I identify heavily as an emotional creature. It’s been a long process of embracing the fact that I constantly live with big feels, and that sometimes I can’t control the way my body expresses them (like literally any time I’m tired). Getting comfortable with this has been an ongoing and radical act for my sense of self and sense of worth. Living in a patriarchal society that not only devalues intense emotional expression, but actively and often violently represses it, means that coming to terms with big feels is even more complex than it would be on its own. My body is already exhausted when I need to cry for no singular reason on a regular basis - add on the feelings of guilt, confusion, and frustration at not being able to easily articulate why I need to cry and you’ve got the very normal experience of being an emotional creature within the patriarchy.
I’m also a non-binary queer femme who passes as a cis woman, so that doesn’t really help because it makes my expressions of emotion, particularly “negative” ones like grief/anger/frustration, even easier for the “rational” patriarchy to dismiss: My anger at being talked over for the umpteenth time by a cis male partner isn’t legitimate, I’m just bleeding and so my hormones are making me act out. My sudden sobbing at a commercial featuring meaningful interactions between strangers isn’t tied into frustration at how isolating our society is, it’s just me being overly sensitive. The fact that I get physically ill when my anxiety and emotional exhaustion reach a very specific boiling point has nothing to do with the fact that our society on a wider scale does not encourage or truly value the importance of taking care of ourselves, which by extension gives us the capacity to care for others. No, I’m just weird.
So what does this have to do with lingerie?
Well, the answer is simultaneously everything and nothing. If we look at lingerie exclusively through the lens of the capitalist patriarchy, its sole purpose is to take (cis, able bodied, young, high femme) women’s bodies and make them objects of desire for (cis, able bodied, slightly older than young, toxically masculine) men. But what if we fucked with all of that? What if we used lingerie as a method of radical self-love and radical self-care and reclaiming our bodies and the space we take up and how we demand ethical treatment for ourselves and other humans and the planet at large? What if we completely shifted the idea of lingerie to become something solely about ourselves and our own definitions of intimate beauty, rather than something that is more frequently framed as being an object that creates another object (us) for external pleasure and validation?
A lot of this demands internal work - becoming comfortable with our own bodies, using lingerie as a way to get there, and by extension to become accepting of and reclaim the space our emotions have in our lives and our society. But there’s an additional aspect of external work, of choosing what we, quite literally, put on our bodies, that can help change the way we view ourselves and the role lingerie plays in our lives: How much easier is it to feel sexy when wearing lingerie made by hands that were paid a living wage? How much more do we value an item of clothing that came with a little handwritten note saying thank you, from a maker who gets excited about seeing our images, who makes a custom size to fit our custom body? How radical is it to disrupt capitalist patriarchy by buying something as symbolic as lingerie from a small business that tries to change the world rather than from a big department store run by a faceless corporation?
Living in a capitalist society is gross in pretty much every way possible when you start to really look at it. It’s also ironically incredibly fragile and easy to disrupt. Much like toxic masculinity, a massive root of the aggression inherent in defending this system of oppression is the fact that its hold is so, so tenuous. It’s a house of cards - a big one, but we just need to blow hard enough to bring it toppling down. Yes, that toppling will probably take generations. None of this work is fast or easy. But capitalism’s greatest tool of oppression, money, is also its greatest weakness. All we have to do to completely destroy it is to start redirecting that particular resource to others who share our values.
When you buy lingerie from a fast fashion store, your money goes primarily to a tiny handful of executives at the top, and very little goes to the actual makers and suppliers. Profit is the most important element, resulting in companies that care little about their environmental impact or on the everyday wellness of their employees if there is money to be had on the backs of either. Fast fashion these days is somehow just as expensive, or nearly as expensive, and sometimes even more expensive, than its slow fashion alternatives.
When you take that money and instead buy lingerie from an independent maker, it’s so much easier to track all the sources that are important: Does that person treat themself/their employees well? Where do they get their fabric? What do they do with the remnants? Do they value their work and truly care about their customers? What do they do to give back to their community? You can actually ask an indie maker these questions. There’s no faceless corporation behind glossy images. More likely, you’ll have a person who loves what they do, and has a couple of sweet friends who model for them, and who is excited to talk about why they do what they do and the reasons behind their decisions.
In the same way that capitalism tries to dictate what “value” means, patriarchy tries to convince us that our real, perfectly imperfect bodies are “lesser than” an impossible, unreal standard. Learning to love your body in a world that is structured around telling you what’s wrong with it is fucking impossible some days. In particular, femme/female/non-binary bodies are told they have no place and should take up as little space as possible. There are entire industries built around tearing apart our self-worth and making us hate ourselves to the point of actual danger to our lives. It’s exhausting to have a body on many days.
So how do we redefine what it is to have a body? How do we hold the way we treat our own bodies to the same standard we expect companies to treat their employees? How do we redefine sex, beauty, passion, desire, so that they are free from trauma for all of us and can belong to each of us on our own terms? Wearing lingerie - something that is imbued with the power of sex, of eroticism - and wearing it for yourself and yourself alone is a radical act. Lingerie doesn’t have to be the stereotypical black lace either. For me, it absolutely is that. But maybe lingerie for you means wearing super comfy white cotton boxers, or an undershirt instead of a bra, or consciously choosing to not wear underwear of any sort because, hey, it’s more comfortable for you that way.
Wearing black lace every single day is like wearing armour to me. No matter how shitty I feel, how anxious or jealous or self-pitying I am, how sick or exhausted I might be, knowing that I am wearing something that makes me feel good right next to my skin is a source of courage. Knowing that I get to control who else sees it or doesn’t see it is a way to reclaim my bodily autonomy in a world that wants me to believe that my body does not belong to me. Wearing black lace, putting on lipstick, wearing heels and fistfuls of rings that could easily double as actual weapons - this is how I perform my gender. This is how I physically embrace my femme, my soft, my emotional creature’s flesh-and-bone shell. This is how I practice at being brave and staying vulnerable and keeping my heart open while I take up space in the world.
Bravery is embracing the big emotions and learning how to dance with them instead of fighting against them. Bravery is standing up to those huge and dizzying systems of oppression, and knowing when to draw the line for your own capacity in any given moment and how to replenish yourself in a healthy way so that you can continue to stand on a long-term basis. Bravery is creating deep and meaningful connections with others when we are taught to focus only on ourselves and what we want in any given moment, damn the consequences. Bravery is taking a photo of yourself wearing something that makes you feel fucking beautiful and sharing it with the world, is taking up space where you’re told to shrink to nothing, is embracing all those “flaws” and whispering “thank you” to each and every one of them even while you cry and shake. Bravery is telling yourself that you have worth when you don’t believe it until you’ve said it enough times to believe it more often than not, and then continuing to remind yourself of your worth. Because you, my dear, you are so worthy. every single cell of your body and piece of your soul.
What does lingerie look like for you?
*Photos by ash alberg unless otherwise noted