My relatives maintain that Andrew is the most Burmese white man I could have chosen to marry. He eats chillies like a champ and does not even bat an eye at the condition of lavatories when you’re on a road trip in Southeast Asia. In all seriousness my love for him grew when I witnessed the ease with which he negotiated the different culture and the inner workings of my family. Apparently he holds himself and presents himself to the social world in a very “Burmese” way. And that’s amazing, we all want our partners to hold in high esteem something we value so much.
What surprises me more is that he often is more Ah-na dare than me. This term expresses the desire not to inconvenience or be an imposition to others and is a prevalent aspect of Burmese culture. The best example of this is, when someone asks you if you want something, you would commonly reply with “that’s okay.” Now, this would frustrate many Westerners and they would ask again, probably with some impatience, so, is it a yes or a no? Along the same vein is the fear of losing face. This phenomenon is the abhorrence of being embarrassed publicly. Trust me, you never want to cause anyone to lose face because there can be very real and often violent consequences. Apparently being shamed sometimes warrants pulling out a gun and serving a prison sentence. To an outsider these characteristics may seem backward or archaic but I think these anxieties are present but performed differently in the global North. We may avoid the incarceration but we try to rebuild our hurt pride through consumption, other markers of prestige or by putting others down. To some a hurt credit card and an imagined sense of superiority makes everything better. That’s lame.
Now there are some aspects of the cultural practice of not wanting to inconvenience others that I like and others that I can do without. Not wanting to be a burden encourages independence and self-sufficiency. These are character traits that are valued in North American society and will serve you well on the journey to your standards for success. However, being Ah-na dare can make you feel scared to ask for assistance or favours. I’m often at a loss for words how Andrew doesn’t ask for much. He will actually go out of his way not to ask questions, especially to strangers in a foreign country. Perhaps it’s because he’s a white male and things usually just appear for him. But if there is one thing I have learnt from being raised within Western society, it’s that no one owes you a thing. They will also not give you anything that you don’t ask for, especially if you’re a racialized individual. Although I am still hesitant about being brash and straightforward with those I admire the most, I’ve learned to just get over it. Really, the worst thing that anyone can say is “no.” There is not a whole lot to lose and the freedom that comes from fearlessness is worth everything.
At the age of 15 my cousin K asked pointblank if I wanted to look dirty or good. This was during the grunge-phase of the mid nineties when everyone bought from thrift shops and actually compromised aspects of their personal hygiene for the sake of style. I thought about it and decided on the latter.
My relationship with fashion has always been touch and go. There were definite points in my past when I wondered if it was a phase and actually not worth spending that much time or money on. You know how many girls goes through a horse or ballet phase when their bedroom walls and dear diaries are plastered with these images? Well, I’ve come to the realization that working on one’s style is not like admiring a ballerina or a thoroughbred. It’s a life-long project that can be one of the most meaningful ones that you take on.
I never understood why people need an entourage to shop. I’ve always preferred to shop alone. It stems from the fact that after decades of trial and error I know which stores work best with the strengths of my body. I’m also particular about the quality of the products because I mostly choose classic pieces that I hope will last me several years. Therefore, I am often able to spend 30 minutes on a trip because I enter a total of 3 stores and do not even look at others. I guess you could classify this as being rigid and it’s true, I won’t discover new looks as easily. I rather frame it as not wasting my time when something works so well already. Now, this comes back to why I do not bring companions. Most people do not shop with a time clock. I also believe that fashion is all about how you carry yourself. That’s why when you’re more self-conscious about your body, looking in the mirror can be a trying experience. But, if you feel that you’ve chosen a piece that reflects who you are then you will feel beautiful, be beautiful. No one needs to support that type of feeling because it comes from within.
Now, this is what makes sartorial approaches so enjoyable. Other parts of caring for our appearance aren’t always the most pleasant. No one likes to visit their waxist but many of us still take that long walk. But with fashion, it’s an ongoing project where you get to choose and strategize. It’s beautiful.
We never work alone on these endeavours but instead constantly draw from the social world. Since my cousin’s pertinent enquiry I’ve been inspired by the New England aesthetic of clean lines and preppy conventions. I still believe in the simplicity of this approach but currently am inspired more by the French style. It’s less puritanical. If you’ve read any of my other posts I’m sure you don’t find this particularly surprising. The lines are still there but they are cut more precisely and offer a bit more bold playfulness. An example of a store that provides this look is “Club Monaco.” I’m pretty sure that every article of clothing this company produces is sewn by little fairies or magic mice. They are out of this world. So slip into something that allows you to take on the often heavy notes in this life, something that will give you the confidence to face it all with grace.