Getting Comfortable with Contradictions
“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
After an evening spent joyously skimming through fashion books written over the last seventy years I can say with some confidence that our relationship with fashion has pretty much always been positively riddled with contradictions. Phew. I thought for a long time I was alone there.
When I think about procuring clothes to put on my body to live out my life, all of which is happening in the context of the societies in which I've lived and at the time in which I'm living, I'm struck at an intellectual level by how complicated the act of getting dressed actually is. There's economics, anthropology, sociology, gender, capitalism, inequality, consumption, appearance, body image, self-awareness, power dynamics, culture, religion, beauty norms, desire―essentially humanity― all manifesting at the plane where a piece of clothing touches our skin (or where it doesn't touch it, for that matter).
And yet, because getting dressed is a daily activity, something we've done all our lives, often even mindlessly, there's a familiarity that causes it to gravitate from the intellectual sphere to the practical one and from the macro to the micro. It is here, at the level of the individual, that the complicated forces which covertly or overtly guide us towards our clothes present themselves in our personal relationships with fashion as this: a mass of contradictions. In my life, this contradictory conception of fashion has thrust me from loving fashion and enjoying it and respecting its power to shrinking away from it, and back again. Because of it's materialism, wastefulness, frivolity in light of what's going on in the world, it's concern for appearance, perceived or actual, and on, and on.
Despite feeling very alone in this, it turns out we all experience contradictions about fashion and about our appearance and about so many of the experiences we share. Shouldn't that help us deal with ourselves more softly? Shouldn't it help us feel less alone?
I've arrived at a place where I now see contradictions as essentially good. Great! Instead of trying to work them out or get to the bottom of them or get clear or whatever I used to tell myself I needed to do to escape the state of being conflicted, I just let them be. I sit with them, so to speak, and I'm learning, slowly, what they want for me. Contradictions are wiser and more generous than they might appear.
Picasso painted his muse and lover Dora Maar numerous times over nine years (1935-1944). Each time, she looks different. Because a painting is a dynamic relationship between the painter and the painted, each of these works represents an exchange during which Picasso gave his subject the freedom to be who she was in that moment, and gave himself the freedom to see her how she was in that moment. What if we allowed ourselves the same creative latitude? What if, instead of sticking to a firm conception of who we are and who we're not, we make peace with the fact that we might be the same person, with many different expressions of our being.