Still Playing Dress-Up

Merrill - Birmingham, Alabama
Entered on May 11, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

If you’ve ever seen a small girl at the supermarket wearing a tutu and a tiara over her clothes, then you know exactly what I was like as a child. On a daily basis, I would morph into a mermaid, a ballerina, and a princess, all before lunchtime. Our family albums and boxes of photos are filled with pictures of me, prancing around in my mini get-ups like a wobbly supermodel. Frankly, things haven’t changed much since my tulle-and-rhinestone days. I still spend way too much time getting myself cute for a trip to the supermarket, but thankfully my tastes have matured. Even now, as a seventeen-year-old living in the microcosm that is high school, I believe in dressing up.

I look at getting dressed as a small opportunity for artistic expression every day, and, true to my place in womankind, I love the way I feel in heels and a dress—more confident, attractive, and much taller than my diminutive five foot two. Not only do I enjoy the aesthetic aspects of dressing up, but I feel like myself in dressier clothes. Corny as it may sound, I do believe that I am representing on the outside who I am on the inside. In fact, many items in my closet feel like extensions of my own identity, like the funky yellow beads I bought at a thrift store for practically nothing, or my tunic that contains almost every color in the rainbow. These pieces by no means define me, but they affirm my self-confidence and my love of beautiful, unique objects.

Lately, dressing up for me has become wrapped up in the question of identity more than ever. I have pursued musical theater for the past two years by going to drama camps and participating in school productions. And once more I am ever the chameleon, morphing into a lady from turn-of-the-century New Jersey, a hip-hop dancer, and a Puerto Rican girl in 1950’s

New York City. Dressing as someone completely different onstage connects me with that character’s feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and motivations. This makes dressing up not just a self-centered experience but one to use for relating to the people around me. Swishing that taffeta-laden skirt as a puertorriqueña allowed me to forget myself and channel a culture—indeed, a person—completely alien to me. As a child, I think I was constantly dressing up not only because I loved it but also because I wanted to find myself. But now that I have found my identity, I have begun to use dressing up to find how I can identify with others. It’s true what they say: walking around in someone else’s shoes actually can give you a kind of enlightenment, and I’ve also found that walking in your own shoes can do the same—even when my feet do start to hurt.