Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pretty Privilege

Since eighth grade my friend Dominique and I always discussed hosting a clothing swap. For the uninitiated, a clothing swap is an event to which guests bring their old clothes and swap them for the other guests' castoffs. Getting this event together was something that we were always semi-serious about. We liked the idea of free clothes and recycling, but always had the feeling that these sorts of events were only hosted by rom-com protagonists who somehow lived in Manhattan lofts on cupcake bakery salaries, not mere mortals like ourselves.

With college and summer on the horizon, though, our demand for clothes was increasing and our supply of capital was decreasing. This unique set of conditions allowed us to get into the perfect mindset for organizing a bona fide clothing swap. Coincidentally, I had noticed in one of my frequent perusals of the Seventeen website, that the Green Your Life! section was also pushing for readers to organize swaps.
This double coincidence was rom-com perfect. Dominique and I, along with our friend Mallory, finally organized the clothes swap, which was held last night at the upscale fashion boutique known as MyLivingRoomDiningRoomAndFoyer, thanks in part to the massive cooperation of my mom and dad.

The swap started at 6:00 pm. Between the three of us, Dom, Mal, and I invited about 150 people on Facebook, about half of whom replied attending or maybe attending. Honestly, we had no idea how many people were coming, which was incredibly frightening. Luckily, at 5:45 pm the sky let forth what can only be described as a torrential downpour, which led to only 20 girls showing up. Even more luckily, these 20 girls brought over 2000 articles of clothing. The swap was in business.

I wore a fishtail braid and Seventeen's suggested over-the-knee sock trend, which unfortunately wasn't captured in any photos. Once the swap was in fully swing, guests sorted their clothes and were allowed to take home as much as they felt they were entitled to, based on how much they brought. This system worked out surprisingly well. Uncharacteristic of rom-coms, there was no hair-pulling or cat-fighting between those two girls who both absolutely had to have that one pair of boots/earrings/pants. Everyone was amicable, and everyone who came went home with a big bag of clothes for free.

The swap ended at 9:00 pm and we spent the next hour bagging the unclaimed clothes. Overall, we managed to fill six trash bags with items to donate. Ideally, my friends wanted to give the leftover clothes to thrift stores that benefit victims of sexual assault and domestic violence who live in our region. Upon phoning those stores, I learned that they're overwhelmed with donations, and that a few of them actually send all incoming clothes to India on barges to be recycled. This is ridiculous and incredibly ironic, but I have better things to do than protest women's shelters for their poor environmental practices. I ended up putting the clothes into one of those metal boxes in the YMCA parking lot so that they could go to needy families in the area.

Hosting the swap got me thinking a lot about privilege. In stalking myself and this project a little bit in the press, I've noticed how some people are quick to discredit my opinions based on the fact that I come from a financially comfortable background, with access to opportunity. Privilege is defined as a special benefit not enjoyed by everyone. What I find interesting is the portion of this definition with which people find fault. I've noticed people tend to be more offended by the special benefit part than the fact that this benefit is not equally distributed. For example, I've noticed that people who cannot afford access to a private college are often quick to reject the merits of a private school, instead of considering that it could possibly be beneficial if the opportunity of private college were available to more people. (I am not saying I necessarily agree with either side of this dispute-- I am just saying that the system may not be the problem, but rather the lack of mass access to the system.)

The clothing swap was definitely an event that could only be hosted and attended by people with means enough to have spare clothes in good condition to swap-- people with some degree of privilege. I guess what I'm getting at is that instead of focusing on what opportunities privilege includes, we should be focusing more on who privilege excludes. Instead of calling privilege out as a negative trait, the far more progressive option would be to begin to work on ways to bring the opportunities that privilege provides to more people. By simply reframing the way that we think about and discuss privilege, it would lead to an environment far less conducive to finger pointing, and far more open to problem solving.
Edit: There is some good discussion going on in the comments!


Next week is finals week, so today I was back in school for my last "real" week of high school-- ever. I decided to try this outfit inspired by Audrey, a member of the Seventeen style council. I actually like the outfit on her, sort of, but I felt really out of character wearing it myself. My dad, who rarely makes any sort of contrary comment about anything I wear, seemed really confused about why I was wearing a shirt under a dress. So did a number of people at school. I know its just a basic layered outfit, but maybe this look is a little fashion forward for my small town. Then again, maybe I just couldn't pull it off. Either way, I don't think it's something I'll be wearing again. Felt a little early Madonna to me. Little bit too bubblegum pop.
Also wore this ribbon updo. This was really well received by all of my friends. I thought to myself, "Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this 'normal teen' thing!"
Unfortunately, when I visited to pull the above picture for this post, I realized how inaccurate my feelings were. Of all the beauty tips that I have tried, the one that had won me the most compliments in my personal life was a hairstyle voted as NOT by 82,000 people in the Seventeen world. I can't win.
Tonight I finished my last paper that I will ever have to write for high school, so I should have some time to put together some more in depth posts/projects etc. I've got a couple of interesting things in the works for the remainder of the project, as well as for afterward. Pretty excited...

9 days until grad!