What do I wear? My dilemma about identity and throwaway fashion

(Photo: Hannah Morgan)

I am a public speaker. I regularly speak at churches, conferences, seminars and other events. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, words are my thing! Recently the invitations for me to speak at events have increased, which is exciting and encouraging, but it has raised an interesting dilemma for me. What do I wear?

I've never been a particularly vain person. As an overweight, middle aged woman, vanity left me some time ago but strangely I have begun to feel more anxious about my outfit and the frequency with which I wear my clothes.

I have become self-conscious if I wear the same outfit twice. I'm mindful that photos taken will very likely appear on social media and I end up wondering what people will think if they see me wearing the same clothes repeatedly.

I have wondered where this self-consciousness has come from? It hasn't come from my friends or family, so the only place it has come from must be the society that I live in. The constant bombardment of needing to look a certain way and project a certain image. I realise at times I feel ashamed that my clothes aren't bang on trend or particularly new. I also recognise that feeling of shame isn't rooted in what I'm wearing but in my identity and who I think I am.

Shame makes you feel poorly about yourself when you compare yourself with others. Brene Brown said: "Shame forces us to put so much value on what other people think that we lose ourselves in the process of trying to meet everyone else's expectations."

I listen to the wrong voices, the voices that say you aren't good enough if you just stand up there as yourself but you will be good enough if you are wearing a new outfit, the voices that tell me I'm less than, the voices that keep me bound up in a harmful, distorted image of myself or the voices that expect me to be something I'm not meant to be.

There are numerous voices trying to influence us; family, friends, church, media all telling us what we should do, what we should be, how we should look, how we should vote (ok I won't go there!). Those voices can be so loud they drown out everything else. But there are other voices that are good and helpful and we need to learn which voices we can trust.

A few years ago my daughter, Abigail was rushed into hospital with bacterial meningitis, she quickly slipped into unconsciousness and her body curled up into a foetal position. Her bedside was surrounded by medics trying to resuscitate her and attempting to put catheters into her arms. They were calling her name, trying to get her to respond but she stayed curled up as if she was frozen in place, then in the clamour and noise I quietly called her name, 'Abigail, give me your arm,' and she stretched out her arm.

My daughter knew my voice, she recognised my voice in the noise of all the other voices, the only voice she responded to was the voice she trusted completely, my voice.

We all need to recognise the voice that we can trust completely. The voice that totally and utterly wants the best for us. The voice that came to destroy shame and came to tell us we are more than good enough, that voice that every moment of every day tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The voice that tells us what we look like or wear does not define us. The voice that speaks to us telling us that we are created to be people of beauty and wonder with exceptional gifts and unique abilities. The voice that shows us that we are people who are loved completely and perfectly, people that were created to reflect everything that is the opposite of shame.

The Guardian newspaper reported a story in 2014 about a high-profile Australian TV presenter, Karl Stefanovic. Stefanovic carried out an experiment to see if anyone noticed what he wore. He wore the same blue suit on TV every day for a year and not one person noticed. I'm sure a woman would have been vilified for wearing the same clothes.

Why? Because fashion is culture and in our culture, commenting on what women wear is a loud voice.

Another way in which I have been challenged is realising that buying new clothes has ethical and environmental implications. If I give in to the culture of throwaway, fast fashion then I'm not honouring my responsibility to be a good steward of the creation I have been put in charge of or upholding the greatest commandment of loving God and loving my neighbours as myself.

A friend of mine who has inspired me to look into this further told me before buying clothes, she asks herself the following questions:

Is it fair-trade?
Is it organic?
Where is it made?
How is it produced?
Is the material derived from plastics or plant-based materials (the latter being
biodegradable)?
Is it well made?
Will it last?

Another friend has helped set up an online organisation, www.togetherstreet.com "to help us discover simple swaps, better brands and practical actions we can all take to help #changefashionforgood".

This has been an interesting journey for me and one that isn't going to finish here. I have set myself the challenge to not buy any new clothes for the rest of the year, it won't be easy because I have speaking engagements, weddings and holidays all on the horizon. I'm also going to wear what I want to wear and feel comfortable in, even if it means I wear the same outfit numerous times. Most importantly, I'm going to develop the habit of listening to the right voices and ask the One who created me to help me see myself as He sees me. Because when we appreciate and know who we are, when our identity is rooted in the One who created us, then we become who we were
meant to be and we live the life that was destined to be ours rather than a life defined by others.

If you'd like to know more about buying ethically, please take a look at the following websites:

www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing
www.peopletree.co.uk
www.wearethought.com
www.veja-store.com
www.po-zu.com
www.monkeegenes.com
www.traidcraftshop.co.uk

Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network Advisor for Wales, a speaker and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton

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