A memo on pleather pants and tutus
I went to elementary school with a girl who was overly energetic and often wore bright pleather pants. She had a lot of friends and was by no means a loner but other kids made fun of her. Because she dared to be bold, she was a target to other kids in our class.
When I try to pinpoint a moment she was defeated by her naysayers or any moment she looked ashamed, I can't recall one.
This could be poor memory. Or, it could be that she refused to be anyone but herself. Her pleather pants stayed bright; they still had funky patterns.
I heard a segment on NPR about a year ago, an interview with researcher Brene Brown who studies shame and vulnerability. “We're up against uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure every day,” said Brown. While wearing pleather pants in fifth grade isn't exactly exposing any deep emotions, to wear them facing adversity is a small act of courage, a declaration of you who are.
Cancer survivor Monika Allen's was recently featured in SELF magazine running a race wearing a tutu. She was criticized by SELF as being lame but her wearing that tutu is a declaration in the same way. It's a symbol of herself. Sure, it's fluffy and weird and too girly for some but for her, it was strength. It was charity. It was living after coming so close to dying.
SELF magazine's decision to classify the cancer survivor's tutu as lame is a huge slash to the girl power message that the Sheryl Sandbergs and Beyoncés of the world have worked hard to lay groundwork for, and not because they shamed a cancer survivor but because they shamed someone period.
In a world where we encourage each other to redefine beauty and embrace our flaws and non-photoshopped shapes in light of shedding our layers and being wholly ourselves, we have to remember that cynicism is not a method of connection to the people who read your magazine or your blog, or to the girlfriends you brunch with, nor is it a way to the top. At least, it's not the right way.
As Brown put it, “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” She also states that shame is easily understood as the fear of disconnection. It's a fear that what makes you different also makes you weak and, as women, we should not seek to abuse each other's weaknesses. We should not disconnect others for such trivial reasons as what they wear or encourage them to disconnect themselves by poking fun.
Now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't know a few people whose first instinct would be to make a little fun of anyone running in a tutu because it's different, and weird, and flamboyant. Even though they're a single soul, not a major publication, shaming someone they don't know for a purely cosmetic reason, the crime is the same. People will criticize SELF and rightfully point fingers at what they did to Monika Allen, but we shouldn't spend too much time doing that. We should all take some time to reflect on a time we judged someone in passing with no consequences.
As individuals it's likely that no one is loading backlash and bad publicity into a bomb they will drop the moment you shame someone. Yet, we should probably be acting as if that were the case.
Women, and men for that matter, want to be loved for who we are. We like to say we live like we don't care what people think and increasingly turn to each other for advice on how to face adversity. As we continue to embrace real beauty as loving our flaws and banning the image society used to think we should succumb to, let's save our voices for less pessimistic matters than how stupid it is when other women wear pleather pants and tutus. After all, no matter what fabric they are made of, we all pull our pants up the same way each morning.