• Abigail Cook

What are you trying to say through your clothes? An Essay

It’s difficult to say really. I’m not sure I have much of a personal style. Normally I’m influenced by the latest character in pop fiction - think, Lisbeth Salander, Camille Preaker or Rachel Kushner. There’s something about the ‘cool girl’ image that I adore.

But I know I must have some sort of style because when I try something on I know if it is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. There’s something so aspirational about clothes, instead of being garments to stop us being eternally naked they always have to show something or say something. They can never just be, just exist.

But going back to the question, I suppose I’m trying to say ‘thin’. And maybe the reason my style is so inconsistent is because I have not yet achieved what I’m trying to say. In fact, unless I actually become thin I will never achieve that. But then of course there is that thing everyone says of former fatties, that you can tell because they lack confidence.

I think my clothes probably say I lack confidence. That I favour comfort and hiding more than anything. There are some clothes, I suppose my more ‘daring’ outfits that I love the most. My black and white jumpsuit with the belt and cardigan for example, feel like me, like the most me I’ve ever felt. It feels like such a bold choice every time I wear it, it says something different from ‘thin’ it says arty and fun, but grown up. And that’s the thing, I want to say I’m cool and creative and just the right amount of quirky. I so desperately want to be cool. Like those young things featured on VICE or my friend Jamel Alatise’s instagram. But those people are thin and daring. I am fat and safe. Truly a hideous combination.

I suppose growing up with a stylist for a mother didn’t help either. She was always trying to control what I wore. She still does! She sucked out my personal style like a vacuum. And if not her then my Nana, or Jackie, or god forbid, my grandmother. If only I could just be. Personal style is curated over long periods of time, but when you rely on family members to help you with your clothing expenses (which although I’m fortunate for) it does mean they have some say in what you wear, how you wear. I think my mother is ashamed of me, not of me per se, but she has certainly internalised some shame about having a fat daughter. She is constantly trying to shrink me, at times it seems that I am bound to a life of smocks and tunics; which is a truly unfortunate fate. From her, I have inherited this painful reality: that I must shrink myself, make myself smaller.

If not for fatness, it is for heterosexuality. I have spoken at length before about heterosexuality and how that creates an uncomfortable reality for lesbians. Perhaps the reason I haven’t found my personal style is because my style has been dictated by hoards of straight women in my life. Style has been an enormous part of gay and lesbian culture for eons, but I have only been truly comfortable with my sexuality for about a year. How on earth can someone have a developed personal style if they are hardly a developed, comfortable person? Heterosexual style is partly there to attract the opposite gender, but I don’t want that, I want to attract the same gender. Part of the culture to which I exist is flagging- the process of presenting in a way that hints to other gay people that you are gay. This is not considered by heterosexual parties, and for a long time, it wasn’t considered by me either.

I thought for a long time, and still think that I love Parisian style. And maybe I do. But what I find most attractive and alluring is how thin they are are, with their clear skin, small noses, big eyes and full lips.

I suppose I am trying to say “look at me” on a good day, and “not too hard” on a bad. But mostly I am saying “am I good (thin) enough yet?” And that, that is too much power for the beholder.

©2018 by Abigail Cook.