I came across this article in the New York Times tonight:
It brought me back to my own very awkward high school years….I don’t think I personally “flourished” in my environment until University. And I do believe a massive part of that was in LSBU, I could major in my strength-Creative Writing in different mediums, without having to divide that with my weaknesses or things I hated like Physical Education and Math. Honestly, I love physical things as an adult, just dance or yoga or running with my dog in a park, not dodgeball or soccer.
But it wasn’t just about the adedemia. There was something so liberating about being in London, so glamorous. I feel we as humans tend to romanticize parts of our lives, looking back in sepia hued glances of nostalgia. In the digital age, and having always written fairly actively, its good for me to help see the larger picture or at least try and have perspective. But high school was very awkward for me compared to college. The best parts were meeting a few of my fellow creative misfit types who weren’t the standard jocks and cheerleaders. Those who also took drama and we would share manga and anime DVDs. I still miss that.
I believe my first anxiety attack occurred around age 13 ½. I did not know it was an anxiety attack until years and many episodes later and being diagnosed with GAD. I just remember being screamed at by one of the teachers, who would ride around the school grounds in these Go-karts, because someone’s shirt was untucked or they had the wrong belt color. The dress code was very strict as it was a “good private school”. Everything looked hideous and as I was recently in recovery from anorexia as the trousers had to be tailored it made me feel insecure going up and down in weight.
I remember being in between classes one day. I had on this ugly red top and it was scratchy and horrible, the harshness of the fabric making my skin crawl. My weight was up which would mean having to ask my parents to pay money for a new pair of trousers and I was ugly ugly ugly but this was ugly and I was in a bathroom stall. I felt like I was simultaneously being suffocated whilst having a heart attack. In an abandoned memoir, I think I described this sensation as being “boxed into a cubicle of conformity.” I felt utterly trapped.
As an adult, I prefer wearing leggings which stretch and are pretty and comfortable, or tights and a skirt (also stretchy.) I do like some jeans but most jeans at least have some kind of elasticity. Honestly, right now, I enjoy dressing up to fancy events but unless its for some occasion I don’t even like wearing makeup, because I often just don’t want it on my face.
However, sometimes I LOVE makeup because I want to dress up and feel beautiful and glamorous. Reading this story made me sad, (and also wondering if the Dean was a Perv….how awkward and embarrassed this student must have felt.) It also brought back with startling clarity this trandescent individual who I wish I saw more of but remain friends with to this day, Minnaleah. Our dress school’s dress code (also located in South Florida) would only allow a certain brand of tops and trousers from this approved uniform shop, hot pants or shorts were basically past knee length, etc etc….however they still discriminated against students they felt were not “conservative” enough.
Of course, the creative soul in me rebelled. I wanted to dye my hair white and argue that was “natural.” BTW plenty of high schoolers dyed their hair, but it had to be a “natural” looking color. The blonde cheerleaders who used peroxide and bleach were fine, but one day my friend turned up looking radiant. She was wearing fairy wings and had done her makeup in this really transcendent manner. I was very shy then and still learning what my interests were, but I gravitated towards her. She was captivating. She gave me a makeover once, and it’s amazing how something like a friend doing your makeup can make you look into the mirror and suddenly, you are transformed.
It’s miraculous what an act of kindness can do. I don’t know if she even remembers this but I was going through a really hard time and had this soul-crushing insecurity. You helped me see a beauty I often struggle to see in myself. If you are reading this, thank you so much for being my friend.
One day, Minnaleah stormed into the bathrooms angrily. The administration had told her to take off her fairy wings and she needed to wash off her beautiful makeup (despite neither being against official dress code policy). I saw her tears.
In University studying Creative Writing and doing some promotional work and modelling on the side, I could show up in literally whatever I wanted to for lectures for my Undergrad. For me, as I was experimenting with Romantic Gothic fashion, some days that included a steel boned silver underbust corset and a mini veiled top hat. My hair went from Marilyn blonde to long and red. My lecturers did not care. What they cared about were my ideas and execution, the quality of my work and the areas I professionally needed improvement in.
I loved University and-despite my rape trauma my final year-I graduated. I am proud of myself for that. Reading that article brought back so much-the cocoon of high school anxiety mixed with the butterfly that emerged studying abroad in London.
I think school uniforms are ridiculous, personally. Yes, full on nudity would obviously make people uncomfortable. But fashion and makeup is also an outlet for many, a fun way of expressing yourself for that moment to the world. I performed to a much higher degree in Uni wearing my 18 inch corsets than I ever did in those itchy colored polo shirts. Worse yet, if you did have the wrong belt color or even if your trousers were not from the school-approved uniform manufacturer, you would get points off your GPA. In life, I am a firm believer one should never be judged for any non-fashion/promotion related job (literally any job you don’t NEED to be “in character for”) based on not fitting into an exterior “mold”.
The rich girls could have bleached hair and ostentatious designer bags but Minnaleah couldn’t shine in wings and glitter like the fairy I know she is inside. This apparently remains a sorry state of affairs in schools to this day.
I also believe it’s quite sexist to demand that girls MUST wear a bra, the top shown is loose and they made her wear band-aids on her nipples even WITH an undershirt when she was suffering with severe sunburn. That is ridiculous.
One could even say this is an example of the rape culture we live in, that we as woman must appear a certain way so as not to “distract” the boys, whose education obviously matters so much more than our personal comfort.
No, Lizzy Martinez, you are not a distraction. What you are is an incredibly brave courageous woman for going through a humiliating ordeal at such a young age and having the courage to speak out about it on a national level. I applaud you and am so glad this story is trending.
Anyone feeling discriminated against for their attire is ridiculous to me as an adult. As a model, I took fun assignments that allowed me to express myself in different characters and roles. I only model occasionally now as I dedicate a lot of time to my ultimate dream-my fantasy novel.
At the moment I am writing in bed-Insomnia, or perhaps simply my quiet time, in celestial print PJ’s sipping chamomile tea.
But the part I care about?
I am writing.