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Dumpster-Dived Femininity

A Personal Essay by Santana Teresa-Mari Coste

I'm going to be honest, most of what defines 'conventional' femininity is complete garbage. Most of it, because it:

A) doesn't serve the purpose it should.

B) comes from terrible sources.

C) is meant to drive people insane.

I believe that presentation and general traits don't need to be gendered, but if someone wants them to be, they should be a source of confidence and happiness. They should benefit someone's life rather than worsen it.

So much of what helps someone 'qualify' as traditionally or conventionally feminine is tied up in nonsense. Let me elaborate.

A) Conventional femininity does not serve those who ascribe to it in the ways it should. Women are pushed to achieve impossible standards of both beauty and behavior in order to appease men, even in instances where they have no desire to seek men as intimate partners. Refusal to not orient one's entire life around seeking the approval of men and keeping them in positions of power is met with everything from mild disdain to literal murder. This makes many expressions of femininity more a method of survival than a way to thrive.

B) Modern, Western femininity has been constructed by capitalism and white supremacy. It degrades women of color in order to elevate whiteness as the only thing worthy of aspiring to. It exploits unnatural and created insecurities for the purpose of selling products that 'solve problems' which don't actually exist. Perfectly natural and wonderful features are twisted into flaws for the purpose of stripping people of their innate power and confidence. I say innate because self-hatred is taught; when was the last time you saw an insecure baby?

C) Gender as a whole is the kind of fragile thing that falls to pieces the second you examine it too hard, but womanhood and femininity (again, as they're defined conventionally) seem to be made of so many contradictions they're absolutely impossible to fully realize. For example, the sexuality of women is policed to an insane degree. If a woman is too sexually available to men, that's a bad thing. If she isn't sexually available enough to men, that is also a bad thing. A woman who shies away from defending herself when she needs to is punished for her cowardice. A woman who openly and earnestly expresses herself and, god forbid, defends herself is punished for her boldness. There's no actual way to do things right.

I know this nonsense well enough to write an entire book about it, but I'll spare you all that to instead explain how I wriggled my way free and made myself happy in my own version of femininity.

I grew up believing all that garbage was gold. As soon as I recognized that there was no way for me to live up to the standards I was wrongfully assigned (because it's wrong to designate gender at birth at all, but that's another conversation), I resolved to reject all of it. Later on I figured out there was some junk that I genuinely liked and decided to salvage only my favorite bits and pieces.

This is how I assembled my own beloved, dumpster-dived, Franken-Femininity.

I started picking through and made choices at many different turns.

Being skinny? Nope. That was never going to happen, and that wasn't a bad thing!

Being hairless? Absolutely not. I would save so much money from never buying razors or shaving cream. Money that could go toward better things.

Like skirts! I love skirts. They're cute and versatile and I feel pretty in them.

Glossy, straight hair? Hell no. I've had my scalp fried by enough relaxer for a lifetime.

Dresses? Yes! Of all kinds! They have such range! I feel fantastic in them.

Being demure in all situations? Nope! I honestly think I'm too impulsive (thanks ADHD) and enthusiastic for that.

Being a great cook? Hell yeah, I'll take it. I love to eat, and I love to express care for others by cooking for them.

High heels? That's a definite no. I have enough joint and back problems as it is, and I'm already above average height.

Heterosexuality? Never in a million years! My beauty and love belongs to women, Sapphics, and fellow lesbians. In fact, realizing that I wanted nothing to do with the approval or desire of men was the catalyst for this entire journey.

Makeup was kind of its own little trash bag within the dumpster. I think that makeup can be an art form, and I have finally started practicing with it. But I've struggled with accepting my appearance long enough to know it isn't very healthy to do makeup in certain ways. I stay away from foundation and concealer. I don't contour my face, and I don't ever touch my facial hair (except to enhance it with mascara and shading with eyeshadow). I'm content to make myself look as outrageous as possible with streaks of messy black all around my eyes until I look like a literal nightmare. Because it makes me feel awesome!

I know a lot of these things may seem superficial when laid out like this, but each was a battle to come to terms with. And many of the choices I've made have had real, even painful consequences. But I'm happier having made them than I would have been without them.

I love my dumpster-dived Franken-Femininity!


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