Saturday, December 06, 2008

Do Clothes Make the Woman?

Last night I spent a little time with my group of close women friends. I had looked forward to the evening for a couple of weeks, but in the end I couldn't manage more than about half an hour or so. The day had been a pretty rough one ~ not that anything had happened; I had just been feeling lost in a huge sea of sadness ~ and even a group of six or seven of my closest friends seemed a bit overwhelming.

Two of us there have been paddling the same ocean, and my dear friend who lost her husband last spring mentioned that she has bought more clothes for herself in the past several months than at any time in her life.

"I've been doing a lot of that, too," I said in surprise. "And then I take most of them back."

I thought about it for a minute and then said, "Do you think it's an identity thing? We are not who we were, and we can't figure out who we have become, and so we can't figure out what to wear?"

My friend looked at me and said, "I think you're exactly right."

I mentioned a couple of -- for me -- bizarre examples. A month or so ago, I went off to J. Jill, one of my very favorite stores, and spent quite a bit of money, came home and looked at what I had purchased, and said, "Nope - not me," and took it all back the next day. The night before, I said, I had discovered a website dedicated to Michelle Obama's wardrobe and spent quite some time looking at it. "Maybe I'm Michelle?" I wondered. "No, you are not!" said another friend. "Well, I think she's fabulous, so I guess I've been insulted?" I wondered. "She IS fabulous," said my friend, "and so are you, but you are not her."

OK, I am not tall and lean and athletic, I do not have two little girls, I am not moving into the White House, my skin is surprisingly fair given my dark hair and eyes, I don't really know what The View is, and no one will ever ask my opinion on a state dinner or perhaps anything else ~ true enough, I am not Michelle Obama.

But who AM I now?

Later last night I read a piece in Newsweek by a young woman who, despite a long series of medical challenges ~ disasters, really, in the eyes of most of us ~ insists upon identifying herself as a healthy person. There is a lot to learn here, I thought. Am I a healthy person? Am I a survivor? Can I be those things without losing my connection to my child? Can I be a person at peace in the middle of this huge sea of sadness? In a few years, will I be a minister and/or spiritual director who has learned to balance joy and sorrow? What does such a person look like?

For now, I am going to go out to breakfast with my friends, and then I am going to come home and read Tillich and Torrance and respond to a few more of the condolence notes stacked up in the sunroom. For now, I am going to put on my black corduroy pants, my black clogs, and a baggy turtleneck sweater. For now, I am going to put on clothes that don't work and do things that don't work and try not to wonder too much about my interior evolution, which seems to have a will beyond consciousness.

But I do wonder about that earthshaking question: what do I wear?

14 comments:

Nicole said...

This is really, really good. I think you really hit on something here.

I watched an episode of "What Not to Wear" a week ago and the featured woman never wore things there were just her - the hosts quickly realized everything was a costume for her.

This entry elaborated on that thought - you have a real gift with the written word.

giggles said...

Oh woman! Do I hear ya on this one!!!!! Clothes...what you look like on the outside....oh my.... I have struggled with this issue all of my life.... I love comfortable baggy stuff...have never liked form fitting clothes or suits or dress up clothes, but wear/wore them when I had to for work , etc... But how the world judges you by what you wear, what you look like??!! No, I struggle with my personal belief that it doesn't matter...no...what matters is what's on the INSIDE.... I don't really care what I wear as long as I'm comfortable and my clothes aren't dirty (or smelly!)...is there something wrong with me? Or is it the unwritten expectations of our culture, our unwritten rules and judgements that the clothes we wear actually define who we are?? (Am I crazy? Is something wrong with me?!) (And it's the clothing industry too, trying to sell us more, more, more....) Or do I just give myself angst because I choose to not care about what other people think.... until I care about what other people think?!
Oh my... you got me started!!!

Lisa :-] said...

For me, it was a my hair. After my sister died, and after my dad died, I had to cut my hair--SHORT. In those days, I didn't wear short hair. But it just felt like something I needed to do. Both because I felt like long hair was a needless affectation, and because I had been sad for so long that I just wanted to be someone besides that person who had inhabited and been inhabited by constant grief. Maybe you keep returning the clothes because you're not ready to make that step--yet.

Presbyterian Gal said...

My mom, two years now after my dad's passing, is finally realizing that what is bothering her most is not knowing who she is. And even further, whether or not she really exists. I'll be helping her with that.

As to "what do I wear?".....I would say, your very own skin. Though the hard part is that you can't see what you wear when you have it on and when you lose a very important mirror, it's very hard to look in others.

Kathryn J said...

I don't know that it an issue specific to change. I wrestle with this to the point that I have almost nothing to wear. I try to shop, I find nothing or I take it back.

I sincerely hope that clothes do not make the woman but I do know that much of the world judges you by that.

Magdalene6127 said...

I've always thought devastating grief changed the world (I would wake up day after day and have to remember, all over again, it was a world without N. in it, which changed it for me). But... you make more sense to me here. It changes us, we aren't the same person. Who are we?

Love.

mompriest said...

I've had that issue with my hair. Long, short, colored, curly, straight....as if my hair defines me...and less sure I am of "me" the less content I am with any hair style....at least I've become wise enough to stop blaming the hairdresser...anyway, yes, I think you've articulated a powerful point of identity/loss....

Teri said...

I do not own any of the same clothes I owned before my grief journey began, except for two ball gowns (which, really, how much do you wear those anyway? and how much do you want to look and feel like yourself when you DO wear them?). My entire wardrobe is different--the colors I wear are different, the cut and style and brand are different--I still can't even shop at some of the places I used to love. They're not right anymore. Some of that may be growing up, and some of that may be growing up too fast, and some of that is that I'm no longer who I was before. I think you are right...I'd not thought about that before, but it happened to me too. I would put on and take off five or six outfits every day for more than a year, and sometimes would change mid-day. hmm...

Juniper said...

Your wisdom and self awareness in the very midst of these dark days is just breathtaking. I'm grateful on behalf of those you will minister to in the future that you're continuing your studies.

Stratoz said...

I seem to think that I have a lucky pair of green pants, well they are lucky at craft fairs but not so hot when maneuvering my car around a tiny parking lot. need more data.

My lovely wife has opened her mind to new styles of clothes as some inner demons have died.

Cynthia said...

Oh, I identify with this. I didn't go buy clothes, but the diet obsession kicked into a higher gear. I've changed my hairstyle more than once. I alternate between absolutely no makeup and bumming around looking like a bag lady to trying to look as fashionable and well groomed as possible. My image is presenting a truth. I am a woman in transition. I'm no longer who I was, and who I'm becoming is very unclear.

Mary Beth said...

Clothes are such a loaded subject for me, also. Just always.

(o)

Meg said...

Of course my situation is far from being the same as yours but I've just taken my first professional call in ministry, complete with a move to a town where I know no-one except church people. About a month ago, I realized that Ann Taylor was quickly becoming my best friend. I didn't know what else to do, so I went shopping. In this midst of all that transition, I think your analysis is exactly right -- I was trying to figure out who I was -- or to hold on to who I knew myself to be.

Sophia said...

I had the opposite response--wanted to keep wearing the things I'd worn when my daughter was alive and rejoiced when I brought out the maternity and nursing clothes with each new child. And am now finding solace in wearing the nursing clothes since there are no more babies to save them for.