The Manifestation of Toxicity

A woman’s clothing is a piece of her identity. It defines her, shapes her character in the eyes of passerbys, construes her aura and builds her confidence. Saying that women should wear whatever they wish is not controversial- it is extremely common in the twentieth century for women to dress to their heart’s desire. Looking back on the past, women have rarely been able to establish their own identity, be it through clothing, through speech or through talent. Nowadays the notion that women have the freedom to decide for themselves in regards to clothing, makeup, hairstyle is accepted in most social circles- it is not up to their partner, nor is it up to society to point fingers and judge by imposing their views onto her mentality. It is a matter of personal choice.

I’ve never felt that a woman has needed to explain herself when it comes to choosing what she is wearing. At least, that’s how I feel now. It all changed when I met him- a ex I used to date for over a year who managed to assert his dominance over me, undermining my integrity and causing me to forget the freedom I had over my personal choices.

Crippling anxiety- that was what controlled him. And it was also the reason why he controlled me. His anxiety was never a huge concern for me. I accepted him whole-heartedly, firmly believing that it shouldn’t matter, knowing clearly that yes, it might be hard at times, but as long as we were together we could get through it. I was in love- at least that’s what my sixteen year old self thought. Everything seemed fine for a few weeks, but it started going downhill from there.

It was a simple phone call that changed the dynamic of our relationship. Starting with his concerns in regards to the way I used to dress, he would say “Perhaps it’s just me- I know I get overwhelmingly worried. But it gives me so much anxiety if anyone else can see below your collarbone. Your skirt- it’s too short. Sometimes I keep asking myself: who you are dressing up for?”

His accusations made me hesitate. Maybe he was right- maybe I was dressing up for someone else? The hugely misogynistic undertones have never crossed my mind, and as impressionable as I was at sixteen, I simply concluded that I had been selfish this entire time for actually thinking that I could dress up for myself. Not long after, he gradually found something else to critique- my makeup. He’d ask, “Who are you putting makeup on for? Why are you doing it? I prefer it when you don’t have any on at all”. I could never tell him that I was doing it all for myself, because it was what made me confident and comfortable in my own skin. My reply was consistent, “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’ll change”.  Eventually, he didn’t even want me to cut my hair because he was worried that I would “change”. Confused, I questioned myself: How? It was a haircut. How is it possible that a mere haircut could change who I fundamentally was as a person?

His anxiety further manifested into issues over me having friends of the opposite sex, to the point where I let him read the messages between me and other guys whom I considered friends, before eventually cutting ties with them completely at his request. Upon catching a glimpse of a message from a guy telling me that I looked good in a selfie on my Snapchat story, he commanded that I delete the photo, forcing me to block my friend immediately. Crying and apologizing profusely, I surrendered, proceeding to delete the app completely.

It was a hopeless state. I had done everything I could, overturning my wardrobe and getting rid of clothes I loved, desperately praying that it would help alleviate his anxiety. Nothing I did seemed to help. Little did I know that I was feeding, not fixing his problem, and intensifying my own self-critique at the same time. Should I really go to that birthday party? No, people of the opposite gender would be there. Should I really take part in that show? No, I would have to wear a skirt that was mid-thigh.

I modified my entire life to accommodate his needs, and as my dependency on him grew, my detachment with the outside world increased, as a result I had failed to realise how toxic his control over me was.

We eventually broke up when he decided he needed to focus on his exams, even though he hinted that we had a possibility of getting back together afterwards. He continued to string me along for months with the promise of a ‘maybe’ before realisation dawned on me- No. I enjoyed this freedom. This freedom that I could call my own, the freedom of being able to wear what I wanted to, to speak to whom I wanted to. I had new friends who supported me, family who loved me. I had come to a point where I recognized that I actually relished in wearing the clothes that he hated. For the first time in over a year- I finally had a choice. A choice in clothing, a choice which wasn’t suffocated by an overwhelming sense of guilt. A voice and a say in my decision.

So I broke it off. Completely. Entirely. I’ve had therapy since then and I still have a lot of resentment towards myself, but it was a lesson well learnt.

Toxic relationships can creep up on you, which is something I truly didn’t recognise at sixteen. There is a fine line between trying to ensure your significant other’s anxieties are pacified and letting them control you and your mannerisms. It is not impossible to love your partner whilst protecting yourself and your agency. Realistically speaking, neither of us were in the right mindset for a relationship, and that was something I wasn’t quite mature enough to realise. I’ve grown so much by experiencing this relationship. Dating him, oddly, helped me to dig deeper and figure out what I truly wanted and who I really was as an individual.

Featured image by Mayastar, available on Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license 

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