Fashion and Womanhood: Where Do You Stand?

Coco chanel quotes - Photo: julittem.blogspot.com

Coco chanel quotes – Photo: julittem.blogspot.com

Happy Fashion Friday, and TGIF…

To keep in with our Mommy Week (I know, by Sunday, just about everyone will be ready to be done with Mother’s Day, but until then…), I’ve always wanted to write about our perception of fashion, as women and mothers. As vain as it may sound, fashion does play quite an important role in women’s lives. And contrary to popular belief, it has less to do with the actual clothes, shoes and other fashion embellishments I personally love, than actually with the essence of it all, with the fact that we express ourselves through our fashion choices; that the clothes we wear, and the way we wear our hair, and the choice of shoes we make on a daily basis, right down to the very embroidery (or lack thereof) on our underwear, do tell a lot more about who we are as individuals as many, even us , may think.

Growing up in Senegal, West Africa, where the women have a reputation for unequaled elegance and beauty all throughout Africa, one learns the art of elegance and self-care from a very early age. And for many of us African women, it is not just about our external appearance, how good we look to the outer world, but it’s also how we present ourselves to a world that is not always kind or welcoming to us, a world where not too long ago one of the only ways a woman could achieve dignity and respect was through marriage; a world where not too long ago on my beloved continent and other places as well, women were not allowed to feel pleasure, so their hymens were cut off right along with their very sense of humanity… What does fashion have to do with all of that? Well, as these same women went htrough traumatic times, bearing more children than their bodies could bear without having a say, watching their husbands marry up to four wives as allowed by the Muslim tradition, they fought back by presenting a brave face to the world and dressing their sometimes abused and mutilated bodies with style and courage, finding in the midst of their struggles the will to go on, braid their hair and adorn their hands and feet with henna. I remember seeing my mom, as a single mom of 4, scrubbing the floor on her knees, right after cooking two meals and handwashing our clothes; and then taking her daily shower, carefully applying her make-up and nail polish bought at the local market, and emerging looking like she never washed a plate in her life. That’s what we call “sutura” in Wolof in Senegal, loosely translated as the dignified art of rising over your circumstances and showing the best side of yourself…

So as we grow as women, become mothers (whether biologically or humanly), and face some of the hardest challenges in our lives, whether it’s trying to combine raising kids with marriage, career, school, entrepreneurship, or any other project or ambition, how does our perspective of self through fashion evolve? Do we just deny the influence of fashion and let ourselves go because we think we have more important priorities? Do we hide behind the curtain of intellectual pursuits to justify our lack of interest in it? Do we look down on other women who express themselves through style and fashion, and exclude them from our circles because we cannot admit to ourselves that they make us feel less than? Or do we, like many, subscribe to the erroneous popular belief that fashionable and stylish women are but incompetent dolls?

At the end of the day, what message do we send our daughters and sons? How do we teach them to present themselves to the world? How do we mold their understanding of what is acceptable or not? Fashion is a multibillion dollar industry worldwide, one that raises serious questions not just about the pieces of fabric produced, but also how ethically they are produced, and definitely one that should tell us something about what we wear every day…And through all the stages of our lives, especially through motherhood, our perception and use of fashion certainly evolves and changes.

While some of us certainly nurture a constant separation anxiety with midriff tops and skin-tight leather pants, others abandon the fashion boat altogether and sink in the sea of their daily responsibilities. Yet again, others see it as a way to preserve their individuality and sense of self through all the challenges life throws at them, including spit, vomit, stagnant careers and too short maternity leaves…I happen to believe that fashion is a tool, and a pretty powerful one at that, to reaffirm our sense of self through the stages of life, to act strong even as we feel weak, to perform the rituals of self-care that keep us from drowning into self-neglect, and to allow ourselves an itty-bitty dose of vanity,  right before we get back to washing the dishes and folding the laundry from the last two weeks…Doesn’t the popular saying go ”you’ve got to fake it ’til you make it”?

Well, as for me, it’s my own form of “sutura”, as they say back in my home neighborhood of Senegal…

How is your sense of fashion today?

Coco Chanel quotes - Photo:  tumblr.com

Coco Chanel quotes – Photo: tumblr.com

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