Don’t Let a Man Cramp Your Style, Literally


This blog could be real short. Just take the advice written in the title and live it, breathe it, bathe in it. However, titles are usually meant to be expanded on so I’ll do the same—with my much-earned experience in the subject. Also, despite the title being geared toward ‘men’ this topic easily applies to any relationship; don’t let your partner cramp your style.

As I’ve written many, many times, I have/had a particularly unique style that’s been built off of my years as a teenage emo, my love of colored hair, a fondness for vintage-inspired makeup, and a blend of anything that makes me feel confident and happy. I’m the kind of woman who will buy a lavender blazer and a leather jacket at the same store. I love florals and leopard print is a particular weakness of mine. While I build off of a base of black (like my soul) I accentuate with pops of color and other fun touches. In this way, I have my own style which is a reflection of my personal identity.

It’s interesting, in hindsight, to notice how the loss of my identity to my toxic relationship intersected with my personal style and body issues. I paged through past blogs here on Reading Malone and on Desperately Seeking __________ and, within months of dating my ex, my body issues were obviously raging. This then reflected in my clothing choices. I started wearing looser clothing to hide what I felt was my too big body and I used language that was downright hurtful to myself (and clearly a RED FLAG). I remember being so anxious for the first day of sophomore year because I’d gained weight over the summer. I ended up buying a maternity top to hide my tummy because I was so ashamed of my body; this wouldn’t be the first time in that relationship I’d buy maternity clothes to hide behind.

It’s funny how little comments a person makes can affect your behaviors and choices. My ex said he didn’t like leopard print so guess what mysteriously disappeared from my closet? He had a clear preference for solids and darker, toned down shades and my appearance began to reflect that. I started wearing fewer patterns. Rather than standing out like I always had, I began to fade away. A relationship should make you feel like your most confident self, but I was constantly dragged down into body issues. I stopped wearing dresses except for special occasions. Shorts? Forget about it. And swimsuits were anxiety attacks in disguise. I still ask myself, “Why?” Why did I transform from a girl who was confident to a disaster in all but name?

You won’t find many pictures of me during my college years; I hid from cameras. When you do see me, you begin to notice a trend in my appearance at a certain point. I’m usually wearing a t-shirt or sweatshirt. Jeans, yoga pants, or sweats. My hair is almost always up. I’m probably not wearing makeup. If you’re glamorizing this you’d call it “natural.” Those times were some of my worst, only brightened by small moments and joys that I thought were normal highs.

My ex said he preferred women with long hair so I didn’t cut mine for years. He wanted to see what my natural color was so I stopped dying it fun colors after that first summer, except for a brief foray with blue streaks that made me so ridiculously happy—a small joy. I left the hairdresser I had seen for seven years because why shouldn’t we both see the same one? My hair—one of my favorite features, something that had made me happy before—became part of my problems.

Ever since I’d picked up eyeliner at thirteen, I’d played with various looks in my makeup. Sometimes, when I was a teenager, I’d stay up late, try on a different appearance, and take selfies just for fun. I knew, on one hand, that makeup perpetuated a lot of stereotypes about gender and the beauty industry, but it also was an important part of my daily routine. Losing it, piece by piece, except for special occasions, was a unique kind of hurt. The lipstick went first—obviously—because making out with someone is kind of difficult when that’s constantly smearing. I stopped wearing my contacts because it was a pain to switch between them and my glasses so often at different locations. The eyeliner was one of the last to go. There’s nothing wrong with being barefaced and natural, but it compounded with my other issues.

For the longest time I could barely stand in front of a mirror.

A mirror is, after all, a reflection. I didn’t like what I saw. A body that didn’t fit my perception. Hair out of my control. A face that knew misery like a lover. Clothes that did their best to cover everything but hid nothing—not really. Before, I’d spent hours in front of mirrors—dancing, lip-syncing, prepping for the day—but I hated what I saw then.

The funny thing is I’m not sure how much other people saw. Your style is, after all, yours, but—especially in college—people can change their clothes and their look with the seasons. Maybe they assumed I was tired from my classes (I was) or that I had a sudden fondness for comfort (I did), but every body has secrets deeper than skin. I know my mother was aware I was struggling with my weight, but maybe not how much.

Culturally, we have this cliché where people—particularly women—will develop a “revenge body” after a breakup as kind of a screw you to their ex for not appreciating what they had. I can’t say I’ve done that. I’m still pretty much the same size I was. What has changed is my relationship and perception of my body. I fucking love it. Sure, we have our bad days, but I’ve come to appreciate the fact it helps me survive and thrive, enables me to do things (like dance again), and that—despite my hardships—I’m beautiful, inside and out. No, what I have is revenge style. I dyed my hair purple and have kept it colorful. I bought clothes in patterns and colors and flattering cuts. I wear dresses and skirts again. I put on bright shades of lipstick from my vast collection and play with makeup at midnight. I take selfies. I stand in front of the mirror. I love myself.

Don’t let your partner dictate your personal style. It’s yours—claim it, keep it, protect it. They’re free to have a personal opinion, but it shouldn’t sway yours enough to lose yourself in their vision of who you could be. Be you. Because you’re good enough. If they don’t think so then maybe they aren’t.

Here’s a brief visual timeline of how my style changed because of one person’s influence. I went from a young woman with plenty of confidence to a bland shadow of who I’d been. Now, I’m full of patterns and life is bright again.