Tabatha Wharton



a year+ in the life of my evolving, offbeat aesthetic as i navigate being
a mid-30s-femme-grown-up-emo-punk-single-mom-graduate-student-non-profit-employee-fashionista.


I could write a flippant thing about how this is actually a crop top but because I’m so incredibly short-waisted I could wear it with this high-waisted midi skirt to work and have zero issues with dress code skin-bearing because they clearly overlapped.

Or I can admit my delayed trauma response is finally kicking in after another intense day of therapy, at least three epiphanies regarding the relationships in my life, and the impending school years beginning. I am simultaneously tense and some sort of malleable blob of knowledge and feeling overwhelmed.

I received my designer assignments for the upcoming Clash Fashion show in September, a show I’m sure will take on a level of gravitas it never has before. I went to a photoshoot in Cincinnati and felt inundated by billboards touting #DaytonStrong messages of love and support. Conflicting reports concerning the gender identity of one of the victims have surfaced, complicating an already convoluted and impossible to decipher dialogue surrounding the event. I’ve been aggressively harassed for asking for simple credit on a photo I took at the vigil I attended, that a local artist publicly admitted to “stealing from someone” to vent their feelings on Facebook — the battering I received felt unexpected and completely out of conceivable context.

For weeks after the tornadoes, nearly every conversation still centered around each person’s experience with the disasters. This tragedy has irrevocably changed this city, and the compounded traumas of the people of Dayton rings in my bones. I have to remember to allow myself to let the feelings be felt, that I am a legitimate survivor of the tornadoes and a secondhand survivor of the shooting … on top of the traumas I already work to heal from, the damage I am trying to undo and build back from.

I wore this outfit because it was comfortable, if not as flattering (at least in these photos) as I initially thought. I am only getting older and my tastes are both expanding and refining and I don’t know quite where I want to exist on this cusp of middle age, in this flux of life paths and choices. Youth is fleeting and I see it slowly fade from my face and I worry with it goes more of my identity than I anticipated; yet I am graced with the fortune of having another day to age, to earn my fine lines and my less-forgiving skin and joints that don’t quite work the ways they used to.

I think more about the legacy I leave behind me. Who I am to the outside, through these photos and posts and my old blogs and my out-of-print book and my impending thesis. I think about the ways I might be misconstrued, how the voices around me might tell battling stories of my essential core. How none of us are the people we think we are to others — we all exist in different forms to different people depending on experiences and observations and performances. Nothing is absolute; identity and sense of self are just as much constructs, both psychologically and sociologically, as anything else, therefore no one will ever know our truest self nor the truth we call ourselves to be at our most finite definition.

And if no one can truly ever know us, how can we trust that what we leave behind will remotely mirror the truth we see within ourselves?

I’ve long since joked, as this modeling thing moved past occasional to a hobby to side gig, that these better be the photos used at my funeral to show my life — not blurry candids with the flash on in some dark bar with people I haven’t spoken to in years that someone found on Facebook; not my school pictures and posed memories. Use me, the pinup mermaid. Use the boudoir shots. Use me in pasties laid out across the top of an abandoned semi trailer. Use the runway shots and the high art concept and the goofy-faced outtakes and with every color of hair I’ve had and by goddess, use the selfies. Don’t sanitize me down to some doting mother and bookish grad student. If I am dead, show the things I am proud of, the me I have fought so hard to fully embody and display as my core self and the work I put into making myself a literal piece of art, for fun. Show ALL of it. That is who I am to the people it is most imperative to have remember me now, in the present living breathing day — let that be who is shown to everyone, let that be the final tribute to my existence on this plane.

Let be be worth remembering the way I presented myself, not in accordance with how other people expected or wanted me to be.

Let there be no confusion of the kind of human I was. Grant me that peace within your grief.

I don’t know how to wrap this up other than to say that I am tired in a way no rest can cure. But I am so very grateful to be tasked with being alive, every day that the privilege is granted upon me.

And I hope that remains a mainstay of my legacy, whenever it may be that the privilege is revoked.

Black knit sleeveless mock neck cropped sweater: Express
Leopard print tulle midi skirt & gold hoop earrings: Target
Gold multi-tier clear quartz crystal necklace: Nordstrom Rack
Black leather & suede strappy gladiator sandals: Sam Edelman