I was never a great fan of the fashion industry. As the mother of 3 young girls, I found myself constantly battling against its unreasonable standards for beauty that mess with impressionable minds and set the stage for low self-worth and psychological disorders.
Fashion EventSo when I received an invitation to a high-end fashion event by an Italian designer, I was far from enthusiastic. In fact, my reason for going was to find evidence supporting my stance and perhaps a few like-minded people with whom to share my frustration. It turned out that I had not chosen the ideal venue to do so! As we awaited the fashionably late start, I was somewhat disappointed by the enthusiasm that oozed forth. High-pitched voices of infatuation filled the air, wide-eyed curiosity was evident in the energized conversations, and a general sense of pride at being part of something as important surfaced in the beaming expressions. I was the only fish out of water.
The show began. Instead of looking at the luscious fabrics and the creative designs, I found myself searching cynically for signs of misery and starvation in the faces of the models who flowed, one after the other, oblivious of the gazes, unimpressed by the admiration. Needless to say, I found much to confirm the single focus lens of my perspective.
My biggest argument was handed to me half an hour into the show, when one of the models began to falter on the cat-walk. As the audience watched in disbelief, she began a slow collapse. Within moments, she was a crumbled mess on the red carpet, the exquisite yards of fabric engulfing her a stark contrast to her sorry state.Hushed silence, looks of horror, a few hesitant efforts to help, but oh! the show must go on. The sublime voice of Bocelli rose loudly, assuredly, above the buzz in the air, and the mesmerizing stream of models recaptured the attention of the bewildered audience. The fallen model was helped to her feet with little aplomb and carried off the spotlight to the safety of the backstage. We did not see her again.
The evening wore on. Slowly and strangely, something about the event began to intoxicate me. Was it the glorious gait of the models, the dazzling fabrics, the enthralling music, the sound of the dashing waves in the background? My focus began to shift. I too began to crane my neck to catch that first glimpse of the upcoming attire and turn to the person next to me with enthusiastic nods of approval. I was bewitched by the beauty of the moment, the majesty of the smooth performance, the excellence of the designers, the flair of the models, the sense of awe in being part of something that was exquisitely graceful. Something had stirred in me. It was perhaps the strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence. It was perhaps the virtue of transcendence.
The designer came on at the end of the show holding the arm of the model we had not seen since the fall. He explained that she had become dizzy in the extreme heat of the evening. The show was performed on the beach and April is a hot month in Oman. With my new change in attitude, I saw moral beauty in the designer’s protection of his model and felt elevated when the entire audience gave her an ardent round of applause to lighten the load of a heart that likely ached for forgiveness.I came home feeling high. I dreamed of color and sound, spirals of hue and intensity that danced together in artistic delight. Come morning, and I related the entire event to my kids. The glory, the excellence, the creativity and yes, the fall.
But I failed to embrace them in my energy. Instead, they became quizzical about the model’s collapse and began an intense questioning session of the real reasons behind it.
The Morning After
“Mama, what else would the designer have said at the end of the show? To me, it sounds like a lame excuse,” was my daughter’s reaction to my explanation.
“Given the evidence, I think it was far more likely that the poor model was extremely pressured to stay stick thin and eat nothing,” came the unexpected agreement from her twin, who generally prided himself on having a contradictory opinion.
“Eww, I don’t want to become a model,” chimed in the littlest, whose latest infatuation was with milk and cookies.
I could see that they had been soaking my world-view in the formation of their own. I could also see that the school system was doing a good job in promoting critical thought and analytical reasoning.Yes, I could rest assured that they will not be gullible in life. But this thought did not reassure me. Instead, something gnawed at my heart. Something murmured its disquiet.
Critical Thinking Overused
I was troubled by the fact that my children were failing to move beyond what had gone wrong at the event. They were failing to appreciate what had been a salute to our creativity and finesse as a species and as a civilization. I began to see how critical thinking, in the absence of the strengths of transcendence can turn into bitter cynicism. Finding fault without feelings of gratitude leads to bitterness and anger. Finding fault without feeling hopeful about improving the situation produces a strange resignation mixed with elements of superiority. Finding fault without seeing the beauty and goodness of human beings makes us believe the worst about ourselves as a species and blinds us to the virtue in the world.
It is said that the assumptions people make about the motives of others always reveal a great deal more about the ones making assumptions than the ones they make assumptions about. Were we, as parents and teachers, systematically training our children to question every intention? Were we, as their mentors, depriving them of inspiring role models? Were we allowing them to fall prey to the tyranny of comparison that encourages them to pat themselves on the back while doing little to bring us together as a common humanity?
Our world is flooded with negative messages by external forces that are driven by private interest and fear of survival. Governments, media, big Pharma, all portray the worst of us and make us see ourselves in all our ungainly vulgarity. They provide the raw material that weaves stories of the world in our minds. These stories, whether true or false, are real to us.Shine a Different Light
I realized then that I had been an unconscious partner in their game. I had been encouraging an overuse of the very strengths that were fulfilling the desires of forces that did not have my children’s best interest at heart. I needed to balance their worldview with stories of hope, empathy, and compassion. I needed to help shine the light of their attention on what is worthy of appreciation in us. I needed to instill ideals of human goodness that maintain their faith in the human spirit and allow them to rise to the virtue within us as individuals and as a civilization.
But first, I needed to do so for myself. Authentically and wholeheartedly.
Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived, (pp. 275-289). Washington, DC: American Psychology Association. Online version.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. New York: HarperCollins.
Wallace, H., & Baumeister, R. (2002). The Performance of Narcissists Rises and Falls With Perceived Opportunity for Glory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 819-834.
Fashion event in Oman courtesy of Homaira Kabir