Reflecting on the perms and updos her mother’s salon produced growing up, Kylee shared: “I was aware that that’s what girls were supposed to look like. But I made a choice to be happy.” Kylee’s story, as captured by Dove Real Beauty Productions, reveals a powerful message of non-conformity that reminds me of my own journey towards self-actualization.
I first began to wear “men’s” clothes to escape a beauty standard I knew I could not fulfill. I had just come out as gay to my friends in college, and without my parents’ scrutiny nearby, I saw the chance to reinvent my image. I left the scoop neck tops and blouses my mom had packed me in their suitcases and took the bus to the mall. Entering the men’s section was a whole new world: button downs, loose fitting khakis, shoes that came in different widths. For the first time, I felt at ease while shopping. I did not have to seek out a separate “plus size” section, as stores often include a wider range of sizes for men without othering those who are larger. I was more comfortable with the colors and cuts offered. For me, clothing was a way to authenticity. I learned how to experience confidence in a blue oxford button down. I stopped thinking about my thighs touching in a pair of men’s khakis that allowed them to breathe. I now enjoyed exploring trends, and as a result, my closet had more variety than I knew what to do with. At the time of making the shift to wearing menswear, I felt alone. Later on, I realized how common it is for queer/lesbian women to not relate to the standards of beauty and femininity that society promotes, and to find alternative ways to express ourselves.
Just a few short years ago I felt the rigidness of “men’s” and “women’s” clothing offered me a freedom — if I could abandon one side of the store for the other I could express myself in ways beyond the gender binary. I was content with the binary division of clothing because I fit, oddly enough, within it. What I have come to learn and embody, and what I hope to promote as #RealBeauty, is a refusal to see clothing as a language, but as an interpreter. We define ourselves through expression, but what we express is not all we have to say. Our looks and cuts and shapes tell a story only we can divulge. Clothing is a tool, but it cannot build our narratives on its own. I use clothes to voice what I cannot, to explain what I am tired of saying. I use clothing as a shield and a stage. It helps me blend into how I want to see myself. But at the end of the day, I take it all off and start fresh. My style is both silent and vocal with the subtle choices I make through a matching pair of shoestrings or the punch of a pocket square.
My beauty — our beauty, is more than a side of a store. It is a lived experience. It evolves. It goes beyond definition. Dove Real Beauty Productions’ creative director Shonda Rhimes and an all-female crew is giving women the platform to tell their story in their words. Watch Kylee’s story and see how she empowers others to find their real beauty. Thank you for listening to mine.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Blake is a graduate student in the Midwest studying higher education. She draws inspiration from the southern prep style, particularly the style at her undergraduate institution at the University of Virginia. Her current wardrobe largely consists of basic pieces in natural fabrics, simple colors, and carefully tailored fits. Blake is interested in adapting classic, well-composed style to queer masculine-of-center bodies of any size.