Setting my gaze on things that last

By August 14, 2007 culture, faith No Comments

As I wrote of yesterday, I was recently on a visiting trip to Wisconsin where I had two personally challenging encounters with the Amish. I continue to ponder the plain and simple motto that would describe the Amish life.

One area I have romanticized in regard to the Amish life is the benefit the women have in “dressing plain.” Without the constant connection to the world’s notion of feminine beauty, these women are free to concern themselves with other areas, such as home, work, family, and the like.

I wonder how much time I would save if I were not so wrapped up in the world’s notion of outer beauty? The battle to hold my ground and to focus upon the eternal is a struggle. As the years go, this struggle is easier in some respects (I am more free to be myself), more difficult in others (now that I know myself better, I want my external facade to reflect what’s inside).

As a professional in the field of marketing communications, I am both fascinated and appalled by the messages sent about that shape our mindsets. I have slowly chewed on Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne. Kilbourne discusses the impact of various campaigns upon women and children especially. The section focusing on how women feel about themselves and their appearance had this quote from Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls:

When girls of the nineteenth century thought about ways to improve themselves, they almost always focused on their internal character and how it was reflected in outward behavior. In 1892, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: “Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. . . . To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.”

A century later, in the 1990s, American girls think very differently. In a New Year’s resolution written in 1982, a girl wrote: “I will try to make myself better in every way I possibly can with the help of my budget and baby-sitting money. I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories.”

(Here is another interesting article by Brumberg.)

The variance here is striking. And convicting, for my mind tends to stall out more than I want it to on the second set of concerns.

It may not be an appropriate conclusion, but I think the Amish life of simple and plain dress helps them to focus on that first set of concerns, the things of the heart and soul that are lasting and true. (I realize this cannot be assumed of all Amish women, but perhaps it is a general truth that less focus on the external provides more time and attention to the internal).

I love the language from the diarist of 1892, “Resolved . . .” How lovely, and how rare, to hear of anyone being resolved to develop better character. 

  • Michael Danner

    Interesting thought – Quakers used to observe plain dress, like the Amish. However, the further their plain dress got away from the common dress of the community, the more their plain dress became a temptation to pride. In the end, the thing they were trying to avoid – being known for fashion and external appearance – was actually hindered by plain dress. They became. like the Amish, known for their fashion. Quaker’s today dress simply, but more consistently with the overall appearance of the community.

    Something to ponder…

    I like how you talk about congruency – letting your outer appearance reflect the inner person…

    Thanks for the insights on this! Ooh that’s interesting that plain dress can become a “substitute idol.” The very thing that should be freeing (less time pondering “what should I wear?” and less time searching/shopping for the “perfect” thing to wear) could actually become a hindrance to the internal reason for plain dress. It’s a swap, remove focus on being fashionable, insert pride on not being caught up in the world’s notion of beauty! That’s definitely something to ponder. Excellent point! –E

  • Pingback: Strangers in an Amish Land « filling my patch of sky

My book, Comfort Detox, now available! order your copy here