How Fashion Helped Me Deal With Asperger’s
A shaggy white coat hangs off my shoulders as I strut around the streets in a pair of high-waisted black PVC leggings, an off-white graphic tee, a Chinese print blue skinny scarf, gray sunglasses, and crisp white ankle boots. With a bangin’ pixie cut, coated lashes, and Jeffree Star’s Pumpkin Pie liquid lipstick, I feel lit as f*ck.
But one thing you wouldn’t know from looking at me is that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
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What exactly is Asperger’s? It’s a condition (or even worse, a “disability”) where you are intellectually capable, but socially inept. It is on the far end of the Autism spectrum, and is considered a much more “high functioning” form where it can be more easily treated. It is still embarrassing for me to say it, but I also don’t want to hide it anymore.
When I was a little girl, my mom never heard me speak a single sentence until I was seven years old. She couldn’t understand why I was so mute. I also couldn’t stand watching the TV with the volume up. Certain faces on the television, like Barney, made me cry. I couldn’t stand seeing that pesky purple dino. At that time, my mom sent me to countless therapists of all kinds, whether it was for speech or for behavioral issues.
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When I did begin to speak, trying to start a conversation was very difficult for me. Characteristics of Asperger’s include a tendency to discuss yourself instead of others, and a possible obsession with a specific topic. I was no exception. If I was talking to a classmate at school, I would solely talk about fashion, Paris Hilton’s tabloid antics, or I would try to show off my love for lip gloss. Even worse, sometimes I would simply change the topic every sentence. My classmates made fun of me for the way I interacted, and for my obsession with fashion and pop culture.
I grew up with just one best friend, and I was incredibly shy. I never felt comfortable making new friends, so instead I turned to magazines. Whether it be stacks of Teen Vogue or Seventeen, seeing the images of smiling models in bright, colorful clothing comforted me. Whether the girls were dressed in bubble skirts or concert tees, I immediately wanted to copy the look. When it came to celebrity-approved trends, I went crazy over ballet flats. So crazy, that I remember splurging on a pair of purple suede flower-covered Fiorucci ballet flats.
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I figured that if people were going to make fun of me, I might as well dress up and look good. It was from that moment that being in love with fashion struck a chord within me.
At first, my peers were completely weirded out. They didn’t like the fact that a girl like me would dare to dress like the models they saw in the magazines. My school had a strict dress code, but I decided to play around with it. I cuffed my uniform pants like Katie Holmes’ boyfriend jeans or paired them with a pair of brown cowboy boots. When I couldn’t be bothered to pull out a pair of Chuck Taylors, I’d happily strap on my gladiator sandals.
So many psychology books and some fellow Aspies themselves would say that clothing was the least of their concern, but that was not true with me. I turned to fashion because I believed that if people didn’t have anything nice to say about me, at least I could make them shut up by making them like my outfits. By dressing nicely, I felt that it invited respect. From then on, I discovered that my obsession with fashion was a way to help me express myself in a healthy manner. Despite the fact that dressing up was originally a way to cover up my Asperger’s, it also helped me to realize that I am more than the label a therapist assigned me.
Now, at 23 years old, I am not afraid nor embarrassed to confront my own past about the diagnosis. Rather than hiding behind a computer screen, I feel comfortable going out and about with my friends without the fear of judgment. Whether I’m in my well-worn DIY’d vintage Levi’s or a thigh-skimming T-shirt dress, I want to live it up each day. If I want to share my life with you, I will not be afraid to tell you how I really feel, who I am, and most importantly — discuss my condition.
I am finally free.
Photos by Hallie Geller