12 August, 2010

more thoughts about disability and presentation

(this is sort of part two of squandering slack)

I'll spare you a long description of my mom's problems with the way I look and dress. Besides, I write about them all the time. But it is just sort of a clusterfuck in the summer because my mom has logic on her side, i.e. it isn't reasonable to wear jeans in the summer, especially if you get easily overheated like I do and tend to throw up and have headaches. So my mom picks out the kind of pants she thinks I should wear, which are usually knee-length, and then puts me under pressure to wear them. And I go along with it sometimes even though I really want to keep wearing the same pants I wear all year. But I really don't like those other pants at all.

This summer the best thing ever happened though, because I got several pairs of athletic shorts to wear at camp, and I realized I liked them even better than jeans, and I also realized from observing other counselors that it is pretty standard to wear shorts in the summer and that's actually a more common thing to do than wearing knee-length pants. So I realized that I didn't have to feel awkward about not wanting to wear capris and they probably actually looked weirder than jeans.

You can spare me any shit about how I shouldn't care whether my clothes look weird or not. I can care if I want. And in a lot of ways I don't care, for example I could wear short shorts in order to look more standard but I like athletic shorts better. But it's just sort of galling to be wearing the capris and feel like I not only look different, but I look like I'm not in charge of how I dress.

It sort of reminds me of when I was younger and my mom would always try to tell me what I should say to other kids when problems arose. Even though the things I said really screwed me over, I wouldn't use her scripts either. I knew that her word choice was slightly off and would sound weird coming out of a 12-year-old's mouth. I feel like normal people don't think about word choice, but when they are kids they do pick out people with unusual word choice and make fun of them, so I was very aware that I already didn't use the right words all the time. If I used the wrong words I wanted them to be my own, even if they were catastrophic ones.

I was getting strangely and incoherently annoyed in an attempt to explain to my friend why it makes me mad to see a thirty-year-old disabled woman in the same high-waisted pants that her mother wears. Those pants look normal on the mother, but on the daughter they "look disabled." Except that when I say that, it sounds like I'm saying that the daughter should be dressed in order to pass, and that's not what I mean. I just feel like, whether or not a person is obviously disabled, there's a certain style of dressing that is prevalent among disabled people and makes the person look like they didn't pick out their clothes themselves. It can look very "nice"--very clean and neat--but it looks awful to me.

When I was 14, my mom forbid me to wear sneakers and skirts together, because she said it would make me look like I was mentally ill. I guess wearing combinations that aren't considered to go together, or doing other things that seem over-the-top, "looks disabled" in a different way, but to me, that way looks really good. I know a few people with ID who always wear a lot of necklaces and medals and to me that is the opposite of the other kind of looking disabled--disability is visible, but it's visible because the person is making different choices from the choices someone else their age would make, not because an authority figure is making those choices for them.

Am I making sense? I always feel embarrassed when this turns into a blog about arguing with my mom.


  1. Oh no, I think you should care about what clothes you wear. I oscillate between a complete unfashionability and trying to buy and wear pretty things that I like. You can't feel comfortable in a day if you don't like the clothes you're wearing (I never do), whether they be your favourite tracksuit pants or the jeans you prefer to wear. I'm glad you found an altrnative for summer that suits you!

  2. It makes a heap of sense.

    Especially the bit about shorts.

    I rarely wear them myself, but I do have several pairs.

    (The athletic shorts I may not like so much, because they remind me a bit of school and physical education: when I wore them the most).

    I remember in The child books built that the author's sister, Bridget, would wear her badges. Or rather it was an acquaintance (Francis) Spufford saw on the bus. And yes, those ableist assumptions were rumbling! This was England in the 1960-70s.

    So, "dress like your clothes are yours".

    It's not enough to be clean and neat, is it?

  3. I totally understand. I got a lot of that from my mother too. It was frustrating because I also wanted to look nice and didn't know how, but she started making decisions for me about the clothes and it felt and looked wrong. I wound up dressing like a middle aged woman when I was 12. Now I pick out my own clothes. I had to be allowed to develop my own style. Luckily when I got to high school my mother decided to let me make decisions about clothes and she would only say something when a shirt was too small or something.

    I think it's good to stand up for yourself. Because if people are controlling what you wear they're controlling a whole lot more than that. And it's clear that this is an issue that bothers you, since this isn't the first time you've written about it. You sound perfectly reasonable to me.

  4. It makes sense. If someone has a strange personality (as a result of a disability or not) and wears what they want, their choices will automatically reflect that strangeness. In that sense, the personality and way of dress match and it doesn't seem odd or out of place.

  5. I am really getting sick and tired of my mom picking out clothes for me as if I were still 8 years old. I know how to dress myself, mother! I actually have a pretty good taste of style, my friends like the hippyish tie-dye and batik skirts and dresses. I am a little OCD about color coordination, always making sure I wear the right shade of makeup and matching shirts/skirts/pants/dresses.

    The reason my mom likes to dress me is not so much because of my disability, but because she envies my body shape. Basically she acts like I am a little model of herself when she was my age. Every time I wear something she likes, she keeps saying "I wish I was skinny like you. I used to be skinny until I had four kids!" So I'm about 5'5" and 115 pounds, and she's 5'2 and not exactly a size 2. But who cares? "Thin is in" up my @$$! There is no standard "ideal" body, just as there is no "normal" brain.

    Whenever I try taking a stand, my mom gets defensive and continues to buy clothes for me, insisting that I will like what she chooses for me. Okay, sometimes I agree on the stuff she chooses, but sometimes I want her to put it back. Guess what, she still buys it! She clearly does not want me to grow up, and it is making me furious. I feel exploited, yet I do not have the courage to get her to stop. I really need my older sister to the rescue, she often helps keep my mother under control. I have way too many clothes, and it is hard to convince my mom what is worth giving away. "That looks so cute on you! You should not give that away!" ARGGGHH! I cannot wait for college next month!

  6. It sort of reminds me of when I was younger and my mom would always try to tell me what I should say to other kids when problems arose. Even though the things I said really screwed me over, I wouldn't use her scripts either. I knew that her word choice was slightly off and would sound weird coming out of a 12-year-old's mouth.

    Well you had a fair sight more sense than I did at that age, I guess, because I remember repeating stuff my parents told me to say, verbatim. :/ (Not that this makes me "more autisticer than thou" or anything, different people develop and learn specific things at different rates, including different people on the autism spectrum, and overall I imagine you and I probably "present" pretty similarly judging from what I've read so far).

    Woo, tangent. Anyway, though, the bit of your post I quoted reminded me of this one thing that happened when I was probably around 11 or 12. Some older boys (8th graders?) had been harassing me on the way to school. And my dad told me to say to them "If I had a face like yours I'd shave my butt and walk backwards!"

    So...I tried saying that to the bullies. And from then onward whenever they saw me coming they would say "hey look, it's the girl with the hairy butt!"


  7. wow I can't believe your dad told you to say that. SO DUMB. Kids that age aren't smart enough to figure out what a sentence like that actually means and they'll just pick out anything they can use against you.

  8. Oh I am sure my dad *meant* well. I think part of it is that he was kind of socially awkward himself so I got a bit of a double whammy combining that with my own awkwardness. I would never trade my dad for anyone, though...all things considered it was better growing up with someone who could at least relate to some of the crap I went through rather than (like my mom was prone to doing) lecture me on how I was so embarrassing for not acting like a proper girl.

    That said, you are absolutely right about kids not being able to figure out what a sentence like that actually means. Heck I scarcely know what it means *myself*, it seems pretty nonsensical. But since I tended to use language like it was putting stuff in a vending machine at that age (say PHRASE, have THING happen, but don't necessarily understand PHRASE) I would not have realized that at all then, and apparently my dad was not thinking about that either.

    (gah, hopefully that was parse-able...)