This week my yoga teacher commented on my long lace coat that I bought second hand at Mag Pie Lane in Herning last year when I needed a diversion from all the awfulness of dad’s illness.
‘You always look so elegant’, she said in her beautiful accent.
I know I don’t look elegant when I pose in Warrior One or Downward Dog. And I find it very difficult to think of myself as elegant, but perhaps my self perception is just far from how she – and perhaps others – see me?
As a child I had no interest in attire. For a long time I had one idol – my big brother – and I wanted to be more of a boy than the girl I was born as. Boys were cool and could do more cool things than pretty girls dressed in flowery dresses and shiny patent leather shoes. Not that my parents ever dressed me like that – but even taking into account that uncouth 1970s look, I think I was an extraordinarily messily dressed child; my hair typically sporting a home cut and a well-slept-on look.
My kindy photograph shows me in a striped rib-knitted short sleved jumper with combed, yet very messy hair that probably needed washing. My brother’s first school photo sports a very crooked smile. I had decided this was a good look and hence my whole face is strangely lopsided and my lower lip wierdly askewed, making me look quite hysterical and not at all cool – or elegant.
In 1974 my very cool aunt got married. I was 7 years old and with my similarly aged cousins I was dressed in a pretty white dress to be bridesmaid. I was selected to collect the bride’s bouquet in the church, while the couple knelt in front of the priest. Keen to demonstrate I was not too fond on being this much of a girl, I rudely screwed up my face and whispered loudly: yuk! when I returned to the front pew, holding the pretty flowers.
In 1976 we went on summer holiday in London. I was 9 years old. At Portobello Road markets, traders were peddling their wares – junk, second-hand clothes, stuff that might have fallen off a truck or otherwise shadily acquired. When mum made my little sister and I try on some beautiful Spanish dresses in a makeshift change room, I was super shamed that she made me and refused to let her buy the dress for me, even though everyone around me told me how lovely I looked. I did not want ‘lovely’; that was too girly. Lovely does not let you run around and climb trees and get grazed knees and dirt in your face and mud between your toes. Lovely is something your brother does not respect and therefore you don’t either. Of course, my beautiful little sister got herself a fabulous blue and red dress with tiny little flowers that she wore till she outgrew it.
Even out of my tweens, as a young person, I was never comfortable with dresses, make-up and girlie talk. I mostly wore jeans, unshapely jumpers and sneakers. In 1990, when I first came to Australia, I was entirely shocked to learn that Queensland’s Parliamentary orders were amended to allow women to wear slacks in Parliament. For the first time in 1990! What was this focus on women looking like dolls – hadn’t they heard about women’s liberation in this country?
When I migrated and started work the following year, I was so busy fitting in and meet expectations that I bought a few dresses and skirts – and uncomfortable shoes to match – but still preferred to wear pants and suits to work. My favourite shoes were a pair of black Doc Martens. In my spare time, I continued to dress for comfort, rather than style, without any sense of the feminine – in the warm Brisbane climate people’s casual dress style (singlet, shorts and thongs) was in such contrast to the suit and tie style of office work.
In fact, I had turned 40 when I realised that I could wear a dress quite well and that my legs were not as ugly as I had imagined for years, especially in a pair of well-fitting heels. The discovery came about when I took three weeks leave to overcome stress, battle a mild depression and reorient myself in the life in which I suddenly found myself. My boss and very good friend took me on a day of shopping therapy to DFO, a brand outlet near the airport. Here I bought a very beautiful red dress, shoes and makeup. This red dress changed my view of accentuating my feminity. I felt beautiful and attractive – and girly! Even though I was fast to drop the makeup, I have since become an ardent dress and shoe shopper. My best pieces are sourced in my home country, where design is embedded in life and fashion in ways hipster Australians could only dream of.
As I child and young person, I never aspired to being seen as elegant. It would have been almost rude in my eyes if someone had said I was elegant. Yet, I felt so very good about the fact that my yoga teacher noticed and commented. It is true that the self I was as a child is not the self I am as a 47-year-old adult. And isn’t that a good thing?