I’m never knowingly overdressed, or underdressed, or really give that sort of thing much thought. I just get up and get mostly dressed, for perching at my kitchen table to write, dash out to nursery or for a pint of milk, and pop my one suit jacket on if I’m going to a meeting. If it’s not screwed up in a ball at the top of the stairs, covered in flour, as it is at the moment. I’ve worn the same pair of battered, filthy Magnum boots every day for a good few years now, and they’re starting to fall apart a bit. One of the zips is bust – but I wear them rakishly undone anyway – the laces are frayed, there’s huge scuff marks around the sides of them from falling down the stairs at Fenchurch Street station but they’re my day boots, my walking boots, my running boots, my work boots, my kitchen boots; I’ve been from the food bank to the Fortnum and Mason awards in them, and I’ll wear them until they fall to pieces. I have a pair of high heels for ‘occasions’, that I have to be helped into, and a pair of very nice loafers left behind from a photo shoot a few months ago, and that’s about all the footwear choices I could possibly need.
Last week, standing in a t-shirt in the pouring rain outside my son’s nursery, rather than bemoaning my lack of coat in my dash out of the front door with two toddlers, lunch boxes, scooters, school bags and a precarious cup of ‘car coffee’ in my hand, I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d had the foresight to clamber the stairs and slip what my German friend refers to as a ‘bustenholden’ under the t-shirt I had slept in the night before. I might have been soaked to the skin, but at least I narrowly avoided a nipple drama at the school gates. Had it been a day or so earlier, I might not have been so lucky.
One of the things I was asked to write about for this article, was my ‘beauty regime’. I laughed. I do as my father did before me, and wash my face with warm water and a flannel. I have lots of gorgeous face products stashed under the sink, bought for me by well-meaning friends and relatives, so every now and again I go all out and cleanse, tone, moisturise, marvel at how bright and well I look, and forget to do it again for another month. I have my hair cut when it gets a bit unkempt, or maybe the week after, or the week after that. If I’m going ‘out out’, I poke at my eyelashes with a bit of mascara and some incompetence. I’ve sat in enough makeup chairs by now to be able to carefully imitate the eyeliner along my top lashes that the professionals do to make me look awake and alive at silly hours in the morning, and that’s about it.
When I first bobbed into the public eye, as a single mother struggling to feed my son, it was for an article in the Daily Mirror, Christmas 2012. I ironed my nicest blouse and cardigan from days gone by, brushed my hair, and tried to look clean and tidy and respectable, because a lady was coming to take my photo for the newspaper. The backlash was surprising – according to some online commenters, my nicest blouse didn’t look ‘poor enough’. One commenter claimed my shirt was from Whistles (when in fact it was a Primark special).
So, I gave up trying to look nice for the photographers, and decided to just look like myself. Slightly unkempt, baggy holey jumpers, ripped jeans, men’s shirts, hair on end, and not an iron or mascara wand in sight. I felt better, but still the comments came. I got ‘clearly not starving’ jibes about my weight, offset against ‘she looks anorexic, her meals can’t be that healthy’. I was told I was ‘only in the papers for being gorgeous’, again backhanded by ‘she’s such a f***ing dog…’ I’ve been called a ‘tranny’ and ‘damaging to feminism’ for having ‘a boys name’, and most memorably, a Norwegian journalist advised me outside Parliament to ‘court the tabloid press because you have a good body, their readers will love you’. I gave a wry smile and a no thank you, not quite sure that painting anti-Government slogans on my bare breasts would get me taken any more seriously than presenting a petition fully dressed would – and moved away.
Over the past year, despite the best efforts of a small percentage of the commenting public, I’ve learned to love my body resolutely. It’s soft and curvy around the edges, because it’s full of good food and enjoyment. It’s a bit stretched and battered, because it bore me my son. It’s covered in tattoos, because I chose to have them there, and every one tells a story, even the half-finished cover-up job that whispers of regret and teenage foolishness. I love its strength, its femininity, its angles. I love my legs – legs that I sobbed over during teenage years of ballet and karate for being ‘rugby player legs’.
I love my birthmark, 11 port wine stains from my ankle to my knee on my right leg that rarely see the light of day. I love my knobbly knees, the butt of jokes in PE classes and ballet lessons as a teen, but now just one of those things. I love my hands, that I used to refer to as ‘old lady hands’ for their gnarliness and protruding veins, and now when I look at them I see hands that have cooked a thousand dishes, written two books, signed many petitions, they are hands that do things. I buy food magazines, not fashion ones, wear what fits and is comfortable, and I’m happy. With my baggy jumpers, with my androgynous streak, with my slightly boyish mannerisms, with my hair styled with a hand run through it, with my gappy teeth and my wild eyebrows and my tired eyes. I’m not a beautiful woman, but I’m a very happy one.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack
Article for Never Underdressed, originally published here: How I Get Ready, by Jack Monroe.