Dress to Impress Yourself
I set the water on my stove to boil and flicked on the kitchen radio, which was, as usual, set to NPR. The announcer was giving an update on the ebola crisis, now listing fatalities from a recent accident, now discussing the stock market—I changed the channel. I’d had a long enough day already and had no desire to sit and listen to the ongoing string of bad news. I flipped through channels until I hit a pop station that wasn’t in the middle of a commercial break. As I pulled out plates and pasta sauce, a new song played in the background.
“Put your makeup on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim
So they like you. Do they like you?”
I looked up, intrigued, as I listened to these lyrics. Turning up the radio, I realized that this wasn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill pop song. There was something feminist about it.
“Get your sexy on
Don't be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong
So they like you. Do you like you?
You don't have to try so hard
You don't have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don't have to change a single thing
You don't have to try, try, try, try...
You don't have to try.”
As a girl who never wears makeup and whose personal style could best be described as “whatever feels most comfortable at 6:00 in the morning,” I was taken with this song right away.
As I later discovered, the soft voice behind this poignant social commentary belongs to singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, best known for her hit singles “Bubbly” and “Realize.” “Try” is certainly not the first contemporary pop song to dabble in themes of female empowerment, but Caillat’s new song struck a different note with me. (No pun intended.)
What makes “Try” stand out is its conscious condemnation of the social pressure to be glamorous and sexy—a pressure that is very much alive in the world of female pop artists. Paparazzi follow and document every move they make, tabloids dissect their every statement, and the public often seems more interested in what outfits they wear than in the art they create. It must have taken some guts for Caillat to look around at the world in which she lives, stand up, and question it.
What Caillat did was on behalf of every woman who has ever looked in the mirror and felt embarrassed by her natural appearance. As “Try” so eloquently points out, not only popular female artists but nearly all women are subject to unfair scrutiny by themselves and by society, based solely upon how they look. It is easy to get wrapped up in buying the cutest shoes or fitting into the slimmest jeans or spending money on only the most expensive brands, all in an attempt to impress others.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing inherently problematic about fashion or makeup - for many people, they can be fun and empowering forms of self-expression. The problems arise when fashion ceases to be a form of expression and becomes a form of oppression. When we make snap judgments about others based solely upon what they wear, when we spend time and money on things we don’t enjoy simply because we feel we don’t have a choice, when our appearances affect how we are treated—that’s when we need to change our mindset and improve our society.
When Colbie Caillat says that “you don’t have to try so hard,” she’s not frowning upon women who chose to “try” with their appearances. She’s simply emphasizing that women (and men, for that matter) have a choice, and that we all need to spend a little less time worrying about “what they think”, and ask ourselves the important questions—
“Don't you like you?
Cause I like you.”
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.