WORDS: PRISCA DORCAS
My mami has always looked down on “vain” women. Women who wear makeup, women who wear tight clothes, women who do their hair, women who are hyper feminine.
My mami had a mami who loved doing her nails, and her hair, and wore skirts almost exclusively. My mami, however, feels closer to god when she’s at her plainest. My parent’s friends at church called me vanidosa and too self-centered and said that wanting to be those things, wanting to look like I wanted to look, was something that sins were made of.
I remember once a lady from church told my 15-year-old self: I used to be like you, I used to separate my clumped mascara with a bobby pin and one day I poked my eye. She told me she could have gone blind for her vanity. She warned me of this “self-obsession.” She warned me of this sin. She warned me of what I could become. -___-
I now wear long nails, which I get done every two weeks. I wear heels like it is my life uniform. I watch makeup tutorials to compensate for not having learned how to do my makeup from my mami. I line my eyes and buy bronzer. I spend entire days reading reviews on certain brands of lipstick to make sure I am getting a bang for my buck. I love dresses and I wear crop tops like someone is paying me for it. I make it a point for people to know that I can be both a phenomenal woman and one that pays particular attention to my aesthetic.
“I desire…that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.“ 1 Timothy 2:8-10
I think the Christianization and the masculinization of intellectual womanhood led to the immediate association of feminine as bad. A mentor of mine once told me: if you want to be taken seriously [in academia], do not wear makeup.
Christianity, in particular, my Pentecostal Christian upbringing, resented women who valued their looks and wanted to look a particular way. My particular upbringing shamed women for wanting to look and feel like goddesses. I think it has everything to do with female agency and the problem with women wanting and doing something for themselves. I think it has everything to do with rape culture and churches thinking it is the woman’s fault if she gets raped; therefore we are supposed to all be heavily coated and covered bodies so as to not tempt anyone.
The second wave feminist movement still haunts so many of us. They rejected and adhered essentially to a tough agenda of making change by demanding it. They were intense, they advocated for being a bitch, being proud of being a bitch, and taking no shit. They had every right to do this and every right to approach this as they did. But, in that the feminine and the vilification of feminine things was spurred. It was valid and it had a touch of indignant resistance to it; femininity was upheld and clung onto by non-feminists so feminists rejected it. It was beautiful and it was good, for a white feminist.
Women of color have rarely been considered women let alone human beings. We have been at the bottom rung of oppression OFTEN and our respectability politics has often meant that a lot of us do everything in our power to REMIND you that we are women, though with a twist. So my great grandmother wore dresses and skirts, my grandmother ONLY wore skirts and heels, and while my mother skipped all that with her conversion to Christian ordained “superior womanhood,” I inherited this reminder because I live in a red state – as an immigrant – and I constantly live in the tension of not being considered human enough to be angry, to be sad, to get hurt. I carry their burdens with me, through my own experiences, and then I get to stand up for them.
So while my mami got to look down on “vain” women, I got to/had to become one of them and I proudly wear an aggressive femininity to say fuck you and to say SEE ME, ACKNOWLEDGE ME, AND YOUR RESPECT IS NOT NECESSARY. I carry my ancestral oppression in my veins and then I use my “vanity” to move through spaces and disrupt them. So while people like my mami think I am just being a vain girl, I am actually so much more than that. I am not an easy pill to swallow, in fact, I might choke you, but that’s the point of my femininity: my femininity comes with claws and tacones thick enough to destroy you.