Wardrobe Envy & Looking Beyond our Outsides

Capsule Wardrobe, faith, Fashion / Thursday, March 12th, 2015

One more post from my 7 Long Takes. (The one about Spring Wardrobe and Body Image was #6 I just forgot to say that.)

7. Wardrobe Envy

“Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius” from the manuscript The Consolation of Philosophy attributed to the Coëtivy Master, about 1460–70

Speaking of clothes – again – I also wanted to expand on something I mentioned in my Wardrobe Capsule Update.

At the beginning of this wardrobe challenge, it helped me see that I had become incredibly self-conscious of not only what   was wearing but what  others  were wearing, internally comparing or imagining myself in their clothes.

Do you ever do this? Come on, you know you do. I check women out all the time.

Not in that way.

But I check out what they are wearing. I wouldn’t call myself a fashion-conscious person but I do at least pay attention to what others wear, especially those who are much trendier and hipper. (Is it even cool to use the word, “hip”, anymore?) Even though I’d prefer to think of myself as non-conformist who dances to the beat of her own drum, I still want to dress like “everyone else”. Even the hipsters aren’t really “hipsters” anymore.

Yet, as I’ve mentioned, participating in the Project 333 and simplifying my wardrobe has helped me focus less  on what I look like in my clothes but it’s also helped me stop thinking as much about what others wear and comparing myself to them.

People, especially women, have been comparing themselves to each other since the beginning of the female race. I’m sure there are all sorts of fascinating “survival of the fittest” and anthropological explanations for this. Aside from those reasons, or because of those reasons, over time a dark and dangerous poison infiltrated our lives, corrupting minds and destroying relationships.

It’s name? Envy. 

Comparison by itself is not always bad. She has a blue shirt on. I have a white shirt on. Actually that’s more like a contrast. I have jeans on, she has jeans on. Comparison 101.

But envy.  Oi. That’s a killer.

Envy goes beyond comparison and contrast. It starts when I compare and contrast what I have or look like to someone else, and then I desire or even covet what she has. But that’s still not as bad as envy.

Envy happens when we compare, contrast, covet and then –   wish the other person did not have it anymore and only I did.

Ouch. The truth hurts. (Thank goodness for the Sacrament of Confession!)

I’ve seen how comparison leads to desire which leads quickly and easily to envy. And what does this do to us? What does it to our friendships and personal interactions?

Kills them. Figuratively and, sadly many times, quite literally.

But if we only focus on what a person wears or looks like or does, we completely miss out on the actual person. We fail to see what’s under all the clothes and visage. We fail to see their joys, their aspirations…their sorrows and their struggles. We fail to see their hidden pains we may not even know are there by only looking at the outside.

I have a good friend who, for as long as I’ve known her, always looks good in her clothes. What’s more impressive is that she is a mother of “many” children. So when I met her as a younger and newer mother several years ago, she gave me hope and inspiration that, even as a “stay-at-home” mom, it’s still possible to dress nicely and keep some sort of semblance that I haven’t completely gone crazy or “let myself go” too much.

The other day, I was walking behind her as we brought our kids into school together. I noticed her smooth knee-high brown leather boots pulled over some super cute and trendy leggings with a long and elegant tunic and lacy sweater draped over her top half. Simple jewelry dangled from her neck and gorgeous gems adorned her ears.

A few years and a few more kids later since we first met and she still knows how to totally rock the “mom uniform”. However, something else about her has changed in the last couple years.

Her clothes hang loosely over her thinner body. Her eyes, a little sadder, like a soldier who’s been to the battle zone and back. Her face, the image of refined beauty. Her hair, now a short stubble. Yet, still as radiant and strong as ever – even more so.

Yes. Cancer. And chemotherapy-induced leukemia.

I know what she’s gone through. Well actually I really don’t have a clue what she’s been through. But I know at least the general details. I know her struggle; I know what’s going on underneath all those trendy and beautiful clothes.

And it humbles me. Profoundly.

It’s ok for me to admire her and her ability to look good and beautiful on the outside even with everything she’s fighting with on the inside. But what type of person would I be if I envied her and wished she didn’t have these nice things to wear and I did instead?

A sinner, for one. A horrible, terrible friend for another.

This friend of mine has taught me a great lesson about clothes and envy and many more important lessons as well. Without even knowing it, she’s forced me to remember to look at people for who they are, not for what they look like or wear.

There have been times I’ve avoided talking to someone because I was intimidated or even put off by their outside appearance. If only I would have looked beyond what I saw on the surface, and looked into their eyes, I might have seen something deeper…maybe I might have even seen someone. 

So I’ll end this post – and finally pay attention to my starving children – with a twist on a popular cliché,

Don’t judge people by their outsides; love them for their insides.


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