Friday, October 08, 2004

Clothing that must behave! Me wearing clothing is a constant battle between shame, comfort and vanity. On one hand, I must cover up my shameful body: disguise its grotesque curves and folds with artfully chosen clothes so it looks normal. But if that was my only priority, I'd wear a sack; I also want to look as attractive as I can within the limitations my body imposes.

As a result of this tension, I don't think I'm ever completely comfortable in the clothes I wear. I am always tugging down my tops and tugging up my pants and skirts to make sure no stomach is visible. I am always adjusting the way jumpers sit so they won't cling to me, or making sure my belt doesn't slip down. I hold my wrap-around skirt closed in the wind so it won't reveal my underpants. But just in case it does, I always wear underpants that are fit to be revealed. And I have such a reflex action of hitching up bra straps that I sometimes find myself hitching up a non-existent strap when I'm not even wearing a bra.

Today I am wearing a bias-cut, full-circle skirt made of a silky fabric. As I walk, static presses it against my thighs and pulls it softly but persistently between my legs. There's something vaguely indecent about this. It does it from the back too: it presses against my arse and slides between my legs. No matter how many times I pull the skirt modestly away, it creeps back again, like the hands of a persistent teenage boy. Here I'm reminded of a great passage from Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which I bought at Christmas last year but am only just getting to read now:

"The corset seemed to possess its own sets of hands. One was softly rubbing her between the legs. Two more cupped her breasts, one, two, three hands pressing and caressing her; and in the lingerie Desdemona saw herself through new eyes, her thin waist, her plump thighs; she felt beautiful, desirable, most of all: not herself."

Sometimes I wonder whether anyone else scrutinises the way other people's clothing interacts with their bodies in as much detail as I do. I feel particularly conflicted about scrutinising the bodies of other women, or of people I know. It feels like an invasion; but then it's from precisely the invasion of other people's eyes that I try to defend my own body. Visible panty line? You won't see one on me, buddy. Muffin pants? No sir - I'll make sure the waistband is big enough, or cover it up with a strategically placed top.

I am always amazed when I see someone who just goes through their day not worrying about their stomach hanging over their jeans or their underwear digging into their arse or back, or their pants being so tight that every last dimple of cellulite is visible. Or those guys who wear their jeans so low that they're just about falling off their arse- don't they ever worry that one day their pants will just fall down? Or the most bizarre 'not worrying' phenomenon of all: the cameltoe.

How can these people just not care about their flesh being out there on display? Don't they feel ugly or self-conscious? They obviously buy into the ideologies of wanting to appear sexy, but how can they so blithely discard what seems to me to be an inextricably linked ideology: the ideology of not wanting to appear fat? It's kind of like these people just say to themselves, "I want to wear these pants, no matter what." Or "I'm a size 10. This is a size 10. It must fit me."

My show has made me both hypersensitive and desensitised to the way I look in clothes. It look a lot of courage for me show an audience unPhotoshopped pictures of myself in various unflattering outfits, on a gigantic screen. It also took a lot of courage to appear in a skimpy outfit in front of this audience. It has really tested my self-scrutiny. Throughout the show, I'm basically performing the songs on autopilot while I worry about whether my tits are going to fall out of my strapless top (despite the double-sided tape), whether the top will ride up exposing a gross expanse of stomach, whether the hotpants are also riding up. People have said to me afterwards, "Those hotpants were ... very short."

Yet at the same time, it's been sort of liberating. I'll be changing backstage as the people are setting up for the show that follows mine, and I think to myself: it doesn't really matter if they see me, because they've already seen me jiggling about on stage. The manslave came upon me yesterday putting stockings on, and was horribly embarrassed, but I was more amused at his embarrassment.

And a couple of nights ago I was drinking with the cast of the show that follows mine the other night, and one guy said, "Oh, I didn't recognise you..."
"With my clothes on?" I finished.
He laughed. He is cute and I have a sort of crush on him, but this isn't the blog for that.

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