18 year old white woman with long hair, wearing jeans and a plain brown t-shirt

Me, circa 2002. I wouldn’t have thought of this outfit as camouflage at the time, but in a way, it was.

I avoided prettiness for a long time.

I know why. It’s a matter of adolescent trauma, that I can sort out objectively in my brain. I grew up attending a homogeneously white, middle-to-upper-middle class private school, i.e. a hotbed for bullying and relational aggression. We had the standard cool kid/not cool kid groups. And the cool kids were pretty. And I was neither cool nor pretty. I spent a year as The Target. It was vile. As an adult, it feels cliche and silly to be like “pretty kids were mean to me, so I hate prettiness” but at its heart, that’s what it was. Something particularly about the relational aggression and backstabby bullying I underwent seemed to mesh thematically with the idea that pretty people were false, wearing a facade and ready to betray you.

Later, of course, I engaged with prettiness in a more complex way. For one, my lovely partner Mikeatron values appearances a healthy amount. He’s got great fashion sense and helped me talk through some of my issues. I also sat myself down at some point and sussed out some of the internalized misogyny I’d been holding on to. Again, this comes back to the dang bullying: pretty girls were my tormentors, so for a while I not only rejected pretty, but also girl, or at least girly.

At this point in my life, I’m rather at peace with my own femininity, but I’m still trying to figure out what aspects of appearance and expression (gender expression, self-expression through appearance) resonate with me. I know adornment and expression go way beyond “pretty,” and that prettiness in itself is not a problem. I know I love messing with gender presentation and gravitate towards androgyny. But in what ways am I still limiting myself?

All of this is to say that Bunny Lee‘s new zine, Confusing Costume: Liberated Fashion Zine, is a breath of fresh air.

Confusing Costume coverLee’s zine is one part delicious fashion manifesto, and one part powerful call to action. “Life was vexing before I learned how to speak through fashion,” she says. Dressing up, i.e. fashion, is a way for her to physically make “accurate visual representations of my soul.” Tall order, yes? But Lee’s art and exuberance show all kinds of possibilities. Her goal? “Each of us is morally compelled to be confusing!” When dressing in a way meant to shake up the “assumptions other may make about you,” we can help bust not only those assumptions, but perhaps even people’s tendency to make assumptions in the first place. “We must be shaken daily from our tendency to simplify the Other!”

Speaking of dismantling misogyny, one section of the zine is devoted to building “The Army of Men in Skirts”, i.e. embracing femininity outside of the boundaries of gender–confusing! Vital! Great! She includes instructions and safety warnings, as femininity is dangerous enough that when men take it on, they can we seen as targets.

Confusing Costume inspires me to make more radical choices with my own adornment and costume. Instead of being frustrated at appearances existing and the physical existence of my body, I can return both to the innocence of playing dress-up, and the experience of deconstructing people’s assumptions via confusing costume.

If all this weren’t enough to make this a deeply satisfying zine, there are also coloring pages and a mix CD. <3

confusing costume mix cd

(Coloring my own bleached bangs with magic marker in college was one of my first real steps towards reclaiming my own appearance, so that song has a special place in my heart.)

You can get your own copy of Confusing Costume at Push/Pull in Ballard, WA or by emailing Bunny at bunnyleedesign@gmail.com. You can see her costume blog at confusingcostume.tumblr.com.

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white woman with short hair, exciting glasses, jacket. looking upward

Me, circa 2014. While I am not (ever) in my final form in terms of appearance, I like where I’m headed.