It took me a long, long time to feel comfortable in my skin.
I was an intensely insecure kid; the feeling stuck for years, like a bad habit I couldn’t kick. I constantly felt like too much – too tall, too opinionated, certainly too smart. I couldn’t seem to keep myself from mouthing off at every possible moment, desperately trying to prove myself to anyone who happened to be within earshot. I’m sure many can relate – as far as I’ve heard, the middle school years aren’t easy for anyone.
It was during these anxious years that I found Star Trek: Voyager. I have a vivid memory of landing on the back half of "The Thaw" while mindlessly flipping through channels after school one day. My mom, who was washing dishes at the time, mentioned casually over her shoulder that she had watched The Original Series with her own family. Intrigued by the idea of a familial connection, I decided to give it a shot for a few minutes. It was… weird. Anyone familiar with the episode, which features an artificial intelligence that has morphed into an embodiment of fear itself attempting to frighten the crew to death in the form of a twisted circus clown, will agree that it probably wasn’t the best place to jump into the series. But then, the chaos faded and I was left watching Kate Mulgrew chew through her dialogue with a cocked eyebrow and a gentle smirk: Starfleet captains don’t easily succumb to fear. That was that. I was obsessed.
I dove headfirst into Voyager with a teenager’s fervor, looking up rerun schedules online and asking for the DVD box sets for Christmas. I idolized that crew — particularly the women. I hadn’t realized how lacking the media I had been consuming was in terms of dynamic female characters until I was presented with the alternative. Captain Janeway, B’Elanna Torres, and Kes immediately struck me as smart, funny, complicated women who moved confidently through Voyager as scientists, leaders, and friends. They spoke up and used their voices; they were bold and brave and unafraid to be wrong. I found myself starting to believe that someday I could be like these women; that the things I didn’t like about myself at age thirteen were exactly the things that would have made me fit in on that crew. The women of Voyager helped a deeply insecure kid feel good about herself — and anyone who’s ever been a deeply insecure kid will know that that’s not nothing.
However, there was one character I didn’t quite connect to in the same way – Seven of Nine. It took a while to understand why, but eventually, it was obvious: every time she appeared on screen, my immediate reaction was a split second recognition that her stretchy metallic catsuit couldn’t possibly have been comfortable. Teetering on the edge of maturity, I was hyper-aware of my own body, and I imagined what it would feel like to be walking around in heels and a skintight suit all day long. It put a nauseous knot in the pit of my stomach. At the time, I was unable to separate that feeling from Seven as a character. In the back of my mind, I would wonder, “Is that what I’m supposed to look like?”. The thought was always followed by the impulse to do a few more situps or peel the bread off my sandwich at lunch the following day. Somehow, even then, I recognized that there was something fundamental to this character that was specifically not for me. It was quietly devastating.
But, my aversion to Seven’s costuming was a small part of the greater experience, and I wasn’t willing to give up on the show that I had grown to love so much. It was too important to me. So, I compartmentalized, and life went on. As I matured, so too did the ways that I engaged with the media around me (including Voyager). I left behind teenage awkwardness and grew into my twenties. Along the way, I read some Laura Mulvey, learned about the concept of the male gaze, and finally had the vocabulary to understand why the catsuit had always bothered me. It wasn’t simply that it was so incongruous among the rest of the cast’s costuming. It was that it was presented at face value, and never discussed or addressed within the framework of the show itself. Seven exerting agency over her physical presentation would have fit seamlessly into her character arc of rediscovering her identity, and would have added a compelling dimension to her series-long story. But, this facet of her character was left unexplored — seemingly to justify the objectification of a beautiful actress.
On future rewatches — with a slightly more experienced eye, a practiced habit of compartmentalization, and the understanding that the show and its choices were very much a product of the mid-nineties — I found that I adored Seven. She resisted simplicity in ways I found extremely narratively satisfying. I loved her for her sharpness and her arrogance, and for the surprising ways that those traits gave way, over time, to warmth and compassion. I would not have been nearly as forgiving of this character were it not for Jeri Ryan’s wonderfully nuanced and disciplined performance. I only wish I had recognized it sooner.
Which brings us to two months ago: I was scrolling through Twitter, waiting for a coffee, when my timeline lit up. The new Picard trailer had just dropped at San Diego Comic Con. I stepped out of line, too excited to watch it to wait. About halfway through, a familiar voice caused my brain to momentarily short circuit. I burst into delighted laughter. Seven was back! In the brief second she appeared, my mind skipped off in dozens of different directions — but the main one, right at the forefront: Is she wearing a sweater?
The way we dress says a lot about both who we are and who we aspire to be. In the trailer, Seven is wearing what appears to be a leather jacket and a knit sweater. Both remind me of similar pieces I have hanging in my own closet. The jacket, in particular, is one of my favorites, purchased secondhand years ago. It slips over my shoulders and my posture changes instantly – in that jacket, I stand a little taller and hold my head a little higher. It’s nothing particularly special, just a few panels of material (clearly well-loved long before I happened upon it) fraying a bit at the seams, but it has a noticeable effect on the way I perceive myself and the way I interact with the world. Clothing is a powerful tool.
And now, it’s a tool that Seven is making use of. On a critical level, I’m delighted that it’s no longer the mid-nineties and that recent Star Trek properties have featured fewer catsuits in general. I also can’t help but feel a sense of personal vindication for Ms. Ryan, that she is allowed to revisit this fascinating, challenging character in costuming that allows her to spend long days on set comfortably. But most of all, I’m thrilled for the small part of my thirteen-year-old self that’s still within me, that she gets to meet this version of Seven of Nine; the version that has chosen cozy knits over skintight lycra. I bet she’s going to have some interesting stories to tell.
Ellen Hill is a Boston-based copywriter, freelance writer, and amateur film buff. You can find her on Twitter at @ellenohill.
Star Trek: Picard will stream exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States, on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space and OTT service Crave.