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January 24, 2024

Clara Baisinger-Rosen

In a TED talk entitled “The Art of Being Yourself,” speaker and CEO Caroline McHugh talks about the different facets that all contribute to our overall sense of self. There is perception, how we view ourselves, persona, how we allow others to see us, and ego, what we think of ourselves. McHugh explains that how we manage these different facets of self determines our existence in this world. The balancing act between perception, persona, and ego is what we must establish in a healthy way in order to truly be ourselves. 

For me, it’s all about persona. 

Over the last couple years, I have gone through an exploration of gender and what it means for me. Closely interlocked with this has been my experimentation with fashion. These two have become inextricably intertwined. Gender influences fashion, and in reverse, fashion influences gender. This has resulted in a strange phenomenon that I experience in which what I wear can entirely affect my mannerisms, vocal patterns, and persona as a whole. My gender expression has become akin to testing perfume fragrances- I pick and choose on a day by day basis what aspects of myself I wish to emphasize, and which I want to push down. My persona is not fixed, even as day by day it is recognizable.

But is this a problem? Is my experimentation with persona, increasingly, making me forget what I actually like, or is it simply expanding my openness to the vagueness of gender? In this article, I hope to dive into some of the personas I have occupied over the last few months as my college experience has begun. I will examine what I have learned from these personas, and what I have chosen to take with me from them. Maybe by the end of this, I will have a coalesced mega-aesthetic that encapsulates all of the forms of gender which I choose to interact with. Or maybe I will continue to exist in a constantly refracting series of prismatic personas, in which how I interact with the world entirely hinges on the pants I’ve picked for the day. 

Persona #1: Androgynous-Skater-Introspective Girl

The Style: Baggy jeans. Big T-Shirts with even bigger jackets over it. Smudged black eyeliner, bronzer near my eyes and cheekbones so I look like I’m recovering from a (quite-fashionable) illness. Lots of rings (constant among all iterations of self). Shaggy hair. Docs.

The Mannerisms: Hunched shoulders, shuffling feet. Downcast eyes. Low voice. I speak less and when I do speak, my words run together. I walk slowly and my feet rub together when I walk. When I’m standing still, I put my thumbs through the belt loops of my jeans and equally distribute my weight around my whole body. No popping knee. 

Conclusions: This persona is the default for me. It’s what I’m wearing as I write this, entirely alone. With this persona I gravitate towards masculinity, yet I am reserved in doing so, maintaining femininity in my makeup, my rings, and my hair. I keep my body entirely covered, yet strangely enough, I gravitate towards this style when I am confident. This is my purposeless persona- it serves as a stand in for when I feel no attachment to either femininity or masculinity. I am perfectly happy existing somewhere in between. I am not quite a woman as A.S.I Girl (even as the name indicates otherwise), and that is comfortable for me. Yet there’s an aimlessness to this persona, a sense that I’m not quite “committing” to either side of the spectrum. Living in between the binary can be difficult, so even if this is the default, I can not exist here for long. Call it a restlessness of gender. Be it dysphoria, discomfort, or simply distraction, the pendulum of my persona can’t stay still in the middle indefinitely.

What I Will Take With Me: The ease. 


Persona #2: SimplyMasc.

The Style: Clothes stolen from the men and taller women in my life. White Hanes tank/Muscle tank/cut up t-shirt from Goodwill. Jeans that puddle around my ankles and hang around my waist. Nike sports bra. A silver chain with a fish charm. Hair styled back, emphasizing the home-cut mullet. No makeup, ever. Jordans.

The Mannerisms: Arms crossed over the chest, simultaneously hiding my chest and emphasizing my biceps. Walk with strength, a bit of a swagger. Make direct eye contact– I’m emulating the masculine side of me and that means I must remember at all times that I now have the unspoken permission to take up all the space I want to. Low voice, but a bit faster than A.S.I, more confidence, more to say. I show my teeth when I smile, almost bare them. 

Conclusions: The jump from androgyny to masculinity, externally, is not a big one (which, in itself, is a problem that can take up an entire article on its own) but in terms of persona, the change is massive. A.S.I Girl asks not to be looked at, seeks to exist in the world quietly, while SimplyMasc takes up space. As explained in the name, through SimplyMasc I find my power in simplicity. For whatever reason, putting on the facade of unapologetic masculinity means that I can be unapologetic for a while too. Unlike A.S.I, with SimplyMasc I exist to prove a point. What that point is remains to be seen. 

What I Will Take With Me: The confidence, and the swagger.  


Persona #3: Dark eyes-Dark heart-Femme (DED-heart Femme)

The Style: Fishnets. A short dress/skirt/most cropped of crop tops. Platform Steve Madden boots (the soles are falling apart because they’re not supposed to be walked on for 12 hours straight). Blush, bronzer, mascara, dark eyeliner, plum lipstick. Hair perfectly curling over my shoulders. Rings, bracelet, red beaded necklace, earrings that touch my shoulders. 

The Mannerisms: I can not smile, not ever. I keep my eyes on my cell phone and my cell phone stuck to Spotify. Shoulders set back and steps long. Keep my head high and my eyes narrowed. I attempt to look at the world through the cynicism that the black clothes I wear imply. I move fluidly, and try not to stop for anything.  

Conclusions: I receive power in a different way through my expressions of femininity (as opposed to SimplyMasc’s overt strength), but nevertheless the power exists. There is something subtle about the way in which DED-heart Fem allows me to get in touch with the femininity that I usually can’t access, a sort of unapologetic womanhood, an ass-kicking, aggressively beautiful, inaccessible but complex beauty which I’ve only seen in the most fully self realized of girls around me. There’s a maximalism to DED-heart Fem which reflects what I admire most about those who have committed to this persona. There’s so much going on, but it all fits together. To dress this kind of feminine is to constantly be in tune with the connection between body and clothing and the exterior world. Intimidating but not terrifying, dark but not opaque. I am not DED-heart Fem often, but when I am, I am someone entirely different. Perhaps that’s femininity as a whole for me. 

What I Will Take With Me: The color palette, and the look in my eye.


Persona #4: PRETTY.

The Style: Flowery skirts, delicate white tops. Birkenstocks and knit socks in stripes every color of the rainbow. Sparkles and flowers painted on my cheeks and collarbones. Lip gloss. Just a bit of mascara.

The Mannerisms: None. Quiet and nice. Small movements. To be PRETTY. is to be intentionally unremarkable. Even more unremarkable than A.S.I Girl. 

Conclusions: Femininity can serve as an escape, or it can be even more of a trap. PRETTY. comes when there is nothing left in my closet. It is a rifling-in-drawers, putting-on-what-I-bought-in-high-school persona. PRETTY. is simple femininity, yet unlike SimplyMasc, this simplicity brings complete absence of uniqueness. Unlike other personas, PRETTY. is accidental. I prove no point, and feel discomfort too. So why do I dress this way? Perhaps it is the manifestation of my past gender expression which I hold onto. PRETTY. is sentimental, the remnants of bygone quarantine-era cottagecore aesthetics and pushes towards a more pastel version of the world. There’s something interesting about looking in the mirror and seeing who you were three years ago. It’s a nostalgia of persona that entirely defies modern trends and personal preferences. Even if it’s uncomfortable, it’s cathartic, in terms of both self expression and clothing. My past is still with me, and the clothes of the PRETTY. persona are the softest.

What I Will Take With Me: A childlike experimentation. 

So what are we left with? Clarity, or simply more confusion? How can I reconcile the confidence of masculinity with the power of dark femininity, or the quiet ease of androgyny with the youthful strangeness of gentle girlhood? If androgyny is my baseline, does that mean both my masculine and feminine presentations count as drag? I am, after all, exaggerating my femininity and masculinity. It may be a generous thing to define that as drag, but I’m a generous person. 

It seems like there are more questions than answers. But maybe that’s the point. 

The relationship between gender and fashion has become increasingly stratified as sexuality is talked about more openly through social mediums. Until now, I’ve followed this norm. To express masculinity → SimplyMasc. Femininity → DED-Heart Fem. PRETTY. and A.S.I-Girl exist in between. Perhaps the dissonance between the mannerisms of them all can serve as a reminder to me that to feel fully myself, I can give myself the grace to blend personas with the abandon of mixing finger paints. Maybe my confusion of gender comes because I thought I had to pick just one. Maybe, the answer is to just be everything at the same time. 

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