As I wrote recently in this piece for xo Jane, I was raised by a second-wave feminist mother. For those of you not current with the confusing surfing terms that make up feminism, what that essentially means is my mom was one of those 70s-era feminists who wanted to uproot the patriarchy by rejecting all their notions of how to define femininity and the feminine experience. As such, she didn't wear lipstick or blush or own cupboards full of beauty products.
Wait... I don't know why I'm writing in the past tense, except that I'm describing my experience growing up with her as my female role model. She's still that way: the only makeup she owns is a chewed-up nub that maybe once could have been described as a Maybelline eyeliner. Her idea of a "beauty product" is a crusty tub of Noxzema, and while she does always smell delicious-- her one 'luxury" as she calls it is a bottle of Oscar de la Renta's lotion, a smell I'll always associate with her-- that's the only concession she's ever made to being feminine. She doesn't speak softly or sweetly, (although some of that is because she's a native New Yorker). She never wears pink.
I am the opposite of her in every way, and I've always felt conflicted about that.
I adore pink. But then again I adore every color in the rainbow, and have my closet organized by shade to make finding my thrift-store finds easier. I'm simpatico to a fault, and I have to remind myself that it's okay to say 'no' to people sometimes. Whenever I get into a group, I try to turn the whole thing into a cocktail party and frequently end up exhausting myself, trying to make everyone else happy. (This has become particularly an issue since I've had kids and am essentially always in a group.) Most of all, I love pretty things: dresses, shoes, baubles, bottles and bottles of sweet-smelling unguents. I've always been this way, actually, pretty much since I could function both my arms. I'd choose my own outfits, and they'd always be so impractical my mother would have to fight me to add tights to my shorts in winter or beg me not to wear my new winter coat in the hot southern falls.
We fought a lot. I often felt my mother preferred my sister, a sustainability scientist (more or less) who also eschews makeup and frippery.
Despite our differences, my sister and I became best friends, and my mother and I managed to negotiate a truce,
But, even with reviling the patriarchy and all, too, I couldn't and can't help myself: I love lipstick and heels. I love them. So. Much.
Still, as I've gotten older, I haven't been able to ignore the other costs that come along with adoring beauty. I got so wrapped up with modeling in New York that I lost touch with myself entirely. I didn't like the person I became, but luckily, I became pregnant with my daughter and gained 70 lbs, so that handily solved that problem, and I was insta-cured of a loathsome, soul-crushing form of vanity. I also started thinking a lot about the hidden costs that came along with my interest in fashion. Specifically, who was making my clothes. The disaster in Dhaka just after my daughter was born was a watershed moment in my life.
I'd just purchased her first summer clothes, and they literally arrived the same day I learned Gap used that Dhaka factory to make its cheap, amazingly affordable, cute clothes. Inside her denim jacket, I read the words, "Made with love" embroidered into the collar. On the tag, there were other words.
Made in Bangladesh.
Maybe made in the Dhaka factory? Maybe made by someone who had died, because they were working in unsafe, inhumane working conditions just so women like me could afford to buy adorable, coordinated wardrobes for their infants?
Of course, I can't make myself responsible for all the world's ills, but it made me want to be more aware of where my clothes came from and who was making them. There's a fashion revolution going on-- a sustainable one not a style one despite what the magazines might claim-- and the former is the one I want to be a part of. It's slow-going-- I'm now on baby #2 and losing my marbles on a daily basis. (As my husband put it recently, "You know, it's okay to be barely hanging on.) But this blog is devoted to my education, slow-going though it might be, and I hope it inspires others, too, to look at making changes here and there. Eventually, those changes could really add up, and as my sister the scientist put it, "It's a wider systemic problem."
If we don't understand the system, though, how can we change it?
It's time to catch another wave... and anyway as the photoshoot above shows, it's the inner light and attitude, the delight in wearing something pretty that are really what make you feel (and look) chic.
Photography by Aaron Kinney. Hair and makeup by me. Dress from Housing Works in Soho. Check them out! They are a non-profit whose proceeds go to fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness: http://www.housingworks.org/ Also in honor of National Poetry Month, I'll beg of you to please check out two of my poems recently published here and here.
I'm a busy mommy of two and a writer who loves fashion. I also want to teach myself and my children to care for and love the environment! I don't have the energy or time to be as 100% perfect as I'd like to be about my carbon footprint, but I'm trying to do the best I can. For example, I switched to a vegetarian diet (with a little bit of fish thrown in for now-- ah I cannot live without fish tacos!--), walk when I don't have to drive, wear as many sustainably made or secondhand clothes as I can, and recycle in other ways, too. Follow me as I try (at least 50% of the time) to strike a balance between the two-- mothering and writing, shopping and sustainability. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IsabellaMDavid.