the general tone of the encouragement you’re getting. Instead of putting the onus on you to achieve and get out of your present situation, I’d like readers to take this one step further and realize how our penchant for cheap consumer goods (fashion, electronics, toys, books etc, etc.) manufactured in the Third World has directly resulted in the impoverishment of your, and so many of our communities.
    Buy local! Buy thrift! Rock on!

  25. Debbi

    Nichole, what a beautifully written moving post. I knew there were some bad areas in big cities but I did not know it was so challenging for so many. I admire you for keeping a good attitude in the face of such daunting circumstances.

    I would like to encourage you to write a blog. It would not need to be every day, but writing about life as you know it might provide you opportunities in the future. You have certainly opened my eyes to what is going on in other parts of the United States. What you write might just change the world for someone in the future.

    I wish you the best in the future.

  26. Cassie

    Beautifully written and very moving piece. It IS a privilege to be able to walk down the street wearing what we want. Women, in general, are judged for what we wear; We have to negotiate the societal messages that tell us that what we wear makes us look slutty, prudish, fat, gangly, stylish, unstylish, etc. We live in a culture that tells women we are “asking for it” if we dress too provocatively or that we are uptight snobs if we dress too classy or conservative.

    We are all victims of the same phenomenon described by the author; however, some of us ARE privileged that we can more or less be who we are in our style. Her words remind me of stories I’ve heard of women in burqas who wear designer fashion underneath that they can only display within their homes. It’s disheartening that women anywhere can’t express themselves as they are.

    Much love and respect for sharing this perspective.

    Cassie
    stylecassentials.blogspot.com

  27. Cheryl

    I missed this wonderful post earlier in the week, but doing so gave me an opportunity to read the comments. I didn’t start really dressing well because of being afraid of the attention when I was young and then having kids in my middle years. Now that I’m about to turn 60, I can finally take a lot of pride in how I look going out the door. N, along with the other well-wishers here, I hope that you soon find a safe space to live and to express your style. As you see, there is an enthusiastic audience for your lovely writing. Kudos to Sally for including this post.

  28. Nichole

    Hello everyone,

    I’ve been reading all of these comments for the past few days, waiting for them to stop, but they just keep coming! Thank you all so much for your encouragement and words of wisdom.

    Currently, I’m not able to freely dress down in school (pesky uniform policy) and I don’t go out much because my neighborhood has just gotten so awful that I feel no need to do anything except go to school and come home. I’m trying to find ways to be me, but I’m not quite there yet. Just yesterday, I got catcalled coming home from school and I just ignored it as usual, but the fact that grown men need to either laugh at me or say something to me just gets on my last nerve. No matter how much you try to be invisible, someone always sees you.

    Hopefully in the near future, I can start a blog of some sorts. I’ve never had anybody other than my mother tell me I’m a great writer so all of your lovely words about my post brought tears to my eyes. I just write how I would if I was speaking to someone so I wasn’t expecting so many compliments about my post in that aspect.

    Watch this space,
    N.

    • Jame

      Nichole – you are a great writer. Please keep it up. The only gate blocking you from starting a blog is coming up with a name. 🙂 Keep writing whether it is public or private. Thank you for sharing your story. So many of us are catcalled and harassed as soon as we hit double digits if not before.

      In time you will safe enough and comfortable enough to reveal your true self to everyone. Until then keep expressing yourself whenever and however you can.

  29. MM

    Wow, beautiful piece. But I’m surprised that no one addressed Amy’s very un-called for personal attack on Cecelia. Dismissing another woman as a “sad state of affairs in forward progress for women” because she expressed an opinion differing from the majority on this post….really not what Mrs. McGraw would condone, I’d think.

    • Sally

      Yes, I hadn’t caught that. I left comments unmoderated on and off over the past few days for a number of reasons, and hadn’t seen Amy’s comment.

  30. Andrea

    Thanks for opening our eyes to a reality we just too often pretend does not even exist or that will never touch us. I also love the way you write and I wish you every success!

  31. Rudyinparis

    Nichole,

    It’s not too often, at my age, that I am gifted with learning something completely, entirely new. To gain a perspective, an experience of the world that I have never come across either in my personal life or in my reading. You’ve done that for me! I have never, ever thought of these issues in this way. And now I’m a better person because you wrote this. THANK YOU.

  32. Marie

    Thank you for sharing your story and reminding many of us not to take things for granted. I used to live in an area where I’d get a lot of catcalls and comments as I walked to work, and I was definitely conscious of what I wore. I was especially uncomfortable if I carried my laptop with me too. The neighborhoods where I’ve lived have always been pretty safe, though, and I wasn’t really worried about being mugged, so I’d be naive to compare my situation to yours. I’ve since moved, but when I’m with friends and others in very low income situations I’m careful about not appearing to flaunt any wealth, mostly out of respect. In reality most of my more expensive-looking pieces were thrifted, but sometimes it’s just about appearances because I can’t announce to everyone that I got my leather jacket 80% off, for instance…

    I have a lot of hope for you. Hang in there!

  33. AE

    While in general it is safe for me to wear what I want, in that I won’t be attacked for it, I think most women have to deal with catcalls and the like. Yes, I’ve been asked how much – I was taking my lunch break in the park near my work and wearing nothing special (jeans and a top, probably). None of this is about clothing; it’s all about power.

    I do wish we could all just wear what we want, but how many people do? One only has to read some of the disgusting coverage on any recent rape case to know that women will be judged for what they wear. It’s a big social problem, and it isn’t confined to one city or one neighborhood.

  34. Zadi

    Thank you so much for this piece. It’s an extremely poignant wake-up call for those of us who live insulated by our own privilege to express ourselves through fashion.

    While it’s heartening to read so much advice for the author, wishing her well, praying that she’ll get out of her current situation, and lauding her quite impressive writing skills, I feel that it’s somewhat easy to fixate on her particular situation to the detriment of seeing her message.

    I genuinely wish the best for N., and hope she finds her happiness. However, her bigger point is for those of us with more freedom of expression to be aware of that privilege, and to acknowledge it. N. getting out of her neighborhood (while totally a great thing if that’s what she wants) solves nothing for her neighbors who would still be stuck in this unsafe and unfree situation. Let’s work on that part too.

    It can be maddeningly difficult to notice one’s own privilege, and then it feels kind of shitty to actually grok. I was complicit in what now? Ew. The only real solution is to look at it, own it, and try to fix things. No, it’s not ‘our fault’ if we’re in a privileged position. It’s willingness to see and work on the disparity that helps make things less shitty for everyone.

    I’m not trying to judge any of the commenters. I think that what I’m trying to say is that I hear you, N. Thank you for your words. May this serve as a call to action for everyone to work toward a world where everyone can express themselves without unfair pressure or fear for their safety. I want to live in that world.

  35. C

    Great post, N. I live in a small rural town that is somewhat depressed, and while I certainly don’t face the same kind of danger, I don’t feel safe going out in in a nice dress, either. My yard is okay, but not on errands — my friends and I have been followed by strange men at Wal-Mart when we show up wearing things that are dressy, bright and/or quirky.

    Hope you can get out of that neighborhood soon and can show off your style! 🙂