Someone said on twitter last night, ‘you don’t learn to spread your wings by gilding your cage’. And somebody else sang ‘my body is a cage’. So why do I seem so convinced that gilding my body sets me free.
I mean, me personally, on this one. I have an ‘alternative’ gender identity (or rather, I try to subvert binary gender by mishmashing the two and creating something less constrictive). This basically boils down to wearing pretty skirts and dresses and enjoying the acts of self decoration. By feeling more like myself, by spending time on prettiness, I feel more able to ignore certain social expectations (though not all, I still have a safety net of laddishness for when I feel threatened which I wish I could let go of).
It definitely works to some extent, when it doesn’t make me feel threatened, and frankly, it does that less than I expect, and seems to be mostly in my mind. And it’s me. I’m fundamentally happier since I realised this and started enacting this. Having something from the inside expressed outwards is actually quite good for you. I highly recommend it.
And I’d like to think this is why people do it. Showing the indescribable insides of personality on the outside. Making the most of the social instruction to not be naked. Adding accoutrements becomes the fastest way to bare the soul to strangers.
But there’s pressures. Lots of pressures. Once a decoration is expected, it just becomes a very pretty trap. I still don’t understand make up as defence mechanism (though as artistry, I love it). And this idea stretches to all sorts of body mess.
And this is an important thing. The decoration should be optional. Utterly optional. The pressure to define oneself through outside appearance is huge, and is added to by the shallow people like me, who put so much time and faith in outsides as expressiveness. I’m aware that it’s a vanity that draws attention to my inbetweenness. Even as it instantly makes me look like a weirdo to the majority of strangers. Even though it leads me to be giggled at the instant I’m past certain people. Even though I feel stripped naked by everytime someone checks me out, slack jawed, from head to toe.
And not the good naked. The exposed. The one we’re all trying to avoid.
But in this case, the gilded cage seems the least worst option. Until expectation crumbles, I’d rather feel pretty than blend into the bored, flat world behind me. I’d rather show step out of one cage, even if it is just into a larger one.
And I think it helps with learning to fly. Aspiring to be birdlike is worthwhile, and we all know how pretty birds are.
You don’t have to be pretty to fly. But if you feel it, you can get into character.
And so I decorate. Despite the pitfalls.
And when I feel me on the outside, I dance.
Illustration by Karen.