My favorite F-words: friends, fashion and f*** gender norms

How discovering your true self can change friendships and fashion sense for the better

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My favorite F-words: friends, fashion and f*** gender norms

Hatim Saifee

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Navy blue t-shirt. Grey Gap jacket. Straight cut dark blue jeans. Grey sports shoes. Combed hair, messy brows. Scared of judgment, eyes staring at my bland clothes, never lifting my head. Not acquainted with anyone, too meek to speak up.

This was my sophomore year: void of confidence, friends, fashion sense. But what was the “lurking variable,” as Mr. Iams puts it, that affected all of these? As years passed by, I realized what it was: I didn’t know who I was.

Adolescence has been the most important phase of my life, and I was completely unprepared for the transition from childhood to adulthood. But I was also beginning to learn more about myself. I wasn’t familiar with these new experiences and feelings, and I had no idea how to deal with the information I had on hand about my identity.

So I brushed it aside. Locked it up in the darkest closet of my memory. Pretended as if I had never come across it. As time passed, I continued to suppress it. Having been bullied for being “too girly” by boys in India simply for spending more time with female friends or choosing to partake in conversations instead of rowdy sports, I decided to act as much as a “typical boy” as I could. I wore shorts even though I hated them and played soccer though I could never kick the ball in the right direction. I was adamant to conform to social gender norms and letting them dictate every aspect of my early teenage life; this carried on into my sophomore year.

Fast forward to senior year: perhaps my freest and happiest year yet. Why? Because I finally accepted who I was. I let go of expectations, norms and stereotypes. This newfound acceptance of my true identity boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem immensely. I had never felt so confident in myself, so proud, so real.

Enjoying every moment of this newfound freedom, I broke away from my goal of emulating the “typical boy.” Instead of forcing myself to spend time with boys, I let myself hang out with girls, who I seemed to click with very easily. Most of my closest friends are girls. Do I care about whether that’s “too girly” or not? No. Am I still scared of the heteronormative assumption that if a boy and a girl are spending time together, then they’re dating? Nope. It’s this indifference toward insignificant judgments and comments that allowed me to surround myself with those that I feel comfortable around. It’s this “so what if most of my friends are girls” attitude that helped me take a breath of fresh air.

My self-discovery also cultivated my interest in fashion. On the surface, it may not seem like that boy in the dull blue t-shirt and grey Gap jacket would have any clue what fashion even means. That’s because that boy had tucked that interest far, far away and distanced himself from it. But in senior year, my fashion sense evolved. Inspired by stylists such as the Fab Five from Netflix’s “Queer Eye” and my own friends as well, I began taking better care of myself. I began expressing myself through fashion: tucked sweaters, cuffed jeans, nail polish and threaded brows.

When I went shopping, I was disappointed at the drab clothes in the men’s section of thrift stores. Taking advice from stylist Tan France, I decided to venture into the women’s section and found fashionable items stacked one after the other. Was I scared to browse through the women’s section looking for jackets and sweaters? Of course. I could feel the intense stares on my back. “So what?” I told myself. I was confident in my fashion sense, and I couldn’t let a tiny thing like others’ judgment stop me. The boy who always had an interest in fashion was now able to showcase it freely.

I hope I’m not coming off as materialistic as I describe my interest in fashion. Being able to finally dress the way I have wanted to since I was a little kid makes me feel happy. I feel comfortable in the clothes that I wear now. I feel confident in myself, in my ability to dress as I see fit. I feel free, knowing that I’ve escaped from the social expectations of the “proper” clothes for boys.

What I’ve learned from my experiences is that it’s necessary to live life with a “so what?” attitude. Because people will continue to judge you. They’ll always find an imperfect or odd quality and turn it into your insecurity, as they did with my apparent “girliness.” People always need something to trash-talk about.

So, embody that “so what?” attitude. Sometimes you might find yourself squinting your eyes a little and replacing that smile with a straight face to give off a b**** vibe. But if that’s what helps you feel safe and comfortable while being your true self, then do it. Don’t be intentionally mean to others (be as kind as you possibly can!). But if you feel like putting an “RBF” on, whether it’s around people who might make fun of you or whether you want to feel extra powerful, just do it. No one will be able to invade or disturb your aura of self-confidence. Most importantly, you’ll be living life the way you want to, not the way others want you to.