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Maeve Woolf

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

These days, it's probably when I've had a hair cut or a leg wax, and I feel like I've taken some time and care with my appearance. But since I was small, I've felt beautiful when dancing. I continue to feel beautiful whenever I'm dancing or making love.

2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?

I notice health and vitality. I look at the way that women, in particular, move and smile. I love the long legs of young teenagers and I love looking at older women who are confident, and use colour and shape daringly. However, I also love watching women who give the impression of not giving a damn how they look.

3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

My closest women friends are all very creative dressers, with an eye for things that are quirky and artistic. I love what my two closest friends do with colour. They mix shades of green, orange, red, purple and pink with more daring than I do. I love just looking at them, seeing what they've put together.

4. Was there a moment in your life when something “clicked” for you about fashion or dressing or make-up or hair? What? Why did it happen then, do you think?

Once I left school and home I started to dress a lot less conservatively. I think I had always wanted to, but had felt restricted by parents, culture and money! The style that I adopted in my early twenties is one that I still follow. I came of age in the 'grunge' era and maintain some of those anti-fashion philosophies. When I was younger I would never spend money on clothes. I didn't shave and I didn't wear makeup, but I dressed exactly as I wanted to, with lots of jewelry and experimentation with textiles and colours. I'm less hippy now, but I still like to feel that the outer me is expressing my values and the high esteem I have for comfort and freedom. I also try not to oppress any other person or animal with my clothing and fashion choices, although there are times when I'm not strict about this: in this world, I'm sure that I do support sweatshops and animal testing, sometimes inadvertently.

5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?

1. Shop locally, buy from local designers.
2. Get second hand when you can.
3. Either buy something that's a big investment or something that's very cheap. In either case, if it's not exactly what you need or want, don't get it.
4. Try not to buy things made in Taiwan, Bangladesh or the Phillipines, unless you can follow the "manufacture trail."
5. Sometimes just do things for pleasure. Clothing is fun, so don't get too strict or boring.
6. Never buy something that doesn't fit properly or isn't something you think you'll use for a long time.

6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?

1. Don't wear a big necklace and earrings together.
2. Don't wear anything that's going to be uncomfortable after you've been in it for an hour.
3. Always wear comfy undies (no G-Strings!).
4. The days of midriff shirts and short shorts are over for me. They're uncomfortable as well as unflattering.
5. Don't wear something that doesn't flatter just because it's in fashion.
6. At work, make an effort. I feel more confident if I'm dressed well.
7. Beware too much eyeliner. It always slides down my face.

7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?

I'm struggling with this one. I've had pleasant conversations that I enjoy but I don't think I've found them transformative. I love talking about shoes. I love looking at shoes, admiring other people's shoes, gazing at shoes on the Internet. My own collection is not that extensive; as a former dancer, I really prefer comfy shoes myself. I've also been enjoying conversations with my twelve year old daughter lately about makeup. I think I used makeup when I was younger to cover up perceived inadequacies. She uses it artistically to express herself. I guess my conversations with her are the most transformative, because I'm seeing makeup as something deeply pleasurable and creative, which I hadn't seen before.

8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.

No, not unified. I'm too chaotic a person. But I do have very strong and grounded life philosophies. I try to be mindful, gentle and kind in all that I do. I don't always succeed, but it's important for me that the beauty that I try to create is not in conflict with what is best for the people and the environment around me.

9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?

There's a wonderful designer in Melbourne (Sheesh clothing). She makes skirts, of all hues, textures, lengths and styles. BUT - and this is genius I think - all of the skirts have stretchy waistbands. You can wear them if you expand or shrink - the waistbands never dig into you or feel uncomfortable. I own five of them. I rarely wear any other skirts now.

10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?

My sister and I used to have an unspoken contract to give each other "beautiful useless things." Over the years we've given each other windchimes, glass bubbles - and lots of jewelry. There's a green glass pendant made by a Sydney designer that she wears alot and it gives me a lot of joy to see her wearing it.

11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why? 

G-Strings. When I was getting a dress for my brother's wedding the shop assistant convinced me I shouldn't have a "visible panty line" and so I bought one. I ended up spending most of the wedding knickerless - it was so uncomfortable!
Also Brazilians. I guess I just don't like mucking around with the genital region too much. It's delicate, vulnerable, private - and it's mine.

12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?

Hmmm. I'm in conflict with my mother at the moment in a lot of ways. She's a conservative Catholic and my youngest daughter is transgender - and is now my son. So, I've had lots of reason to think about gender expression and the gendering of clothing. My Mum is overweight and under active. Her only jewelry is a crucifix around her neck. She's never even pierced her ears (so I've pierced mine nine times). I haven't seen her wear a dress in about twenty years and she hasn't had a bathing suit since I was a tiny child. She clearly doesn't like the way she looks.
She spent a lot of time when we were kids inculcating into us that looks weren't important, that it was what was inside that counted. Both my parents think it is wrong to concentrate on how you look and how things look.
I do think we live in a very image conscious society, but because I've always loved clothes, colour and art, I try to appreciate my visual sense without privileging it over other senses, or without consciousness of how the visual can shield you from deeper truths.
I don't want to emulate my mother's body or style in any way. When I was little, I did think she was beautiful.

13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?

I think with my closest friends we inevitably share taste. A couple of times I've had to ask them if I can buy something similar to what they own.
While I think I have my own style now, when I was in my twenties and wearing a lot of hennaed hair and long purple clothes I was definitely copying other girls that I thought looked cool!

14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

Yes. When I was twenty, the first Gulf War started. George Bush had given Saddam Hussein the countdown to get out of Kuwait. The countdown took place for me during a very hot summer when I was just back in the country after having been away in Canada. I couldn't believe that Australia was becoming part of the "coalition of the willing", when it was clearly about oil. It radicalised me. I dyed my hair red and started spending a lot of time at protests! Being a young activist changed me: I dressed simply but I no longer wore the conservative clothes that I'd grown up in. I no longer wanted to dress in a way that encouraged objectifying by men. I've softened over the years but it was a time when I learned to dress for myself.

15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?

Yes. I hope that the way I dress reflects what I believe. I'm a feminist, left wing and deeply concerned about the environment (even when I don't feel like I'm doing enough about it). To misquote Emma Goldmann, I also "don't want a revolution without dancing." It's important not to get too serious - life is about joy, artistry and celebration. You'll never see me in a Mao suit.

16. Please describe your body.

I'm pretty proud of it. The worst time I had with it was in my early twenties, when I tended to see it in bits and pieces (eg: this bit's too hairy, this bit is disproportionate with that bit). I'm a lot less critical now and tend to admire it for what it can do, rather than how it looks. I love my breasts and my strong legs. I wish my skin wasn't aging so fast - it's delicate and I didn't take care of it properly when I was younger. I also don't like my saggy tummy - the result of having two big babies close together - and I haven't gotten used to it or fully accepted it. I struggle with alcohol consumption at the moment and know that it sometimes takes a toll on my well being.
On the other hand, I ran 10 kms two weeks ago. I'm still on a high and so exultant that I'm still so young and strong!

17. Please describe your mind.

It's a good mind!! I'm so glad to have had the education that I did: I feel that I've learned to think logically as well as flexibly. I also feel well informed in the disciplinary areas that I work in.
I'm sometimes sabotaged by my emotions and by the fact that I have the kind of mind that can see many different positions and viewpoints at once. It can be hard to be decisive and I do get accused of "overthinking" (an accusation I only partly accept). I also get impatient with flat, singular versions of reality and have a tendency to indulge in the magical and fantastical.

18. Please describe your emotions.

I had a diagnosis of a bipolar mood disorder just over two years ago. It's a diagnosis that has been countered by another professional since then and it doesn't seem to quite apply to me. Nonetheless, I can be buffeted by intense emotions if I'm not careful. I get stuck in maudlin thinking and behaviour and have spent time with overwhelming grief and anger.
I also feel love and joy very intensely. Currently, I feel full of the wonder of being alive and curious about what will happen next. I try very hard just to breathe deeply and live moment by moment, without expectation, but with much gratitude.

19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

I'm supposed to be writing a lecture. It's a public holiday and it's cold. I have a purple knitted 'snood' around my neck and a large purple perspex ring from my best friend on my index finger. I'm wearing Keens on my feet that another friend gave me, cheap jeans from Target, two bamboo T-Shirts from a friend's shop and a long blue cardie that belongs to my daughter. I do have some powder and mascara on my face and a lot of silver rings and earrings. My hair is cropped short.

20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

I think if it wasn't important on some level, so many women wouldn't be making a project like this possible.
Firstly, for those of us who are middle class and living in the first world, we live in a time when all of our personal choices are inevitably politicised. As with food, making choices about clothing are one of the few ways that individual consumers can affect labour, trade, carbon miles and global economies.
With clothes, there's also so many gender issues. There's the consideration of how women are manipulated by the media to desire certain styles, and to feel that they must be seen as attractive sexually. But there's also the question of gender and identity, and having the freedom to express your internal sense of self. I'm particularly passionate about opening up the space so that all people have the right to decorate their faces and bodies in a way that feels best to them: simple, baggy clothing should not be confined to biological males; sparkles, dresses, makeup and wings should not be confined to biological females!

What’s your birth date? 
Where were you born and where do you live now?

November 17, 1970. I was born in Perth and I live in Canberra.

Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.

I am white and Anglo-Celtic. English is my first language. My family were working class in origin; however, I would describe myself as upper middle class because of my education and job.

What kind of work do you do?

I'm an academic, with a PhD in literature. I work in an education faculty.

Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?

I'm married, with two kids with my partner and a stepdaughter

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

Like I could talk about this for hours!

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