Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: pretty

Prettiness, Confusion, and Bunny Lee’s Confusing Costume

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.

***

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.

Fancy Monsters//Monster Fancy

Later this year I’m going to get to be Visual Editor of a fantastic magazine called Monster Fancy. That title was the seed of this piece.

***

Claudia from Interview With the VampireMy earliest monsters had very pretty faces. Not the deeply personal, terror-of-a-bad-night, under-the-bed monsters, but my flesh & blood monsters, my at-school monsters. My monsters were pretty little girls.

Maybe it’s a gendered thing. Little boys get terrorized by meat-fisted eight-year-olds, or teens who hit puberty early—Teen Wolf, come to hurt the body, who can be defeated by a good punch to the nuts. Little girls rarely get anything so direct. Our monsters are all smoke and mirrors, makeup and padding, a grand illusion of a fictional perfect girl.

I went to, through middle school, a small private school full of rich white kids. These rich white girls were less like werewolves and more like vampires. A few realized that there was a world of being pretty and passive-aggressive, and they hungered for it, became hooked. They sired other girls with makeovers and sleepovers until there was a secret army on monsters, hiding in plain sight in the class, ready to take a victim and shred them. Because of these girls, for a long time I associated prettiness with monstrosity. Give me the girl with buck teeth, the fat girl, the acne-prone girl, I thought when I first got to high school. These girl are less likely to be monstrous underneath.

In fairy tales, it’s the opposite, of course. There is a beautiful, kind, legitimate daughter who has good habits and is rewarded in the end. There there is an ugly, lazy, wicked stepdaughter, who is rude and cruel and ends up getting her just desserts. I wonder if, on some grand cultural level, these vampire-girls are trying to emulate a fairy-tale ending: If I am a pretty pretty princess, then I will get a happily ever after. Like a cargo cult for princesses.

Niceness is a funny currency in such situations. All the girls at my middle school had to maintain a façade of niceness at all times, except when gossiping about people not directly present. I was not aware of these rules as  child. When I got older—even 8th grade older—the situation became more apparent. The monsters were drawn into the light and were no longer as frightening. I began to see the insecurities and well-guarded sadness of my monsters. Because they were really all just hungry. Like vampires, they had become hooked on something (power, or perfection) that you could only get by hurting other people.

Out of all this, one thing I regret in the battle with my monsters is that I let them take fanciness away from me. Prettiness became anathema. Fanciness became frivolous and irritating. Glitziness became dangerous. Perhaps I would have grown to enjoy fanciness under a different set of circumstances. I certainly enjoy fanciness in other people. I am married to a relatively fancy man. (Fancy men always felt less dangerous to me than fancy women.) Seth Green in Party Monster: "I'm not addicted to drugs, I'm addicted to glamour."

Is fanciness different than prettiness? Because I think I had pretty monsters much more so than fancy monsters. Fanciness implied more obvious ego, like you think you’re somethin’ somethin’. Fancy means you’re dressed in costume, thought what as, I am not sure. Prettiness seemed like the safer bet, in terms of vampiric social contract. Pretty meant you were doing your duty to make your appearance pleasant to other people. Selfless. You were doing it for them, after all.

I wonder if all this is different for kids who grew up in the city. In my little mountain town, it sometimes felt like the only connection to the mythic outside world was through the TV. What if I had lived somewhere that wasn’t so white, so rich, so culturally monotonous? Would that have helped, or is this boy werewolf/girl vampire paradigm more universal?

What did your “at school” childhood monsters look like? Were you ever a werewolf or vampire? What did that feel like? Tell us in the comments, preciousss.

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