musings / style

the myth of too much

magazine covers e.v. de cleyre 35mm filmA male painter mentioned that Coco Chanel, or someone like Coco Chanel, once said, Women, before they leave the house, should look in the mirror and take off one thing. That is, remove one article of clothing, one piece of jewelry, one smudge of blush–one of something, anything.

When I asked why, the male painter said that this way, one wouldn’t dress “too over the top.”

Each day, I wear two necklaces, six rings, and one pair of earrings. Though I hold minimalist leanings, if I could fit more rings on my fingers, I would. As an adolescent, I coveted the fingers of Phoebe on “Friends,” her hands decorated with rings up to her nails.

Women are conditioned that excess is bad. Too much makeup and you look like a whore. Too little and you look like you don’t care. Yet the advertisements in magazines and on television tell us otherwise–that excess is a sign of a good life, of status, of comfort, of security.

I recognize that the jewelry I wear on a daily basis verges on excess. To the outside observer, these are accessories, but to me, they are talismans, representing the countries I traveled to and homes I made and left: an oval turquoise stone ring and a brass key pendant from Tibet, two silver rings with stone bezels from my hometown in New Hampshire, two simple silver bands from a vintage store in my adopted hometown in Oregon.

The male painter’s comment bothered me. Yet it wasn’t even his comment–he was simply paraphrasing something he had read or heard. Was I annoyed because he was a heterosexual man inadvertently telling me how to dress? Was I annoyed because it resonated? Was I annoyed because the rhetoric was all too familiar?

I often struggle against the belief that I am less than, or not enough. The idea behind Coco Chanel’s principle is that a woman is not less than, or not enough, but too much. Society is fearful of women who are too much: too intelligent, too spiritual, too intellectual, too emotional, too beautiful, too cool, too bossy, too bitchy.

Danielle LaPorte writes, “You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge.”

The act of writing or reading “too” too many times begins to weaken its power. It looks silly, sickly. It looks like a myth. The myth of too much.

That night when I saw the male painter again, I read him this quote from Lidia Yuknavitch: “When they make you feel like you are less than? Be more than they can even handle. The problem isn’t that we’re not enough. The problem is we’re more than they’ve even imagined.”

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