“It was cold and snowy outside and I saw her walking towards me. She looked 6 ft tall, dressed in tight jeans and sky-high heels. I asked her, ‘Why are you wearing those heels?!’ She replied:’Because I can.'”
I am quoting a story by Jasvinder Sanghera, who founded Karma Nirvana in Great Britain to help victims of forced marriages and honor-based violence. I heard her speak last night on 48 Hours Mystery (I know, I know…I’m a sucker for true crime!). She was talking about a particular girl she encouraged to escape from her two years of being held captive by her family. This girl was being punished by her parents for rebelling against their traditional ways and not marrying the man chosen for her. When Jasvinder met her for the first time, the girl had run away and was determined to express her freedom via her attire…no matter the weather or circumstances.
From Afros and long beards in the 60’s to goth make-up in the 90’s, clothing is often used as a form of self and political expression.
But it can also be worn as a form of rebellion, even when the stakes are very high. I still remember way back in my freshman year of college a story that exemplifies this to a “T.” I was studying about Iran (a course that propelled me to study Anthropology throughout the rest of my college career), and we learned how westernized, highly educated women were forced into subservient, second-class roles in society after the revolution. No surprise they were forced to wear the chador (black veil) as a way to further limit their mobility (physical, social, educational, etc). And yet, women found little ways to rebel. How? They would wear the chador in a manner that would appear as if it were “accidentally” pushed back on their heads. Or they would sew tiny silver threads into their chador that only a few could see up close. While these examples may seem small, in a culture where women have little respect and all people live under constant threat, these tiny forms of rebellion are huge.
Clothing — basic for some or fun for others, can be a powerful force for us all. I am fortunate to not have to rebel against my situation in life. But what I wear can still tell a story about who I am and what I believe.