On The Opportunity In Brokenness
Dress Your Spirit is a regular series that turns our focus inward to the person underneath the clothes because style emanates from within. Think of it as styling for the soul. Read more pieces here.
Historically, fashion has succeeded in elevating and inspiring; in giving us an idea of the person we wish to be. What it has done far less is to meaningfully address the pieces of ourselves and our experience that we struggle with: self-doubt, self-acceptance, self-love, and compassion for ourselves, to name a few. To a remarkable degree, fashion is still obsessed with the mirage of perfection, which is perpetuated in so many facets of the industry, from runways to red carpets. This, in turn, fuels consumerism, which takes its firmest hold when we internalize the idea that there is an objective perfect we must somehow measure up to. We might not be perfect, but surely we can buy our way there.
This isn't true.
And it isn't helping us nurture a healthy relationship with fashion and appearance as individuals and in our societies.
In different ways, I've been feeling broken lately, so I've been thinking a lot about brokenness—the feeling of being lacking or cracked, wounded or incomplete. Brokenness is something fashion only addresses to the degree that we should cover it up. Get back to pursuing perfect.
But I'm not tempted to do that. I want to learn from brokenness, not to shrink away from it. I want to understand for myself how fashion exists to serve us in brokenness, and in imperfection, which are fundamental facets of being human. Slowly, we can chip away at fashion's patina of perfection and unearth what it is at its core: a tool for enriching the experience of being human, not bypassing it.
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It...taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.
— James Baldwin
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our humanity.
We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience.
― Pema Chödrön
This is your assignment. Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption. Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. And then FOCUS.
Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush. Pick up your damn chin. Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings. Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light. Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing—it still exists.)
Focus on that light. Enlarge it. Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light. This is your assignment.
— Words by Courtney Martin (and artwork illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton)