(by Marlena Dahlstrom)
In "My Husband Betty," Helen Boyd points out that sometimes the reasons behind crossdressing are straightforward: we want to look pretty. That's certainly true in my case. Wanting to look good and feel sexy at a time growing up when male beauty wasn't openly acknowledged and "pretty boy" was (and still is) an insult made that difficult do en homme. And yet, like most women I suspect, I've always had an ambivalent attitude toward my appearance.
A bit of history. I was a latent metrosexual long before the term was coined. But I always wanted to be stylish but in high school, I was a bit scrawny and unstylish - think "Daria" but more out of a less of skill than ironic intent. After escaping high school hell, college was a change to reinvent myself. I worked out, I buffed up - not out a desire to butch myself out of crossdressing, but a desire to look good. Once a girl picked me up saying she liked my pecs and for that I might have married her on the spot. I got stylish - although always careful to stay this side of the dreaded "G" word. In short, I looked good. So much so that a girlfriend who'd been a model saw my - uncharitably one might call it vanity and exhibitionism - and suggested I give modeling a try. It didn't really go anywhere, but I ended up with some great portfolio shots and my first introduction to the wonders make-up could work. (I had cheekbones, cheekbones!)
But then came graduation. Journalism is a romantic career and publishers are all too willing to use that to their advantage to pay poverty wages, especially starting out. I could barely afford food, let alone a gym membership. I was no longer walking constantly. I moved a lot (switching jobs is often the only way to move up the ladder in journalism) and I was lonely. Food was one solace. You can guess the rest. Soon that buffed out body was encased in a protective layer of fat. My style fell away too. In part poverty, in part no longer feeling attractive.
Once I was finally making enough to afford my own place, I resumed dressing. If I didn't think my real-life en homme self was attractive, at least I could be a ravishing goddess in my fantasies. And my dressing was more focused on the stereotypical "CD dress-up": lingerie, short skirts, tight tops, etc. The mind is great at seeing what it wants to see. The love of crossdressers for mirrors and cameras is well-known, but I think it's more than just narcissism (although I'll admit to a bit of that). Rather I think it's in part because we've bought into the beauty myth just as much as any woman, and yet we've got so much further to met that utterly unrealistic ideal. So we look and look in hopes seeing a reflection that looks like what we'd like to see. But in the back of mind I knew that frankly I looked bad and frankly a bit ridiculous.
So when the time came when I decided I wanted out of the house, I put a lot of time and practice into looking "realistic." Before I stepped out door, I decided to do an acid test and post my photo on Hot-or-Not. I was rated about a 5. Less than I'd hoped, but better than I feared. I consoled myself that I still looked better than about 40 percent of the women there, plus a few deluded souls actually gave me 9s and 10s. And so I went out into the wide world. And blended in successfully. A bit too successfully.
Those of you who were here when Michele introduced the rewards for participation remember the hissy I threw. What you didn't know is that it had inadvertently touched a very raw nerve. I frankly was intimidated by how beautiful you all are. I felt like an ugly duckling among the swans. (I should be quick to point out, it's nothing any of you said or did, it was my own insecurities surfacing.) But if I couldn't be Daphne from Scooby-Doo, I could at least be Velma. However, with the rewards system now I felt I was going to have to compete there too. (Again I realize this wasn't Michele's intent, merely my insecurities.)
Fortunately, later on I mentioned this to Michele. She pointed out that one reasons I was rated a 5 (aside from the vagaries of Hot-or-Not) was that I was presenting myself as an average-looking woman. And she was right. Partly I think it was that I lacked the confidence to think that I could be not only passable, but truly pretty (not fantasy pretty). And part of it may have been subconscious fear. As Michele pointed out, a pretty woman will attract attention and I need to decide if I was ready to handle it. For a crossdresser in particular attention is a two-edged sword. Is someone staring because they find me attractive, or because they see a guy in a dress - or both? Thankfully Michele pushed me to get a new, longer and far more feminine wig. I did some more makeovers and instead of just focusing on a daytime look, for the most recent one, I told the MAC make-up artist I wanted something more glamorous, something suitable for clubbing.
The work paid off. When I got my haircut last week, I let slip that I'd gone in drag for Halloween (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Naturally, I had to share the photos. Cries of "Oh my god" went up as the photos got passed from stylist to stylist. One actually thought it was my "sister" and it took awhile for the other stylists to set her straight. Everyone complimented me on how pretty I looked and needless to say I was overjoyed.
I once tried to explain the feeling I got from dressing to those episodes of "What Not to Wear" where the fashion victim is someone who's often a bit overwhelmed by life and her frumpy exterior reflects her worn-down feeling inside. But after the makeover, they not only look more stylish, but often feel revitalized and sexy and confident. (They'll actually comment on how they know it's silly that a seemingly superficial thing as a makeover can have such an effect, but it does.) Well the push I got from Michele, has really felt like that. I feel pretty and witty and bright. It's a good thing I'm not wearing mascara right now, because I've been crying as I've been writing this. It's a good cry, but talking about this definitely has touch on some deep emotions.
A reflection of my new self-confidence came after putting up the new photo up on Hot-or-Not as a comparison. It was rated a 5.5 - up a whole half-point. Feh. I realize I'm older and fatter than the nubile young things who post there, but if they can't recognize a MILF when they see one, then they're the ones who are out of luck.
The funny thing is my attitude toward the sexual side of dressing has also come full-circle in a way. Yes, although I've always felt I had a "feminine" side, there was also an auto-erotic component, more prevalent at first, but (like a lot of others) declining in importance as I got older. But when I started going out publicly, I kind of renounced that side or at least looked down on it. I wanted to be a "respectable" woman, not someone wearing hooker-wear to the mall. But as I've come to accept that I can be sexy without being slutty (unless I choose to be the latter), I've been willing to acknowledge again that being sexy and dressing for pleasure is part of it at times.
But best of all, it's helped re-spark my confidence that I can be attractive en homme. I'd been moving in the direction already. With a different career and more disposable income, when I moved to the Bay Area two years ago, I took the opportunity with the help of a fashion-forward friend, to re-invent myself as a snappier dresser. About six months ago, my hair stylist talked me into getting highlights and I haven't looked back. But somehow until my en femme makeover, I never quite felt fully confident in myself. I still don't think I'm as attractive as I am en femme -- after all guys don't get the advantage inherent in make-up and other enhancers. But somehow that shot of beautiful glamour as a woman has convinced me that I can be a handsome man again.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
(by Marlena Dahlstrom)
Posted by Marlena Dahlstrom at 7:05 PM
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