I was a very feminine little girl, all princesses and bows, refusing to remove my patent leather shoes for bath time. I coddled my dolls, dressed and nursed them, kissed them goodnight before bed. I loved dresses, especially pink dresses. Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Bright decorated my room. I was, to say the least, as girly as they come.
But as I entered adolescence, something shifted–at least externally. I went to a conservative college prep high school just outside of New York City in the mid to late 90s, where the focus was on academics and sports. The girls weren’t a fussy bunch, preferring hassle-free mornings to blow-outs and foundation. The elective uniforms were simple: used jeans, boots, J.CREW crewneck sweaters, and peacoats. I felt relieved, I think, unburdened. I had shown up on the first day of freshman year with straightened hair and a carefully selected outfit. After a few weeks, I pushed my dresses and skirts to the back of the closet, settling into the new ensemble.
As I grew older, I maintained this sensibility, updating my wardrobe to match my age and evolving taste, but always with an eye on minimalism, on function and comfort. It never occurred to me to be otherwise, despite my early years. But when I moved to Los Angeles, I found myself bombarded with antiquated notions of femininity. Of course, it didn’t help that I worked in entertainment. Bosses hinted (not so subtly) that I should wear makeup and stilettos. They claimed that I wasn’t dressing to my advantage. I developed a complex. At 25, for the first time in my life, I questioned the way I presented myself. I was experiencing a reversal of high school. I dyed my hair blond (I am brunette). I bought heels and lipstick.
Suddenly, others began complementing me. It terrified me. I wasn’t used to this sort of attention. Ironically, I felt less attractive than I ever had. Who was I doing this for? And why was I doing it? What had happened to the little girl who loved dress up? Surely, she would have loved this liberation of self. Was I no longer feminine? Or had that simply been a phase I grew out of? And what was femininity, anyway? Could it really be boiled down to clothing? Or had I conflated the two, caging myself unnecessarily? These questions circled in my head. No longer keen simply to rebel, I sought an explanation of myself that rang true, one that gave me definition.
It took me years to accept what had become second nature to me as a teenager: that I feel the most beautiful, the most myself when I am the most bare, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt or a loose fitting dress, the slightest hint of makeup on my face, my hair disheveled and air dried. It’s my most authentic self-expression. Everything else, when it’s cloaking my body, feels inhibiting, suffocating.
Radiance cannot be bought or sold. It’s something deeper, some expression of one’s core truth. For some, dressing up is an honest representation of their creativity, a sublime revelation. For others, like myself, beauty is mostly found in the raw. Others exist somewhere in between, flitting between styles to suit their current mood.
In astrology, this can be seen in one’s Venus (by sign, house, and aspect), the planet that rules beauty, style, and attraction. This August, Venus will retrograde in Leo, asking us all to reexamine our relationship to these matters. Leo is often associated with luxury, as it’s regal, demanding the very best for itself. But Leo also rules the heart. It’s generous with a spirit highlighted for all to see.
As I’ve settled into my 30s and into my skin, I have come to embrace the complexity inherent in womanhood. No longer trying to self-identify with one bracket, I find myself marveling at the sheer spectrum that exists. I continue to release other people’s expectations. It’s an ongoing process, yes, but what matters to me now, I’ve realized, is the process of self-actualization, of coming into myself. After all, what is more beautiful than a woman owning herself? Isn’t that one of the reasons why we’re here—to discover our own beauty and to share it with the world?