Lucia Rhiannon Harrison
14 November 2022

Part of the process of “Girling” people, or socializing people as girls, is training them through the male gaze. There is a constant pressure to appear a certain way, to care about appearing a certain way, to make yourself desirable that governs the way we think about ourselves. To be socialized as a girl is to learn to understand yourself through the eyes of someone else. In an attempt to control others’ perception of you, we curate an outfit or an image attempting to gain a sense of control over how we are understood through the male gaze. To present oneself in a certain way is to try to control the way others see you. So much of the way the person socialized as a girl understands themselves is related to the male gaze. The male gaze is the standard that one is supposed to compare themselves to and understand themselves in relation to.

For example, the act of getting dressed in the morning is a performance. I go through the motions of my morning routine: I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on makeup, and pick an outfit. I decide first on who I want to be for the day, then I try to match clothing and makeup to that identity. Every outfit, every “performance” is another creation of myself, I am made each day through these enactions of some version of myself.

There is also an emotional dimension to dressing; I try to dress in a way that makes me feel good. My emotions are deeply attached to my clothing, I want my emotions to match the way I am dressed.  If I am feeling gloomy, my outfit looks gloomy, and I am understood by others as feeling gloomy, then my emotions are in accord with my dress. The outfit is a performance, it is something that I am enacting based on mood, in an attempt to control some sliver of my perception; while gender is performative it lacks an “I” doing it, it looms over me and I exist within it.

The performance can also become an experimentation and subversion of gender, to draw attention to the way that we do not exist solely on one side of the binary. Of course, this attempt will always be limited by the perception of others and the way that gender is written onto us. Experimenting with clothing typically associated with one’s gender while subverting the norms associated with the gender binary is part of daily performance. This is an attempt to exist outside of the binary, to feel embodied, to explore the area between this binary.

The performance of clothing and style allows for the person socialized as a girl to feel embodied. In a constant search for an identity outside of the gaze of others, and to perform this identity through clothing, one finds a break from the mental turmoil surrounding one’s search for selfhood. It is through this performance that a sense of self develops - not as a static or constant thing, but as an amalgamation of everything that society imprints onto us: The self exists within the gray areas, lingering between binaries.