After a very successful week in Cairns, I have found myself back to the lab and back to the madness. Unlike most Monday’s back after a work trip, I won’t really have time to catch my breath and catch up on emails. There’s barely enough time to catch a coffee (though for that, I will make time). I have an overseas colleague here for the week to try to finish off a collaborative manuscript and run some experiments. And I have to admit, despite all of my self-confidence and all of the advice I spout about staying true to myself, I had a moment’s pause getting dressed this morning.
It’s kind of remarkable how, no matter how much time goes by and how confident in ourselves we become, insecurities can creep up when we least expect them. And they can hit with such a force they’ve leveled the world around you before you even have a chance to react. Throughout my scientific career, I have gotten a lot of questions about how I dress and a lot of comments about how my wardrobe is at odds with the general perception of a “scientist.” And although it’s difficult at times to hold my head high amidst criticism from others, when it comes to the babble of opinion about me, I’ve come to a point of self-acceptance where I (usually) manage to make my voice the loudest. But one of the things I very rarely admit is that every so often, the voice inside of my own head simply echoes doubt. And she is much more difficult to silence (she can be a loud little bugger).
As you have probably already guessed, I’m a planner. In pretty much every aspect of my life. And I’ve always been a planner when it comes to what I wear – even more so now with the blog and organizing outfit posts. I hate the early morning scramble and don’t have a creative bone in my body before coffee. Suffice to say, this outfit has been planned for awhile in Dressed and she hung in my closet, freshly steamed and waiting for me first thing this morning.
And although it’s hard for me to admit to a universe that sees me as somewhat fashionably fearless, as I stood in front of my wardrobe with coffee in hand, I felt conflicted. In a way that I haven’t felt in a awhile – or at least a way that I can’t recall not being able to quickly squash. Despite the fact that gendered stereotyping swirls in the air around me daily in science, in a way I have grown safe in the bubble of my lab, where they almost don’t know how to react if I’m NOT wearing vintage. But today, I paused with my hand midway towards the delicate flutter of this dress. My feet halfway into the cushion of these green heels.
I was greeted this morning with the unwelcome fear of having my visiting male collaborator (who I have primarily interacted with over email, Skype, and the occasional conference) in some way judge my abilities simply because of the way I’m dressed. This fear was confronting, like a long lost nemesis I thought I was finally rid of pulling into my driveway, knocking on my front door. Would my colleague raise an eyebrow at my rose-printed, knife-pleated fanfare? Or make a comment on my inherent girlyness? Would my input into the paper be subconsciously minimized, due to nothing more than a few hand-stitched bows and a pair of heels? And then some pants-wearing demon took over my body and I found myself reaching instead for a pair of nondescript navy corduroys. My arms finding their way into a button down top, with my hands automatically scraping my hair into a ponytail.
Then I glanced over at this perfect, bespeckled dress, with her arms crossed, shaking her head in bewilderment at my paralysis. And I realize that I’m still fighting, in a way, against my instincts. Against a professional world that believes I cannot have an interest in fashion and still be committed to a scientific career. Against the paralyzing fear of not being taken seriously.
If you look with a certain filter, you can see the world is full of dichotomies. This amazing wall of art becomes ugly graffiti to the next person who walks past. A candy shop can be instead distilled down to a breeding ground for cavities. This incredible dress, who traveled through time before she ended up in my arms, can somehow translate to a weakness if you let fear and insecurity win.
I definitely have a reputation for being more than a little fearless with my wardrobe. But I think it’s important to know that even the supposed “fearless” have their fears. And these fears exists in all of us every day – the face of the person changes, but we live in constant fear of being judged. Excluded. Rejected. Simply for being who we are, swimming upstream, straying from the norm. But as I said in an interview recently, life is too short to spend our time cowering behind what is ‘normal’ and saying sorry for what is not. The “abnormal” things about ourselves – the things we bemoan – are the very things that make us fabulous and need no apology.
All of these thoughts swirled through my head in the span of about five minutes this morning, as I stared at this stunning dress, forlorn when she realized I might be leaving her behind today. Leaving myself behind today. And she reminded me there is still a battle each of us are fighting – societal pressures, familial expectations, career stereotypes, you name it – but all of these pale in comparison with the battle we often face with ourselves. The truth is, every day is a choice. Every day is a battle to be fought and won and an opportunity to decide to stop apologizing for yourself. So do I choose the stereotype? Choose what’s ‘normal’? Do I choose the traditional me or the traditional science suit of armor?
And then with reclaimed resolve, the flick of a crinoline and a rustle of polished cotton, I chose me.
And I didn’t look back once.
Dress: Blue Fennel Vintage (similar modern or vintage here, here, here & here)
Headband: Modcloth (similar here & here)
Necklace: Adored Vintage (similar here & here)
Bag: Gift (similar here, here & here)
Shoes: Melissas, thrifted via Mo-Mo’s Vintage (similar here, here, & here or
same shoes in a different colorway)