Lately, my daughters and I have gotten hooked on TLC’s What Not to Wear. In my family, when we play, we tend to immerse ourselves in whatever the entertainment passion of the moment is, which recently has been fashion. This has taken no small amount of courage, for fashion has seemed shallow, ego-based, self-centered, vain, and popular from our perspectives. It’s a decidedly unspiritual, low-brow realm favored by the masses, and for these reasons we’ve had conflicted thoughts and feelings about it. To talk or write about it at all is, from an intellectual and spiritual perspective, challenging to one’s self-image.
And, yet, we found ourselves slipping into the fashion world, which is all about image. Remember a few years ago when The Devil Wears Prada was released? I think the girls and I must have watched that movie a dozen times in the past two years. I love New York City, and looking at the clothes and shoes these women wore was fascinating. And, then, there was Meryl Streep, playing the boss from hell. She was great! Still, two years ago, fashion was little more than an interesting look at a necessary evil. Watching the movie or looking at fashion magazines or television shows was to look into a different world–like watching a travel show.
A few weeks ago, though, I learned some information about hormones that interested me. That rabbit trail eventually had me reading John Gray’s list of 100 things a woman can do to restore her oxytocin levels, among them hanging out with other women and shopping. I’m laughing as I type this, because the lessons I’m learning as a Christian, a woman, and a person are some I’d have never predicted, given the lifelong judgments I’ve carried about the fashion industry and the shallow, vain obsession some people seem to have with appearance. Come on, shopping as therapy? Excuse me while I laugh out loud!
Still, in our part of the world, we’ve had months of dreary, overcast skies, torrents of rain, snow and ice storms, and no break in the monotony of gray, gray, gray. I’m amused to admit that Gray delivered us from gray, because it was he who urged us to lift our spirits by going shopping.
And so we did.
We proclaimed a Mental Health Day, cancelled school, and went shopping. We took the little girls with us, had lunch out, went to Barnes and Noble, drank coffee, looked at magazines and books. In the fashion section I found The Lucky Fashion Manual, which was so helpful that I bought it. What woman doesn’t need to know how to make her butt look smaller, how to dress according to her body type, or simply how to invest her hard-earned money in a good skirt?
I hadn’t thought much recently about what I wore, because after my daughter Olivia died, I left my career. I had nowhere to wear my power suits, and eventually I boxed them up and donated them to Goodwill. A few years later, I found myself wearing comfy pants with elastic waists, too-large t-shirts, and slip-on shoes, like someone 30 years older. I stopped wearing makeup except for special occasions, and I let myself go. I became lost to myself, unaware at the time of just how much my career and the predictable universe I believed in had defined me. I was unraveled, and my appearance showed it.
As our winter distractions led us down the fashion path, we started recording What Not to Wear and watching it every afternoon. It’s a funny show, because the hosts are clever and have their own particular brand of saucy, snide humor that makes you cringe and laugh out loud. For several weeks now we’ve witnessed women changing through fashion transformation after transformation.
After all this time, a pattern has emerged, and out of that pattern, a truth:
We dress the way we want other people to treat us.
Like it or not, I think this is true. It is true not only of the clothing we put on our bodies, but also true of the way we wear our hair, the houses in which we live, the cars we drive, the words that come out of our mouths, what we write (yes, our blogs), and, of course, our actions. All that the human being can see, this is the image we project onto the world.
This causes me to ask, “Is this an accurate representation of who I am?”
And, “How do I want people to treat me as the result of what I am presenting?”