“This Is Me” Audience Models How Their Clothes Aren’t Their Identities

On March 28, a “fashion show” where the audience became the models focused on identity, clothing and stereotypes in an event put on by DeSousa-Brent Scholar Marché Pearson, first-year, for her end-of-the year Leadership Project.

The discussion, entitled This is Me!, allowed audience members to speak about the stereotypes and “culture glasses” that, according to guest speaker Professor of Anthropology Julie King, have been ingrained in our social interactions.

“It’s in our human nature to make associations” King said. “Approachability, a lot of the time, is based in the stereotypes we build because we feel vulnerable. This is about learning how to begin breaking down the stereotyping and not making judgments.”

King, an archaeologist, opened the conversation by speaking about how our clothing communicates our behavior and how she encounters examples of these in her line of work. Material dress, she said, is everywhere. One example King felt would be familiar to the audience was the decision on how to dress if one were to appear in court for speeding.

“Would you wear denim, or would you present yourself as formal to communicate to the judge that you understand the rules?” King asked.

She continued the lecture with the “strange case of Thomas/Thomasine Hall,” an individual who had an ambiguous gender identity in the early 17th century. Thomas/Thomasine (whom King simply referred to as “T”) repeatedly broke the “rigidly structured gender roles” and was forced by a Virginia court to wear articles of clothing that identified T as both a man and woman. According to King, the case allows us to “understand the constraints of identity,” and the role clothing plays in our understanding of it.

Following the lecture, Pearson displayed a PowerPoint presentation with a plethora of adjectives that many could identify themselves with. The presentation included words such as bisexual, joyous, misunderstood, creative, Asian, Christian, and broken. She then asked the audience to share the adjective that best described them.

Many spoke about the small decisions they make every day because they fear what others will think about their appearance. One student mentioned her experience with dressing for weekend parties and the decisions she makes to ensure that she does not send the wrong signals about her sexual availability. Another spoke about having a short haircut and a need she feels to communicate through her clothing that she is not gay.

“Why does society put so much emphasis on why people wear what and how we perceive each other? The delusions of the media – what we see in magazines – affects us more than it should,” Pearson said. “In order for us to become more accepting, we need to stop placing value on what we see in the media.”

“Stereotyping [through clothing] is a shorthand way to make quick judgments,” she added. “This event was to promote this understanding. Even in a group this small, discussing this could transform and extend through the entire College. That is the goal.”

 

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