I mark life milestones by the dress I was wearing when they happened. I remember years of my life by how I did my eyeliner then. Even though they've been a constant and powerful force in my life since I can remember — until recently, I was never quite brave enough to claim that fashion and beauty actually mattered. That they held significance beyond a hobby. Beyond myself.
Even when fashion and beauty became my job, I was ashamed to label something so seemingly material as truly important. I've never believed that liking makeup or clothes made me a shallow person, but I wouldn't have dared to place real value on them. So when Donald Trump became president and proceeded to make good on campaign promises that I previously dismissed as unthinkable, I had to ask myself if what I was doing day in and day out really mattered. How I could go into work every day and write about lipsticks and shoes and skin care and pretend that, in the grand scheme of things, it mattered even a little bit. But what surprised me was how quickly I realized that fashion and beauty aren't trivial at all right now. But in fact, that they're powerful tools of resistance and necessary opportunities for empowerment.
It's an unfamiliar phenomenon for me to be all at once be horrified by what's going on in my country and also be told by the most powerful forms of US authority that I'm overreacting to the events themselves. It's disorienting and alarming. To believe that, on top of all that, some of the things I'm passionate about are shallow or ineffective is doubly upsetting. I love fashion and beauty, and what I realized when forced to truly think about it all is that putting that passion toward thoughtful, deliberate, and constructive actions is not only doable, but absolutely necessary.
On a practical level, shopping can be used as an opportunity to support places that champion feminist values. Choosing what to wear or where to spend your money can become an action item when seen as an opportunity to seek out brands led by minorities, brands that celebrate diversity, and brands that take the risk of speaking out against issues rather than enjoying the convenience of staying silent. Donating money to organizations like ACLU and Planned Parenthood is unquestionably important. But taking the initiative to transform an everyday act like shopping for clothes or makeup into a thoughtful act of support can be surprisingly powerful. Everlane, for example, has donated $17,500 of proceeds from the sales of their 100% Human t shirt to the ACLU since it first went on sale on Jan. 18.
Though where we spend our money can be influential, to me what truly makes fashion and beauty important right now isn't necessarily practical at all. It's the opportunity to use fashion and beauty choices as a bold and direct moment of personal activism. It's recognizing that in a time when male lawmakers want to control a woman's body, we can choose to celebrate ourselves, our bodies, our beauty in any way we see fit. It's not letting the fact that we have a president who has said things like "a person who is flat-chested is very hard to be a 'ten'" or openly called women "bimbos" dictate how we feel about our own bodies, or how we display them. It's never, ever believing that how we dress is an excuse for catcallers, or rapists, or any uninvited human to enter our personal space. It's taking up space everywhere we go, and celebrating our own bold beauty choices. It's proudly occupying that space with our voices, our beliefs, and our passion.
Unashamedly celebrating our individual fashion and beauty choices, and letting the boldness of those choices empower ourselves to speak out is powerful. Never silencing ourselves or our outfits for the sake of the male gaze, the societal expectations of what it means to be a woman, or any other reason is necessary. Recognizing what makes us feel our best and celebrating that, regardless of what any male politician has to say about any of it, is bold.
Making fashion and beauty choices as a woman in Trump's America is an opportunity. It is remembering that 50 years ago, a woman not wearing stockings was considered revolutionary. That 23 years ago, women still weren't allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor. That five years ago, a full collection for plus size women had never shown at New York Fashion Week. That we're still fighting today. It is in those tiny moments — those small slivers of self-care that live in how we apply lipstick, or wear our favorite suit — that we take back power.