My autism diagnosis helped me accept my fashion choices and feel good in my skin

This First Person article is by Julie Green, a writer diagnosed with autism in her 40s. For more information on CBC’s First Person stories, please see Frequently asked questions.

I have a confession: I have never understood fashion or beauty. I have observed the rituals of other women as one observes an alien species. For decades, I have tried to imitate the way these creatures dress and wear their hair, but I often find it unnatural and extremely uncomfortable.

Then, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with autism. It gives new meaning to the term “fashion victim” – namely, certain fabrics can cause pain for people like me.

While autism doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, many people on the spectrum can overreact to sounds, images, smells, touch, and taste. I am fortunate that my sensory problems are still relatively mild and manageable.

While I’m slowly coming to terms with Hypersensitivity is a core part of my autismThe years of circling fashion and beauty trends have damaged them and made me insecure about my appearance.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve cut tags from every piece of clothing I own, which in itself is a risk because the cut edge can be jagged and more annoying than the tag itself. The year my grandmother knitted was a particularly cruel year. She bought a sample and faithfully reproduced the same sweater in different colors for each of her nieces, and so please help us, we are expected to wear the sweaters cause the rash. Since then, I have given up wool, linen and countless other fabrics.

Julie Green wears her favorite outfit in 1987. (Submitted by Julie Green)

I also forgo jeans with their stiff seams and buttons. Puberty causes a special punishment. Finding a bra that I could bear to wear for any length of time became a lifelong struggle. I have never owned a pair of heels. I also don’t wear fancy underwear. I’ve been avoiding a whole bunch of beauty routines that I don’t understand and really sound like medieval torture.

Somewhere in the world, I’m convinced that I’m not as pretty, sexy, or feminine as other women because I’m not – can not – look or dress the way they did.

It’s not all bad; is “low maintenance” perhaps saved me a lot of money over the years.

But my hypersensitivity is more than simply choosing to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Some people on the spectrum Struggling with basic grooming and hygiene rituals like washing or combing hair. And that struggle can get in the way of everyday life. When I was in college, I used to be so bothered by the feeling of greasy hair on my scalp that I shaved my head just to relieve myself. Doing so was a matter of necessity – not a radical fashion statement – and it took a toll on my self-esteem. Although I love long hair, I have mostly kept it short over the years.

Vine collars and tulle skirts are the hallmarks of my ’80s childhood. Fortunately, times have changed. Many manufacturers have ditched the sharp tag in favor of printed labels, and the world is generally a better place for it. There are fewer sadistic bra options if you know where to look. And some genius created comfortable shoes called Sketchers. Even jeans (once my arch nemesis) are softer. Brands have become wiser, kinder. Or perhaps I have become wiser and kinder to myself.

Julie Green likes to wear comfortable shoes, such as these sneakers. (Submitted by Julie Green)

With so many people working remotely during the pandemic, sunglasses have become trendy. It’s weird to see women who are normally more stylishly dressed suddenly wearing my uniform.

One day, I came across my dream running sport. It was a beautiful olive shade, lined with fleece, and the second I put it on, I wondered where it had been all my life. I rushed back online to buy a set in every color available, only to find the price had skyrocketed, presumably due to its popularity.

Unable to justify the cost, I reluctantly emptied my cart. At that time, I wish the women of the world would return to power suits and high heels. You can have anything, I’d tell them, just take the hell back from olive jog.

Julie Green wears an olive jogging tracksuit that helps her feel comfortable in her own skin and embrace her autism diagnosis. (Submitted by Julie Green)

I stopped being jealous of fashionistas and finally gave up trying to dress like them. Instead, for the first time in their lives, they were people trying to dress like me. It may have taken 45 years and an autism diagnosis, but I’ve finally become more comfortable in my skin.

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