There is a lot that every individual – artist or not, trans, straight, gay, bi, or cis – can learn from the self expression of others. We look to the way others use art and style for inspiration in portraying our inner selves to the outer world. Those who are more radical and daring in their style and beauty often give us the courage to step out of our comfort zone.
Take Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian – a non-binary, trans, South Asian, poetry duo known for their Trans and Gender activism as well as their daring style and beauty influenced by their gender identities and cultural heritage. Though W&M students may not choose to wear neon lipstick every day – we hope that their fierce boldness serves as inspiration to wear that outfit that’s been hanging in your closet, admired but unworn. Here are five lessons we learned from Alok and Janani that remind us to be unafraid to use style and beauty as an artistic outlet.
For more of their poetry, check out their website, and for a look into their day to day activism, perspectives, and style, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages.
1. Embrace your body – Alok and Janani’s all-encompassing radical self-acceptance starts with their bodies.
“Promise me that I don’t have to modify my body to matter.” – Transmisogyny
No one else, including the media and fashion industry, determines the worth of your beauty or how you portray yourself.
2. Embrace the strange, the weird, & express yourself without shame and without fear of others’ labels.
“Transforming this heavy, heavy world into beauty, ugly, meaning, joy and comedy demands a commitment to strangeness. Making space for the strange and terrified parts of ourselves that are so often discarded from public space is exactly the goal of so much of our work.”
3. Embrace what makeup means to you & not what society tells you it should mean.
“Stop telling trans women & trans feminine people that we ‘wear too much makeup,’ ‘look like caricatures,’ and that we ‘shouldn’t do so much,’ if we want to be ‘taken seriously’ or ‘pass.’ This is transmisogyny. In our cisheteropatriarchal society we’re taught that femininity is funny, that femininity is weakness, that femininity is always ‘excessive,’ ‘unprofessional,’ ‘disrespectful,’ and that the default body is already always masculine… What is so threatening and so destabilizing about seeing people who celebrate, affirm, and fight like hell for femininity?”
Don’t let society tell you don’t “look pretty” when you don’t wear makeup, and don’t let society tell you that you’re “fake” when you do.
4. Push past the limitations that people set on using beauty and style as self expression, and use it in your own way.
Huffington Post (James Michael Nichols): “Having been described as living art installations, poets, comics, activists, organizers and a plethora of other identifiers, Dark Matter prefers to not define themselves by relying on these terms.”
Alok: “For me, I think we’re doing fashion, we’re doing comedy, political speeches, public speaking, we’re doing poetry, oral tradition, history telling. I think of it more as kind of a collage but I think the best word that we have to describe what we’re doing is performance art.”
5. All of us have insecurities we have to grapple with, but learning to embrace these features is more powerful than simply erasing them.
“Promise me that I will matter if I don’t shave.
…. Promise me that you see the femme in my hairy body.” – Transmisogyny
Alok used to struggle with their body hair and was told it conflicted with their femininity, but now they are working towards seeing their hair as just another aspect of themselves that doesn’t necessarily equate with masculinity or reduce femininity. Love every aspect of your body, shaven or unshaven.
Written by Ellen Penn Berry & Laura MacDonald