Thursday, May 31, 2012


Bless me Interweb for I have sinned.  It's been 10 days since my last blog post.

In my defense, oh Series of Tubes, I have been busy visiting a parade of aunts, uncles, counsins, parents, in-laws, and grandparents during our annual trip Stateside, and I've barely had a moment to check my email much less write a decent post.  

So, here I find myself back in the land of the obese and reality TV=obsessed the free and the brave.  Each time I come home I'm hit with reverse culture shock.  I've written about it before.  Those of you who've traveled abroad for any extended period of time know what I'm talking about. Leaving your native land, you brace yourself for the differences you'll face abroad but are always a bit thrown off center when you see your own culture through new eyes upon your return.  This is supposed to be home, and you're supposed to be an expert at it. So, why does everything seem so bizarre?

But I've done the back and forth enough to know to brace myself even for the reverse culture shock upon my return here.  I know I'm going to be outraged by the runaway consumerism, the needless choice and the waste. I'm going to be disgusted by the caustic political discourse. (E.g. Last visit home the Trump was spewing birther nonsense to an press corp eager for manufactured controversy.)  I know I'm going to revel in the luxury of temperature control taps on the shower, until I remember difficulty others have in getting water to bathe in at all, and then resign myself to just enjoy my hot shower.

And this is a dance I'm accustomed too -- feeling that the riches and luxuries of America are a bit obscene given what most of the world experiences, and then settling in to enjoying them.  

Even though these are my expectations, there's always something small that catches me off guard. Something I appreciate about living in the USA or something that disgusts me. Last time it was the unexpected pleasure of public changing tables and family bathrooms.  This time it's feeling like I'm being punked by the fashion world.

In general I'm struck, as always, by the myriad ways the masterminds of advertising, marketing and product developement have created to get people to part with their money; to buy new things that they absolutely have no need for and, if they thought about it, probably don't even want. I can pretty much entirely avoid this in Kenya. 

Fashion is the worst offender.

I'm going to say it: skinny jeans look awesome on almost no one.  They make thin women look like pre-pubescent boys and "curvy" women look like potatoes stuffed into stockings.  No one wins.  But the beautiful people told us we need to have these things to avoid fashion disgrace.  So, like the insecure sheep we are, we go out and buy unflattering things that will be so "last year" as soon as.... you guessed it... next year.  But changing the shape of jeans is one of the ways these wizards have of making us part with our money.  One year it's high waisted, then low, then bell bottom, then zipper bottom, then ripped and acid washed (woah, I'm dating myself here) and then skinny.

Boot cut has endured these fluctuations.  Stick with boot cut people.  Your butt looks best in boot cut.

And we look back at fashion trends and think we look ridiculous.  We are all embarrassed by our high school pictures, permed and shoulder padded.  And we should be.  We looked like electricuted linebackers.  But somehow we learn nothing from this hindsight.
 Isn't this image enough to make us understand that fashion designers are probably just playing a continual practical joke on us?
Sure, fashion evolves and all that - otherwise we'd be wearing bonnets and corsets, and what self respecting liberated woman can get through their zumba class in that getup?  

But, can't we just slow down this evolution?  It's a waste.  Of our hard earned money and of all the animals, plans and minerals that it took to make all this stuff.  [And I don't entirely buy the argument that we need to keep buying buying buying to move the economy and create jobs.  There are other ways to grow an economy.]

There is none of this ludicrousness in Kenya.  Kenyans take pride in how they dress, just like people all around the world.  People who are barely scraping by still come to church on Sunday in clean, colorful and stylish attire. But, at least where we live, people, their wallets and their egos, are not assaulted by the planned obsolescence of fashion trends. There are no slick window displays or splashy fashion mags to make them feel inadequate and outdated and prod them into adopting arbitrary trends.

So, I feel lucky that my reverse culture shock has helped me see jeggings, shorty shorts and neon sneakers for what they truly are.  I'm sure we'll all see it eventually.  Though it may take some of us until 2022 when we pull out old pictures and are struck by the fact that we looked like a bunch of slutty clowns, shake our heads and mutter, "What were we thinking!?"



  1. I am braced for skin when we get back to the states. Skin and public displays of affection. And who knows what else. How long have you been doing this particular dance?

  2. Oh, and skin you shall have! With the warm weather and the ubiquity of shorty shorts I can't stop staring at people's legs. We've been in Kenya just under 2 years. I've done "the dance" a few times before after backpacking and shorter stints working/volunteering abroad. I really do kind of like seeing my home with fresh eyes - I'm amazed at the "normalcy" that becomes my new bizarre.

  3. oh Kim, I have so much to say about this - we will have to chat more when I see you in person. ;) But I think there are fashion trends and subcultures everywhere - including Africa - and it is so fascinating to me to see how people use clothing to express themselves. I've been dying to read this book: (gorgeous sample of photos from book here:

    I think the main problem for so many Americans is they don't know how to dress for their body type. Honestly I think there is a way for most people to wear trends if they really want to - even jeggings. ;) The trick is all in HOW you wear it. But the question of whether one needs to buy every single trend is a whole other issue - and not just for clothing, but for phones, computers, tvs, food, toys . . . . the list goes on. I agree there is a lot of public focus in the US on having the latest Whatever, and it can be exhausting.

  4. Preach it Mama because you are telling the truth. Ellen

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