I felt like an imposter, and it was only a matter of time until I was found out.
"You're fine," whispered my friend Dax, a men's fashion designer. "You belong just as much as anyone else."
I knew different. We had tickets further back but had sneaked into a pair of coveted front-row seats at the Marie Saint Pierre show at Montreal Fashion Week. But it wasn't only the seats I was sneaking into. It was the fashion world in general.
A few months earlier I had been working on a research contract at a non-profit centre for people with autism. But the contract ended and there was no funding for another.
Despite my PhD in clinical psychology from Queen's University, a postdoctoral fellowship at Concordia University and a respectable list of scientific publications, I found myself unemployed.
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I applied to a variety of universities for assistant professorship positions, then crossed my fingers and looked for something else to occupy my time. My friend Sarah, a frequent contributor to women's magazines, passed along an e-mail looking for a freelance writer to blog about fashion and lifestyle events and services in Montreal.
I already spent much of my free time reading fashion magazines and surfing the Internet, so it seemed like a great fit. But would the editor agree? Would she hire a psychologist to write about fashion?
The editor asked me to send a résumé and a sample of my writing. Knowing it had nothing to do with shoes or belts, I sent along my 11-page academic CV and a copy of a recent publication outlining Canadian guidelines for autism screening, assessment and diagnosis.
To my great surprise, they decided to take a chance on me. And with that, I went from child psychologist to fashion blogger for Vitamin Daily Montreal, a site that offers women advice about what's new and hot. Now, I was supposed to know what that was.
I was sure I was in over my head. I admit I wear the same grey slacks to work on most days, with a rotating selection of black sweaters and white blouses. My recent foray into the world of skinny jeans would be considered risqué in most academic circles.
Preparing to cover Montreal Fashion Week, I had a million questions. What would I wear? Would I be ostracized for not having waif-like proportions? Would I have to air kiss everyone and call them "dahhhling?" Would I be overwhelmed with a desire to throw cookies at under-nourished models? Would I have to use terms like "brilliant" and "avant-garde" to describe outfits I knew no woman over size 2 could ever wear? Would anybody care what I had to say, anyway?
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After trying on everything in my closet and coming up empty, I decided to dress in black. I had to accept that, although my job description had changed overnight, my transformation from science geek to fashionista might not be quite so smooth. I wondered if maybe I had been hired to offer that perspective. I should be true to myself and my opinions, knowing that there are many women like me out there - interested in fashion but not willing to sacrifice function. When I criticized a pair of wedding pantaloons for being silly and impractical, I envisioned the regular women reading my blog nodding along with me.
So, in the front row of the Marie Saint Pierre show, with Dax by my side, I decided to smile and enjoy the ride.
I've been writing for Vitamin Daily since December, in addition to regular contracts in my chosen field, child psychology. It's not unusual for me to work all day at a hospital or rehabilitation centre and, after a quick change of shoes and a shake of my hair, find myself sipping champagne and discussing accessories at a chic store opening in the evening.
I no longer wish to throw cookies at models and understand they're not meant to be a reference point for the shape of the modern woman. And just as models have their place in the fashion world, so do writers. No one cares how much we weigh or what we wear, as long as we write about them.
But the most surprising element has been the people I've met. Far from the vapid plastic Barbie dolls I imagined air kissing, I have found a group of intelligent, forward-thinking, three-dimensional human beings who have rarely failed to be kind, even in the face of my occasional missteps. (I once asked the well-known host of a fashion TV show what he did for a living.)
When I'm asked who else I write for - I've discovered that most people in the fashion world write for multiple publications - I answer honestly: the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.
Even in the embellished world of fashion, a child psychologist can belong. You're only an imposter if you're pretending to be something you're not. And I'm not pretending.
Jennifer Nachshen lives in Montreal.
Illustration by Catherine Lepage.