Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
We all know that society has certain ideas of how a person should look. I, however, choose to look differently. My knee length khaki shorts and regular t-shirt don't exactly fit under the "What I think a College Girl Should Dress Like" category for a lot of people, and I get judged unfairly because of this regularly. However, the absolute last person on earth I'd expect to give me less respect because of how I choose to dress is my boyfriend, which is pretty much exactly what he does.
He regularly pesters me about things like purses and form fitting shirts, which seems hardly fair to me. But what really gets me down is his attitude towards my ability to choose formal attire for myself. I decided recently that as a way to show I care for him, I would exert a little effort and go out and buy a dress. I made the mistake, however, of telling him about it. Now he requests that he or his younger brother's girlfriend (no joke) baby-sit me shopping so I don't make a bad decision. He even decided it was appropriate to ask me what type of shoes I was planning to wear to make sure they are up to his standards, which brings me to: Senior Prom. We weren't dating yet. I bought a nice green dress which just happened to match the green sneakers I wore every day. So, I decided to wear my sneakers. I mean, I didn't see anything wrong with it. It's my senior prom just as much as anybody's and I should be comfortable and happy. And for god's sake, they matched the damn dress! So why not?
A year and a half later, I find out exactly why not. Because it took him soooo much to face a crowd with a date to dared to wear sneakers to a stupid high school prom. When he told me all of this, it immediately soured my entire memory of the night. Now I associate a once magical evening with guilt and shame. Guilt and shame for something I shouldn't feel guilty or shameful about.
I love him. I really do. But I can't keep with him if he's going to keep making me feel like crap for how I dress. I know he doesn't mean it, but I can't get him to understand how much it hurts me. Whenever I bring it up, he puts up the defense shield and maintains the idea that he is completely justified. How can I get him to realize that I am an individual and his pre-conceived notions of "womanhood" are a load of garbage?
On the one hand, Sparkler, you're totally right: your boyfriend is being a total doink. This guy is guilty of the unforgivable dumbass delusion that he can somehow change his girlfriend into a completely different person, and that's not okay.
On the other hand, while you're right about that, you nevertheless are not right about everything. And in the interest of total honesty, it must be said: if somebody I loved was acting like you are now—particularly the part about flouting the dress code at formal events, and trying to characterize it as an earth-shattering act of feminism—I'd probably be trying to stage a fashion intervention, too.
Because when it comes to special or formal occasions, certain style guidelines are in place, for both sexes, and those guidelines aren't designed for your personal comfort and happiness. A dress code is meant to show respect for the event and the other people in attendance; it's why we wear black at funerals, and why we don't show up to job interviews in pajamas. And when you go to a formal dance in a pair of ratty sneakers, you aren't dismantling the patriarchy one sequin at a time; you're just flipping a big, fat bird to everyone, male and female alike, who cared enough to actually put in some effort and get dolled up.
And that's not to say that you should feel guilt and shame about your choice; those are pretty heavy emotions, under the circumstances. But when you decided to flout social conventions and attend prom in the same pair of beat-up trainers you wear every single day, it would've been kind to give your date a heads-up—just so he wasn't laboring under the mistaken impression that you both give an equal level of damn.
Which brings us back to the problem at hand: your guy wants a girl who cares about dressing stylishly, and he's got one who couldn't care less. You've got fundamentally different values at play, here, and when you talk to him about this, that's where you need to focus. So, in your own words:
"I know you don't like the way I dress. I, however, do like it, and I'm not going to change. I should have made this clear before, and I'm sorry I didn't, especially since it's resulted in us both having bad feelings about prom. But the fact is, I have no interest in fashion, purses, or form-fitting clothes, and I'm never going to. And now that I've made that clear, please do me the courtesy of respecting my feelings and stop pressuring me to look different."
At which point, hopefully, he'll stop.
But if he doesn't, then it's time for you both to move on—not because he's a sexist who doesn't see you as an individual, but because you're poorly-suited to each other. You don't give a damn about how you look, a position to which you are entitled, and which you're also entitled to have respected by whomever you end up dating. But you're not entitled to your position from atop the world's highest horse of self-righteous indignation, or to sling accusations of misogyny at your boyfriend over matters of personal taste. He's allowed to want what he wants; he's just not allowed to demand it from someone who doesn't want to give it. And as someone who's chosen to present herself in a way that's noticeably outside the norm, whether or not you think it's "fair," you're going to need to accept that physical appearances make first impressions. (And I say this as a person with a platinum-blonde fauxhawk that has caused many a stranger to peg me, incorrectly but understandably, as a punk rock lesbian.) So by all means, wear your khaki knee-length shorts, sneakers, and a baggy t-shirt every day, if that's what makes you happy—but reserve your outrage for the actually-outrageous, and not for the people who mistakenly take you for a wayward employee from Sea World.
Do you ever battle with your SO over matters of fashion? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
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