People tend to notice me when I walk into a room. I'm the girl wearing pink leopard-print booties, or iridescent star earrings which jingle when I move. My closet is stuffed with tutus, candy-coloured vintage dresses & flower crowns, & I use glitter-covered skulls as book-ends. I wear a pink sparkly helmet on my husband's motorcycle. My style is -- in a word -- loud.
When you make a big style statement like this, people size you up immediately, & while 99 percent of people smile at me on the street, reactions are not always positive. There are people who don't understand why anyone would want to dress like this, and are happy to judge a book by its pink, glittery cover.
I wasn't always like this. In fact, it took me a long time to get here. These days, a pair of crystal-covered shoes feels like the real me. But my clothing reflects how I feel on the inside, and I didn't always feel that great.
Like so many of us, I was a teenage goth. Unlike most of us, I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, where there are more sheep than people, no Hot Topic, & no MTV. Thankfully, I had the Internet.
My mind-bendingly slow computer with its 33.6 modem led me to the alt.gothic.fashion newsgroup, & I launched myself into the subculture with gusto, accumulating a collection of striped stockings, long black lace skirts & a tube of Revlon's Vixen lipstick. I would draw exaggerated cat's eye make-up with a terrifically blunt eye-pencil, color my nails black with a Sharpie & write "Bauhaus" on my pencil case.
The first person I met from the Internet was a guy called Jared, who was in his early 20s, loved the same music as me and was more than happy to sit in a cafe, smoking & talking. I was only about 14 years old at the time and though the age difference sounds a little unseemly in retrospect, I think this really demonstrates how small the New Zealand goth pond was. Really, it was more like a goth puddle.
Through him, my social circle began to grow beyond the girls I knew from school. My high school was girls only and overwhelmingly white. These girls played hockey for fun and were given BMWs for their 16th birthdays. I had absolutely nothing in common with them and would spend most of my time sitting in the back of a classroom, reading "American Psycho" over and over and over again.
This new group of people, on the other hand, was fascinating. They wore leather trench coats & ankh necklaces, fishnet & PVC, or platform boots with springs inside. We would spend entire weekends sitting in a cafe called the Treehouse, where the couches were mostly held together by dust and cigarette ash. It wasn't a paragon of hygiene, but they never kicked anyone out, and we would loiter for hours.
What came first: the depression or the goth? It's hard to say. Even though I had found my people, I certainly hadn't found happiness. I was angry at myself and everyone else, going from self-harm to an eating disorder in one fell swoop. When a psychiatrist recommended medication, I declined, because weight gain was a known side-effect.
Eventually, just like people in infomercials say, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was so bored by my own bullshit, but at the same time, I was terrified that if I became "happy," I'd lose myself. My misery had become my identity.
I started to peel away the layers of self-hatred by using a technique called EFT, which is essentially acupuncture without needles. My eating disorder disappeared practically overnight, and while my body image still wavers from time to time, these days I can eat a box of donuts without feeling any guilt. I started to make changes in my life -- I quit my job, moved to another country, & started my blog -- and my feelings of depression seemed to dry up.
Coming out of the other side of self-loathing felt like being shot out of a neon canon. Suddenly, I couldn't bear to wear black. It felt so heavy: it signified who I'd been, not who I wanted to be. I dyed my hair pink and started to embrace color with vigour. I would wear yellow T-shirts layered on top of blue silk slips with duck-egg blue cowboy boots; I had an all-turquoise outfit; I bought a bright pink Jem & The Holograms hoodie.
As extreme as my style may seem to some people, it is a very real and joyful expression of how much I've changed and how far I've come. Shortly after I underwent all this change, I started my blog, galadarling.com, as a way of sharing my happiness with other people.
I moved to New York City, almost by mistake, when I was 24 years old. Before I moved to America I knew vaguely of this woman who did cartwheels and made cake-like prom dresses, but when I actually entered a Betsey Johnson store for the first time, it felt like coming home. My first purchase from her was a blue, pink and purple party frock. I called it my "psychedelic Barbie dress," and I wore it on my 25th birthday.
Betsey's whole schtick was goth-with-a-sense-of-humour, and it encouraged me not to take myself so seriously. From a pink dress printed with bullets to a romper with a skull on the front, it was all about having fun & being bizarre. Her clothing allowed me to express myself in a way that felt cohesive: I was happy with an appreciation for the macabre. I've never been able to just wear a girly dress and call it a day -- I always need to rough it up with some motorcycle boots or a pair of knuckleduster earrings -- and Betsey was right there with me.
As time progressed, I became a full-on Betsey addict, so much so that the girls at the Soho store would send me birthday presents. Discovering Betsey felt like I'd returned to my roots, but still managed to evolve. It was my way of giving a wink to my past, of seeing who I used to be & acknowledging it with a smile.
All of these influences came together to make me into the woman I am today. There is still that part of me which is attracted to anything dark, from the work of Alexander McQueen to the blogs of girls who only wear black.
No matter what I may wish about my past, it's true that when I was 15 years old, I had a list of favorite serial killers. It's true that I used to self-harm, and not eat. It may sound depressing, but it's even more sad that we push our past selves away because we fear them. Really, we become much more interesting & complex when we can accept all the parts of who we are.
When I was 15, a close school-friend died. I'd never been to a funeral and didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that you were supposed to wear black. I wore what felt most like me: a long black skirt, a black T-shirt, striped stockings & combat boots. As I made my way to a pew, a friend stopped me.
"I'm so glad you wore that," she said, gesturing to my outfit. "Jen always loved the way you dressed -- she wished she was brave enough to dress that way."
Sometimes I think we're afraid to look at our past selves because we know that deep down, that person still exists. However silly, embarassing, or sad your earlier phases might have been, all of those experiences have conspired to make you into the person you are today. Maybe we should look at those aspects of ourselves with love and compassion, like how you would treat your little sister when she starts experimenting with eyeliner.
Sure, you may laugh at her a little... But be gentle.