The Role of Appearance in Individuation

The Role of Appearance in Individuation

Yesterday, The New York Times published a short documentary by Mona el Naggar, Mark Meatto, and Yousur Al-Hlou about a young woman navigating her identity in post-Arab spring Egypt. The piece forces the viewer to confront layers of intellectually and emotionally complex topics: feminism, religion, patriarchy, sexuality, dissent, personal freedom, social mores, all within the context of this young woman's bare struggle. In its raw humanity, the piece is haunting.

She Rebelled Against Her Religion, and Now She’s on the Run

 

As a human being, as a woman, as a daughter of Egyptian immigrants, as an individual, I connected profoundly to Esraa's story. I'm still processing it, but in the layers unearthed here, one that I found poignant was the role of appearance in Esraa's strive for individuality. In the removal of her veil, her transition to wearing less makeup, the application of her lipstick, her hair cut, it felt to me that alterations to her outward appearance paralleled for her important inner changes.

Which brings to my mind a question I think about often in my quest to understand fashion in a broader context: how does our appearance matter- to ourselves, to others, to collective human progress, to individual truth? Esraa's story makes it clear to me that our appearance, although it exists on our surface, is not superficial, and although it deals with our outermost expression of self, has roots deeply embedded within our innermost being. That our appearance matters so fundamentally means that to discount its role- which we might do by trivializing appearance, by commercializing it, by judging appearance (our own and others)- is to discount a critical part of the experience of coming into our selves. 

 
The Kite by Gazbia Sirry (Egyptian b. 1925) via The Met

The Kite by Gazbia Sirry (Egyptian b. 1925) via The Met

 

So, for ourselves, and for every woman everywhere coming into who she is, at costs we might never fully comprehend, here's an invitation to treat the subject of our appearance with the compassion, respect, curiosity, and empathy it deserves. As it did for Esraa, the Arab Spring helped me to see that no matter the revolution, it always begins within. 

 

Feature image an unfinished portrait by Egyptian artist Hesham Kelesh via Cairo Scene.

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