That's been a pretty big topic of conversation recently, at least around St. Louis, following a truly terrible St Louis Business Journal article/photo shoot supposedly celebrating local successful businesswomen by asking them what pair of shoes "best described them."
Overlooking the obvious sexist overtones of asking a group of highly successful women to describe themselves with a pair of shoes, I'm actually more offended by the fact that anyone could be asked to describe themselves with something so superficial as an item of clothing. "Please sum up your success, interests, beliefs, and personality by showing us something you wear sometimes so we can adequately judge you."
Now, to be fair, I love shoes. I have a lot of them. I have flats, kitten heels, stilettos, platforms, and sneakers in all colors and styles. They currently are spilling out of the closest I (unsuccessfully) try to keep them organized in. But I would never say I'm defined by or described by my shoes. Or by my equally overflowing wardrobe.
I realize this may sound a bit hypocritical, as I do call myself The Pretty Vintage Girl. If that's not describing myself by my look, then I'm not sure what is. But my look isn't what defines me, or even what "best describes" me. It's a description, sure, but not, I hope, the be all and end all of my personality. I would like to think that my clothes and my shoes only just scratch the surface of who I am.
My look is actually very much a uniform. It's what I wear to feel confident, comfortable, and yes, most like myself. I have an affinity towards modern looks across the board, after all, not just in clothing. I'm drawn to the music, the furniture, the art, and of course, the fashion.
My clothes and my shoes might very well be an expression of who I am. But that's not what describes me. And it's certainly not what defines me.
So what does?
People are constantly defined by countless things, most of which are as superficial as a pair of shoes: our past, our jobs, our friends, our lovers. We're defined by where we grew up, what high school we went to, or what socio-economic group we are a part of. We're defined by our illnesses, by our accomplishments, and by our failures and regrets. We're defined by our roles as parents, as children, as married or as single. We're defined by our expectations for ourselves, or by someone else's expectations of us. We're defined by how much we weigh, or what music we like, who we're attracted to, or what we believe in.
We let ourselves be defined by so much that it's hard to know what it is that actually defines us. Who are we, beneath all the layers of judgement constantly heaped upon us? Are we what others say we are? Are we the names we have been called? Do we fit in the cookie-cutter shapes (or shoes) that society tries to shoves us into?
Are we even allowed to define ourselves?
I say yes.
And I have to believe it's true. I have to believe that I am the only one who can truly define who I am.
After all, haven't I been blogging for a year now about who I am? I've been slowly reclaiming my voice and my self over the past two years. I've been fighting back against what I thought defined me, and against those who tried to define me. There's no pair of shoes on earth that can describe that process.
On Monday I took part in a photo shoot as part of a response to the St. Louis Business Journal shoot. The project is called Undefined, it involved over 30 local women, and it had nothing at all to do with shoes. We were welcome to bring a tool of our trade (or to remain undefined by either shoes or tools). I brought a laptop as a nod to this little blog. Because if there is a way I define myself, it's through my words. I've always expressed myself best through writing, and never more so than since I started this blog.
The photo shoot wrapped up yesterday, and I can't wait to see the results. But I love a group of women took the initiative and opportunity to show other women defining themselves by whatever means they chose. I love that there are people out there who get it, who get that we aren't defined by our clothes or by our circumstances.
We define ourselves, in the end. We have to, because there are countless people out there who will be only too glad to do it for us.
And that shoe definitely won't fit.