1. Fashion is more than just how you look — it’s also about the message you wish to send to the world. With this in mind, BuzzFeed asked 13 activists, bloggers, and other creators how they use style to define themselves in today’s America.
2. Bukky Ojeifo, Social Entrepreneur at Hair on Purpose
“I wanted to acknowledge and honor my parents who were immigrants, and who sacrificed their lives in Nigeria to provide better opportunities for me and my siblings to succeed. Their decision to come to the U.S. was made with love, and over the last 30 years, my parents have contributed tremendously to this country. I incorporated the Nigerian flag in my photo because I remember a time when I tried to suppress my identity as a Nigerian-American; I would do things that made me ‘less African,’ and even desired at one point to change my name to avoid the awkward first day of school stutters and mispronunciations.
“But what I realized as I got older is that it’s the cultural differences in everyone that makes this country amazing, and we as a country must continue to encourage others to be proud of their cultures, religions, and sexualities, and to speak out against hatred. I stand here as a proud Nigerian-American who loves who I am, embraces the differences in others, and truly cherishes this country.”
3. Marquis Neal, Social Media Influencer, Blogger, and Body-Positive Activist
“The world is pretty hectic right now; everyone I know is a little uneasy. They’re concerned that the people coming into power aren’t going to allow for self-expression, but that’s not an option for me. I have always been very expressive, and I can’t let anyone suppress that. That’s what makes this outfit political for me — it’s still loud, it’s still my truth. It might make you wonder, ‘Who is this person? Are they a man? Why are they wearing florals? Why are they wearing hoop earrings? Why are they wearing a Barbie hat with a beard? Also, they’re fat.’ That’s a political thing, too, refusing to disappear because of that.
“We have come too far as a country, and as people, to go back. I am part of the LGBT community, I am a person of color, and I don’t follow gender norms. I understand why people from minority groups are afraid now to speak out or live their truth, but I plan to continue expressing myself, to take a stand, be louder, be prouder. I, and we, are here, and nobody has the right to keep us from that expression.“
4. Sana Rashid, Blogger at ModHijabi
“I wanted to wear these pins and buttons because they are such an easy form of expression. I have a symbol of love; I have a crescent moon and star which is on the flag of Pakistan, where my parents are from, and is one of the symbols of my religion; I have a heart-shaped American flag; and I have the word ‘respect.’ Respect is so important right now — it feels like so much that’s happening around and after the election wouldn’t be happening if people had respect for each other. People are dehumanizing others; they think they’re better than others… where we are right now in our society and our interactions is so upsetting. It feels like people are being openly racist because they’re following the example of our president-elect. Hate crimes have escalated significantly, and it feels like we are going back a hundred years or more.
“The morning after the election, I was walking past an African American woman, and she gave me this nod of acknowledgment. It wasn’t a ‘Hi, hello’ — it was an ‘I feel sorry for you, and I understand what you’re going through, because I’m going through the same thing.’ I have never experienced that before in my life. My husband said the same thing happened to him. There was an unexpected sense of unity there, which is probably the only comforting thing about this entire election.”
5. Hannah Stoudemire, Fashion Stylist/Influencer and World Activist
“I wore this ‘Jesus Alive!’ sweater because I’m a Christian and an activist, and because I work in fashion. It was important for me to show my faith because I don’t find many people in my industry who are open about their Christianity or who practice it seriously. The things Jesus stood for — eliminating injustices, spreading love to everyone — are very important to me. He was the ultimate revolutionary. I’m a huge supporter of Black Lives Matter because until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter — and Jesus was for all lives. As far as the election results, I’m not outraged that Donald Trump won nor am I worried about what’s going to happen under his administration, because in the end, God is still in control.“
6. Magdalena, Blogger at Pretty Cripple
“I’m wearing a pussy-bow blouse as a nod to the pre-election events this year; blue jeans, because America, fuck yeah; and my shoes and hat are red because I am a first-generation American from a Polish background.
“My parents came from Warsaw in the ’60s. They were so proud to be Americans. Their generation had pictures of the president on their walls; presidents used to be idolized, but things have changed. There’s a lack of trust now, because neither party is working for the majority of people. I think we’ve embarrassed ourselves as a nation with all of this bickering; both parties really need to take a look at themselves and start working together instead. A lot of us are fed up.“
7. Hortencia Caires, Blogger at StyleFeen
“I was born in Brazil, but I’ve been in America for about 19 years. So I chose to wear green, which is a large part of Brazil’s flag — but it’s a lighter green that conveys how I’ve been shaped by American culture, too. I know people want to create laws to make immigration an open-and-shut issue, but it’s so much more complex than that. Not everybody who comes here is a drug lord. They don’t all work in cartels. They’re not here to kill or do bad things. It’s just people wanting something better for themselves and their families.
“For the longest time, I was illegal in the States. Eventually, I was able to get my papers, but not everybody is as fortunate as I am. I feel like a lot of us have become blind to the fact that those people have struggled, and have created something for themselves here. The DREAM Act was passed for people who were undocumented as children — who were brought here when they were really too little to do anything about their situation — and I feel like we should have more programs in place to help people like that.”
8. Sarah Chiwaya, Plus Fashion Blogger at Curvily
“There are a few political elements in this outfit: my T-shirt and my skirt. The big, wide, voluminous skirt takes up space, which is political when you consider that women are always told to be smaller. Realizing that I didn’t have to spend all my time trying to ‘dress skinnier’ was huge for me. Also, it’s really short because I want to reject the idea that ‘fat girls should cover up.’
“The shirt is by @SassyCrass, and says ‘Black lives matter is not a radical statement,’ which is true. How have we gotten to a point where that causes an uproar? How can you respond to it with anything but ‘Yes, absolutely’? It’s not #onlyblacklivesmatter; it’s not #blacklivesmatterandnobodyelses. I have a lot of privilege; I’ve gotten a few snarky comments about the shirt, but no violence or more intense harassment. Speaking up about race doesn’t hurt me as much as it might hurt someone else, and I don’t take that for granted.“
9. Jacob Tobia, Writer and Host of NBC News’ Queer 2.0
“My inspiration for this outfit was mourning. I think giving yourself space to process and heal from the past several months is political. So many of my friends have decided to jump immediately into action, without considering where they’re at or the emotional impacts of all this, but it’s okay to feel a deep sense of loss.
“I use fashion as political resistance, so I’ve committed to wearing higher heels than ever. Five-inch heels won’t cut it in Trump’s America; I’m going to need at least nine. It feels important, in moments like this, to double down on who we are; I want to commit to myself that I’m not going to change how I appear or move through the world.
“This veil is my grandmother’s, and the flowers on this hat are an ode to Marsha P. Johnson, who wore a lot of them. I find something that’s really vital in times like this is to stay connected to your history, and your community’s history. The idea that this political climate is entirely new makes it harder to cope with; in ways, it has happened before. This is part of a cyclical flow of social justice: we make progress, and then we have to make it all over again. If we don’t keep that in mind right now, it’s so easy to lose hope. That’s why I find comfort in older things, including clothing — to help remember where I, where we, are coming from.”
10. Jason DaSilva, Filmmaker and Creator of AXS Map
“I wore this suit jacket for two reasons. One is I just came from the UN, where I gave a presentation on my project AXS Map — it’s a map for people with disabilities around the world. The other reason is I wanted to make a point about the polarized system we currently have politically, and how that’s reflected in our social and aesthetic polarization. On one side are models, hard-bodied men, people in magazines; then there’s the other side — someone with a disability or disfigurement, someone who’s overweight, anyone who doesn’t fit the image of conventional attractiveness. It’s not an even playing field. As I see it, one side gets sex, money, and overall power; one doesn’t. People with disabilities are often considered asexual or abnormal, and I’m trying to fight against that.
“All that is to say, wearing a jacket that symbolizes the kind of power and advantage that I don’t normally have is a way of turning that structure on its head. It’s about the medical versus social model of disability: The medical one suggests all people with disabilities are frail, sick, or belong in a hospital, whereas the social one is informed by the actual people with those disabilities, whose experiences vary more widely, and who should be able to define themselves. Wearing this jacket is punk. It’s a reclamation.”
11. Jimmy Levar, Model and Recording Artist
“I chose to wear all black for its element of mystery; it’s so hard to tell right now where the world is headed, or how we got here. We’re all pointing fingers at different people, or groups of people, and saying they’re the cause of all our problems, but ultimately it’s up to us — the public, not necessarily politicians — to collectively drive progress forward.“
12. Aimee Fleck, Artist and Publisher
“After the election, I was so angry, and I wanted to make sure even in my clothing that everybody knew how mad I was. In the past, I’ve shied away from looking over-the-top; but now, I understand why you’d want to look that way. My purpose in dressing changed from wanting to look pretty — which is one of the big requirements when you’re fat, because if you’re not always perfectly femme and polished it’s read as slobby — to wanting to look like a safe person to be around for women, people of color, queer people, or anyone who’s feeling extra vulnerable right now.
“I was waiting for the subway the other day, and some guy was yelling at another guy. The first one went to get physical with the second, and I placed myself between them, which isn’t something I realized I would do. I was so shaky for the rest of the day, and I wished I’d been wearing something that had made me feel stronger, so I went out and got these steel-toed boots. I know it’s naive to some degree, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. I’m dressing for strength now, for myself and for people I love.“
13. Corey Kempster, Trans Femme Advocate, Writer, and Community Builder, and Jarrid Jones, Black Trans-Femme Artist and Fat-Positive Advocate
Corey: “The way I’ve started dressing over the past couple of months, I have become my childhood fantasy. I used to do things like put on lipstick at my babysitter’s house — but when I’d come out and get laughed at, I’d pretend it was a joke, even though I thought it looked beautiful. Now I wear dresses, and color, and have long, loud nails. But at the same time that I’m feeling free to express myself, my existence has become a political talking point. Using pretty much any public bathroom at this point is so uncomfortable — I have to think, ‘Will this be dangerous? Am I going to make people uneasy?’ So I can’t say I was surprised by this election; I already knew we had so much work to do.
“I bought this dress from a store where the sales associates were so rude to us, just gawking at us, and I was so upset. But I’m still so glad I bought it, because I feel beautiful when I wear it, even if it represents something that the majority of people in this country don’t approve of. It makes me feel so happy in a way I almost can’t describe, which is its own kind of resistance. This is how I want people to see me. This is my most authentic self. I have never been more me.”
Jarrid: “My outfit is about queerness, blackness, and fat positivity. Right now especially, I want to give representation to people who embody these qualities — for the girl who doesn’t have passing privilege, who can look at me and see masc and femme and know it’s okay to be that. For black youth growing up like I did, even with a pro-black family, always straightening my hair at the encouragement of my white friends and insisting that I wasn’t ‘one of those loud black kids.’ I put on a facade just to navigate the world, which was really damaging — but I eventually learned to fully embrace my blackness. It’s the same with fat positivity; I only really learned about it by removing myself from working in the theater and fashion industries, and discovering these beautiful, empowered fat people online who provided representation for me.
“The fight against equality, racial and otherwise, has been here all along, but it’s more public now. Now, I want to build an army of people who don’t fit inside certain social standards, who are fiercely loving and protective of each other, and who are saying ‘We’re here, and you can’t put us back into a box. We’re not going to let erasure happen.’”
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