This is a contribution for the May 2013 Carnival of Aces: Appearances.
In both Taiwan and the United States, young women are expected to dress up and look nice and appealing, whereas young men are only expected to dress for comfort and cleanliness (and sometimes not even cleanliness).
As I’ve discussed before, I do ‘femme’ up my appearance for work, but generally participate in fashion like a young man rather than a young woman – I dress for comfort and cleanliness, not for attractiveness.
I even approach the special occasions when I do want to increase my visual appeal more like a man than a woman. Women are allowed to look like they are trying to look more attractive, while men have to look more attractive WITHOUT looking like they are trying.
Take make-up for example. It’s OK if a woman looks like she’s using make-up to improve her appearance, but it’s not OK for a man to look like he’s using make-up to improve his appearance. Therefore, a man has to be much more careful and subtle in his use of make-up.
When I wear make-up, I approach it like a man, even though I know that, as a woman, I am socially allowed to apply make-up more bluntly. I used to say that it was because I enjoyed the challenge of improving my appearance without the make-up being obvious … but that’s not the truth. The truth is that I don’t want people to think that I am using make-up to improve my appearance. Just like a man.
I think this because I am asexual.
In both Taiwanese and US society, it’s men’s job to initiate sexual encounters, and it’s women’s job to be as sexually appealing as possible so they can attract as wide a set of men as possible. I, however, don’t want to get sexual offers from anybody. Therefore, I do not want people to think I am putting effort into increasing my visual appeal, even when that is exactly what I’m doing.
Even when I deliberately make my appearance more feminine for work, my target is to look more feminine, not more attractive. Unfortunately, that’s considered a bit of a contradiction since part of being feminine in the mainstream sense is trying to look attractive, so I often just happen to be more ‘attractive’ just by looking more feminine, but that’s not intentional.
This, by the way, is mostly subconscious for me. I don’t go out thinking ‘I am going to approach fashion more like a young man than a young woman’. It just comes naturally to me. Actually making my appearance look feminine, or deliberately trying to increase my visual appeal, is what requires a deliberate choice on my part. And I think it comes naturally because that is how my asexuality expresses itself.