Allie Belyaev ’17 is a self-proclaimed Russian queen. The Seattle native exudes an aura of self-assuredness that is rare in college-aged young people. Her strong opinions and unapologetically sarcastic delivery are refreshing, and her commitment to presenting her authentic self is evident in her personal style.
Belyaev is known for her sass, but this facet of her expression is only one part of her identity as a powerful woman and survivor. Belyaev has used fashion and stylistic decisions to empower herself in the face of hardships. She gave me permission to reveal her past history of depression, an eating disorder and sexual assault. This incredibly brave decision to make herself vulnerable in a college publication epitomizes the power and strength that Belyaev exudes. She credits fashion as helping her to channel her “queen strength” and “warrior princess” spirit. Her fashion inspiration doesn’t come from a person or a brand, but instead stems from “an energy that I want to give off to people.” In her words, fashion allows her to couple “that funny sarcastic sassy energy I have with that queen strength.”
Reclaiming and owning her inherent power has been a journey for Belyaev. As a child, she spoke about how she “didn’t care what I was wearing … but it probably made me feel good and powerful and special.” In middle school, her “creative energy and powerful energy” was stunted by “society and its expectations on you.” She was “reenergized junior year of high school when I started hanging out with the non-private school crowd of kids who were very artistic and independent … [who had] an energy of art and love and fun.” Instead of obsessing over whether, “I look a certain way? [or] Can I fit into this style of jeans,” Belyaev began to think of the body as art that “morphs daily.”
Belyaev’s emphasis on the temporality of style is evident in her opinion that the body is “this unique piece of art and it’s going to change daily, and just like you shouldn’t restrict yourself from certain food groups, you shouldn’t restrict yourself from certain fashion trends.” The ephemerality of personal style means that each morning brings a new set of choices. These choices empower Belyaev, and allow her to reclaim the power to “wear what I want to wear,” and what “makes me feel good.”
Some days she may choose to don “some fur coat with some Cher-from-Clueless outfit,” and other days she chooses to wear “yoga pants and a sweatshirt,” although she’s quick to add, “But it was cool, a cool sweatshirt, I’ll tell you that.” To Belyaev, it’s all about deciding, “Today I feel this way. I feel powerful in this outfit.”
Belyaev’s unique approach to personal style means that she doesn’t pay much attention to trends. She concedes, “There are certain trends where I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I have been rocking more turtlenecks this season.’ But then they are other trends where I’m like, ‘I disagree, jean jackets will always be hot.’” While she doesn’t stick to many trends, and her day-to-day outfits are highly variable, Belyaev does have certain clothing staples. During the interview, she thoughtfully mused that she “can choose three things that define my style. This is very serious: glitter, velvet and my scrunchies.” Belyaev claims that glitter is magical because “When you blink sometimes, you have a glitter-filled world, and it’s awesome.” Another staple is her signature tan fur coat. She discussed how “You know when you see some rappers from the ’90s wearing fur, and they look so casual. They’re wearing Timberlands and jeans, and you’re like, ‘Allie can’t do that,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes she can.’” This self-assuredness is relatively new for Belyaev, who says that she “still needed validation and inspiration from my friends” during her high school years.
It’s almost surprising that Belyaev has found confidence and strength through style when fashion has such a volatile relationship with female empowerment and body positivity. According to Belyaev, “Fashion isn’t associated with an eating disorder, but I had an eating disorder, and fashion didn’t help. I was sexually assaulted, and fashion didn’t help because whenever I saw this guy I still needed to dress sexy for him or [I thought], ‘I need now to hide myself.’” She chose to flip these unhealthy dynamics by focusing on a new side of style: style as personal empowerment. She advises us to “Flip ‘You look really skinny today’ or ‘I look so fat in these jeans.’” Instead of buying into this toxic mentality, Belyaev likes to focus on compliments like “You look radiant in that dress. You look strong in those slacks.” In fact, she is hoping to start a body positivity collective or zine in the near future to create space for others who have struggled with the unrealistic body standards imposed on women by society and the fashion industry.
While Belyaev is outwardly confident, feeling misunderstood is part of her struggle. When speaking about being a Russian queen, she commented how this identity “complements my resting bitch face, that I’ve been known to rock a lot. Whatever, I own it, coming off as cold and mean when I haven’t even said a word to you. I don’t understand. Don’t read my eyebrows. Read my voice.” This voice radiates power. Belyaev spoke about how she was taking a variety of classes on power one semester, and how her friend named her “the power lady.” Her interest in power and strength both complements, and contrasts with, her love of water.
“I study water management in conflict zones. I’m very much into the spiritual benefits and the power of water. I like fluidity. I like watching someone walk when they’re gliding. I like capes and very flowy dresses. I like that zen-like quality and that flexibility.” This fusion of outward strength and inner calm makes for a balanced and strong survivor. The “warrior princess” label fits Belyaev like a glove, and her ongoing commitment to reclaiming her personal power through her stylistic choices reminds us that healing and empowerment come in a variety of forms. For Belyaev, having agency over her personal expression is powerful. While seemingly inconsequential, Belyaev’s decision to wear what makes her feel good is a strong political statement.