you should pull it off anyway, even if you can’t pull it off

My best title ever, right?

I don’t think I can naturally “pull it off.”

I almost never have the things that magazines say you’re supposed to have when you do anything I want to do with my appearance. When you wear a short dress or cut off your hair or do bright lipstick or long dresses or whatever.

Honestly, I have no idea what my “look” is. You know, like preppy chic or flowy hippie or electric hipster or fairy grunge or urban hillbilly runway. I don’t even know what I look like. (And also, I don’t know anything about style. But I want to see what urban hillbilly runway would look like.)

Who the hell knows what they really look like?


Isn’t it always different? Isn’t it different in different lights, in the mirror in the bathroom as opposed to the snide mirror in the hall as opposed to the generous mirror against the back wall? Isn’t it different in every photo? Some of them are downright cruel—that doesn’t count as a smile! Am I being possessed by some sort of really petty demon?—some of them are almost decent.


I have a general impression of myself. Bold nosed. Somewhat round of cheek. Owlish eyes. What does that mean? I don’t know, but it works. Square shoulders, chubby arms, subtle breasts, legs with a shape that I usually like.

I don’t know what works with these things. Sackcloth? Pucci? I just had to look Pucci up to see if that meant clothes or sunglasses. So probably sackcloth.


And then the other day, this girl wrote to me and she said something about how she had wanted to cut her hair for a long time, and she found me on the internet and liked my hair and felt inspired by something I’d written about it, but wasn’t sure she could pull it off, because she didn’t have a face like mine. My face was interesting, she said. And you have to have an interesting face to pull off short hair.

I was floored.

The way I have been floored in the past, when this has happened.

Because I do not have a face for short hair. I don’t have a body for the clothes I often like to wear. I don’t have a look for anything. I just have my look, whatever that is, and then I make some decisions, based on what I like and what makes me feel good. And then sometimes people like those decisions, and that’s even better.


But me doing it, in my opinion, means anyone can do it. Means anyone should do it.

When I read about short hair, before I had it, and saw pictures of women with short hair, they always had adorable pixie faces with delicate, neat features. In comparison my face is a Picasso. It is all over the place. It is out of control. And it’s not worth millions of dollars. So it’s not really even like a Picasso.

And this girl said it was interesting, which is what made it right. Made it “work.”

But everyone’s face is interesting.

And at the end of the day, and also the beginning and the middle, I am all for pulling it off whether or not you can pull it off. I am all for jumping in and doing it, whether or not the millions of tiny rules about beauty agree.

Sometimes I try really hard to figure out what the right look for me is. And I briefly use a special shampoo that smells like a private island or a very specific touch of eyeliner every day for almost a week. I feel masterful and secure momentarily, as though I’ve finally solved a particularly complicated puzzle. And then it all falls apart and I realize that the eyeliner or the shampoo or the heels that are a half inch taller or the shirt with a scoop neck haven’t fixed the way I look. They haven’t made me polished and put- together and cohesive. They haven’t made me consistent. And I realize that discovering the perfect look for myself is an exhausting and pointless goal. Figuring out what I like is better.

(every mirror is different! but i wish they were all as pretty as these)

So to the girl who is too afraid to cut her hair because she thinks her face isn’t as interesting as mine–

I’ll tell you the truth: I probably look better with long hair. Sometimes I am positive I do. I can spit the reasons why like I’m Busta Rhymes. (Hint: my neck is too short, my chin isn’t well-defined enough, I am not skinny enough, my eyes are not big enough.) But I don’t care. I cut my hair off anyway. Because it feels good. Because it is simple. Because I am always comfortable and it never snarls against the pillow or gets caught in my coat or frizzes or takes ages to dry.

I cut my hair just because. Because I wanted to. I’ll wear bright red lipstick some days for the same reason, and no make up most of the other days, also for the same reason. Ditto, the parachute pants.

And you’re right, I’m pulling it off. But I think it’s sheer force of will. I think it’s because I refuse to put it back on.

So go for it! It’s amazing what you can pull off when you don’t try to figure out what you should be pulling off instead.


*  *  *

What have you done to your appearance that wasn’t supposed to “work” with the way you look?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a pink leather jacket.

Other stuff I’m up to: Peter Gray interviewed me on Psychology Today about my childhood. For a while it was the 2nd most popular post on the site, and I realized that I am totally OK with silver medals.

I wrote about how I married a man with the same exact chronic illness as my dad for XoJane. What was I thinking? LOVE. It’s a crazy thing.

I wrote about how Peter Dinklage is hot, for the Frisky.

35 Responses to “you should pull it off anyway, even if you can’t pull it off”

  1. Aezy responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 7:30 am #

    When I was younger I was constantly putting things on that weren’t right for me shape. Problem was I don’t think I pulled them off, they made me look and feel awkward and ugly.
    Now, my “pulling it off” is knowing what I like in make up (strong lipstick, natural-ish eyes) and clothes, some of which I’ve had for years. They aren’t fashionable but I like how I feel in them which I’ve discovered is more important in making me look good than whether or not they’re up-to-date.
    I think that “pulling it off” means different things to different people anyway. If you have a look at the “best/worst” dressed lists in magazines there’s no real consensus about the celebrities who wear interesting gowns. So even if I think I look ridiculous in laddered tights, boots and my dads oversized denim jacket, theres someone else who thinks that’s a “look”.

    Although I may well purchase something neon soon. Just because I want to wear neon and pull it off, which I will :D

  2. Katie Photiadis responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Hi Kate,

    I’m sure that you get told this over a hundred times a day, and maybe the compliments have begun to wear off, but you are a truly amazing writer. So much voice, what a great style. Your prose moves fluidly and you sound completely genuine. I love reading about the issues you try to sort out, like that beautiful woman you saw on the train, and I like your dialogue with Bear. It’s hilarious.

    By the way, I cut my hair off when I was 13 and hated it. I always believed I couldn’t pull off short hair–not with my 5’4 curvy frame and oval shaped face. But now that I’m trying to grow out my blond/ orange-ish highlights, I might just take the plunge. Or maybe not, since my fiance is crazy about long hair.

    Anyway, enough about that. Gosh, how I can go on about hair.

    I fell into your blog totally by accident a few weeks ago–my friend emailed me a link to your article in the Huffington Post about what you know about looks now that in your 20s, and I was instantly hooked. I went to your website, and now I have to say that this is my favorite blog–or maybe tied with the neurotic Hyperbole and a Half, my other favorite blog.

    Anyway, I once had a blog but it died after I stopped dieting (it was a weight loss blog) and met my fiance and got a new job and had no time to blog and no ideas for articles. But I may start one up again soon. I feel the itch.

    Sorry for this crazy long post. Probably it’s not the right forum, but something about your posts makes me think you won’t mind my long-winded ramblings.

    Take care!

  3. morgaine responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Are you familiar with Gabi Gregg? She’s a fashion blogger with this exact ethos. She wears whatever she feels like – to hell with what “should” flatter plus-size girls. I adore her.

  4. Reckless Housewife responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I think I can “pull off” almost anything if I feel comfortable in it.

    About a month ago I wore loads of tacky, sparkly jewelry with a ripped up denim vest and a tank top. I even wore glitter on my eyes. It should not have worked for so many reasons (the main one being that I’m forty-one), but I got told all night that I looked amazing.

    Not that red lipstick isn’t absolutely fabulous on you, but don’t you think part of why you pull it off is because you want to? I wanted to rock my version of “urban hillbilly runway” …maybe it was more like Dolly Parton tacky… and I did!

  5. D responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I’ve chopped my hair off too, and though I don’t think I have the ideal face for it, I really liked it when I maintained it. I wear colors that clash with my skin tone. In fact, I really dress myself in all the wrong ways if you consider the fashion “rules”- I am real short and I’m curvy, so I’m supposed to not wear midi skirts, never wear flats…screw that. I like my incorrect fashion sense :)

  6. Valerie responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I had this theory down PAT for a while-pulling off whatever you felt like by sheer force of will. I had a style of sorts that my friends didn’t really get but all accepted because “its Val” and it just fit. Then I moved across the country for graduate school and learned that other people didn’t get it-maybe I wasn’t doing it right. My mohawk combined with my love of dresses and things bordering on garish ended up getting me a lot of comments I really didn’t appreciate-’oh, a dress! I never pictured you wearing a dress!’; questions about my sexuality; at a party someone literally asked me ‘how did you come to look this way?’. I can feel myself getting more concerned about trying to pull off only what I’m “supposed” to. How can I stand out less? I even considered growing out my mohawk because it would make my interactions with other people. But then I remembered that I cut my hair like this because I like it that way. So I’m trying to get back to pulling off whatever I damn well please.

  7. Melanie responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 11:43 am #

    I really don’t follow any fashion rules. But most often to “break” the rules I wear a lot of colors that aren’t in my “color wheel.” Whenever someone compliments me or says something like, “Melanie has the best style” I try and smile and take the compliment graciously, but inside I’m thinking, “Wow, that person is not too style savvy.” haha

    I have often wondered what makes a person follow fashion rules or wear what they are “supposed to.” I have never been that kind of lady, and I really hope I never am.

  8. San D responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    There are “fashion rules”??? Who knew. I must have missed that lecture! LOL.

  9. Alpana Trivedi responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    San D, I must have missed that lecture as well. No, wait……I heard it. I just didn’t listen. LOL

  10. Sarah responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I can’t “pull off” long hair, but I’m growing mine out anyhow. I’m also too old for converse sneakers, floral Doc Martens, orange flouncy skirts, and multiple piercings. I love them all. Screw the rules. :)

  11. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    fun post, excellent question…i don’t worry about fashion, never have…i throw funky denim and whatever else together, from a thrift store rack and somehow it works, downright hot actually :) at 48, i realized that i am the label…and apparently overalls work for me, got a photo shoot coming up combining overalls with a little dominatrix flair…will send you a copy, will have to throw some cake in there…so, i’d have to say country girl with a naughty side is working for me…and kate, you look freaking awesome with short hair!

  12. Frankie responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    I wore a skirt that “too long” by fashion magazine standards, and you know what, I loved it. It’s my favorite skirt now and I wear it all the time.

  13. Saralaine responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    My personal style is comfort. I’ve always thought skinny jeans make me look ridiculous(huge thighs, and huge feet…things tight about my ankles make me look like I’m wearing clown shoes) but they are very comfortable, so I rock them…and the other day I got a complement on them.

    A few years ago, a friend dubbed my personal style “Grunge Chic” I think he meant it as a joking insult. I love it.

  14. Maggie responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m seventeen, I’m going to a prom tonight with some people I don’t really know. I rarely feel pretty, even when I’m all dressed up. But reading this makes me believe that I can pull of my dress, I’ll look beautiful regardless of how my hair goes. I’m going to look stunning. Thank you.

  15. Jen responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I cut my hair off – it was so short! like an inch or less! – last summer, partly inspired by you. I’d wanted to do it for ages and ages but never had the courage. People immediately began telling me they loved it and I had “the face for it.” Which is so stupid: because my face isn’t special, it isn’t symmetrical, it isn’t anything like Audrey Tatou. And then I realized that what people were saying was essentially, “You look pretty with short hair, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t look pretty anymore if I did it.” And I realized that what I hadn’t been able to articulate about the reason for my lack of courage was that I was afraid that without my hair I wouldn’t be pretty enough. (What does that even mean? Pretty enough? In retrospect, barf.) But it turns out that I look nice with short hair and I look nice with longer hair. I like the longer better, so I’m growing it out again, but I’ll never again believe that you have to have something special to pull off short hair – or whatever. All you have to have is the courage to try it.

  16. Jen responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    @Maggie – you will look stunning. Absolutely.

  17. Sooz responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    So does this mean your style is “because I wanted to” style? Because I LOVE that style. I fight constantly within my own head space about wanting to do things that are “fashionably acceptable” and just being true to me. Ultimately “Me” wins. I cut off my hair too and It is SOOO easy peasy lemon squeezy. And I basically wear black t-shirts and jeans and comfy shoes. Comfy, easy, lazy…that’s my style. OH yeah….and I (when I feel like it and am not too tired to manage it) add something crazy and fun (ring, lipstick, bag, etc.) I am relaxing into who I am and what I want and learning to not worry about having a style or a thing. I just try to be…well…ME. :)

  18. G responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Ooo, a pink leather jacket sounds nice.

    I guess I pull off the “natural” look, because, I, too, wear minimal makeup, for every day activities, at least. But, I’ve been told I have great-looking skin, so that works for me to do that.
    I do it because I don’t like to put on a bunch of makeup, though, not because I’m going for any particular “look,” but I do prefer the “natural” look on others, and it just feels good to have a fresh face.

    I still experiment with my looks from time to time, but I’m pretty conservative and basic. It’s what I feel most comfortable with. I’m super into the 80s right now, though, so if anything has a hint of the 80s, I’m kind of drawn to it.

  19. Sheryl responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Coloured leather jackets are the bomb. And pink is extra awesome. I found an orange (orange! my least favourite colour) one last year that has unexpectedly become one of my favourite clothing items. There is no looking bad in it.

    As far as style goes, I’ve come to two conclusions about what’s important:
    - how it fits (does it fit? does it need just a couple small adjustments, or is it not flattering in general)
    - how i feel in it

    I tend to craft outfits (especially special occasion outfits) around a feeling. I have an interview? Then I want to look and feel powerful, capable and polished. I’m going for a date? I want to feel sexy or romantic. I’m going out with friends? I might want to feel comfortable and a little wild.

    But there are definitely things I feel like I “couldn’t pull off”. I think it’s mostly a question of confidence: if I feel like bright lipstick is fake and flakey I’m never going to feel good in bright lipstick. If I feel like short hair is going to look bad on me because I have too many kinks and cowlicks but I’m not quite curly, well if I’m fussy and fidgety and uncomfortable that’s going to come off and people will be able to tell.

  20. nyssnoo responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Did you know its very hard to know what you actually look like?
    People make a face whenever they look in the mirror weither they want to or not.
    So i just thought that was interesting xP

  21. contrary kiwi responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    This is the attitude that I try to live by. Inspired by your blog I shaved my head again (and will be sending in a photo of it with cake when I get my paws on it) and I have received many compliments. I’ve also had people telling me that they prefer other hairstyles on me, but that’s fine. Lots of girls have told me that they wish they had the courage to cut their hair short but they don’t have the look for it like I do. What look is this? I look nothing like you at all, yet I also have the “look” for short hair. That’s because the look is confidence, not your actual appearance.

    That’s my secret to dancing, too. I’m a good dancer because I enjoy dancing and am not afraid to look totally stupid on the dance floor. For some reason, some people interpret that as looking good on the dance floor. Some people see it as looking stupid.

    I find that you can please some people and annoy others just by breathing, so it’s always best to make sure that you’re happy with how you look first, since you’re the only one whose comments you can’t get away from.

  22. Yan responded on 28 Apr 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    I so want to pull off “fairy grunge.” I imagine it would incorporate most of my college loves — flannel and glitter and tiny tank tops and men’s cargo pants.

    I think, though, that we’re all an evolution. So we can just go for what feels good and interesting and fun. Go for it.

  23. Wanett responded on 28 Apr 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    I cut off all (well, most) of my hair. I wanted to stop chemically straightening it, again, but I didn’t want to grow it out slowly like I did the first time. I thought I didn’t have the face for short hair then. I didn’t want to look like a boy. This time I flip flopped until I found the balls to do it when my sister took the leap first. She cut mine off for me the same night she came and showed me her’s. She, my husband and my children all told me I looked beautiful. I thought I did, too.

    That was almost two years ago, now. I look back at the photos and think I look just fine. Like me, but with less hair.

  24. Ruth responded on 29 Apr 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I guess the thing is not treating ourselves as problems to be solved, a final place to chase after at which point we will have found who we “are”, permanently and absolutely and then we will be somehow magically okay but accepting who we are now as okay, despite well anything. Or getting rid of that despite entirely.
    I try to work with “because I wanted to” style. This currently involves bleached hair with blue and purple dreadlocks plaited in, a big hoodie with a face and a lip peircing, and will tomorrow involve a smart work dress patent heels and a blonde crop. Everything is in the presentation.

  25. Celynne responded on 30 Apr 2012 at 9:41 am #

    I’m pretty sure urban hillbilly runway would look at lot like Jessica Simpson in that music video with Willy Nelson :P I didn’t start figuring out my personal style until about three years ago. Up until the age of about 20, I was all jeans and band t-shirts. Then I discovered pretty vintage dresses and skirts and it was a done deal. Now I probably fall under that flowy hippie heading actually… and a lot of my friends tell me they could never ‘pull off’ wearing long maxi skirts like I do because they would look short and fat. It’s preposterous, because I have wide hips and short legs and that’s a fashion equation for supposedly making yourself look like a chubby tube in a maxi, and yet they rave about how good they look on me. I think pulling something off just involves feeling comfortable, confident and happy in what you’re wearing. As for style… there’s nobody forcing us to pick just one. My closet holds multiple style personae inside it from hippie to rocker to glamour girl, but I pull them all off because they’re all styles and looks that fit me and I am comfortable and happy with! That’s the ticket right there.

  26. Kate responded on 30 Apr 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Can I just say: I LOVE maxi skirts so much.

  27. Kate responded on 30 Apr 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Well put. We aren’t a problem to be solved. So why do we keep thinking of ourselves that way?

  28. Kate responded on 30 Apr 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    I want you to do that, too! It sounds kinda amazing, the way you described it :-)

  29. Jen Anderson responded on 02 May 2012 at 10:29 am #

    There’s no need to just throw up your hands and decide that since you don’t know much about style now, you never will. Get a bunch of books by Trinny and Susanna (the UK What Not to Wear team) – they even have one that talks about different styles. They have loads of pictures and they’re very helpful. The US What Not to Wear book addresses all figure types, so that’s very helpful too. Trinny & Susanna mostly address their figure issues.

  30. Kate responded on 02 May 2012 at 10:34 am #

    I don’t think I want to know what I shouldn’t wear! There are a lot of magazines that are very opinionated on this topic.

    And actually, I often catch myself feeling stylish :-) But it’s my own style. Which I like better.

  31. Eat the Damn Cake » i like the person i am without my hair responded on 15 May 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    [...] feel every time. Every time I am brave enough to try something ridiculous and striking and sudden. Every time I trust myself to carry it. I trust myself to be beautiful, anyway. Not because of, but just beautiful. [...]

  32. live your life {alternate title: the time I have a life changing light bulb moment in Sephora} | responded on 21 May 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    [...] I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately about body images and one of those belongs to a woman named Kate who lives in New York. Here’s one that I thought of while I was having my ephiphany. [...]

  33. Eat the Damn Cake » the girl someone should write a book about responded on 03 Jul 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    [...] It is so nice, so refreshing, to run into someone like that. Someone who opens up this whole world of other possibilities. [...]

  34. beaujolais responded on 26 Sep 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I cut 10 inches of hair off a couple of weeks ago into a pixie cut. That was when I first came across your blog, and something in your post cinched the deal for me (especially after coming across a blog that said if you don’t have less than 5.5 cm from the bottom of your ear to your chin, you shouldn’t cut your hair short. Of course, I measured, and I have a whopping 7cm. Whoop de doo).

    I was (and am, a little) afraid of looking mannish, and afraid that the exposing hairstyle doesn’t match my introverted personality. I can count on one hand the number of young women I know (even in all of facebook land) with short hair. I’ve seen ONE other pixie since I got mine. Suddenly, I’m different, which I’ve never been before.

    In the looks department, I’ve always been really average / ideal-fitting / boring. People thought I was politically conservative, simply based on my looks. I don’t think I was taken as seriously professionally (not to mention I look about 18 and I’m 26).

    Now I wear bright lipstick and dresses, and my previously boring feminine outfits suddenly are kind of cool. Now I look my age (I think. Mostly because I’ve made a decision one way or the other about my appearance.)

    Now I don’t have to act prettily or try to keep or maintain a dude’s attention because of my looks. (That’s the idea anyway. Not sure if I have it down yet.)

    When I first got it cut, my stylists’ husband and 19-year old son said I shouldn’t do it. After, her son high-fived me.

    And that’s what it feels like. Even if it’s not attractive, it’s like a high-five to myself.

    When I’m feeling insecure about it (like when I wake up and my hair is sticking every which way and I’m wearing my boyfriend’s shirt), I think of the awesome chicks who awesomely rock their short hair. And I think, I’d like to be someone Kate looks at on the subway and thinks I’m interesting.

  35. Vivian responded on 23 Jan 2013 at 10:30 am #

    (Here we go– I feel guilty and self-conscious because I am commenting on multiple posts of your blog in a row. Nevertheless…)

    I feel very much the same way when people tell me that they could never pull off blue or purple hair. And I tell them so. “The reason I can do it,” I tell them, “is because I like it. If you want to, you can too. (Though green is maybe more difficult, and I don’t think I do so well with that one either.)” They never believe me. But it is always true. I am just some girl. As, often, are they. And if not, they are just some guy, and it would work equally well.

    And. So’s I can maybe avoid carrying on commenting on EVERY SINGLE POST I READ FROM NOW UNTIL THE TIME I GO TO SLEEP, I recently discovered the concept of “jolie-laide”, or, less pleasantly, “pretty-ugly”. Which means, basically, being beautiful because you look different and have the personality to pull it off. (Hint: you always, always do.) It was a bit of a revelation for me. If you do not know it already, it might also seem pretty lovely to you. It may not be the prettiest term for the idea, though it is French and therefore shiny to us anglophones. But it’s a very compelling, and, I think, very useful, idea. It allows for charisma and intelligence without textbook prettiness amongst females. I know, as you do, from firsthand experience, that this is a real and viable thing. But not enough of us do. I found it very empowering. I think I’m gonna keep it.