Cute - Local Wolves


I got my first retail job in 2021, post pandemic, post pretending to care until able bodied people get tired and want their usual comforts and means of occupational consumerism back. It was the first time I had a job with no uniform, i.e. it mattered what I wore to work. Not only in the commercial sense of everything in the store being available for purchase but in a bonding way, in which the highest compliment I could be paid was that my outfit was “cute” that day, which quickly became a game of how many cute points I could collect over the course of a week. It was addicting just like any other form of validation. I planned my outfit for the next day as soon as I put today’s on. 

It was the first experience I had being surrounded by women having interests that were stereotypically feminine. And I loved it. It was intoxicating, coordinating every inch of our body with every other inch, not one item a single shade of blue off, everything perfectly and scientifically put together according to the color wheel and other preferences the human eye is physically capable of. There were formulas and rubrics and, yet, the ritual was still beautifully creative and expressional. It was a newfound freeness from the masculine negging I experienced from my first two relationships with men. It wasn’t a shallow interest, it was cute, and the women around me understood what it took to get there and that it really was hard work. I felt pretty for the first time, and I felt accepted. The missing link to true female friendships was cuteness. 

As a child, I loved cute things. The Littlest Pet Shop, Build a Bear, tea sets, I had hot pink overalls and my mom put my hair up in pigtails. The Hello Kitty store was my personal heaven. 

At nine years old came the dreaded “awareness of femininity.” I wanted to try makeup, I wanted to shop at Forever 21, I didn’t want to wear underwear with the days of the week on them anymore. I was enthralled with makeup gurus on Youtube. I felt like my life depended on owning the Naked by Urban Decay palette. My mom bought me a make up set from Claire’s, that was an all-in-one set of eyeshadow, lip gloss, mascara, and eyeliner in a convenient little Pandora’s box of insecurity and shame. It took three separate trips to the mall to wear her down to buy it for me, and she told me not to tell my dad, who often gave me the speech that I should never get into make up, I don’t need it, and I’m too young for it. My parents got into a tiff after he found out that I got it, mostly because I was so excited that I wanted to tell him, so I had not-so-subtly left it out where he could see it so he could ask me about it. 

From that point on, I swore off femininity, especially as my father further denounced it as I moved into my teenage years. In middle school, in my advanced math class, my math teacher, who had a young daughter, told us to look around at our classmates, and notice that out of 25 students, there were four girls. I thought to myself, “Does it matter? I’m not really a girl like that.” My friends in high school weren’t ones that cared so much about their clothes, we didn’t really have money after all. A boy in high school once told me I wore “weird clothes” because I didn’t don the uniform of $98 Lululemon leggings and Brandy Melville tank tops. This was the ultimate performance of femininity at the time, but unfortunately for me, I didn’t like to wear leggings unless I had to during dance rehearsals, and I was an Aquarian teenage girl with an individuality complex. I was an awkward girl at this point, I wasn’t popular, I didn’t feel sexy like I thought I ought to, I didn’t wear a bra, I didn’t know how to perform. My femininity wasn’t helped by the fact my best friend was exploring gender identity, mostly in secret, but sometimes in public, in the clothes they felt comfortable in. I looked up to them most, and felt connected in the fact that we both found discomfort in the one-size-fits-all teenage girl, who was a) white b) wealthy and c) wore Lace-Underwire-Victoria’s-Secret-Triple-Your-Cup-Size-Please-Look-At-Me-Push-Up-Bras. Despite that, I fell for it. That same night, I went online and bought a tight fitting shirt and a bra with a gift card I got for Christmas.

Until I had a crush on a (different) boy in my freshman English class. Everything I had established crumbled. Following my early childhood observations of marriage, I decided I never wanted to get married. My mom repeated this mantra to me from age 12 on. I met this boy and it all went out the window, my Aquarian individuality complex, my planned abstinence from marriage, my rejection of the cookie cutter teenage femininity. I needed to do it all. I needed to fit into the mold. How white and wealthy could I get and how fast? How many bras does a girl need to buy? 

From age 18-19, the neo-feminism phase came. I had one night stand after one night stand, men were disposable to me once they made me feel wanted. I cherished the notches on my bedpost, it was feminist of me, it was anti-Christian morality, I thought I was the smartest girl in the world, as 18 year old girls do. This is what it’s like to be a young woman. In fact, I felt like I was making up for the lost time I spent in high school not spent hooking up with boys from my math class. 

This was not cute. I didn’t want to be cute. I wanted boys to tell me I was a slut so that I might have the chance to tell them that the word “slut” is empowering to me so the joke is on them. Cute was girlish, I was a woman now, I was at the legal age of consent, I had two years of being a licensed driver under my belt, and only two more years until I reached my second decade of life. I figured life out already, now it’s time to live it.

The relative “cuteness” of something is the barometer for proximity to traditional femininity. It becomes the soulless brain rot of the giant yellow circle at the MoMa by an anonymous “pain-fueled” artist that made $4 million off the giant green circle last week. The neo feminist isn’t cute, but she’s cute and she loves it. She isn’t cute for men, she doesn’t have sex with men, for men. Wait, so she is cute, isn’t she? She’s just having sex with men, isn’t she? She would tell you otherwise, that embodying the objectified image of femininity is a protest to femininity itself, somehow. It’s the woman’s choice, somehow. There is a reason that the sex positivity movements in the 1960s went off without a hitch, they still benefited the men women had sex with. The men in the boardrooms aren’t selling you products that force you into the roles that they want you in, they didn’t manufacture every single one of your insecurities for the purpose of selling you the latest and greatest of pubic hair waxing technology. Are they? What does your personal preference mean, what’s so personal about it? You dress “cute” because you want to, but who made up that standard of “cuteness”? How much of that standard is motivated by what is created in the first place? What choices do you have when all you can do is buy what has already been conceptualized, drafted, created and sold to you? 

It’s a tale as old as time, one that defines womanhood itself in an industrialized, capitalist state. Corporations and media have always been fabricating trends and insecurities, one day they ask you: “Are you sad that you don’t have a purple sweater that glimmers like the sea at night, and reflects others back to themselves, created to be a perfect sounding board for their own thoughts? People will look at you and feel just like they’re talking to themselves!” Well I never wanted to be a voiceless, faceless mirror for others, but am I sad that I don’t have a purple sweater that glimmers like the sea at night? One that reflects others back to themselves to create a perfect sounding board for their own thoughts and makes people look at me and feel like they’re just talking to themselves? 

Everything I did, I wanted, I consumed, was in accordance with a male figure in my life, whether it was to reject cuteness, or to force myself into it. My ultimate reaction was always to consume, consume until I consumed myself, until I became the big green circle that sold for $4 million last week. I’m worth $4 million though, in my blandness and palatability. I’m perfect. I’ve out-consumed every other consumer, I beat the suppliers at their own game, didn’t I? But I feel trapped in a cage of neon signs, I’m stuck, and everyone is staring at me like an animal. I can’t raise my arms in these shirts, or take steps in my full stride in these skirts. I’m a doll with clunky joints and eyes that don’t blink, when I’m told to “sit and look pretty,” I oblige because it is all I’m capable of in these restraints. 

I’ve bought it all, and it all feels like it belongs to them. And when I looked at my room, it was an overcrowded graveyard of girls I tried to be. I couldn’t try anymore, what was I trying for? To get an expedited one way ticket to be mistreated by another man? I hit the wall. I can’t please you anymore, not if I want to survive. I obsessively and frantically threw all my clothes into trash bags and packed them into my car like I was gearing up for a cross country move. I drove down to the Goodwill in somberness, as if I was going to the mortuary to identify my own body. I needed to put them to rest.

Words & Illustration: Paige Le

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