If clothes truly make the man, it feels like I'm undergoing a serious makeover. As a teen, my favorite episodes of any talk show would be the makeover specials. Watching ordinary women turn into super models fascinated me... probably because I was strictly forbidden from wearing makeup and the majority of my clothes were secondhand. Living vicariously through the lucky makeover recipients was the next best thing as far as I was concerned, but I couldn't wait until the day that I could be my own boss and give myself a total makeover.
A dream unrealized
Following the stereotypical course of most college students, I left my parents and set off to find myself. Several piercings, tattoos, hair color and wardrobe changes later, I came to the conclusion that makeovers are fun until you're broke. Eventually I went back to what I was used to. Little to no makeup and secondhand clothes. Plain Jane all the way, baby.
Years of maintaining a wardrobe of sweatpants, shorts, short (but not too short) dresses, and cut up t-shirts became the norm for me, and I was fairly comfortable with the self that I had found. I was never on trend, but I was modest and comfortable. That's all I really cared about.
Once again, place me in a culture that runs perpendicular to mine, and I find that I'm not what I thought I was, at least not by their standards. Apparently most of the clothing I brought with me isn't very modest. From my first week of arrival until today, this has been a point of contention for Ray and me. Yes, you did read that right. Ray and I fight about clothes... a lot. Mark Twain wasn't kidding. Clothes make the man, and you don't realize how much your identity is wrapped up in your clothing until you are forced to change.
Here capris are considered shorts, actual shorts are out of the question, my knee-length dresses are too short, and no one wears sweatpants in public (I am most heartbroken about that). Now don't get me wrong. It's not just Ray that questions my wardrobe. Sometimes it's other people that mention it to him and then he has to be the one to deal with my resulting tantrum and pleas of, "I don't care! Just let me be myself! I'm an American, not a Kenyan!" (If I believed in using more than one exclamation point at a time, I would put three on that last statement.)
Matters of conscience
I'm sure some of you would probably agree with my response, and I would still be on the bandwagon with you, if it wasn't for a recent conviction I got from some Scriptures Ray and I read together a few weeks ago.
1 Corinthians 8 describes Paul's stance on matters of conscience. He poses the example of eating animals that had been sacrificed for the purposes of idol worship. Because idols were nothing but pieces of stone, not real deities of any sort, Paul knew that there was no spiritual or supernatural issue with eating meat meant for the blocks of rock. Even so, there were others that just couldn't get over the principle of the matter. If food had been sacrificed in the name of an idol, it was defiled. No question. Shut the book; don't open it again. Regardless of what Paul knew to be true, he refused to do what he knew was okay if it came at the expense of someone else's conscience. He also exhorted the Corinthians/us to do the same:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (vs. 9)
A stumbling block to the weak
As Ray and I read this, I realized that yes, as an American, I have the right to wear whatever I want, but within the bounds of this culture I'm sending a very different message. Just a few chapters after the one that made me eat my foot, Paul makes what has become a controversial command in our modern world. He tells women to keep their heads covered when they pray or prophesy in the church. Maybe that's a bit weird in our culture, but in that particular culture, women who were considered loose or promiscuous went around with their heads uncovered. Paul was just trying to keep the women from giving off the wrong cultural message. Likewise, my husband is simply trying to keep me from becoming a stumbling block to some of the men around here.
Searching for some answers
So this is where you lovely people come in. Even though I know that I need to adjust to cultural expectations so that I keep others from stumbling and whatnot, I feel like I can't dress like myself. How would you suggest we go about this issue as a couple? How can I honor my husband and his culture, yet maintain my identity?