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Image and Self-Identity

image and self-identity

This morning I watched the latest episode of Ru Paul’s Celebrity Drag Race and saw Hayley Kiyoko struggling with her image. She was struggling with pressures she’d felt in the past and described how she’d felt the need to “look gay” and it was important that she still felt like herself while she was in drag.

Pressure to Look Like a ‘Lesbian’

hayley kiyokoMy first reaction was to almost laugh this off, but then I thought about it. This feeling is definitely I have dealt with, and continue to deal with to this day, and I feel this is something that many other lesbians deal with too. 

Let me explain…

My best friend is a cis-gendered straight woman who was always been quite feminine – even when we met playing football all those years ago. Since I came out, I’ve never felt the need to be more like her, but that wasn’t always the case. 

Societal Pressures

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a tom-boy, but around the age of 14-15, when all my other friends at high school were growing up and shopping more and gushing over their boyfriends, I could see that I was getting left behind. 

While having a boyfriend never interested me, although I pretended otherwise, I had this feeling that I needed to change something to help me to continue to fit in. 

I’d been bullied quite badly when I started school and I’d already grown my hair out to help put a stop to that, but this was different. I went shopping with a friend and she helped me find clothes that would make me look more ‘girly’. I was never fully comfortable with this and I felt like this was something that society wanted me to do, and not what I actually wanted to do. 

This ‘new me’ didn’t last long. 

Accepting Me for Me

I no longer care about what others think about the way I look or dress, and while it’s true that times have changed since I was 14; now I am confident dressing however I feel comfortable and happy. 

I remember the first time I was called androgynous and how that made me feel at first. I feel confident in who I am now but there are still instances when that isn’t always true, and this is where I could really relate to Hayley Kiyoko and what she was saying in this episode of Drag Race. 

I will wear a dress for a special event or occasion (although it has been a while and I’m unsure if that’s still the case) and I do this because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. But that’s not been my experience in recent years. 

Changing our Perception

pink in a dress and suitImage and self-identity are ever-changing and whenever I try on one of my girlfriend’s dresses I definitely get in my head about it. 

I see how beautiful she looks and I think about celebrities that I look up to and can confidently wear both masculine and feminine looks without so much as batting an eye-lid (P!nk is a prime example for me) and I think that I can do the same. 

But I can’t get that feeling out of my head as soon as I look in the mirror. I don’t look like I imagine, or at least I feel like I don’t. I feel self-conscious and I don’t know what to do with myself. 

Shannon tells me I look beautiful and I know it’s all in my head but I think I worry that I don’t look a certain way, but that’s society, right? 

We’re told all of our lives to look and feel a certain way and when we come out of the closet (or beforehand for some of us), we struggle with our image again and eventually learn to be comfortable and dress in a way that reflects who we are. But there’s always some part of us that makes us feel like we’re not living up to that. 

Please, tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way! 

I’m going to get better at that. I like the idea of wearing both a dress and a suit later in the day when Shannon and I get married one day. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. 

I guess what I’m trying to tell myself here is that whatever way any of us want to dress is beautiful, and although it can be an ongoing battle (and it’s a lot easier said than done), we need to learn to let go of the way others feel like we should look, or feel, or dress and own who we are in our own image.

Be yourself. 

It’s beautiful. 

Nikki Halliwell (She/Her)

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