Guest Essay: Ode to Leggings as a Feminist Act by Andrea Lambert

I love wearing leggings as pants. Every day. Fifteen pairs of leggings sit in my dresser drawer. Adidas. American Apparel. UnderArmour. Beloved Shirts cat print. Pill print for the mental illness that demands I take ten pills a day. Pine trees for Christmas. Stars and stripes for Fourth of July.

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I never want to wear pants again. I remember in my teens and twenties trying on twenty pairs of jeans at a time. Trying to squeeze my big ass into pair after pair that never fit. Finally leaving the dressing room empty handed. Disappointed. With leggings, I just pull on a stretchy pair and they instantly fit perfectly.

I remember reading about Lindsey Lohan in 2005’s D-Listed gossip blog being shamed for wearing leggings as pants. I gobbled the posts like sugary Sweet-Tarts but still loved LiLo and her style. Inspired by Lohan, I bought my first pair of shiny black latex-look leggings. A revelation!

When wearing leggings, body acceptance is mandatory. They show every bend, bulge and declivity. Make a changing body visible. Over the last year I battled becoming dangerously, accidentally underweight. My boyfriend, best friend, mother, sister, and therapist all thought something was seriously wrong with me. My boyfriend yelled at me for being too skinny when I got in his car. Yeah, he’s not my boyfriend anymore. So I saw a doctor. Did hyperthyroidism testing. I was perfectly healthy.

Wearing skintight XS leggings in public gives me a way to reclaim my contested battleground body as my own. I revel in the confrontation of display. Female bodies whatever their sizes are consistently considered fair game for judgement, attack, monitoring and policing by others. Seeing my bony legs forces others to accept and recognize my reality. People comment. I respond. My explanation of healthy blood tests sometimes opens their minds. If they still think I’m dying? Not my problem. I know I’m healthy with each yoga posture I breathe into. Each ice cream sandwich I savor.

Over the centuries female clothing has evolved from excruciatingly uncomfortable to wearable. Corsets? Hoop-skirts? Bound feet? The battle for more comfortable woman’s wear parallels the battle for women’s rights. At a recent family dinner my aunt reminisced how women used to not even be able to wear pants to work. Skirts were required. Suffragettes wore bloomers in protest and were arrested.

“We shall overcome,” activists chant. On this year’s international Women’s Day, a feminist “Life in Leggings,” march for woman’s rights solidarity took place in the Trinidad and was broadcast on Twitter. All these badass ladies in Africa marching in their leggings with protest signs. It gave me hope.

I’m too disabled to be able to go to protests as I can’t be arrested and taken off my meds. But I’ll wear leggings as pants to normalize body acceptance. That’s slacktivism I can do. Twist my arm. We do what we can. As a disabled woman I can’t do much. A lot of days I can’t even leave the house. I certainly can’t work ever again. Marry. Bear children. Have a family. Have anything resembling a normal real life.

I’m not a “real” person with “real problems” as I am constantly told. I am an emaciated mentally unbalanced legging clad glamour phantasm. So reclusive, I’m practically imaginary. Haunting the Internet as it’s the only place I can exist. I’m too afraid to go outside from being raped countless times. Appalling atrocities served on an MFA platter doused with Sephora eye cream and Prozac sprinkles. It’s what’s for dinner.

Being allowed to wear something that I can both do yoga poses and walk down the street in is a form of liberation. Would still be nice to be able to walk down the street without being catcalled and fearing rape. But at least it’s not a corset hoop-skirt combo where I have to ride sidesaddle. I‘ll take what I can get, here. Women are used to oppression being loosened gradually like a waist cincher unlaced. It feels good to breathe again.

Leggings allow me to reclaim control over how people see my body. A rebuttal to people gossiping about my weight fluctuation: I’m here! This is what my body wants to be! Go fuck yourselves! The women at the march in Trinidad believed in the power and liberation of leggings enough to name their march in their honor. I believe in leggings too. Comfortable athleisure I can wear anywhere to do anything. After thirty years of never being able to fit into any jeans in Buffalo Exchange? Leggings are fashion deliverance.

The ERA Amendment introduced by suffragettes in the early 1920s still hasn’t passed yet. Leggings as pants are not enough to deliver the liberation women may forever be striving for. Fashion progress is itty bitty baby steps. But they’re spandex steps I’d like to take. The feminist act is not what I wear, but my choice to reclaim how I am seen. Sinewed bones but mine alone.

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Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate (Future Fiction London: 2009), Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin: Extrapolations on Los Angeles (valeveil: 2009) and the chapbook G(u)ilt (Lost Angelene, 2011). Her writing appears in 3:AM Magazine, Fanzine, Entropy, Angel’s Flight Literary West, HTMLGiant, Queer Mental Health and elsewhere. Anthologies: Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing From California, Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 1, 2011-2012, Off the Rocks Volume #16: An Anthology of GLBT Writing and elsewhere. CalArts MFA. Website: andreaklambert.com. Twitter: @AndreaLamber.

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