I have been described as “non-judgemental” by people who know me. I have always strived to be that way, never wanting to make another feel bad for their preferences or choices or for who they are. I know what it’s like to be under such scrutiny and i would never choose to do it to another. That being said, i found myself horrified last night. Waiting at a stop light, i watched a woman come out of a local burger joint. Close to me in age with the build of a typical southern Little League mom. She had on twill shorts and a Tshirt… Nothing to attract attention. And she was obviously out with her husband and weedlings for a fun Friday evening. But what thoughts ran through my head as i took that quick glance?
I wondered if she knew her rolls and muffin-top were accentuated by that tight Tshirt. I visualized handing her a hair brush. I said a hopeful prayer that someone would send her for a proper bra fitting.
And why? She didn’t appear miserable. In the half-second that i saw her, she appeared to be having a good evening. Her husband and boys didn’t seem to take any notice of those things. So who the hell am i to pass judgement? When it hit me that i was criticizing a woman i don’t know for not meeting some arbitrary standard of mine, as i said, i was horrified. I had become the judgemental person i reprimand.
Thinking over it later, i realized that i do it more often than i would have thought. The rotund girl in the daisy dukes. The insanely busty woman who goes braless. The gal in the Sponge Bob pajama pants at the grocery store. The one who wears the fluorescent orange eye shadow. The sandal-clad broad with hobbit feet. The stranger at the beach who appears to be smuggling a rabbi in her swimsuit. I have shaken my head at every single one of them. How dare i.
It’s not like i haven’t gone out in public, seen pictures later, and wished i could take it back. I have. And there have been times when i didn’t care. I didn’t feel well. I was in a hurry. Or i was in such a good mood that i didn’t notice. I wonder how many people shook their heads at me at those times? I have pictures of me in cutoffs where i think i look happy and beautiful, and pictures of me in elaborate gowns where i look defeated and dumpy. So who is to say which outfit was the better choice?
We say that we should be allowed to dress up or not according to our own taste and comfort. That clothes do not make the woman. That our style should be a reflection of who we are, not what others expect us to be. That we should dress to make ourselves feel good. But we also say that we women should take pride in ourselves. That we should make the most of what we have. That we should dress to impress and to project our best selves. To do all of those things seems like an inherently impossible task. Some of those things are mutually exclusive for most of us. And most of us don’t have just one “self” to project.
There are two women whose style and carriage i admire, but whose approach to appearance is diametrically opposed to each other. One is a very regal black woman. She favors flowing skirts, long jackets, precise makeup, and heels. Her fingers and ears twinkle with baubles and gems. When she enters a room it is impossible not to notice her confidence. She is kind and gracious and all those things that a lady is supposed to be, and you can tell it from the way she clothes herself. I’m not sure i’d recognize her in pajama pants.
The other woman is equally arresting, but for a totally different reason. Generally found in jeans and a casual Tshirt or flannel, devoid of makeup, straight hair sparkling clean but free of adornment. Her only jewelry, the wedding band to her beautiful wife. Her wardrobe is distinct in its non-descriptness. When you meet her, you are struck by her confidence, her comfort in her own skin, and the blue of her eyes that rings clear like the perfect spring sky. If i saw her in a classic shift, i think it would stop my function cold.
Is the former too involved in her appearance? Does she deserve to be criticized for refusing to answer the door without lipstick? Does the latter deserve any disdain for preferring a well-tailored suit and brogues to a chiffon sundress and sling-backs? Of course not. They are both stunningly beautiful, and their choices are perfect reflections of who they are. So why is it when i see a woman with children in hand and a smile on her face, i can’t think the same of her attire? If i took longer than a second to look at her, really LOOK at her, would i accept her choices more readily? Am i criticizing her, in effect, because i don’t know her? Because i can’t justify her choice based on my knowledge of her? How condescending of me.
I may never get to the point where i can accept leggings and a sports bra as clothing for anyone who isn’t immediately pre- or post- run. I may never be able to overlook ripped and filthy clothing on anyone who isn’t involved in laborious work. I think those things are too entwined in my beliefs on self-worth. But i can most certainly train myself not to dog another woman for committing some fake crime of fashion. I can teach myself not to assume that, just because i am not aware of them, there aren’t reasons for her choices. And i can learn to accept the fact that i have no right to pick-apart a woman’s wardrobe like some over-zealous editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Not only can i, but i must. As hard as it is to kill an old habit, it is even harder still to allow myself to be something i revile.