Fashioning our Self

My latest in the Christian Courier, here.

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A good number of Canadians are sporting new outfits these January days. We are wearing our Christmas gifts – or, perhaps more likely, we are newly-attired from our own post-Christmas bargain shopping. There are a good many of us who got into a new pair of jeans this morning, or put on a crisp new shirt. A cool new knitted hat to top it off?

At one level this exercise of putting on new clothes is innocent enough. It is, after all, a very common experience. But if we were to turn a critical eye toward this practice, our first thought might be that we have bowed to the god of consumerism. We simply do not need these new things, there was nothing wrong with the old, and our financial resources could have been more wisely spent.

This is an entirely reasonable critique of the compulsion to shop in our culture. But perhaps it is worth attending to another dimension of that experience of putting on a new outfit; of checking ourselves out in the mirror. Specifically, we should pay attention to the fact that putting on new clothing is a practice by which we establish our Self. The capital “S” is intended, since its our identity we are talking about. Continue reading

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what we wear – who we are

Clothing has always been a significant part of human identity. Historically human clothing has been particularly significant in terms of our shared or our collective identities. In particular cultures there was always a similarity of dress; our clothing marked us out as belonging to a particular culture or community. So there has been a style of clothing typical among the Scottish, or typical among the Dutch, or typical among Cameroonians – and then even within those larger groups, there have been narrower styles that marked out smaller groups or peoples. If you were an anthropologist travelling around the world two hundred years ago, you would have inevitably identified particular cultures or peoples according to the clothing they wore. Particular peoples just were peoples that wore this type of clothing. Your clothes made you part of a group.

Today that collective dimension remains a part of human culture in some respects. But today there is also something much more individualistic about our clothing. Our culture in the west today gives especially high priority to our creation of an individual identity. In our culture, everything around us is seen as raw material from which we can create or build or project our personal identity. We have been taught to resist the idea that our identity is in any way given to us or dictated from outside of ourselves – modern culture teaches us above all that our individual identity must be created, must be fabricated, must be cobbled together by us out of the raw material of life. You create yourself. You establish your own identity.

So I choose this set of experiences to define me.

I alter my body in this way to mark myself as this distinct person. Continue reading