The hunt is to be a woman of style and substance. 


Vanessa Rosales

The woman who looks back at me from the mirror is well acquainted with the meaning of contradiction. I observe her recurrently, recognize the shifts in her, (my) worldly shapes, watching as an invisible motif also shows on the mirror: the battle between being and appearing. I have lived a life made of this contradiction. Taking furious swings between self and image. Like a pendulum, like a wave.

I come from the sea. From the Caribbean, with black and white chess floors, where magenta flowers live all through the year, cascading from colonial balconies that adorn houses colored in lavender, turquoise and coral pink. Where glorious, elegant females know how to exude divinity – either by nature´s beauty or learnt artifice. Where women are predominantly defined by how they look. Perhaps this is why maritime metaphors are fitting for me. My nature can resemble a pearl hidden in a hermetic shell. I have often experienced fear, of everything, of life and its smallest things, of minor dealings with the world. The fear shuts the pearl, clawing it into isolation. But fear fades, as self-control also steers me, and the shell then glistens in its openness, and I become the luminous, timeless, ivory, well-rounded creature I can be. To be hidden or to luminously show myself, to oscillate between both is another of my primary contradictions. For if I have been frightened in the caverns on my head, I have also had the courage to live the life of an unconventional female.

Womanhood and fashion are both realms made of contradiction. Clothes are things that carry meaning. A woman acts, is, without ever losing sight of how she might look. I believe myself to be well versed in these contradictions of femininity. Fluctuating constantly between the pursuit of style – blackening my eyelashes, coloring my lips, moving my body in a gymnasium, adorning myself with the right clothes – and substance – investing my time in writing, work and a sense of self that does not entirely rely on the way I look or on the aid of external things.

The hunt is to be a woman of style and substance. As a child, I yearned to write. Before I knew how to, I filled ruled notepads with hieroglyphics. I prayed to possess the gift of female beauty. In the radical version of my adolescence, I was an ‘essentialist’, torn from the herd. Drenched in excessive solitude, deprived of beauty in shape. I cultivated my mind while the women my age, in a tropical Latin American setting learned the arts of having good bodies and tribal socialization.

Poetry was my way. But then came a furious swing. I repudiated my intellectuality; fell into a vanity that dizzied me. Ultimately, I was rejecting the writer´s path built on pain. Femininity strives on the survival mastered through the silent ways of reinvention. And my progressive aesthetic transformation began. And yet another contradiction: powerlessness for never being beautiful enough, powerful for being more than a graceful shape that ignites the appetites and pleasures of men. I have been haunted by a fury towards being female. Ardently resistant to being dominated. I am filled with musings on mastery and freedom. And yet, in love, I have learned that womanhood requires a sense of docility in what is unspeakable. I found a man who matches my femininity, who loves in me the depths of my beauties and difficulties.

When I found Chanel, a Leo as I, I feared she held a mirror to my femininity, a reflection to certain female renunciations I have feared. I found feminism as a prism through which to discern what it means to be a woman of my time. Chanel was a daughter of her time, a different time. So am I, a hypermodern woman in the unprecedented vortex of female freedom.

I adore leather jackets on my body, in my photographs and on the mirror. The metropolitan simplicity of dress in long-limbed women of the cities I was not born in and have never seen enthralls me. But I am not an urban sophisticate. I am a woman from the Caribbean, where I have succeeded as a writer and a woman of fashion – although I am neither purely a creature of fashion nor a skin deep academic. I come from where comfort crystallizes in the shape of privilege, where black skin and colorful fruit fill a visual landscape in which beauty and decay coexist. Where women are still majorly defined by their appearance, where I am unconventional for matching an acquired aesthetic grace with thoughtfulness and depth, for leading a feminine life of both self and image.

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