Not Sagging but Supporting

As I come to my half-century+1 birthday this week, I find myself both amused and troubled by the proposed No-Sagging ordinance in the city of St. Louis.  No fashion style is more confusing to me than what is popularly called “sagging” and no initiative more counter-productive than banning it.  As a woman old enough to remember the scandal of boys with long hair, I need to weigh in on the ridiculousness of the proposed ordinance.

I’ll skip the commentary about the embedded racism of the ordinance; it’s a question asked and answered and those who have ears have already heard.  Choosing to ban a fashion that is worn by one particular subset of our culture and then claiming that it isn’t a reflection of our attitude about that subset is absurd, but I’ll let someone else take up that argument.

And I want to be clear that my support of ‘sagging’ (or rather my opposition to banning it) is not a vote for male exposure.  I’d be the first to admit that lewdness makes me queasy, but that’s not what we’re talking about with an anti-sagging ordinance.  When the “style” morphs into exposure as it unfortunately can, there are plenty of ordinances about indecency that can be called in to assist. We have plenty of rules and laws to enforce the coverage of private parts (ask Janet Jackson about “wardrobe malfunctions”).

As I ponder Jackson’s unfortunate encounter with America’s bizarre and conflicting standards regarding fashion, it strikes me that banning “sagging” is akin to banning “bikini straps”.  Like bikini straps, sagging is a style whose domain are svelte young bodies that most of us will never again know.  Quite frankly, sagging isn’t a fashion that is in danger of catching the rest of us.  Trust me.  Although youthful bodies sport skimpy swimsuits and sagging pants, those of us with the markers of time will continue to opt for the coverage available from the likes of LL Bean rather than the more revealing fare offered at Old Navy.

As a casual observer, I have a confession: I have begun to develop an appreciation of the fashion. Before you judge me, hear me out.  First of all, there is remarkable creativity and color in the boxer department.  The quilter in me can’t help but appreciate the array of cotton colors.  But even more intriguing than the fabrics is the grace exhibited when walking with a belt around your thighs.  If we all had to try it before we threw stones, the pile would never empty.  In terms of giving credit where due, let’s face it – credit is due here.

But what if we simply don’t like the fashion?  Say it offends our sense of style and/or taste?  If disdain is a reason to criminalize fashion, I’m going to add gingham and eyelet to the list.  I wore too much of it in my early years, trying to be something I’m not. It’s taken literally decades of Goldilocks style trial and error to find fashion forms that fit both my body and my spirit.  Which is really the point.  This is a fad that our youth are trying on as they explore who they are and what feels good on their bodies.  I highly doubt this is a fashion that they’ll still be sporting when they’re 50!

What I do know about teens is that the more the elders’ rail, the more the teens push back.  The more we try to outlaw a behavior, the more tempting it becomes.  If we really don’t want our teens to sag, we’ll buy them lots of colorful boxers and baggy pants.  Or better yet, the braver among us could try sporting the fashion to show our support.  With our embodied support (especially when our bodies sag as deeply as our pants), the fashion will lose its luster in short order.

In the meantime, lets empower our civil servants to work on the issues that really matter…  some of the many issues include local control of our quality water, expanded recycling and composting programs, and cutting edge technology in our schools.   Focused on what we do want, we’ll be offering less enticement for what we don’t.

Kindergarten Lesson #10 – Differences

When my daughter was a toddler, she inquired the whereabouts of the “chocolate girl” that sometimes visited next door.  As I heard her description, I felt a wave of conflicting emotions.  She was in awe of the older child, the granddaughter of our neighbors, and was identifying her idol by that which made her distinct in our otherwise racially homogenous world.  Chocolate is a treasure for a toddler (and perhaps all of us), and the descriptor was not offered or intended as a slight.  Yet to identify a child simply by skin color, especially for a white child to identify an brown child thusly, is both offensive and unacceptable.  I tried to engage in a non-dramatic but direct conversation about difference and respect and even race in America, but even in the moment I was quite certain my words were inadequate.

Likewise I found myself with way too many words and none of them helpful when one of the children this week gaped at the size of a new child in our school and loudly exclaimed, “He’s fat!”  The simple fact is that the new child is many sizes larger than his peers of similar age.  The scientific term, morbidly obese, is no less endearing than the playground taunt “fat!”

The wonderment of our differences isn’t lost on children and we would be wise to acknowledge our own wonderment.  When we see ourselves both in similarity and contrast to our peers we instinctively measure up (or down).  Some differences are awe inspiring, some make us feel false (and dangerous) pride. The real danger in assessing our differences lies when we try to assign value accordingly.

A few days earlier I’d had a conversation with the children about differences that we see in the lunchroom, specifically the stemming behaviors displayed by the children with autism.  Jumps, claps, and screams are commonplace and disconcerting if you’re new to them.  In time it’s part of the ambiance of the place, but truly it’s unsettling to the newbie.  Not surprisingly some of the children, taking note of difference, began first to point and then to tease.  In our classroom discussion, we talked about difference and respect, naming the behaviors that were unusual to us and perhaps even uncomfortable.  We talked about respectful responses and the children had good ideas.  While subsequent lunch hours have not been tease-free, the frank discussion has empowered both student and teacher to redirect more quickly and respect grows.

If teaching is encouraging wonderment, if I daily continue to encourage children to use the biggest word of all, look!, our human differences are hard to hide.  The fact is that one of the children is a size quite miniature and the new boy many sizes larger than the others.  Skin tones, vernacular patterns, body shapes and sizes, hair textures, family configurations, academic abilities, all of these vary quite widely in our little world.  Mindfulness invites us to encounter and respect the fullness of our diversity.

But how is it that I can take note of difference in ways that are respectful?

Unhelpful are the common attempts to teach children to be grateful for their higher value in the face of difference.  When a sentence begins with “you are so lucky” or “you should be grateful”, beware.  When we use difference to position ourselves, we have made a dangerously wrong turn. Our recognition of our differences are important, but we can know that we’ve missed the mark if such furthers a feeling of separation.

Helpful was an act of compassion shared in our class yesterday by Miles when Sam’s behaviors had left him ostracized and othered. No one wants to stand in line next to the child that is falling apart and the class had pretty much closed ranks yesterday at lunch. I was considering my options, still holding an anxious Sam’s hand, when Miles stepped out of line and said, “I’ll stand with Sam.”  Together the two moved to the back of the line.  They shared lunch hour together and I watched in wonderment as Sam engaged in age appropriate conversations with a peer.  They both had fun, together. When Miles stepped out of line, both he and Sam experienced the true gift of our difference: we are better together.

A key to the dream shared by Martin Luther King, Jr. is that each of the children are equally valued, no one elevated above the other and no one left to trudge through the leavings.  To teach the dream to our children is to allow them to show us their individual wonder and uniqueness, and to foster recognition of the same in every one of their peers.  To bring the dream alive is to create environments where lifting one child in celebration doesn’t come with a competitive edge; there need not be a loser for every winner and the dream invites us to consider that if anyone loses none of us really win.  To live the dream is to stand strong on our human legs as we marvel in the birds flight, grateful for both.

But the dream begins with simple and seemingly random acts of compassion that bridge our differences, acts like Miles shared by offering his hand to Sam.  For this most of all I am grateful.