by Leigh Bonner
I’ve never thought of myself as a “girly” female, whatever that means. As a child, I loved playing dress-up, taking ballet lessons, and pretending with dolls and figurines of all sorts. This did not mean, however, that I never pulled out my coffee cans of monster trucks that I kept at my grandparents’ house or refrained from having all-out Nerf wars with the boys in my neighborhood or stood idly by as my tomboy sister slung mud at me after a thick Memphis summer rain.
As a teen and young undergrad, I decided that because the ones who bullied me (for every reason listed in the book entitled This Is Why You Push Around Nerdy Kids) dressed in the most stylish, “girly” clothing possible with the flashiest jewelry and makeup, I was not, under any circumstances, going to bedeck myself in the same manner.
Now, in my late 20s, I have grown to enjoy stereotypically womanly things such as dresses, scarves, and jewelry, though to a point. I like not-so-trendy, indie sort of things, I like to shop only when I’m in the mood for it (not that often), and I don’t spend much money on clothing and accessories.
One evening after work when I was too tired to do anything productive or mentally stimulating, I decided to browse the recent jewelry posts on Etsy. I began with their new “Fine Jewelry” section, which was way out of my budget but mildly entertaining to see. Soon after, I found myself going through page after page of everyday earrings, just waiting for one pair to capture my eye enough that I think, “Hmmm, these would look good hanging in the holes I decided to have punched in my ear lobes when I was 11. Maybe they will match some of the clothing I found at the mostly fair-trade, sweat-free import clothing and accessory store.”
The first thing that grabbed my attention did not match my cute little poppy flower wrap dress or my basic black dress that says, “I’m good-looking, but I don’t care that much.” Oh, but it captured my eye. Captured my eye,indeed.
Yes, friends, these are genuine, hand-cut Jay-Z and Beyoncé post earrings. They can be yours for only $8USD plus $3USD shipping and handling. I chuckled, especially in light of the previous Sunday night’s Beyoncé concert, which happened to include football. (By the way, Microsoft Word 2010 will spell-check you on “Beyonce,” insisting that you include the accent on the final “e.”)
After my momentary chuckle, I returned to my decidedly more serious search for earrings that an adult would wear around other adults, or perhaps to work, and, after all of five seconds, found these.
This pair of finely-crafted rhinestone clip-on earrings, normally priced at $20, have undergone jaw-dropping markdown and now only cost $14, with $4 shipping. What’s more, the shop owner has placed them on The Bible, which obviously makes this a Christian purchase. The Christian part is primary; the earrings’ quality is of marginal importance.
Not long after the Christian rhinestone earrings, I found these gems:
Now, I am trying so hard to avoid being mean to those who enjoy making and/or wearing this sort of thing. So I simply will describe them. They are large, handmade Hello Kitty-themed hoop earrings with Swarovski crystals outlining the bow.
There is a point to all this. I promise.
Yes, those are earrings. They have candy in them. Their dimensions are 2 ¾” x 1 ¾”. Yes, that means that if you purchase these, you will have three-inches’ length of candy hanging from your earlobes.
Needless to say, I ceased to search for earrings that would match my now obviously bland wardrobe, and I started writing this piece. At first, I had no idea where I was going. After I reread the sarcastic wit I bandied about in the above descriptions, however, I realized that somewhere in there, I had become something of a bully. Regretsy alert.
I think these earrings are hideous. (Well, maybe I think the Beyoncé and Jay-Z earrings are just hip enough to pass into the acceptable kitsch zone, and the ones on The Bible are pretty classic and therefore acceptable to a generous section of the public, but anyway…) There is a deeper question here: When it comes to matters of personal style, is there a line one can cross between disagreement and moral judgment? On the one hand, we can simply have different tastes from another person, and we can voice those differences or keep quiet about them. On the other hand, we can take our stylistic preferences and use them to pass moral judgment on another, again either vocally or silently.
My sarcastic comments about these earrings could get me quite a lot of positive attention from people who prefer classic, workplace-oriented style and would find me an amusing individual. In a circle of preteens, high school students or even some older adults, however, my comments might be construed as personal attacks. I don’t think I ever went through a phase of my life when I thought that it was a good idea to wear earrings like the ones above. Until the last few years or so, though, I haven’t ever cared for shopping much at all, so what do I know?
Before high school, I didn’t even try to look fashionable because, like I said, the ones who enjoyed shopping for the trendiest clothes were those who bullied me in elementary school for being a skinny, short, nerdy girl with waist-long hair wearing stirrup pants and Keds. The few times I got remotely interested in fashion those days resulted in the purchase of a pair of Tevas and, on another occasion, a pair of Umbros that, despite being a size XXS youth, still made my legs look like a pair of bean poles.
I have moved well beyond the things that were said to me 22 years ago. Those words never caused me to become depressed or crawl into reclusion. On the contrary, they helped me grow into feminism, caused me to continue focusing on academics and career, and played a role in my decision to accept a call to ordained ministry.
Obviously, however, the words I heard in the fourth and fifth grade about my body type and my clothing choices still haunt me on occasion. There are days when I look in the mirror and hear those words: “skinny,” “bony,” “goody two-shoes,” “babyish,” “little Leigh,” “anorexic” (which I most definitely was not).
The point is that I now am almost 30 years old, and I still can hear the words, remember the names, and see the faces of those who said them. It doesn’t matter how much I hate those earrings on Etsy. I have no right to attack the people who made them. Read the words I used to describe them. I don’t use name-calling like a fourth-grader probably would. I use sarcasm, the adult abstract-thinker’s way of poking fun, reeling in a laugh from others. You may have laughed as you read it.
I wouldn’t call what I said about those earrings bullying because my sarcasm isn’t directed towards the people who made them. But what would those artisans think if they read this blog? I’m not against a little sarcastic humor every once in a while, but every time I look in the mirror and hear the words “babyish,” “goody two-shoes,” and “little Leigh,” I don’t have to think twice about how I address other people. So is making fun of personal style tantamount to bullying the people who choose a particular style? I don’t know. What I do know is that what I wore and how I looked once influenced my classmates’ decision to refrain from being my friend, which meant that no one decided to be my friend that year. Nothing, neither taste, nor sexual identity, nor color, nor anything else should keep someone from having friends, even for a year.
Now I’m tempted to buy those Hello Kitty earrings, put those Umbros on (I still wear them when I paint.), throw on a T-Shirt from the Limited Too (Does that store still exist?), grab my latest pair of Tevas, look at myself in a full-length mirror, and say, “I am made in the image and likeness of God.” What would happen if I looked at everyone that way?
Leigh Bonner is certified ready for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) pending a call after graduating from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She also possesses a borderline unhealthy hatred of John Calipari, assuming such a thing is possible.
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