Keziah bought a prom dress and naturally showed it off to her friends on Twitter. Hours later, the young American girl was inundated with by mobs of haters screaming at her. Why? Because she was wearing a cheongsam.
What constitutes good manners is very much a matter of time and place. When I first went to Indonesia, back in the 80s, my good friend Mr Toebe gave me a dress from his native island, Savu.
“Wear it when we go to dinner,” he said.
I thanked him, and the next time we went out, I put it on.
Now, Savu ladies are petite and I’m a hulking great big European.
The dress was gorgeous, and Mr Toebe had taken the precaution of having two skirts sew together so it would cover me properly, but I looked as if I’d been stuffed into a carpet. Fashion fail was putting it mildly.
Mr Toebe met me in the lobby of my hotel, took one look, and said, “Absolutely lovely.” Then, just as smoothly, “Better get changed. The restaurant is a little cold.”
Told you he was a nice man!
The thing is, over the years I have been given saris, kebayas, and a tonne of tops, hats, shoes and other fashion items. I’ve been grateful for the gifts and I’ve worn them to make my friends happy - whether they suited me or not.
I know that manners and customs change, and that’s fine, but I’ve been watching the spread of ‘cultural appropriation’ with dismay.
“You can’t wear that dress!”
“You’re not allowed to get that haircut!”
“That coat is only to be worn by my people!”
“How dare you look the way you do!”
When I hear these sentiments, I think of my cats. When they’re in a bad mood, they start fighting over who gets the big comfy chair, over who gets the corner sofa seat, and who is entitled to getting lap time.
They’re cats and they’re territorial because they can’t help it. But we are people and we should know better.
I get that anger is a problem. We're all frustrated by bad economies, by unmitigating unfairness, and by constant overcrowding and stress.
But I don’t like this trend. Policing how others look is the tool of controlling bullies. It’s not nice.
As for the mental health aspect of this, let me say this: if the sight of someone feeling beautiful and happy enrages you, there is something very wrong. And not only does that rage hurt others, but it's going to hurt you, too.
Note: I am a private counselling psychologist helping my clients manage stress and depression. I work online via Skype and Facebook Messenger. Email me via email@example.com. My current charges are RM100 or US$30 over Paypal per session. The first 20 minutes are free.