Weissmann: You eat what you are

Jamie Weissmann

Fall is officially here, so now I can tell you exactly what I think about thigh-exposing skirts, shorts, sandals and the lot of that summer wear for all of us college boys and girls. In a conversation I had with my father a few months ago some questions arose, “Why do businessmen were suits? And, why do people always dress up to meet the queen or the president?” And beyond any religious considerations (though some might argue that we can never escape them) I wondered aloud something like, “isn’t it because we have some subconscious sense that when we cover our skin and do so elegantly, we imbue ourselves with dignity?”

Now, I’m going to tread carefully here, because I don’t want to be accused of religious propagandizing or mindless conservatism; the following conclusion is something I came to simply by thinking through the issue: our dignity can be directly correlated to the amount of skin we show, the degree of casualness our clothing betrays, and the extent to which our clothing flaunts our physical features. I think most of us know this already, or at least live according to its principles without acknowledging it. No one with a sense of dignity would wear booty shorts to meet President Obama – or a t-shirt, sweatpants or sandals. But the next question is: how far are we willing to extend the domain of indignity?

This past summer you may have heard about this small uproar over a Hooters waitress who was thrown off of a Southwest Airlines flight for lewd dress, or the ruckus that was caused when an older gentleman was allowed on an American Americans flight wearing camouflage short shorts and a halter top. The question was whether what happened on those occasions was right. The airline policies say that any clothing that would cause “discomfort” to other passengers is not allowable. Many people have said, however, that we should not be moral police; it is part of people’s freedom of expression to wear whatever they want. And I don’t necessarily disagree with that principle, but I do want to ask to what extent we want to contribute to a society that deems it appropriate to wear absolutely anything, whenever and wherever we please. Are we willing to face the fact that our dress does determine our dignity? Do we even believe that there is such a dignity to speak of or uphold?

Yes, we absolutely have a double standard in our society; men, as we have seen, would have to do a lot more than wear short shorts to be accused of lewd dress. And it seems inevitable that women will almost always be judged to a disproportionate degree for their physical qualities. And that’s why I’m not trying to tell women just to cover up. I’m saying that the best we can do to break these standards is for everyone to treat their clothing as an expression of what they truly value in themselves. Do we value our bodies, our “sexual assets,” our comfort, our style, more than our dignity? When we walk into a classroom in preparation to be what valedictorians always call the “leaders of tomorrow” do we not consider it an important occasion? Never mind the money we pay or the prestige of this school, is being in public, meeting our professors and peers, not the precise moment that we want to dignify ourselves? Maybe it’s crazy, but I think when we walk around in sweatpants, sandals and short skirts, we say “whatever” to our true selves and to what we’re doing here.

So, as our bodies enter hibernation under layers of clothing for the next four months, let’s consider how we want them to reemerge when the heat returns. Are our clothing choices simply matters of comfort or free expression, or is there something else we can say with what we wear?

Jamie Weissmann is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]