The Perfect Fit: Sally Osborne on Dressing the Part and Her Journey to True Self-Expression
By Sally Osborne on 2022-06-29
It’s the night before Easter, 1992. I’m six years old, sitting on the floor while my mom wraps my short platinum hair around 25 little foam hair curlers. I go along with it because it seems to make her so happy, even though sleeping on those things is the WORST. She's spent hours hand-sewing a dress for me to wear to church the next day. And she found the perfect patent leather shoes to go with it.
The next morning I can’t wait to get those curlers out. Ahhh, sweet relief! My hair does look pretty cool. I go to my closet, pull out my dress, and wiggle into it. Then I run down to show Mom. She is very excited. She dotes over me and digs in her closet for my new shoes. I put them on… Can’t play soccer in these things, they’re so stiff. I walk over to and take a look in the mirror. I don’t look like me, but it’s just church. I can take it all off before too long.
The next 20 minutes is chaos, with my parents running around, getting everything ready for their responsibilities at church, and hollering at my two older brothers. How come I’m the one who has to wear the uncomfortable, frilly stuff? I wish I could wear pants and buzz my hair, too. Bored, I step outside to kick around the soccer ball--had to change out of my church shoes and into my cleats of course. Ah yes! Much better. Soon I hear the call to get into the family station wagon.
I wish I could wear pants and buzz my hair, too.
Sitting in church, already getting antsy only 15 minutes in, I see my mom look down the pew at me. Then she gives me the look. You know the one. You did something; you might not know what it is, but it’s definitely something. She whispers into Dad’s ear. He glances at my feet and a big smile spreads across his face. I look down at my feet. Soccer cleats with my Easter dress.
Growing up a Mormon girl, I was expected to look the part. To fit into the box: be into makeup and girly clothes; crafting and cooking; gossip and boys. It was clear very early on that I didn’t fit. They told me it was because I had brothers. But it didn’t feel like that to me. I loved being outside and getting dirty. I loved the way my body felt riding and running and climbing and swimming. I wanted to wear clothes that worked for what I loved to do. And I certainly didn’t need long, flowing hair getting in my way.
I was just myself. I wore what I had to on Sundays, and the rest of the week, it was mostly brothers’ hand-me-downs or clothes I shopped for in the boys section. Sometimes it felt hard to know I didn't fit the part. I remember the handful of times I was teased by insecure girls and immature boys. Those experiences stuck with me and have been ones I’ve needed to process and heal from as an adult.
It wasn’t until I started to develop a woman’s body that I started to change my look. The social pressure to wear clothes that matched my gender suddenly became intense. I found clothes at the local skate shop that seemed to work: technically girl's clothes, but not too girly. Sunday outfits were still not preferred, but by this time I was used to putting on the Mormon girl costume.
The social pressure to wear clothes that matched my gender suddenly became intense.
When I got married to my ex-husband just after my 20th birthday, I had to start wearing the Mormon garments under all my clothes. They go down to the knee and cover the shoulders and the chest, so there is no chance for “immodesty.” It was all so confusing. Be feminine, but don’t show your body. Be attractive, but not to an extreme. The older I got, the less of myself I saw in the mirror.
12 years and 3 kids later, my husband and I walked away from the Mormon church. Leaving was terrifying and liberating. What now!? Who even AM I? And what do I wear? This was a time for exploration. I tired on new looks. What felt good? I tried sexier clothes. I tried louder clothes. I shaved my head. I wore big hoops. This is fun, I thought, but I’m not there yet.
This is fun, I thought, but I'm not there yet.
Then I met Lena. I fell in love. I came out. I started a new life. A new life as MYSELF! Every day I am shedding the cultural and religious conditioning I had spent a lifetime taking in. I am turning my back to the patriarchy and gender binaries. I am no longer living in the black and white. I’m a fucking RAINBOW!
Two weeks ago I skateboarded down the aisle to marry my true love. I wore my hair platinum and short, had on a blue custom suit, no shirt or tie, and white Vans. And I have NEVER felt more like ME. If I could tell anything to that little 6 year old at church in her dress and soccer cleats, I would say, “Just keep being you, Sal. The future is better than you can imagine.”