I’m genderfluid and FAB. I love girls’ clothes and I generally present as female, but sometimes I want to let my guy side show. Finding guys’ clothes in my size is hard, though—everything is always too wide in the shoulders and doesn’t allow for curves and boobs and stuff (plus, I feel awkward shopping in the men’s section). Do you have any suggestions for where I can get some cute butch clothes? And do you have any tips on flattening boobs without using a binder (I don’t really know where to get one)? I’m not looking to “pass” as a guy—I just want to look like myself. —T.E., USA
Do I have any suggestions for where you can find cute butch clothes, T.E.? Hahahaha, I have so many suggestions for you that you will be a genuine dandy by the time I get through with you! It’s awesome to want to show a more “masculine” side of yourself through your clothes, and I hear you about having a hard time in the men’s and boys’ departments—that stuff just really isn’t cut right most of the time. But it just so happens that this is the best time ever in the history of the world to want to dress in cute butch clothes that are cut for biologically “female” bodies, because this is an area of fashion that’s exploding right now. Everyone seems to be finally discovering the dang truth, which is that our bodies look great in menswear. First, mosey on over to Wildfang, a clothing line that is dedicated to tomboys. Have a cruise through their style-y menswear looks, which include suspenders, bow ties, and button-down shirts cut to accommodate curves. They even have androgynous jewelry! There’s also Marimacho, where you’ll find vests, blazers, and even an adorable 1920s-inspired menswear-style swimsuit; and Original Tomboy, a site devoted to a handmade Huckleberry Finn–type aesthetic that includes dip-dyed tees and worn-in pants and shirts.
Here’s the catch, though: While these sites are awesome, they’re also on the spendy side, which means I use them just for inspiration, then I hit H&M, which at any given time has a truly astonishing selection of menswear-inspired clothes, or try my luck at the thrift store, to try to re-create a look I like. If your budget is on the small side, you can thrift what you want (say, a plaid men’s shirt, a pair of men’s corduroys) and take it to a tailor or a dry cleaner that does alternations. They can usually alter a simple item of clothing to make it fit you perfectly for under $25.
If you’re looking to flatten your boobs for a smoother look, try wearing a snug sports bra—go one size smaller than you normally would, but only if it’s comfortable and you can breathe freely. Whatever you do, please don’t try binding your breasts with Ace bandages and safety pins—regular bandage binding can cause breast injury, scarring, and broken ribs. If you’re ever thinking about buying an offical binder, they have great ones at T-Kingdom and Underworks. Have fun being dapper! —Krista
There is a girl in my social circle who I copy a lot. I’m in love with her style and everything she wears, so I go out and buy the same. As a result, I don’t even know what I like anymore. Worst of all, she’s started to notice that I copy her, but I don’t know how to stop. Any ideas? —Anonymous
People always say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but truthfully, it can straight-up suck when someone steals your style. When I was in high school, I had an acquaintance who I noticed started dressing exactly like me, down to my Adidas sandals and up to my choppy haircut! At first I was like, WELL WHO COULD BLAME HER ::sassy emoji::, but it got annoying after a while. I felt like I couldn’t have anything just for myself anymore, and that my very personal style choices were being made into just a “look” that anyone could choose to take on, on any given day.
Now don’t get it twisted, it’s totally cool to be inspired by someone. Most of us are, especially when it comes to style! We are all part of this giant wheel of inspiration, where we are influenced by people and things we see throughout our lives. Only the from-another-planet geniuses can magically give birth to something 100% purely unique by their beautiful brains. Björk seems to be one of these people—but then again, even she is influenced by different people and cultures!
Also, it’s really cool that you are aware what you are doing, and will admit to it! That is a great beginning step to get you out of this copycat habit. I’m not saying you should stop being influenced and inspired by this stylish schoolmate, but if you don’t want to bum her (or your future style role models) out, and you do want to feel like you’re expressing your own taste and not borrowing someone else’s when you get dressed, you’ll want to stop short of exact duplication. The difference between inspiration and duplication here is hard to define, but it’s like the difference between fan fiction and plagiarism, if that makes sense.
The first thing I want you to do is to sit down and meditate on why you like to copy this chickadee’s stuff all the time. Do you really like what she’s wearing, or are you clueless about where to actually start when it comes to figuring out your own style? You said you don’t even know what you like anymore, so let’s start by rediscovering that! Make a list of things that YOU like. There have to be at least a few. Favorite color/color combinations? Favorite era, style-wise? Do you like the stuff they wear on Mad Men? Or are you more a Vampire Diaries kind of girl? Start with those ideas. Make an inspiration folder or Pinterest board, whether it’s clothes you’ve seen in magazines or movies. Next, pay close attention to what you think looks good on you and what types of clothes and colors make you feel happy when you wear them. Is there something you have that means a lot to you personally—like, did your grandma give you a piece of jewelry that you love? Maybe that could be your “style trademark” that no one else has. Now add all of this stuff together: Instead of copying an exact outfit from your inspiration board, draw little details from everything you like, and add in some of your new trademarks, and then add and subtract from there, depending on what you find you feel happy in all day long. Eventually you’ll get a look of your own and you won’t need to copy anyone else. I have faith in you, sweet thing! —Marie
I’ve had an amazing summer, but I’m worried about going back to school with my tanned skin. I’m African-American, and it seems like people equate dark skin with ugliness. What should I do, if I should do anything? —C.J.,14, CT
Soak up that sun, C.J.! Being exactly who you are, no matter what race you are, is beautiful—and that includes being an African-American of any shade. I mean, seriously, girl, some people PAY to get tans so they can have some of your natural glow. Own it! Engrave this lyric from Black Star in your head and heart: “Coppertone owes you copyright infringement.”
All jokes aside, I know it is hard not to absorb the messages we’re constantly receiving from TV, toys like Barbie dolls, magazines, and the fashion industry, which tend to narrowly define beauty as only white, blond, skinny, blue-eyed, and able-bodied. I’ll never forget the sting I felt when, as a child, I overheard one of my adult cousins whisper to my light-skinned grandmother, “It’s a good thing Jamia is a good talker and she’s smart, because she sure doesn’t look like much compared with her [lighter-skinned, silky haired] cousins.”
The writer Alice Walker came up with the term colorism to describe a terrible social and cultural practice where people are treated and valued differently because of their skin tone, especially within a single race—for example, light-skinned black people being considered “more beautiful” than dark-skinned sisters like you and me. Colorism is a truly shady business that unfortunately impacts communities and cultures across the globe. Due to retrograde attitudes left over from European colonialism, media biases, and cultural stereotypes that grew out of racist ideologies, colorism has historically disadvantaged and excluded people with darker skin in every part of life, including education, access to fair pay, and media representation.
One of the worst things about colorism is that it can lead to our internalizing society’s racism and using it against ourselves, which does a lot of damage to our self-worth and self-esteem. You’re in danger of having this happen to you, C.J.—but you’re not totally convinced, because you’re asking this question, which is a good sign! So let’s nip this in the bud.
I totally understand how intense the pressure is to fit in when you’re in high school, but (a) the more you build up the muscle that resists that pressure, the happier you will be in the long run, and (b) even if you decide that fitting in is really important to you, I won’t judge you for dressing like the girls around you or carrying the same backpack or going to the same parties or whatever, but skin color is OFF THE TABLE here. So I’m not going to give you recommendations of dangerous skin-lightening products or encourage you to do anything but love the glorious skin you’re in. While this may not be the news you wanted to hear, know that you’re not alone, and there are lots of awesome things to seek out, like the film Dark Girls and Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye, that can help you unpack your feelings about color. Dealing with these feelings can bring up a lot of issues; if it does for you, I also suggest you talk to a trusted counselor, therapist, or older friend who “gets it.” The Association of Black Psychologists has great recommendations—that’s how I found my therapist years ago.
I once told a friend that I felt awkward in office environments in which there were few people who looked like me—I told her I sometimes felt “othered.” She said I should focus on loving “the other” inside myself, and then to watch things begin to shift around me. I took her advice, and even though it didn’t eliminate some people’s inadvertently racist comments or assumptions, it did strengthen my sense of self and deepen my pride in my ancestors, who struggled to give me the opportunity to be free. Damn, C.J., ya look good with your tan or without it, and don’t you forget it! —Jamia
I have mad bacne! How do I get rid of it if I can’t reach it? —S.
First of all, you have to figure out what kind of bacne you have. Yes, there are all sorts of different types of zits that can attack your skin. Cystic acne is the kind that develops deep beneath the skin’s surface and take a long time to go away. They can be painful to the touch and sometimes cause scarring. The thing we usually call a classic zit is technically called (I apologize in advance for this word) a pustule—a reddish bump with a light center. Then there are whiteheads and blackheads, which are actually just clogged pores. If you have cystic acne, the best thing to do is see a dermatologist, since it’s the hardest kind of acne to deal with on your own. A dermo might give you something new to wash with, or even a prescription medication. As for other kinds of body acne breakouts, there are a few possible causes you might try to eliminate, including sweat (especially if you exercise or play sports), stress, hot weather, and food allergies. If you have long hair, keep it clean and off your back (including while you’re asleep!). Change your bedsheets and pillowcases often, wash your bras on the regular, as well as other clothing that frequently touches your back. I had a friend who started complaining about her chin breaking out and then realized she had a habit of covering her mouth with her scarf. That scarf needed to be washed, obviously!
As far as products, I’d suggest a salicylic body wash. When I had constant breakouts on my back and chest (totally not fun, so I’m personally feeling you on this problem, girl!), I used a couple from Neutrogena that helped a lot: Body Clear Body Scrub and Pink Grapefruit Body Wash. Get a gentle body-scrubbing sponge that comes on a stick to reach back there, like this guy, and keep it clean and replace often. (Don’t use a loofah, since those run the risk of aggravating your breakouts). When you get out of the shower, put some kind of acne treatment on your back—I like Glytone’s Back Acne Spray because it comes in a spray bottle, so it’s easy to apply to your own back. This works wonders! Hopefully it will work wonders for you too. —Marie ♦
If you have a question of the personal-aesthetics variety, send it to Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name (or nickname or initials), your age, and the city/region you live in.