Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dignity of the Dress

There are certain garments, like this little white slip, that makes me feel tingly and beautiful and powerful whenever I put it on. 

In her book titled Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino cites researcher Moira Weigel who describes a phenomenon called "enclothed cognition." Says Tolentino:

"In one experiment, test subjects were given white coats to wear. If they were told it was a lab coat, they became more attentive. If they were told it was a painter's coat, they became less attentive. They felt like the person their clothes said they were."

In other words, the participating subjects not only FELT but BEHAVED like people that the jackets told them they were. 

I would further argue that how a person dresses affects the way OTHERS behave toward them. In the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon, Brittany transforms her life by losing weight through diet and exercise. She points out in one scene that in her new body, men literally start to open doors for her. 

In my experience, not only do men open doors, they also bring you water that you want but don't ask for, and volunteer to walk you to the aisle that has the thing you're looking for at Home Depot. Of course that's the bright side of behavior influenced by external factors. There's a dark side where behavior crosses the line to include groping and assault.

In another book titled The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, we learn that at the age of 16, Eger and her sisters were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis. Ever since they were little, Eger's sister Magda had loved dressing beautifully. Eger describes that in the winter, the soldiers issued old coats to the prisoners, just tossing them out without attention to size and fit. Says Eger:

"Magda was lucky. They threw her a thick warm coat, long and heavy, with buttons all the way up to the neck. It was so warm, so coveted. But she traded it instantly. The coat she chose in its place was a flimsy little thing, barely to the knees, showing off plenty of chest. For Magda, wearing something sexy was a better survival tool than staying warm. Feeling attractive gave her something inside, a sense of dignity, more valuable to her than physical comfort."

It's difficult to be honest about our desire for beautiful clothes and body. On the one hand it sounds like a no-brainer. On the other hand, it sounds potentially shallow and exclusionary. Roxane Gay points out in her book titled Hunger how ridiculous it was for her well-meaning friend to say to her "You're not fat" when she was weighing about 500 pounds. Gay's point challenges the popular body inclusivity movement to accept that it's ok for a fat person to try to become unfat. That that pursuit isn't in and of itself exclusionary or shallow.

Brittnay finishes the NYC marathon and ultimately realizes that the key to unlocking true happiness isn't about the weight and the clothes but it isn't NOT about the weight and clothes either. I think they are all inextricably tied. Self worth is tied to what we wear is tied to the body we keep is tied to the amount of debt we carry is tied to how we manage our time. 

In the scene where Brittnay starts the NYC marathon, we hear the emcee who welcomes all the runners, reminding everyone that the marathon is an experience that has no borders, only start lines.

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