The day after Kate Spade’s death, I wore a white dress and her gold ballet flats. I added a pair of her earrings with a gemstone too large to be real and a pearl too smooth to be freshwater. The look was unapologetically feminine. At a young age, I would be hesitant to wear it to my office on Fifth Avenue, to be a swan drowning in a sea of black suits. I wouldn’t want them to see me as too blonde or too bright and assume I was less smart or less sharp. Because as women, we are judged primarily on our appearance. It remains the strongest and most irrevocable tool in our arsenal. The length of a skirt, the curl of hair, the touch of lip gloss will dictate our place within the preconceived notions of someone else’s mind. It will create assumptions and support suggestions. It will cause mixed signals and mixed emotions. It will cost lives. We can argue that times have changed and we have evolved beyond this. But truthfully, the obsession with appearance is stronger than ever as displayed in the constant frenzy of likes and filters and hashtags. We speak loudly of the established correlation between social media and depression and anxiety. But we only whisper of its general erosion to true human connection.
Appearances still mean everything. But the appearances we project to the world are not real.
I was shaken by the news of Kate Spade in more ways than I can understand. Initially, I felt foolish to be so impacted by a lifestyle brand designer who I do not know and whose world of fashion I dipped my toes into briefly while in college. Yet, after speaking to my friends, I discovered our reactions were similar. We were shocked. We were sad. We spoke of her husband and daughter. We noted the close proximity to our own apartments. And of course, we listed the lace dresses, bedazzled bags, and pearl studs that we all own. The Kate Spade label was a pioneer brand for women of a certain age with a certain style. It followed us as we navigated the path from girls to women. From first job interviews to promotions to engagements. It allowed us the rare opportunity to display all of our many sides. We could be playful and youthful, yet sophisticated and confident. We could be demurely shy or loudly captivating. And best of all – we could be sassy, an alternative to the incessant requirement to be sexy.
In a world drenched in fifty shades of style, it is thrilling to find a heel that says debutante instead of dominatrix.
But stylistically speaking, the one word to describe the brand is happy. Bright, bold colors and gold bubbles and quotes encouraging us to smile while we conquer the world. How is it that the woman who bottled this sensation could be anything but happy? Is she not required to manifest her creation and live up to appearances? This rationale is paired by further examination into her seemingly perfect life: success, family, fame. She was a woman who ‘had it all.’
Let’s talk about the concept and obsession to ‘have it all.’ It remains a suffocating and overwhelming pressure for the average woman. The phrase, originally coined in the early 80s, has survived decades of commentary from “Murphy Brown” to “Sex and the City” to “Girls.” Yet, with all the progression and recent regression (thanks Mr. Prez), the phrase continues to pop up in daily conversation. Yet, it only appears in the form of a question: can any of us ‘have it all’?
Can we have the perfect blowout in the boardroom to close the deal then head to Soul Cycle before coming home to cook an organic, gluten-free meal for our family? Can we have multiple orgasms and a twenty-five-year marriage? Can we be a size 2 and graduate from Wharton? Can we for once be multi-faceted enough to look like Marilyn and write like Hemingway?
I don’t know if we can. But we try fucking hard to convince the world that we do.
We live our best lives. We pose. We fake laugh. We enhance our natural beauty with Valencia, Mayfair, and Juno. We crop out and airbrush the parts we don’t like: the fat arms, crow’s feet, the cellulite. We know our best angles. We find the right light. We compress ourselves to fit into a square frame and pretend that it is real.
But none of this is real.
And upon hearing that a brilliant, successful, mother whose brand inspired women everywhere ended her life, I remember this. I remember this and it reminds me to look away from the screen and talk to the woman sitting on the couch beside me. It reminds me to listen, ask questions, and reply. It reminds me to focus on the sound of her voice instead of the fakeness of her smile.
Behind every photo is a person. Behind every smile is a story. As humans, we should look beyond the perfect appearances we cultivate and be aware of the complexities and struggles beneath the surface.