Real Strong & Real Beautiful: How We Overcame LGBT Stereotypes

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Thank you Dove for sponsoring this post. How do you define #RealBeauty?

Meg’s Story

I came out for the first time when I was eleven. This week I turn 30.

I’ve spent the last 19 years learning about the LGBT community and trying to decide where I fit.  I found my home in the community alongside the activists, academics, and feminists. I dedicated a lot of energy trying to appear like I belonged alongside the smart and serious women that I respected.

I thought if I was a serious queer academic, that I had to reject all things aesthetic based because the women I respected saw embracing makeup and fashion as catering to the beauty industry and the demise of feminism.

Queer women have fought for hundreds of years against the dominant narrative just to exist as we are. We created our own culture complete with art, literature, style, and yes – even identities. But somewhere over the years, the most visible members of our community have stepped to the front of the public eye and have shaped the lesbian look du jour.

Today that look is more dad hats and denim jackets. Lashes, gel manicures, and hair extensions rarely have a place in the conversation around queer women’s fashion.

I’ve always been invested in feminine aesthetics – the more girly and sparkling the better. But for a number of years, I chopped my hair and wore frumpy clothing because I didn’t want to disappoint this queer activist social group that I had built around me. Somewhere inside me, I had taken on this message that high femme was the antithesis of intellectual queer. I was ashamed to be femme. If I cared about things like fashion and makeup then I was “buying into the misogyny and the capitalist patriarchy”

As I got older, I learned some valuable lessons about identity and femme invisibility. According to Dove’s research, 74% of women believe more needs to be done to redefine the current definition of beauty to be more inclusive and, in fact, we know that 3 out of 4 gay and lesbian women believe society suggests we do not care about beauty. Femmes are the ones who have to fight to be noticed in the queer world but are given all the unwanted attention outside of our queer bubbles.

While I would never be identified as a member of the LGBT community with my long blowout and Bardot dresses, I’ve learned to use my privilege to advocate for our community in places that other members of our community may not be able to venture. Because I’m accepted in straight spaces I’m able to have conversations that others may not and I take that responsibility rather seriously. Whether that’s through writing about travel to anti-LGBT countries, speaking at conferences, or through the publicity for my book Slacktivist – my goal is to advocate for our community.

Lindsay’s Story

While Meg was coming out, I was still watching cartoons and debating my favorite cereal with my sister. I knew I was gay in middle school but I didn’t come out for another 10 years towards the end of college.

I’ve played sports my whole life. Our team workout gear morphed into my preferred style somewhere around fourth grade. In high school I was voted, “best dressed for optimum comfort” which really meant I wore sweatpants and a messy bun on my head every single day for my entire senior year.

While my natural interests were with athletics, I think somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that being athletic meant I didn’t have as much pressure to conform to traditional feminine standards of beauty. No one was surprised that the girl jock didn’t want to wear a ballgown. I know now that many gay women cannot relate to the standards of beauty and femininity that society promotes but at the time I felt very alone. I didn’t know any other gay people and certainly didn’t want to be the first in my school.

I’m from a very small town in Central Pennsylvania. Everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everyone else’s business. I’m a very shy and introverted person by nature. I have an intense desire to blend in with the crowd in all situations. I think I waited so long to cut my hair because I didn’t want to attract negative attention. Once I cut my hair I was no longer the jock girl, I was the lesbian.

For me, being gay is a very small portion of who I am. I’m a daughter, sister, and dog mom well before I’m a lesbian. For Meg – the LGBT community is in her bones – but for me, I never felt that way.

It wasn’t until I met Meg and was introduced to such a wide range of people and styles in New York City that I started to debate cutting my hair. It wasn’t so much a political statement for me as one of aesthetics. I just liked the way it looked and how it matched with my interests and personality. When I finally made the decision to cut it – I felt more like myself.

It’s been four years since the first big chop. I’ve gone back and forth between growing it out or keeping it short. Right now, short androgynous hair makes me feel the most like me. I love having a clean cut with the sides trimmed – it’s the way I feel most attractive. But maybe some day in the future I’ll feel most like me with long hair or a bun again. The beauty of expression is that it’s not permanent – I get to make my own rules.

I think I waited so long to cut my hair because I didn’t want to attract negative attention. Once I cut my hair I was no longer the jock girl, I was the lesbian.”

Kylee’s Story

The second film from Dove’s Real Beauty Productions features Kylee Howell, whose story reveals a powerful message of non-conformity, self-assurance and shedding the narrow definitions of beauty imposed on herself and other women in her community. While watching the film, Lindsay saw herself. “I’ve felt that anxiety outside of the barber shop. Pacing and trying to decide if it’ll be awkward or unsafe,” she said. Together with creative director Shonda Rhimes and an all-female crew, Dove is shifting the power of storytelling from Hollywood into the hands of real women – watch Kylee’s story and see how she empowers others to find their real beauty.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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