We all know the saying, and it’s got to be one of the most untrue statements we could ever be told.
When I was fourteen years old, at that painfully awkward age when self image and self confidence were confusing things to be grappled with I had an experience that stayed with me for many years.
A boy in my class approached me in the hallway and said, in a flirtatious, soft spoken manner… “Tracy… I just want to tell you, you are sooo….. UGLY!”
The laughter of he and his mates is still a humiliating memory and one that added significantly to my own “story” that I’d subconsciously been writing from a very young age.
We live in a world, now more than ever where words are powerful tools. From the reporting media, to our social interactions online, words are incredibly significant to our perception of society and ourselves.
Time and time again I witness the cruelty of words on social media as keyboard warriors spew forth a barrage of ugly assaults on innocent victims. It astounds me, honestly it really shocks me to my core that behind screens there exists so many truly nasty minds. I cannot even begin to understand the impact this is having on young developing children. My experience as a young girl pales into insignificance when I think about the name calling – the brutal bullying that is happening online.
Labels stick. Unfortunately. Words create stories and stories are hard to rewrite.
As a female I have been called many things.
I remember being aged about twelve or thirteen and going to a local swimming pool where for a day I was called “Juicy arse” by a group of boys.
As a ten year old I was taunted by the term “Crazy Tracy”.
I’ve been called a “Stupid bitch” by a stranger. “Morticia” when I was in a band and dyed my hair dark. I’ve been called fat, skinny, ugly, punk, big tits, – been asked to show my tits, frigid, plain, cute, sexy, a dumb skank…. And I’ve probably been luckier than most.
For some time now I have had a photography shoot in mind. I could see the image in my mind so clearly!
I asked a large number of women online to tell me the words and labels that they hate being called, or have been called. I was stunned at the overwhelming response and experiences they shared. The thread took on a life of it’s own and even when I had received enough responses for a project I had in mind the replies just kept on coming. There was this overwhelming outpouring of…outrage underneath it all. I sensed a NEED in these women to purge themselves of these deep hurts that they had carried. Hurt that WORDS – LABELS had inflicted upon them. They told me of the ugly hurtful words as well as the demeaning and sarcastic. Sometimes it wasn’t the word itself but the tone in which it’s often used. It was truly eye opening.
I set to work and created a dress out of newspaper. Then I painstakingly cut out hundreds of letters to form the words that these women had given me. It took forever. My lounge room became a sea of newspaper and snippets of letters. I spent a long time just sitting and staring at the dress. There were some words that really made me cringe to glue on. Words I never even WRITE because I find them so awful. I found myself feeling a multitude of things. A lot of anger! Sadness, shame, embarrassment.
Even though I knew that many of the words would be out of sight when I photographed it I still felt compelled to keep adding them, because they were ALL part of the outfit.
At last the dress was done and I was satisfied with the result. There it was…the truth of the matter. The reality! All the ugliness and pain in a garment that has been worn by so many.
I asked my daughter to be my model. Not an easy task for her, but she was willing because she understands how important this was to me, and to so many others.
By creating this piece I wanted to empower women, myself included, to be rid of those labels and names by symbolically burning all that they represent.
There IS an outfit equally as disturbing and powerful for a male. This is not just about women and the harm that words cause to females alone.
Forget that saying…”Sticks and stones……” They DO cause harm. They ARE causing harm.
I have titled this piece “The dress we refuse to wear”