The Opening Gambit
I love red. This is no secret to those who know me. I have red dresses, red jeans, and the most delicious red shoes. I paint my nails red, and my lips. Whatever the weather, whatever I wear, red is never far from me; on my earrings, the pen in my bag, the vase in my kitchen, the glass on my table. Red is in my mind and in my heart. It wasn't always so. I grew up in blues and yellows, purples and oranges, loud and brash patterns my mum created, leggings and Dr Martens among the pale pink tights of my peers. For Christmas when I was ten I became the proud owner of what became fondly known as the 'Joseph fleece', a veritable technicolour dreamcoat of a sweater which was very definitely cut for me to grow into. I was called Joseph from across the street by kids from the local school and I still wore it, still took it on holiday even in the summer, still let it feature in holiday snaps of balmy Carcassonne and the balloon-filled skies of the Loire valley. The world was colourful and I was colourful in it. I could never pinpoint the demise of the Joseph fleece or what it represented; there was no single moment of departure. Somewhere between patent black platform boots and bleached denim jeans and trying to squeeze my awkward body into the things that made me decide it was awkward, bright colours became something to avoid and my wardrobe metamorphosed into a sea of pastels, generously-cut and ten years ahead of my age bracket. At 16 I was to be found in my auntie's hand-me-down dungaree dresses or work blouses.
I wore a voluminous lilac number to my first ever dinner dance and I cried after my mum lost patience with our four-hour jeans hunt through the high street stores of Oxford Street, as pair after pair was too tight, too short. I wasn't a shy girl by any means - I was a Cadet Leader with St John's Ambulance; I ran a family newsletter for which I demanded subs from my relatives; I sang in public. But my body wasn't part of this, wasn't playing ball. As far as I was concerned I operated from the neck up and it just became something to cover, to hide. The summer before I started sixth form, my parents embarked on the Atkins diet and I decided to join them. It didn't last long, as I lost weight so quickly that they banned me from further participation due to my age, but at that point I was hooked on the power I felt, this power to change what I thought had hindered me. In nine months I dropped three dress sizes and acquired a new wardrobe, a tiny and experimental one with short skirts, loud tights, and things that were long and lean and just what a girl my age ought to be, right? And I got my first red dress. It was a beauty, theatrical and flamenco-flavoured, unabashed like the girl who wore it.
It's a funny thing (but probably a common one) that we can attain a long-held goal and fail to achieve the fulfilment we thought it would bring. Because my body was different and larger and an awkward shape to dress, I assumed it was the problem and needed to be altered and brought in line. Then I got thin and was still hyper-critical of my physical self, still complaining about my appearance to long-suffering sisters who wondered how I could be dissatisfied with a thigh gap and jeans that the youngest of them couldn't even get into.
Boys noticed me now and I fitted in with the other girls and I wasn't embarrassed to go to the pool anymore, but my attitude had changed for the worse, and I was beginning to judge everything around me by the same warped rule with which I judged myself. I wore red in a mask of defiance and that was all it meant to me.
So now? I love red. Red is the lifeblood and passion of humanity, the vivid splendour of the earth, the comfort and heat of the sun, joy and freedom bought through pain. I wear red as a reminder of who I am and what I can be, in and with my body rather than because of or in spite of it.
I could go into details as to how my volatile appearance-based confidence led me down various garden paths, or how I struggled as I regained the weight through university and the first year of my marriage, but the weight thing isn't entirely the point. The point is I came to love red, truly love the life and energy and confidence it represents, as I came to love myself - my whole self, not just the parts that fit the narrow pattern of accepted femininity which I had mistakenly come to believe was the full picture.
We are so beautifully diverse, so perfectly imperfect, so riotously bold, so infinitely capable: every woman. Every one.