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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

I woke up like this

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Facebook’s tailored ad system picked out a T-shirt it thinks I would like. The shirt in question bears the slogan, “I woke up like this,” overlaid on a reproduction of Boticelli’s famous painting, “Birth of Venus.” In the painting, the impossibly beautiful goddess of love poses nude on a seashell, her cascading golden hair flowing out with the wind. Another Olympian figure rushes in from the right with a pink cloth, as if to cover Venus’s body and say—“Stop! You are too beautiful for mortal eyes to see.”

I always wonder what the wearer of such a T-shirt would look like. Would she feel a subtle pressure to play in the goddess’ league, so to speak, and apply a little extra lipstick or pair the T-shirt with a particularly sharp pair of pants? Would the wearer play up the irony to itsfullest extent, wearing the shirt to bed and then rolling right back out into the world in it, defying societal expectations of beauty? More likely, she’d be somewhere in the middle, wearing it with glamorous pants or with sweatpants depending on what’s in or out of the wash.

Interestingly, I’ve heard many variations of the phrase, “I woke up like this” from young women at Carleton who, like Venus, look pretty doggone good to me. Such comments tend to occur within larger conversations about fashion or about busy academic lives, and they are often phrased in a tone of voice that I can’t quite interpret— a little sheepish, but maybe also a smidgen defiant or proud. This leads me to several possible conclusions. The first option is that they’re fibbing. However, speaking as someone who knows the often hectic nature of Carleton life and has, on multiple occasions, very quickly gotten dressed and booked it to class, I kind of doubt it. Another option is that saying, “I woke up like this,” regardless of whether one did, displays a certain insecurity about one’s appearance—a need to keep others’ expectations low in hopes that one will meet or exceed them— or a certain sense of guilt at a perceived failure to fulfill a societal expectation of how women should look in public. Yet another option is that such statements are empowering and have the subtext, “Yes, I did wake up like this, and that’s perfectly fine: I know my value as a person doesn’t depend on my personal appearance.”

The rationale for saying, “I woke up like this” obviously varies from case to case. Personally, when I’ve said such things, I think it has largely been out of insecurity or out of a misguided need to prove that I have the “right” sorts of priorities—that I was not so vain that I prioritized personal appearance over academic achievement. Indeed, it’s frighteningly easy to fall into the unhealthy Academics Over All mindset at rigorous schools such as Carleton. Academics over sleep, academics over health, even academics over religion…all those puddles of quicksand await, and it isn’t hard to imagine that “academics over appearance” could be part of that same swamp. At the end of the day, though, the two are not mutually exclusive, and putting effort into appearance isn’t necessarily a sign of misplaced priorities or misused time. There is a lot to be said for heading out into the world in the morning feeling like one’s best self, and if some mascara and a pretty scarf help with that project, then I say, go for it. And if not, then by all means, go to class how you wake up and don’t look back.

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