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Here’s a confession: When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who the feminine graces seemed to have passed over. My brows are unkempt, the dark circles under my eyes (a genetic inheritance from my Indonesian side, but also the result of a lifetime of insomnia) are generally visible because I only wear makeup at parties or on vacation. If I’m not going out in public, and sometimes even when I am, I prefer to hide in baggy men’s clothes. A form fitting outfit makes me feel uncomfortably exposed. I’ve always worn my tomboy persona like armour. Then I started getting invited to weddings.

In the past three years, I’ve been invited to about ten weddings, and that means more makeup, heels, and formal dresses than I thought I’d ever wear in my entire life. Yet I find myself drawn to the experience of donning a feminine costume for a day. I use the term “feminine” loosely — defined by attributes conventional society traditionally associates with women.

In theory, clothing should not be gendered and those qualities that people still think women best embody should be embraced by all genders. There’s also nothing wrong with wearing whatever you want, in whatever style, that makes you feel comfortable. You don’t have to change to fit any social convention. Yet I still can’t help but feel that the dresses I wear at weddings have helped me access a side of myself that I’ve buried—one that is vulnerable, outgoing, approachable. Dressing up gives me a chance to explore the world (both internal and external) outside of my comfort zone.

The outfits I wear to weddings make me feel like I’m playing an unfamiliar, but exciting character: That of a woman who feels inherently connected to, and comfortable with, her femininity. In reality, I’ve never been very good at embracing what our society considers to be feminine characteristics: nurturing, emotionally open, patient—even kind, at times.

My so-called femininity shouldn’t be something that I repress or try to hide. It can, in fact, be a source of power and strength, a way for me to nurture not just different sides of my personality that I usually ignore, but also my capacity for personal growth and change. In celebration of all the ways I have championed my feminine side, here are 9 of my favourite wedding outfits: