The Danger of Squelching Creativity & Beauty in Style
First memories are often hazy to remember, but I have two that stand out in clear relief for the years that I was 2 and 3.
The first memory was of water in a hot Missouri summer, when out of desperation my oldest sister rigged a makeshift pool out of a sandbox frame and blue tarp so we could cool down. The second was of a dress. Our family was about to do some portraits and mom pulled out a burgundy dress she had been saving for me.
I still love hanging around watery places while wearing dresses.
CHILDHOOD, DRESSES & GROWING UP MENNONITE
Aside from that dress, I remember very little about what I wore as a toddler or kid until the preteen phase hit at around 11-years-old. What else could one expect to have happen to a semi-tomboy running with a pack of boys? I was she: the Reluctant Rider of Pigs, Tamer of Cats, Builder of Stick Towns, and Climber of Trees. If we'd belonged to a different culture or church - overalls and pigtails would've been fitting. As it was, I got the pigtails and bright floral dresses and liked them. Girls really can do just about anything in dresses, though in retrospect some pants would've been practical for some of it
As I talk about what it's like to grow up in a plain church I don't want to give the impression that I was repressed. It wouldn't be true. Childhood was glorious and we roamed over about 40 acres of just about every kind of woods and creek. When it was time to come to the house we'd hear the faint outlines of a horn honking and we'd run back up to civilization, after we pushed it out as long as possible pretending we hadn't heard anything. Kids.
But we also narrowly escaped something that follows plain churches: immorality and molestation of kids. You may scoff and say that happens plenty elsewhere, and it does, but there's nothing like belonging to a "safe" small world and finding out story after story after story of friends and relatives that were touched inappropriately or raped.
THE BIG PICTURE
It's a hard issue for a kid to grapple with, but I wanted to explain to you it's easy to hide our true identity behind what we wear. Everyone looked more or less the same where we came from, and we thought there was safety in that. Mom and my aunts had a more realistic picture and told us it was unacceptable and to fight back if anyone tried. Mom told us to tell her right away if, God forbid, something happened.
As it was some of us barely escaped, and to say that I haven't been angry more than once since then to consider how a combination of ignorance, fear and micro-control can create a world where these kinds of atrocities hide in plain sight, would be an understatement. Still, it took many years to put together any understanding of the factors that combine to create systems like this.
Now I see:
Squelching diversity and creativity, combined with ignorance and fear will always have disastrous effects on people. It denies real light, sending out a sort of pale glow that is barely a sickly substitute for truth; it leaves spaces to hide many things. Light sparkles and dances and shifts to reveal a whole world.
THE WORLD WITHIN YOU
We were created for beauty, and made beautiful. There is not one thing about the way the human body works that isn't awe-inspiring. The intelligence, thought and harmony for how the human body hums along in a larger universe full of intricate works is goose bump material. That's us. I'll stand no more of this talk about us being "worms of the dust." It's passionate of me to say so and perhaps I should water this down, but it's really upsetting to me when we throw God's design back in His face like that.
That original choice had disastrous consequences, but there's nothing faulty about the original design.
It's dangerous to throw away beauty and creativity as worthless. Of course it isn't our god, but our identity is tightly woven into this vast blueprint. This works out in unique ways in style, culture and fashion since clothes were add-ons, but it also means that they follow who we are. There can be personal expression in the elegance of a simple dress, and artistry in the gorgeous prints and heavy jewelry of the African Congo.
Because of the people. We are the ones who must begin to shape our identities around what frees our hearts and minds. There isn't a thing in the world wrong with wearing a cape dress and cap, if only freedom accompanies it. There isn't a thing in the world wrong with wearing a turban and jewelry, if only freedom walks in it.
It's our mind and hearts we have to prize as jewels, and then the clothes will naturally follow suit to how we see and develop our heart and character. As a girl my mom and aunts were highly influential to me, and they knew that no clothes were ever going to save us from ignorance and fear. What a gift that was. They have mostly chosen to stay in the churches where we grew up and I honor them for it; it works because they didn't make the mistake of assuming that there was true freedom found in a church or way of dress.
NOW WE'RE BACK TO THE BEGINNING...
So here I am: the writer who grew up in the rural sticks of Missouri, having the time of my life with siblings and cousins, consuming slice after slice of fresh peach pie, and swimming in the Moreau creek. I was "growed up" Mennonite, and adored my vast family who were always hanging out and hosting hearty insults and dinners together.
I've found freedom there and now. Diversity and culture drive my pursuits, music is my jam, puns are the cheese, and words the bread and butter of these days. I can't imagine a world without beauty and humor, and these things will always define most of my style.
This is the best style tip: let your light shine before all people. Don't be afraid anymore. Learn things. Experience them. Sharpen your mind through reading and conversation. Cliche as it is? Run in a rainstorm. It transforms an ordinary day into sopping wet goodness with the added bonus of not having to take a shower that day.
Free your mind to live life, and style will follow.