There’s a quote by C S Lewis that has fascinated me for years, partly because I’m never quite sure I understand it, and partly because at other times, I’m certain I do:
‘Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.’
I was lucky enough to be invited to an event at the Lithuanian embassy with Ruta Sepetys, the author of the book ‘Between Shades of Grey‘ (not to be confused with the dodgy Twilight fanfic) – somehow representing the book-blogging world even though I’m not technically even a book blogger (just a blogger obsessed with books…and sometimes not even that). Between Shades of Grey is a historical fiction, set in 1941 Lithuania under Stalin, the story of 15-year-old Lina Vilkas during the mass deportation of people from the Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania) to Siberia. It is based on the firsthand accounts of survivors, and is a story that was, at the time of publication, practically untold in the English language. Which is strange and disturbing all at once, especially considering how much we have about the Holocaust.
Ruta is an engaging speaker – funny and self-deprecating. She told us about how in the course of her research, she took part in an immersion experience in an abandoned Soviet prison (reminding me of the famous prison experiments), and how brutal – and brutalising – it was both physically and emotionally. It was difficult listening to her speak about how the situation eroded her sense of her own humanity, even in that short time, her shame when a fellow prisoner in worse condition helped her, and finally the quiet admission, ‘I discovered I was a coward.’
But despite how she would have you think that, I can’t help believing it takes some kind of courage to stand in front of a roomful of people and admit it to them. The courage of the tiger is one, and of the horse another, is it not? Plus tigers are almost extinct.
In a book like this, there is so much to think about, and not much to enjoy. There are big questions like identity and morality to struggle with, and it is a desperately exhausting read emotionally. But it’s important to do. I keep thinking of Anne Frank’s haunting line, ‘I want to go on living, even after my death’, and how devastated I was by her death, so many years after the fact. Two sides of the same war, and somehow the brutal inhumanity is the same – but so is the kindness of one’s fellows. And that is what Ruta wants us to take away: hope.
A few really lovely people came up to me to tell me how happy they were that this book – this book that was about who they were and what they had been through – had crossed all the boundaries of race and geography and beliefs, and became this experience that was universal enough for everyone to find themselves in (I was there looking very un-Lithuanian and very un-English!). But what was also important to them was that no matter how universally it could be taken, Lithuanians should not be forgotten or lost in that universality. Lithuanian voices want to be heard.
Read more about Ruta and Between Shades of Grey here.
As a final note, I think it’s important to remember that for every story told, there are a thousand more untold. Wars and holocausts aren’t as buried in history as we like to think. They are now. We need to show courage now. We need to be able to stand against injustice and atrocities as they happen, not seventy years after the fact. Look around you.
I know that it has been a long time since any of us have really posted, and I apologize for that. But now I’m finding that I have the time and emotional energy to write here again, so maybe it’s time for me at least to start putting my ideas back out into the world. I hope that soon some of the other Rock Pooling ladies are able to rejoin as well!!
Recently I made a move from Small-town, Middle-of-nowhere to Washington DC. Not for long– I’ll be going back to Small-town, Middle-of-nowhere soon so that I can maybe finish my Bachelor’s degree. But as you can imagine, Washington DC is a bit of a shock to my system. For example, I have never lived in a place where walking under the trees is cooler even at night. It still boggles my mind.
There’s one thing that seriously throws me off balance though, which is that many of my normal pursuits are… a bit less available here. Well, at least since I don’t own a car and just find that I don’t want to walk seven miles in order to go for a walk in the woods or play in a river. That’s a long way in this ridiculous humid heat. There are some lovely little walks right next to where I live, certainly, but I’m still not brave enough to walk them during the day when my body is still not all that great at handling the heat. Which means that I tend to go out walking at night. I guess you really could debate the wisdom in that as well, but I think I’m a bit more open to getting in
a fight or two than suffering heatstroke or heat exhaustion or something like that. The latter tends to make me cranky, to say the least. I don’t like being cranky. (Let’s not discuss my propensity for getting into fights and whether or not that improves my mood. I’m an odd creature; let’s leave it at that.)
But since some of my normal pursuits are somewhat less available (it’s so hard to find someplace with a piano that I can go and practice singing, for instance. Seriously irritating), I discovered yesterday when I was having a bit of a rough afternoon that there was something else that I could do besides ride horses or sing at the top of my lungs. Frankly, I didn’t think that it would work, and I’m still surprised that it did. And oddly enough, it did not involve chocolate. Be amazed.
Yes, I am now 21 years old and I have never engaged in retail therapy in order to stay happy. Probably like many of my fellow Rock Poolers, I can’t help but think that there are better things to do with my life than to fill my closet (which at this moment in my life is actually a suitcase, but that’s cool too). But I did need to get a few things anyhow, so I gritted my teeth and headed out to the nearest mall, which for the first time in my life is a few blocks away rather than a few hours away.
The first purchase that I made was for some skin care products which I’m afraid are much needed at this point in my life. And as I went up to the lady at the counter and asked for these products, she was very kind even though my appearance was probably verging on demonic. Hair floofing out everywhere, zits all across my face, cheap sunglasses perched in my sweaty nose, and dressed in a tee-shirt and comfy pants, which was a very far cry from all of the cute little dresses that I saw every other woman wearing yesterday. But this lady who I could tell had already had a very long day, that she was a working mom whose teenage son was wandering the store in complete and utter boredom, that she did just want to go home but was resigned to a few more hours of work, was very kind to me. And as soon as I swiped my card and took the bag, something utterly bizarre happened.
I felt some of my tense muscles instantly release.
I’m not a shopper by nature, even if I do happen to like pretty shiny stuff and have more of an inclination to like clothes and shoes than I used to. But I still generally find shopping to be a bit stressful, rather than the opposite. So that physical reaction was just utterly shocking to me.
But I felt a better, so I flashed this lovely woman a big, very genuine smile, thanked her profusely for her help, and walked away to a different store, one I certainly would never have walked into a few years ago, this time to see if I could find shorts and maybe some cooler shirts. (By the way, this is because I was not the most brilliant in my packing. I don’t actually own that many shorts, and only brought one pair, and then the vast majority of the tee-shirts that I brought are… well… this is weird, but I think they’re higher quality fabric or something, so they’re thicker and trap the heat. It’s kind of awful.)
It was the same thing. A girl came up to me, asked me if I needed help, and was in general very sweet to me. So when I walked out of that store, I had spent fifty dollars on a pair of modest shorts, two tank tops, and two other shirts. I would like to point out that everything but the shorts were on sale though, so clearly I managed to justify my buys.
Did I really need any of those clothes?
But I felt a lot better.
Since I’m not exactly a natural shopper, I came home and instantly began to question why it was that I felt so much better after blowing about a hundred dollars on skin care and clothes. It actually didn’t take too long for me to figure it out.
I felt in control again.
I had just had to deal with a guy who had made me feel completely worthless at every encounter with everything from lies to broken promises to propositions for one night stands. It was perfectly clear that he didn’t actually like me, especially when three or four weeks ago I made him a bit… peevish by calling him out on what I most certainly believe to be lies and otherwise nothing but hot air. He responded with some of the most offensive language in the English language (seriously, THE MOST OFFENSIVE. It was pretty awful.) and virtually screamed at me to delete his number from my phone and never speak to him again.
You might wonder, why was this guy actually deciding to talk to me again. The answer is: I have no idea.
Since I knew he was definitely inclined to be persistant about this by text number two, I decided to drive him off as politely as possible (which surprisingly enough did not involve any swearing. I’m still amazed at my own self-control). Actually, it was incredibly polite under the circumstances. And somehow effective, which is still surprising. Seems like those two don’t exactly go hand in hand a lot of the time.
You see where I was coming from? I felt like I was being constantly insulted, and I certainly felt like it was adding insult to injury that this guy would think that I would be just fine with him talking to me after how our last encounters worked out. I felt small, ugly, and completely without either respect or affection. I felt like even though I had done the very best that I could, that I had tried to handle things as well as possible, that I had tried so hard to demand the respect that I deserve, as a human being, a woman, and an individual, that this was still all my fault.
Of course shopping would be an effective quick-fix to this. Number one, it got me out of the house. But I ended up in two stores where there were women who smiled and talked to me, and I could care less that they were being paid for it, they were polite and friendly even though they didn’t know me, they had no clue how angry and hurt I was and how insulted I felt. And I felt like I was pretty again, even with my floofy hair and bad skin. I was trying on clothes that both fit me and flattered me. I had new skin care products that would probably help my skin clear up. Things were looking up. And very importantly, I was spending my own money, and no one was telling me what I could or could not buy, what I could or could not wear, and certainly no one could tell me that I didn’t look alright. It was up to me. I got to spend my own money, I got to try on the clothes that I chose, I got to decide what I looked good in, I got to decide that in spite of my acne and my sweaty camouflage tee-shirt, that I was still worthwhile and beautiful.
Do I think that Retail Therapy is the real and only answer for when I feel like I’m down?
Oh heavens, no. Absolutely and totally no. For me, I think the only long-term solution will involve the growth of my own self-esteem, my own stubborn faith and hope in God, and (the most difficult) to not allow my self-worth to be based on how these guys treat me.
I’m afraid that I’m inclined to be… frustrated with the fact that Retail Therapy is so hyped up. It’s like a fad that never ends. “If you buy pretty things it will make you happy.” Well, yes, that’s true for a little while. Certainly owning clothes that I look good in does help me feel more confident and happy. But that’s not going to work in the long run. Look at some of these ridiculous celebrities out in the world who have all the time and money in the world, and they spend every day of their lives shopping.
Maybe it’s just me, but they don’t really look all that happy.
I think it’s sad that society tells women that they will be happy if they go out and spend money on this pair of shoes or that shirt or how wearing that watch will bring them complete and total bliss. And I shouldn’t leave men out of this (even if I still feel like women have to deal more with social foolishness than men do, but that’s besides the point). Men are told that the way to a life of happiness is if they go to the gym and work out and have a great career to make all the money in the world, then everything will be okay. Heck, men get stuck
with some of the commercialism too. If you buy this kind of deoderant or cologne then women will go mad for you and you’ll never want for anything again. (Tell me I’m not wrong guys. You should all be VERY familiar with this guy and these commercials)
We’re not told to go read a good book or to go for a walk with a friend or to maybe go to lunch with someone we love. We’re told that’s boring, that books and friends and family are all just a burden and an irritation.
How painfully sad.
But I can understand a little now why women do choose to go for Retail Therapy now. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be a bit slower to condemn these women for it in the future. Maybe that’s something that I at least can work on.
Two years ago today, this blog kicked off, hopeful and ambitious, as a project between people who would become good friends, coming together with all our differences to make space for each other at the table of Life. Although we didn’t mean to get tangled in over-long sentences and pretentious metaphors, it did occasionally happen (my fault, I’m afraid), and for that I apologise to the internet at large. A great deal has happened over the past year for all of us, and just as things reached the apex of Big, a lovely surprise fell into my lap, in the form of an interview with Sabrina from Slice of Lemon.
Slice of Lemon is written by Sabrina Enayatulla, whose name, like mine, does not end with an ‘h’ even though you want it to, and will never end with an ‘h’ no matter how many times you misspell it. She’s an award-winning journalist who quit her job at The Washington Post.com to pursue her own writing, bringing us the hilarity and light-handed Life Messages that is Slice. This blog owes a debt of inspiration to Sabrina, and is fully half the reason it existed in the first place.*
She’s currently working on the manuscript of her memoirs, as well as continuing to educate and entertain the Slice-reading masses. Hop on over to Slice of Lemon to read more and die laughing.
An Interview with Sabrina Enayatulla
What does the Boss think of Slice of Lemon?
I don’t like to speak for other people, so I thought I’d let him answer this one!
I think SOL is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. I think it’s one of the few blogs that hits on such a wide array of topics in an entertaining but still enlightening way. I enjoy reading it at work when I’m losing my mind; reading something lighthearted and fun gets me back into my rhythm of work. I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.
You write a series, ‘The Journey Within‘, exploring some deeply personal turning-points in your past in a moving and sometimes haunting way. Are you ever troubled by the question of how honest to be in your writing? Do you have rules, or a ‘Do Not Pass’ point as far as self-disclosure goes?
I absolutely have boundaries for myself regarding what I write, and more often than not, those boundaries are dictated by my faith. If I’m ever concerned about something I want to write, I turn to prayer first. Next, I seek advice from my husband, and finally, I talk to my Sheikh (or religion teacher) whose advice and guidance I trust wholeheartedly.
Ultimately, I know that my name will forever be attached to what I write. As a journalist, that gives me a sense of pride; as a Muslim, I feel the weight of that responsibility. I’m well aware that my words have an impact, and my only hope is that whatever I say or write will present a teaching opportunity for whoever comes across it, and the emotion and response evoked from others will present the same opportunity for me.
Because I do publish a personal blog, I think most people would be surprised to know that I’m actually a very private person. What I publish on my blog is probably less than five percent of my life (past or present), and the remaining 95 percent is private, sacred, and privileged information. Ultimately, I edit myself with a heavy hand anyway so while the Journey installments are often very raw, or my daily posts may feel very personal at times, I’m extremely fortunate to be in a place where I have full creative control over the content on my site. I once had a friend ask me, “Where do you write the stuff that’s so personal you would never tell anyone?” To which I responded, “I would never write that stuff down.”
You’ve defied every known law of physics and traveled back in time to meet 15-year-old Sabreen. BUT:
a) She can’t know you are Future Sabreen
b) You can’t tell her what happens in the future
c) You have five minutes before you are sucked back to your own time and physics goes back to normal.
How does the conversation go?
I would pull her/me aside, and say: Value honesty, justice, and compassion over all other qualities. Use those attributes to set the bar for yourself and measure everyone you bring into your life by that standard. Be incessantly kind and overwhelmingly grateful to your amazing parents. They have taught you, and will continue to teach you invaluable life lessons that will benefit you beyond measure for as long as you live. Strive to be on a life-long journey toward self improvement. Be humble, be patient, be kind and be sincere. Look at yourself with a hard, judgmental eye, but never that way at others. And finally, homework isn’t really that big of a deal. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you turn out okay – late assignments and all.
Most of the Rock Pool’s writers are incurable bibliophiles and we could probably talk about books all day. Are you a book-person? What are you reading at the moment? Do you have, like, a ‘Sabrina’s Top Five Favorite Books in the Universe’?
I don’t have a top five per se, but I do enjoy reading for pleasure (though indulging in a good book is a bit of a luxury right now because of my tight work schedule). I have a few novels on my bookshelf that I’m hoping to get around to before the end of the year, and a few books that my husband has highly recommended I read. Ask me this same question in November and we’ll see how well I managed my time!
Does blogging hold a ‘dark side’ for you?
I guess the only “dark side” is when you’re easily accessible to the public, some people feel entitled to say things that they would never say to you from not behind a computer screen; the anonymity of the Internet can be a blessing, but it can also be a hide-out for the cowardly scum of the earth. I’m extremely fortunate to have an incredible group of readers (all of whom I hope to meet someday!) but the reality is, people are people. We all have weaknesses, and some people showcase their weakness through hatemail and/or nasty comments. Occasionally, because of my international readership, my (I’ve been told) sarcastic American humor or cultural references will get lost in translation, and I’ll get an e-mail ending with someone telling me they’ll never read my site again. It never bothers me though. If my mom called me and said she didn’t like something I wrote, then that would make an impact. But if a stranger takes time out of their day to say something egregious, I can’t find space in my heart for those words to occupy. But I will say that coming across crappy people (virtually or physically) is a blessing. They’re a great reminder of who I never want to be.
How long is your Life List? Can you tell us a little more about it, like what it is, what you’ve crossed off so far, what you want to cross off the most, which one you think will be the hardest to do, and so on?
Right now, my Life List has about 380 items on it, and the list continues to evolve. I started this list in high school as a way for me to organize and visualize my goals; writing them down made me feel a sense of accountability toward myself. After I got married, my list was a way for me to share my vision for my future with my husband. I’m happy when I cross anything off my Life List, but if I had to pick something I’d like to cross off next, it might have something to do with conquering a fear, or traveling somewhere. I’m not sure which of my items will be the hardest to tackle because each item poses its own challenge, which is how it got on the list to begin with!
You and Oprah: what’s the deal? Why she so cool? (I have to admit right off that I know very little about her, I somehow missed that growing up.)
I’ve always respected Oprah Winfrey as one of the female pioneers in the world of journalism. I don’t always agree with her topics or her point of view, but I look at her as someone who’s hardworking, generous and ambitious – all of which are qualities I admire. She paved the way for women of color in this field, and as a journalist, a minority, and a woman, I appreciate her for that.
Your high school has invited you back to give a talk to the senior class, with the condition that you ‘be profound’. What are you going to say to them?
My talk would probably be centered around one main point: the social responsibility that each of us has toward each other, our communities, and our planet. This is an all-encompassing topic, which would allow me to cover everything from bullying, to teenage love, to going green, to showing gratitude. I hope I have ample time to prepare!
On your About page, you talk about your love of travel, and we had SO much fun reading about your cross-country trip with The Boss. Where would you most like to go next and/or where could you see yourself settling down permanently (if at all)?
That trip was so much fun, I’ve been telling everyone to add, “Drive across the country” (the U.S., I mean!) to their own personal life lists. My husband and I would love to go somewhere very tropical, or very cold next. Any ideas? We’d also like to go for Hajj (the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia) someday. In terms of where we want to settle, there are so many future factors that will determine that answer, we really don’t know yet!
What do you do when you’re not doing Slice? I mean, apart from vegging out on the internet (like the best of us). What brings in the cash, kudos and contentment?
In addition to authoring Slice of Lemon.com, I’m the managing editor of Newlyweds-Dish.com; I also freelance and teach part-time. All of that brings in the cash, kudos and contentment, and of course, my husband brings all three to my life too!
Lastly, we want to know, in detail, where you get your scarves because the little, “Oh, I check out Target and HM,” is totally getting us nowhere.
Target and H&M! But I smiled when I read this question. Also, BP at Nordstrom on occasion, and gifts from friends and family (usually picked up from abroad).
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Sabrina! We hope you guys, dear readers, enjoyed it, too.
Photograph © Sabrina Enayatulla. Used with permission.
* This is the other half of the reason.
Before you go rushing off to find out with Athenaeum means, it’s another word for library. It sounds very Greek and awesome, so I decided to use it.
Just so you know, I want a library like this someday. Filled with awesome books.
Well, I realize the whole world doesn’t run off of the same schedule, but some of us have hit finals week now. Thank goodness. That means that at least my chance of surviving the semester has had at least a fifty percent increase.
Due to the fact that I am a history major, I do spend kind of a lot of time in the library. The minor in literature doesn’t really help either. Although I’m not in the library really as I really should be. I find myself wandering out to the fine arts building a lot so that I can poke and irritate music majors instead. I’m thinking of turning it into an olympic sport. The goal? See how many music majors you can get to threaten to lock you in a cello locker in under ten minutes. Threats of being put in the garbage or locked in a display case also count.
But since I’m in the library more right now than in previous semesters, I know something about the usual numbers of people who show up in the library and their tendency to infiltrate the stacks in an attempt at peace and quiet. Usually? Not that many. But when finals week rolls around? Lots more. Enough that I can’t seem to find a nice comfortable place to study where I don’t have to worry about disturbing someone by sneezing.
I’m also picking up on some very fun observations. And asking a few very obvious questions along the way. Such as:
- The library advertises that they’re open later during finals week than any other time of the semester. Does that mean that they are also spending more money on power and making sure that the building is sufficiently staffed?
- Do the librarians find themselves in a frantic state trying to find books, shelf books, and send out late notices? Do they start waiting at the computers just so that they can send out notices to the people who have overdue books and that they can charge late fees for?
- Are the people from tech support running around frantically as well to keep everyones’ computers alive and sputtering for one last week?
- How many people take the stairs rather than the elevator in their search for a quiet area to study?
- Do people find themselves panting as they haul themselves up and down multiple flights of stairs?
- Are people still confused that there is no entrance to the fourth floor of the library from the main staircase? Are they confused by the fact that there are two third floors?
- Is anyone still willing to take the time to watch TV shows on library computers for fear that someone will see and mob them for taking a computer that they could have used?
- Does anyone else get a thrill of excitement when they turn in twelve books at once that they no longer need like how I did? (They were all research books. If they had been for pleasure reading, that would be a different matter entirely. As it is, it was a very satisfying experience.)
- How many people are posting on Facebook right now about how Osama bin Laden is dead? Which people are clicking “like” on the “How the USA shows up a Royal Wedding” page?
- Does anyone else notice their backpack getting heavier as they press the “up” button in the elevator?What kind of force is being applied in order to make said backpack feel heavier?
- When and how do people clean elevators? How awkward would it be to walk in on someone cleaning the elevator?
- How many people are writing blogs in order to procrastinate writing their last paper of the semester?
Whoops. The last one might just be me.
Have a wonderful week everyone, whether you’re struggling with finals, enjoying the chance to sleep in an extra fifteen minutes some mornings, freaking out about finding a summer job, already have a job and you’re freaking out about how insane your boss is, on summer vacation and making me jealous, chasing little kids around the house and STILL making me jealous, out partying the nights away, or whatever your life takes you to do this week. Have a good one and good luck!!
In all of those chick flicks
WHICH OF COURSE I NEVER WATCH WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM, A MASOCHIST? there’s always this guy who, when he’s caught doing things the girl wants, is forced by his guy friends to admit that he is ‘whipped’:
Tom: ‘I am buying this cereal ’cause my missus likes it.’
Carter: ‘Jeez, dude, you’re whipped. Hahahaha!’
Tom: ‘I am NOT whipped.’ /jawclench
Carter: ‘Dude you’re so whipped!’ /weeping with laughter
And how, I want to grump at them, is this a bad thing? WHY is it a bad thing? And what is the term for a girl who does what the guy wants?
There isn’t one.
At least, I don’t KNOW one. (Unless it’s ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ or
Which kind of says it all. It’s okay for a girl to do what it takes to make the guy she’s with happy. But if the guy does the same, his reputation will be slaughtered, slowly and with much ridicule.
Guys, you are like whipping cream. It is your destiny to be whipped. That watery milky stuff is not what you are meant to be. You are meant to be magnificently light and go well with cake, and strawberries, and tribulation, and maybe curry.
Wow, a month without any new posts? Good gravy, rock-poolers, we are SLACKING!!!!!!!!!! But only because of our impressively busy and hectic lives, I promise. But really, we need to get back with the program, so I will at least apologize for my own blog silence and promise to at least attempt to do better. If there’s any other completely uncommitted promise that I could possibly make, I will make that one too.
Well, back to an old rant I guess, but it’s kind of a classic. Which one? Well, women and our self-worth and the way that we see ourselves. Maybe it’s just because it’s one of my absolute favorite soapboxes, but really, is there any woman out there who doesn’t struggle seeing herself as beautiful or worthwhile out there? If she/you is/are out there, she/you should contact me. I would love to know how she/you do it. And if you can make out that sentence then you automatically win ten brownie points. Which might not be enough for me to actually send brownies (due to the fact that I am a cheapskate and have no time to send brownies to anyone), but please, feel free to indulge!!! Brownies and icecream!!! Oh heavens, I love food. Possibly a little too much, but that’s not gonna stop me anytime soon.
Most of this post was inspired by Kaimalino posting this article on Facebook. It’s a good read, really. It’s a woman writing about how we allow our daughters to wear skanky clothing so that they can be pretty and be accepted. And trust me, there is no way to downplay being pretty and accepted. Good gravy, I thrive off of attention, especially positive attention. It’s the drama queen in me. Sometimes I go for attention from girls that I think are prettier than me, and since they’re prettier than I am they must be from “a higher caliber.” Really, I’ve used that phrase before in conversations with people. Once again, I thrive off of the drama, which is a habit I really need to break ’cause it’s not doing me a whole lot of good. Tell me that you don’t look at other girls sometimes and say the same thing to yourself though. “She’s prettier than me, she has longer legs and bigger eyes and beautiful hair and has fashion sense and knows how to do makeup, and so clearly she’s better than me.”
But if you’re anything like me, that’s not the attention you really crave. And yes, I realize crave is also a word generally applied to the unadulterated desire/need for food… I promise, I’m not even hungry writing this. I just like food, that’s all. But getting back on point, just about every girl/woman out there looks to one particular source for attention. You know exactly which one I’m talking about.
I admit it, guys are usually the first ones I turn to for any kind of attention. (Such drama. Ugh!) And I’m willing to do just about anything for that attention. Let’s face it, sometimes we women do some stupid things for a guy, or just for guys in general. Which might ruin one of my usual wise-cracks about men being run only by their hormones, but really, tell me that you haven’t done something to try to impress a guy at least once. We dress a little differently if we know we’re going to be around men, at the very least. And sometimes we do get that attention.
But my question is, what kind of attention are we getting?
You know that phrase about how “It’s not what’s outside, but what’s inside, that counts”? And how “It doesn’t matter what you wear”?
Or at least they didn’t tell the whole truth. People have a great knack for looking at what we wear more than at anything else. Really. I’ve spent several months, if not years, experimenting with this concept. I used to spend most of my life running around wearing camouflage with split ends all through my hair, zits up and down my face, a too-large-sweatshirt, and combat boots. Still do, every once in a while. Never underestimate the awesomeness of wearing camouflage. I still love my camo and boots and stuff.
But I had very little positive attention from any guys. I made a couple of really great guy-friends, but they fully expected me to be able to beat them into the ground if I wanted to. Which I could. And it’s very handy to me now. Not to mention it’s downright entertaining to be able to grin at a friend and have them slowly inch their chair away because they’re never quite sure what you’re gonna do. The spontaneity of each situation is completely worth it.
Outside of those friendships though? Most of the attention I got was negative. One of the clearest expressions I remember seeing on any guy’s face was contempt, whether they knew it or not.
Eventually I think my taste in clothing turned a bit more feminine, although I still didn’t really go out of my way to be pretty. Still don’t, sometimes. For any guys out there reading this; you should probably know that being pretty is tough work, so don’t underestimate the effort that goes into it.
The next phase that I really remember is when I started Blues Dancing. It wasn’t really that I was dressing differently. It was that I was moving differently. There was only one instance where I dressed immodestly, and trust me, I got asked to dance a lot more when I was wearing a tank-top than I ever did wearing shirts with sleeves. And then I added in learning how to move differently, like being able to move different parts of my body sort of independantly of each other.
I got attention from men.
And it was completely different than anything else I’d had before. There were times when I could have sworn that my friend was going to start salivating watching me dance. And there are some guys who take it as an opportunity to try to get their hands on you. Even when you do dress modestly and make it very clear that you’re not there for anything other than dancing. And in some sick way, it’s hard for anyone not to think that way.
I thrived on it for quite a while. I had rarely had any attention from guys like that before, and so it was a novelty, and therefore it was exciting and it felt good. And I started looking for some of that attention in other places, trying to manipulate similar reactions out of men who normally wouldn’t look at any woman that way if they could help it. Which just makes me feel sick to my stomach now. It was disgusting and just flat out wrong.
A little more recently (thank goodness; I don’t think I could handle it if I was still in that phase) I started trying to dress a little differently. It’s not the healthiest thing for my checkbook (really, I don’t go shopping that often, and I think what I bought was pretty versatile and flattering, so I’ll get over it), but I decided to try to dress in a way that makes me feel beautiful, and I make sure that it’s modest so that I feel absolutely comfortable with my own body and how people (and in particular, men) look at me.
It’s an awesome change.
If nothing else, the way you dress affects how YOU feel about yourself. I dress differently, and I carry myself differently. I walk with a slightly different posture, when I’m in public I look people in the eye a little more, I smile a little more confidently.
And the change in responses is huge!
I was talking to a couple of guys who might well have looked down at me a few years ago. They were willing to hold an intelligent conversation with me, and they compared me favorably with a person that I completely respect and almost hero-worship: My brother. They looked me in the face, and there was an expression I hadn’t really seen there before: Respect.
I walked into a store and the lady at the register smiled at me a bit longer than she normally would have. Of course, it helped that I was certain to be polite and smile at her the whole time, and for all I know it was just because she was thinking “this poor girl is trying so hard to be something that she’s not, it’s like watching a little kid play dress up.” I really hope that wasn’t what she was actually thinking– otherwise it would ruin my whole point. But she dealt with me a little differently than she normally would have.
Of course, there are a few things that don’t really change. Or if they do change then there’s something wrong. Some of our friends should still be treating us the same. This is where the inside stuff really does count. If it doesn’t, clearly we’re gonna need some new friends. The fact that I had a purse only made one friend take it from me and hit me (gently) with it, just so he could say that he had hit a woman with her own purse. And so I took it back and smacked him (a little less gently) with it afterwards. I let him hit me twice or three times, so my hitting him once a little harder did not cause me any particular guilt or shame.
Here’s what I’m trying to say.
We claim that we don’t judge people based on first impressions and what they wear. Sorry. We lie. And people will always be judging us on the exact same things. I am not saying that we should go out and dress in an entirely different way so that we will get different responses from people, in spite of the fact that it is both interesting and informative.
We claim that we’re confident and strong women, that we deserve the respect that comes with that. We complain incessantly about how men were checking out our bodies instead of talking to us. We say that we’re not shallow, that we want something more than a physical connection with another human being.
So why don’t we dress that way?
Maybe we should try dressing in a way that makes us feel like we’re human beings, not just toys to be dressed up and looked at for someone else’s pleasure. Maybe we should consider not showing off everything we have just to get some guy to look at us. We’re meant to be more than eye-candy: We’re meant to be beautiful. We should be confident enough to dress in a way that tells the men around us that we deserve their respect, and that we are gorgeous, strong, beautiful, smart women with more to us than an expensive, low-cut shirt that nearly fails to cover anything. We’re worth a lot more than that, ladies.
For the men who dare to read this and endure my scathing comments about people who just happen to possess an XY chromosome: We do deserve your respect. We shouldn’t have to feel like we need to dress indecently to get your attention. Yes, we do have beautiful bodies– we’re kind of genetically programmed to. But we are people living inside those bodies. We need to be treated like people. Could you maybe help us out a little bit? Please, try to stop looking at us like we have no greater worth than that expensive outfit. In a ratio of money to amount of fabric put into that outfit, sometimes it’s a complete rip off. I guarantee there are some fascinating patterns in the ceiling when all else fails, and honestly, you’re much more likely to earn my respect if you don’t look at us like that. Could you please help us break that cycle here?
You might think I’m being preachy, and maybe I am. I don’t mean to tell you that you’re wrong, and at the same time, I have to say kudos to the women who are brave enough to dress modestly. But no matter what you think about me, my religious views, my social views, or anything else, there is one thing that I can tell you, which is that we are worth more than that. And we deserve to be treated like something more than that. Yes, we want attention from men, but we deserve respect. We do have to try to do something to help them out a little bit though. A plenty good place to start is dressing like we deserve something more. Eventually the rest will come.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
I am back from the bakery with 120 festively-frosted oatmeal-sugar cookies for the third graders at my son’s school.
I ordered 10 dozen, thinking that was plenty for the 106 children I was told to plan for, plus a few buffers in case there was, you know, an incident with me and my other little boys.
I should’ve gotten more.
Want a closer look?
Valentine’s Day is a hard holiday for lots of people, but in third grade, it’s still uncomplicated and good. Just treats and cards with corny jokes for everyone. Maybe it’s not like that forever, but for now, it’s nice.
While addressing valentines last night with my boy, I watched him consider writing something rude on the card for a girl in his class. She’s dished out plenty of unkindness lately, but even so, she deserves a friendly valentine. I didn’t bother to philosophize or try to explain to my son that as an American woman, she will likely have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day for the rest of her life, and no way would I allow him to contribute to that turmoil while they are both still learning to navigate the foreign waters of good manners and peer relationships.
I just said it’s important to be nice and make sure everyone has a day where they feel liked.
He left his card with a simple “To/From” message and we stuck a small package of candy to it.
For all the sadness and upheaval in the world, there are many sweet parts. May you find a few of them today–whether they are cookies or beauty or friendship or true love or a parking place at the impossibly crowded grocery store–and know that I wished them for you.