On appearances

By Father John Walsh on August 10, 2014

Do clothes make the woman or the man?  There are shocking and staggering fashion industry statistics.  There are over 7 billion people on this planet. If you count one number a second without stopping until you reach a billion, you’d be counting for 31 years, 259 days, 1 hours, 46minutes, and 40 seconds. If each person owned only one pair of pants, one shirt, and one jacket, that would be 21 billion articles of clothing. If you were to count each of those, one per second, it would take nearly 672 years. We spend more than a few dollars to keep up our appearance.    

The world clothing and textile industry reached almost $2,560 trillion in 2010.  The world children’s wear market  is $186 billion in 2014.  The world bridal wear will reach almost $57 billion by 2015.  The world's menswear market will exceed $402 billion and the world's women’s wear market will surpass $621 billion this year.

The reason we wear clothes is not to hide from ourselves, not to be someone other than who we are in the presence of another, clothes are not meant to distance us from others, a distraction from my lack of self-esteem; they simply cover my naked body.  Why do we cover our naked bodies?  I recall being in Japan and being taken to a common bath where women and men, girls and boys, were naked; beautiful bodies but not erotic.  Years later the baths were closed and what did not exist previously flourished, the girly magazines like Playboy and Hustler.

In Naked Spirituality, Brian M. McLaren quotes Franciscan Father Richard Rohr:  The goal of all spirituality is to lead the “naked person” to stand trustfully before the naked God.  The important thing is that we’re naked; in other words that we come without title, merit, shame and even demerit.  All we can offer to God is who we really are, which to all of us never seems enough.  I am sure that this is the way true lovers feels too.  

McLaren himself concludes:  There is a river that runs like a song through this world, a river of sacredness, a river of beauty, a river of reverence and justice and goodness.  I know that some people have only rarely seen or sensed it.  But I also know that you and I are learning to live like green trees along its shore, drawing its vitality into us, and passing it on for the healing of our world!  Its waters are clear, refreshingly cool, and clean, and if you dare, you can strip naked, dive in, and swim.

However, Jane Elliot, internationally known teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, exposed prejudice and bigotry for what it is, an irrational class system based upon purely arbitrary factors. In response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane devised the controversial and startling, "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise. Now famous, the exercise labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the color of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority. Everyone who is exposed to Jane Elliott's work, be it through a lecture, workshop, or video, is dramatically affected by it. And if you think this does not apply to you. . . you are in for a rude awakening. How often have arbitrary factors leveled at a minority made that person more than the brunt of a joke but affected them psychologically throughout their lives?

Then there was Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University who conducted what has become known as the Stanford prison experiment to study the psychological effects when students were to become a prisoner or a prison guard. It was conducted from August 14–20, 1971, by a team of researchers. It was funded by the US Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps as an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.

Twenty-four male students out of seventy-five were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo's expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. Certain portions of the experiment were filmed and excerpts of footage are publicly available.

What can we learn about appearnces? Perhaps Leo Rosten had it right when he wrote," I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong. "


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