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.