Walking Canvases

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Fashion is an art form, a way of expressing oneself with hair and clothing. There are really no rules when it comes to the way we present ourselves, but we are generally guided by the mores of the times. Fashion often becomes the subject of controversy, particularly in traditional institutions like offices, churches and schools. We tend to be judgmental when it comes to fashion, often preferring more traditional ways of adorning ourselves. As with language there are certain unwritten but widely known and mostly accepted ways of dressing in particular circumstances. Sometimes we demand more formality and other times we allow great variance from the norm. Even in the most casual situations we sometimes cringe at the sight of extremes that are unlike what we are accustomed to seeing. We forget that fashion is ultimately a very personal thing as we attempt to foist our own preferences on others in a critical and sometimes even persecutory way.

There was a time when both men and women regularly wore flowing robes. Even today there are cultures in which even males don what may appear to be a kind of dress. In the seventeenth century kings and potentates wore long curly wigs, makeup, stockings and high heeled pumps. Mankind has always experimented with fashion so why do we find ourselves freaking out whenever someone does not conform to our own thoughts on how to dress?

We’ve heard about the young man from the Barber’s Hill school district who was told that his dreadlocks were too long. He was informed that unless he cut them he would not be allowed to walk with his classmates for graduation. Those who know him admit that he actually looks quite nice and that he is a good and respectful person. Nonetheless the authorities took the stance that rules are rules and he must abide by them or suffer the consequences. My question is why there should even be such a rule? It is highly doubtful that the length of someone’s hair whether male or female would detract from the ceremony in any way. If there is any sort of distraction it has been invented by the powers that be, not this young man.

We get a bit crazy from time to time and create more furor or silly things like appearance than need be. I recall attending an assembly during school hours when I was in high school whose only purpose was to harangue the girls about the volume of their bouffant hair, the length of their skirts, and the need to wear white socks with their shoes. What our teachers did not seem to realize was that the meeting was a total waste of time that we actually appreciated because it allowed us to have a break from our classes. Beyond that we were all joking and laughing about the ridiculousness of it all.

The truth is that the ways in which we choose to adorn ourselves are always superficial. They do not define us nor do they really matter. We may roll our eyes at what we see as the ridiculous of a young man struggling to walk as his oversized pants hang around his knees, but other than demonstrating what we may see as bad taste he actually hurts nobody. We certainly have the right to tell him that such clothing is inappropriate in particular situations but we would do well to consider whether or not our attention to such matters is worth the time and effort that we will have to expend to gain his compliance. In other words, what difference will it make?

I once had a student who insisted on wearing a belt with a skull on the buckle in defiance of a school rule. He never personally gave me a problem. He came to my class ready to work. He was polite, paid attention, and participated in the activities I had planned. He was always a top student, rarely making a grade below a B. Somehow that skull on his belt was no bother at all when it came to his academics and yet it became such a sticking point with one of the administrators of the school that it resulted in his being expelled. While I agreed that the student’s noncompliance was indeed over the top I could not help but wonder if the furor created by the assistant principal was much ado about nothing. Rules should somehow make sense, be meaningful and this one confounded me.

We each have personal preferences for adorning ourselves. Tattoos are all the rage among those younger than I am. While I have no desire whatsoever to ink my skin the younger set sees tattoos as a way of celebrating individuality, relationships, accomplishments. To them adorning their skin with art is as natural as purchasing a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. It’s not my cup of tea, but it does not bother me in the least if someone else decides to adorn his/her body with imagery. I would only tell anyone thinking of getting a tattoo to consider what it may look like when the skin ages and wrinkles. I would suggest that placing permanent art anywhere on the body might lead to regret later on, so a bit of circumspection might be in order. Beyond that there are far more important things to dwell upon.

Each of us is unique. We like different things. We express ourselves in the way we dress. In some ways we are living art. Some of us emulate the old masters and others trend toward the avant garde. Our appearance all too often becomes the manner in which we are perceived, but in truth it’s what is inside our minds that should matter. It’s how we treat people that should be the metric that determines our fates. Beyond that let each one celebrate individuality however he or she may choose. Our world is made more beautiful by celebrating the canvases known as self.