What I’m Thinking Now: Reclaiming Androgyny

I modeled in a fashion show in April. The designer asked if I would be willing to shave the sides of my head. I said yes; I trust my stylist and my hair grows quickly.

Asian woman with glasses and edgy short haircut

I didn’t expect my new look to excite me as much as it does. It brings out an androgyny in my appearance that I never imagined. My delight at this reminds me that I used to be more curious about what, for lack of a clearer shorthand, we might call masculinity in dress. I remember very clearly the times I bought boys’ clothes as a teen: the navy v-neck sweatshirt, the brown checked button-down, Mossimo tees, skater sneakers. I remember hoping I would get to wear a suit (pants or skirts) every day when I grew up. It was, maybe, a natural direction for a girl whose body had gotten curvier than she wanted, earlier than she wanted.

I’ve been told that I am feminine; I’m certainly shaped in a way that many people consider highly feminine. But I have never felt feminine in the way it is conventionally defined. Some of that comes from growing up Asian in the US, women like me either invisible or hypersexualized; some of it comes from also being thicker and squarer-faced than is now considered beautiful in Asia. But a lot of it is just me never really feeling like part of any majority, including the majority of my gender. I have never not felt like a girl, I just never felt like the same kind of girl as most other girls. The occasional boys’ clothing was part of that, as were the occasional purple lipstick and silver eyeliner. But as I got older, weight gain made it harder to find trousers or blazers or button-down shirts that would please my body as well as my aesthetic preferences. Over time I forgot that I had ever preferred pants to dresses.

Asian woman in blue striped button-down shirt and jeans, petting a grey tabby cat
2006, in Erik’s shirt
Young Asian woman with glasses, a red flower in her hair
2010

An interesting thing happened after Owl was born in early 2016. I stopped wearing florals. I lost much of my taste for pink. I put away jewelry, then I got used to going without. It was almost as if, having brought a little girl into the world, I needed to distance myself from anything that would make me look like one myself. By choice and by necessity, I went much more minimal in everything.

And then, three years later, the fashion show: Celebrate Your Body. There were models of every size, shape, height, color, and gender expression, and of differing physical and developmental ability. Among them was also a striking group of humans in beautiful, stylish tailored suits. I touched my newly shaved sides and drooled over the suits and remembered my old ideals of appearance. Since then I’ve continued feeling toward my reawakened androgyny, wondering how it can manifest when my aesthetic is toward artsy minimalism, my lifestyle is wash-and-wear, and my body is a curvy cusp size. I don’t know yet, but it thrills me to think of discovery. 

Double watercolor self-portrait of an Asian woman with very short hair and glasses
recent self-portrait
short-haired Asian woman in navy button-down shirt and dark skinny jeans, taking a phone selfie
new shirt
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