Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clothes and Civilization

One of the things I like about the area where I now live is that people don't dress at all badly. Most of the students come to class dressed very decently and my colleagues always gladden everybody's eyes with beautiful outfits. At Purdue, for example, things were very different. More than once, I saw groups of students marching to class in pajamas of the kind I would be ashamed to wear to bed. Many people on this continent dress in ways that highlight just how much they hate their bodies. We shouldn't be surprised that this self-hatred then pushes them towards voting for crazed anti-carnal Evangelicals or dusty Harper's conservatives. 

And please don't tell me that wearing baggy jeans, pajamas, and ratty humongous T-shirts in public is convenient. Convenience-schmanvienience, people. Civilization is generally extremely inconvenient. The entire human civilization is one huge way in which we inconvenience ourselves on a daily basis. Stopping in the middle of the street to take care of one's physiological necessities would be a lot more convenient than suffering in search of a restroom. Jumping passersby to fulfill one's sexual needs would be so much more convenient than getting to meet people, soliciting their consent, and suffering if that consent is not granted. Brushing one's teeth, dragging oneself to work in the morning, saying "please" and "thank you" are super inconvenient. 

Human beings have come up with the concept of aesthetic enjoyment. Not all of us are gifted enough to be artistically creative, of course. We all, however, have the capacity to bring beauty to what belongs to us: our living and work spaces and, of course, our own bodies. We are taught by our culture to hate and despise our bodies as evil. All too often do we give in to this conditioning and destroy our bodies with horrible food, sexual deprivation, nasty useless medications that purport to cure us from shyness and short lashes. And then, to top it all, we dress our bodies in vile (and usually quite expensive) rags to destroy their natural beauty and make sure that nobody finds us attractive or enjoys looking at us, lest our Evangelical overlords condemn us for enjoying ourselves.

14 comments:

feMOMhist said...

Haha its the reverse at TTLAC. I love dressing up and the students admire it, but the other faculty tend to act as though it trivializes me. f-em I say!

Clarissa said...

Exactly! If somebody prefers to believe that knowing how to dress elegantly somehow makes me less intellectual, that's their problem.

Anastasia said...

I don't understand how you're using the term evangelical here.

Clarissa said...

Think George W. Bush and other similar religious fanatics.

Pagan Topologist said...

This is an interesting topic, and not as simple as you make it. I think what you say is true as far as it goes, but I know and respect people who deliberately dress in a not-very-attractive way so as to filter out people who will judge them by your appearance to the exclusion of your intelligence or character. The theory is that this way, superficial people will ignore you, and you will thus be able to spend time with intelligent people who are not fooled by appearances.

I am somewhat convinced by this argument, since I feel that the "judge people by their appearance" paradigm leads to discrimination against people because of the fact that they are in a wheelchair, are of a different race, are obese, etc.

Pagan events are sometimes clothing-optional, which is another variant of this: When one is wearing nothing, there are no social class signals, so everyone is on an equal footing. There is no other way to conceal the fact that you like thousand dollar suits and thus have higher status than someone who cannot afford them.

It is also interesting how quickly nudity ceases to have sexual overtones in such circumstances.

Clarissa said...

"I know and respect people who deliberately dress in a not-very-attractive way so as to filter out people who will judge them by your appearance to the exclusion of your intelligence or character"

-To me, this sounds like giving too much power over my life to others. If somebody is an idiot or a superficial person, why should I cater to that by changing how I look? let them grow intellectually to understand that intelligence and good clothes are in no way contradictory.

As to the issue of clothes and class, I can guarantee that most people who walk around in Nike sneakers and Wrangler jeans paid about 10 times more for their outfit than I did for my beautiful one. Nowadays, this is really not about money at all.

Of course, people should practice their religion any way they want, so I'm fully in favor of any format that Pagan gatherings might take. At least, they are not as discriminatory as groups of Christians who require that women cover their heads and don't wear pants on their visits to the house of worship.

Pagan Topologist said...

-To me, this sounds like giving too much power over my life to others.

I think it is the opposite. If people you would rather not bother with do not approach you, you have more time to socialize with people you do want to interact with.

Clarissa said...

I am a very very scary person. So I don't need to worry about people approaching me too much. :-) :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

I suppose I will have to take your word for that unless I meet you in person someday.

Clarissa said...

maybe there will be a conference of Hispanists in your area or a conference of Topologists in mine. :-)

V said...

I recall student paper in my former place published an opinion of one of those pajama-wearers. It was written in quasi-feminist rather than evangelical terms and accused those dressing more smartly (i.e. in jeans and t-shirts, we are still talking about Midwest here) of shallowness. :)

With respect to Pagan gatherings - I am afraid that these days body-conscious enough people can still judge themselves and others based on their naked appearance. How slim one is, how much the skin is cared for, what kinds of plastic surgery one had, etc. I hope Pagans do not care about it that much, but technically it is possible to care and to be body- and class-conscious.

Spanish prof said...

Were you around when it was fashionable for young female students to walk around campus with sweatpants that said "Juicy" in their behind? I had to explain my now husband that they were just following a trend, there was no second meaning on their part.

Clarissa said...

Oy! Don't get me started with this quasi-feminist "you use a lipstick, which means you are an enemy of humanity or at least its feminist part."

Clarissa said...

"Were you around when it was fashionable for young female students to walk around campus with sweatpants that said "Juicy" in their behind? "

-I once traveled to a conference with a grad school colleague who showed up to present in such pants. We all started peeling off the tags with our university's name when she showed up.

At Yale, we also had a trend of sweatpants that said "Kiss this Harvard" on the ass. That, at least, was funny.