Wordless Wednesday: When the Tart Becomes the Treat

I don’t know about you, but Halloween confuses me. We tell children not to talk to strangers except for once a year when we take them door to door. I grew up in a conservative family so my brother had much more interesting costumes than I did. Now that I’m an adult, I’m still not crazy about princess dresses but I much prefer them to the many versions of  “the tart” which are the options for women’s costumes.The sexy animal, witch, nurse, or you name it, are all variations of one theme: Women are hyper sexual commodities like any other candy or treat.

What do you think? Am I taking the holiday too seriously? As the mother of a young male toddler, I can’t help think about the way he’ll view the world around him.

Halloween Pin-Up Victoria by myvirtuallady
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My First Abaya

Your new year glow – like mine – may have worn off a bit by now. I did miss my resolution the second weekend of the month with visitors in town and overwhelmed by work  but made it up last Friday. I was never gladder to be in church than this last week as the worship was heartfelt as the person delivering the message. The palpable hope in the air, coupled with the fact of sitting with friends (and not by myself in the overflow room as often happens) saw me out the door with a spring in my step.

Part of going back to church this year was reclaiming my schedule: mostly my mind’s time dwelling on work and my body’s stationary presence in front of a computer.  I missed being in a community: more importantly I realized that with our first (and maybe only) pregnancy underway, I wanted to be living a more balanced life when this child came into the world.

Changing my weekly habits has been mirrored by the changes my body is going through: I am sleepy so early that I hardly seem like an adult anymore. But going to bed at eight p.m. has it’s advantages: getting up early. Even on Fridays, which were the days I couldn’t pry myself loose from the sheets. Now I find it hard to stay tuck in past nine in the morning.

Eating well: I have consumed more fruit in the last three weeks than I have in my entire life. Bananas, grapes, mandarin oranges, strawberries — there doesn’t seem to be anything I won’t eat.

And change of dress. I went with two students to have two abayas made. I have been known to say repeatedly "If I’m here while pregnant, I will wear an abaya the whole time."

Well, as my ‘bump’ started to grow and professional clothing became harder and harder to find, much less being one of a few women in an office with mostly men, I retreated into the abaya. In the period up until our news became public, those three months when everyone waits to make sure that the fetus is viable and won’t decide that now is not its time, the changes in your body are visible and yet hard to explain in modern society. Imagine living this in a country where most of the women are covered up and you have my predicament. Your brain and body are so taxed with hosting another life, the last thing you want to worry about is what to wear or what people think about what you look like. You want to get up, do your job, and get home.

I loved the folds; how it hide my leggings and tank top; how it smoothed over the growing lumps of my bust; how it jazzed up my overall look on days I could barely get out of bed.

It’s true that men behave differently towards me now than they have before I escaped into the voluminous folds. They give me a much wider berth; shopkeepers are often more polite. The abject stares are somewhat mitigated as the abaya demands privacy — respect.

Four years ago when I was starting my first few weeks at the national university, I tried a headscarf with little success. (Read about that here: ). Now I wonder why it never occurred to me to try an abaya. Maybe I wasn’t ready then. But I am so glad that I am now.

It brings home to me the fact that developing world feminists have touted about the veil and other forms of dress. When a woman chooses it for herself, it can be very, very empowering.

Shorts no more

A friend and I were at the mall recently and found ourselves discussing why neither of us wear shorts anymore. This is odd, particularly for me, the girl child who argued fiercely with her mother to wear the fashionable cut offs in high school that gave Daisy her “dukes.” She found it equally so since growing up in California, she often showed off her ballerina legs.

We were both used to living in the conservative culture of the Middle East for several years and perhaps that was the most obvious reason. That plus the slowing of our metabolism as we raced towards becoming thirtysomethings.

The truth is I loved wearing short things in my teenage years which I spent most of weighing no more than 100 pounds. And then, as I became part of a committed spiritual community in college, I gave up the short hems as anything higher than the knee was frowned upon. Thus it was that the wild child of adolescence willingly forsook the shorts, bikinis, and other scanty wear of young shapely women the world over as a twentysomething.

Now on the doorstep of thirty, living in the Middle East, unexpectedly finding myself eating, traveling, and sitting next to women in hijab, I’m reminded again how much in common conservative cultures the world over have in common, regardless of the religion. For hijab means so much more than just the headscarf that is so viciously debated (a senseless debate if you ask anyone, because you aren’t going to make anyone stop wearing it). Hijab means covering the ears, the neck, arms, breasts, and hips – in short creating a cloak of modesty which covers the woman.

Coincidentally these are very similiar to the areas I was lectured against exposing at various faith based conferences in college; we were urged to be modest in our dress and looked in sympathy on immodestly dressed girls at those same conferences. They would learn if they wanted to stick around.

Religions  all over the world want to cover women up – to encourage men to think on other things – and in addressing women’s clothing Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims are surprisingly in agreement. Modesty, each of them preaches, is essential to social order, to well behaved men, to protected women.

Not that I support the direction that young women’s fashion has headed in the last few years. A woman does like to have some secrets, after all.

But where is the line between what someone chooses and what is enforced, either socially, legally, or morally? 
How do we develop our codes? From our families, our communities, or our own sense of what makes us feel right?
Some combination of all three?