The first time I remember becoming acutely aware of how I was being perceived was around age 13 or 14. This was in the late 2000s, before Instagram, or even iPhones, but that doesn’t mean an imaginary camera lens wasn’t zooming in on young girls constantly. Body hair needed to be shaved off completely before it had even arrived. Breasts needed to be perky and round. Stomachs had to be pancake flat. This, we were taught, was how men liked it. And if we weren’t appealing to men, then what was the point of us, really?
All of the above sounds almost archaic and obvious now. We’re living in the post-Tumblr era of pink-dyed armpit hair and fast fashion brands espousing 'body positivity.' Beauty standards have – in some ways, although not completely – become a more prominent conversation. Back then though, this wasn’t something teenagers spoke about much or made videos about on TikTok. We just shared handfuls of sunflower seeds for lunch, hoping we would look like Kate Moss eventually.
This idea of how I 'should' look – based on what might be attractive to men – seeped into my style too. I’ve never been particularly comfortable in tight dresses and skirts, but that was all I wore from around 2007 to 2013. I shoved my legs into neon fishnets (this was the era of Golden Skans) and straightened my hair. I wore heels and foundation and big clumpy mascara. There is nothing wrong with this way of dressing, obviously – I love femininity, in its endless, sexy iterations, and plenty of people find joy in femme looks – but it rarely felt right on my body back then. I often felt as though I were play-acting; pretending that I, too, could be a good 'straight' woman.
I never 'officially' came out as queer. For many, sexuality and gender are a complicated, fluctuating thing – mine feels evolving and impossible to grasp. I just had a girlfriend one day and then drifted further and further away from the heterosexual lifestyle. I never wanted to call myself gay because I’ve occasionally been attracted to men, too, and gender doesn’t matter to me greatly. But it was women I was in love with, women whose opinions I cared about, women whose glance I most wanted to catch. And, though I barely noticed at the time, the more I leaned into my queerness, the more the queer gaze began bleeding into my fashion choices also.
I go into this in detail in my upcoming book, All The Things She Said, but what sits at the heart of queer style is, I think, authenticity. It’s about power, autonomy, movement, freedom. It’s about what feels right on your body and the natural confidence that can come from that (there’s a reason so many lesbians have swagger). For me, that meant DIY haircuts and customised jeans. It meant wearing vests and wide-legged trousers to the club because that’s what I like. It meant showing up to formal events in a shirt and suit, rather than awkwardly forcing myself into a dress. Who cares if I am a walking man repellent? They simply aren’t my target audience.
Coming out as queer never meant that I ditched femininity entirely (why would it?). I like to experiment with femme looks sometimes. But the point is: I dress for me now (or other queers). Style tastes differently once you take the male gaze out of the equation. Wearing clothes that show off my body doesn’t feel so stifling, for example. Neither does experimenting with makeup or wearing sky-high heels.
A lot of lesbian and bi people told me a similar thing while I was researching for my book. “Now I know that I’m not dressing up to please men, I wear make-up or dresses and feel comfortable with it,” one woman told me. “I felt more comfortable picking clothes that I actually liked rather than what people thought I should wear,” said another.
I’d like to say that I’ve shaken off all that I internalised as a teenage girl growing up in the 2000s – but of course, I haven’t. Western, cisnormative beauty standards have a sneaky way of creeping up on so many, and constantly online having in many ways exacerbated those pressures. Plus, in my late 20s, I’m older than I was back then, which comes with its own set of issues about how I 'should' or 'shouldn’t' dress.
Mostly though, I care so much less about what anyone thinks – unless you’re another queer, that is, in which case I am always open to style tips.
All The Things She Said, Daisy’s debut book, is out 3 June, via Hodder & Stougton.
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