style and stereotypes

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Winter is setting in here. I am putting away my summer things and taking out the winter gear, while my baby girl is curled up in bed watching. Mummy is at it again, she must be thinking. While going through my too many clothes, I began to discover more and more items that have been stolen by Miss L and her lackey JulieP. It is very upsetting, because some of the pieces they stole were items that I treasured and I’d wanted to wear again. My brain is trying to move away from the emotional outrage, so I started musing on the contentious subject of dressing, style and the Aspie female. This is yet another misconception I repeatedly encounter: Aspie girls ‘have no sense for / interest in fashion.’ I’ve heard this from a range of people, from the ordinary person-in-the-street, to the ridiculous public media, and even respected experts in the field of autism.

Here is a quote from Tony Attwood’s forward for Liane Holliday Willey’s book, “Safety Skills for Asperger Females.”

There can be an aversion to the concept of femininity in wearing the latest fashions or fancy or frilly clothing. The preference can be for practical, comfortable clothing with lots of pockets. 

Don’t get me wrong, I respect Tony Attwood as one of the foremost authorities on Asperger’s, and he has been crucial in opening the minds of people to the phenomenon of Asperger’s in females. Although the above statement is not meant as a definitive description of Aspie girls, it can be and is easily misconstrued as such by a largely ignorant public.

Granted, the vast majority of Aspies, male or female, are more driven by their hypersenses in their choice of clothing than by the dictates of trends and fashion. However, that doesn’t mean we have no interest in dressing up with style and flair. It does not make logical sense, anyway, that just because we have intense sensitivities to textures and therefore to textiles and material, we are thus sloppy dressers.

Many Aspies are visual thinkers. Many of us are artists, or artistic and creative people. The visual dimension is therefore important to us, as is the textural and kinetic. We are also detail-focused, and hence meticulous about minutiae, which can often include our dressing and accessorising. Some of us, like myself, are extremely fastidious about personal hygiene too (while there are others who are on the other extreme, who seem to get all the ‘limelight’ instead).

Someone who should know better, a professional in the field of neuroscience at that, insisted that while I have an autistic mind I cannot be autistic, because I speak too fluently, I don’t speak like Temple Grandin, my social interaction is smooth and fluent, I am too animated, I don’t speak in a deadpan or stilted voice, and I am also too stylishly dressed.

What utter rubbish!

First, autism is a spectrum. That means we, like you neurotypicals, come in all shapes and sizes, characters and personalities.

In the area of social interaction, we are just as diverse as neurotypicals. If the Aspie girl’s childhood interest is in acting / performance and has grown up assiduously studying human social interactions on screen and off, we become very good at ‘performing neurotypical.’ Here is where I heartily agree with Tony Attwood’s observations, that Aspie girls may become utmost authorities on acting and socialising on the superficial level, because we have scrupulously observed and learned how to ‘mimic’ so well that we masquerade as the ‘real thing.’ We are experts in whatever we are intensely scrutinising and whatever we find immensely fascinating. Don’t forget, we have detail-focused minds!

Only people who have known me for a long time and have bothered to examine my less public characteristics will be able to detect the Aspie features in my social facade. Very few people know and comprehend how effortful and sensorially taxing this ‘performing the normal’ is to me. Even when I am engaging in interaction that is enjoyable to me, I pay the price of sensory exhaustion and need a long time in isolation to recharge and repair. Having a painful inflammatory autoimmune condition does not help. I often suffer fever afterwards. Beneath the grand neurotypical-mimicry performance are subtle quirks that indicate Aspie-ness, but these are barely noticeable, and I don’t intend to extemporise on them in this little post. Maybe another time. We’ll move on to the issue of style and dressing.

To say that Aspie women are not interested in clothes and do not possess dressing flair is plain wrong and utterly insulting. Some of us pay a great deal of attention to what we wear.

Take the most famous female autistic as an example again. Yes, Temple Grandin. You may not like her choice of clothes, you may not like her dress sense, but it is hers, and it is distinctive – she has a meticulously ordered sense of style. Just look again with fresh eyes, if you are capable, at those neat shirts with intricate embroidery and skarves and neck wear that has become her signature adornment. The footwear too. This is definitely not someone who cares little for dressing up, quite the contrary, this is someone who places great importance and attention to detail to her clothes, and has developed a style that is almost unique to herself alone.

Remember, we collect things. We have intense passions. We love themes and variations. We pay attention. Many of us are visual thinkers. We are also hypersensitive – both attracted to sensations as well as repulsed. And we are creative beings.

If an Aspie is interested in fashion, you can bet we will do it with thoroughness and pizazz. You may not like our choices and fixations, but you must not deny we have the ability. Instead of collecting stamps or train time tables (by the way I collected rocks, bus tickets and other ‘boy’ things too), some Aspie girls, like me, collect clothes and jewellery, and yes, shoes too. We’re girls after all! Check out my collection of fashion, which I have slowly turned into art installations. You may not agree with my taste, but nobody can say I am not interested in clothes and dressing up!

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