Fickle Fashion

Can you tell where the necklace is from?

The other day on my way to class, two men sat behind me. Their conversation centered on things that are important to those in the Silicon Valley: VCs, being an entrepreneur, and starting a start-up. The type of things that as a bay area native with my specific background, I’m familiar with, sort-of*.

Back to those men and their conversation: it quickly spun into a discussion of wealth. One pointed out to the other that a friend of theirs had to be rich. Why? The friend always wore Armani.

Fashion’s one of those things that society thinks I ought to understand, by virtue of being female. To some extent I do subscribe to some norms, I manage to get dressed on a daily basis and on most days can look like I put some thought into what was on me. Present me with two sets of heels, though, and ask me to identify whether one’s a Louboutin or Jimmy Choo, and I wouldn’t have a clue.

From my work in marketing, I get that brands and branding are a thing and consumers (A.K.A folks like me and you) are supposed to want one product over the other. Coke vs. Pepsi, Armani vs. Abercrombie, Tiffany vs. Target. Inherently, those brand names are supposed to make us feel one way or another about the company’s products and draw unstated assumptions about the folks that choose one over the other, or another item entirely.

For me listening in on this conversation, the man who’d pointed out the label and stated whoever was wearing it had to come from money told me more about him than about the actual person he knew who wore all Armani. It reminded me of an interaction I had with someone on a date once, who had asked me what perfume I was wearing because it smelled so good. When I told him it just happened to be basic body lotion, he jumped into a diatribe about how a worthwhile woman wore expensive perfume, otherwise she couldn’t be taken seriously (I didn’t see him after this, I’d prefer to be with someone who cares less about how much I spend on perfume and more on whether I’m a decent person).

As a visual species, it makes sense that we’d have this fixation on brands in order to determine where we stood in society. A king would be distinguishable from a duke, the same as a pauper could be told apart from a princess because of what they were wearing and how they’d be behaving. Some products are geared to be luxurious, and others we’re aware are supposed to be cheap.

What bothers me about this, and why I don’t care that much about fashion, is because it seems like inherit in this is classic classism. There’s the unstated concept that what is expensive is “good” and what isn’t is “bad” and it bypasses any attempt to engage with the person aside from how they’re choosing to present themselves solely on what they’re wearing. Personally, I’d prefer for people to make judgments on me based off of my actions and their interactions with me, and not on whether I was wearing designer label clothing.


Is there a way to care about clothing band names without sounding like you’re obsessed with fashion?


*Granted, I’ve had stints at YouTube, Google, and was with some start-ups until they closed (I jumped ship before a place was acquired, too) so I do know some bits about how the Valley works. I’m just under the impression that without the CS/Engineering skills, I can’t be a vital part of the company. At the end of the day, people want a product that works, and all my customer service and marketing talent can do is maybe draw people in and make them feel good.

Surviving

Silent Survivor.

Be kind; everyone is fighting their own battle (more details on the source of this quote here). When I saw the tree in the photo above, I was taken aback by how despite having experienced some scorching trauma, it managed to stay alive. Seen from the opposite side, it would look like any other intact tree.

This stood out to me as a reminder of how precious life is, even when it feels like we are in the midst of an unending struggle. There can be hope, and growth, in spite of adversity. In my experience, it’s all been a matter of choosing to better myself, and refusing to accept my status quo as something outside of my control to change.

It’s not easy, but changing our circumstances for the better requires a willingness to believe our efforts will not be for naught. There will always be storms to weather, circumstances outside of our careful planning, unexpected and unforeseeable events. But having cultivated the faith in myself has made it easier for me to look for a way to get by them.


What do you do when faced with the unexpected?

Only death’s forever

Secret Lovers.

This semester I’m taking Wills & Trusts, so it’s a natural by-product that I’ve got death on my mind. People generally don’t like the reminder of their mortality, but anyone with a date of birth will ultimately have a date of death. Pablo Neruda famously mused about the amount of time a person spends dying, and if the legal system is brought into play, it can take several years for one’s worldly possessions to be dispersed if things are not done properly.

There are many excuses for putting off will planning, but the reality is that unless things are done just-so, whatever you may want may not be respected. We may make assumptions about how our items would be dispersed based on what we believe is common sense, but common sense isn’t at all that common. If you have someone or something you care about and you want to ensure your assets are allocated as you wish them to be, you should hurry over and find yourself a good attorney to set things up for you beforehand.

It’s shocking and saddening for me to see how something like a missing signature is enough to throw carefully made plans into disarray. In this day and age where there’s information at our fingertips, there’s no excuse to be uniformed about the realities of what will happen when one passes away. Yes, the law has defaults, but given how much people care about customization, it’s unlikely that the default will be what you want.

I feel like I’m on a soapbox, but anyone in possession of any physical thing should have a will. Your loved ones will be saddened enough by your demise, it would be devastating to add to their suffering because you didn’t prepare for something that is inevitable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the expression goes. And it rings far too true in this area of the law.

Know better, do better

Peaceful Pond.

The most challenging aspect of any project is actually starting it, I suppose. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but what matters is whether one has the grit to see something through to completion. It’s not an easy task to open up and discuss the challenges I’ve faced in my life, probably in no small part due to the fact that I’m aware that talk is cheap and no one wants to hear about misery and suffering.

However, sometimes one’s own internal assumptions need to be thrown into question, in order to grow as a person.

Family from another country recently visited. I have to admit that even though I’ve worked in several law firms now, I still felt uncomfortable dressed in what I refer to as my “lawyer gear.” This is partially because it’s conservative clothing (the law is still a conservative profession) and also because of my own self doubts. As a WOC from a poorer socioeconomic background, I don’t see many people like me managing to do more than graduate high school, let alone find themselves attempting to enter this field.

It took a teenage cousin’s queries about my school and life experiences, and then afterwards overhearing her say that she was motivated to buck societal demands of settling down early that made me clearly see that part of what made me uncomfortable was I didn’t see myself as a professional. Despite my years of work experience towards this eventual goal of being a lawyer, didn’t see that it was realistic.

In the back of my mind, I was wondering who I thought I was fooling, trying to be a woman with career goals. Given all the internet’s had to say about why women can’t have it all, I’d started to doubt whether what I was doing was worthwhile. Despite it being close to the 100 year anniversary of women being able to vote in America, it still doesn’t seem like much credence is given to someone that looks like me in this country.

However, this isn’t true globally, as my cousin’s questions were able to show me. In her native country, she’s seen women rise to and hold positions of power, and the women in those roles look enough like her for her to be able to think it’s possible for her. Which makes all the difference: it’s not that she thinks being a professional would be easy, but rather that she thinks it’s possible.

That’s what gets lost in the discussions about whether America is postracial, whether the society we live in is actually a just one. The dialogue is so centered on believing that the present status quo is fine or not, that there’s no real assessment of how things might actually look like if somehow they were changed. Can we fathom a world where women were actually in half of the positions of power in America? It won’t ever be possible if those women lose their faith in themselves along the way.

Bittersweet

Few things are as universally loved as chocolate, given the myriad of forms it takes: liquid, solid, as a topping, as dip, you get the idea. Its ubiquitous consumption around the globe leads one to conclude that those involved in its production would naturally also be exposed to final finished product. In all my globe-trotting, I’ve managed to find the humble chocolate bar in most grocery stores, and I usually snag a few because they make for a delicious and relatively lightweight souvenir for the folks back at home.

So when I came across the video below, I couldn’t help but think it was anything other than bittersweet:

It was sweet to see that the workers savored their first taste of chocolate, and particularly touching that their first inclination would be to share the experience with each other. Is there anything more human than the urge to share with others our discoveries? We are a social species, and part of what’s made these past few decades so interesting is how quickly we can now share new information with each other, so much data lies at our fingertips.

And yet, there’s some aspects that are sad about this video, too. The fact that these workers do not even know what their hard manual labor produces, and the inescapable conjoining of racial and class divisions that lead to certain assumptions. That the consumption of chocolate, a luxury, is what makes white people healthy (and their guest, who they perceive as fairer skinned than themselves). The desire to save the wrapping to show to their children, a physical token that indeed they were able to partake in the grand chocolate experience at least once in their lives.

It’s what makes growing up so difficult, I imagine, this realization that very few things can be simply enjoyed because everything is interconnected. Both “good” and “bad” coexist and are inseparably twined together, and one is often left feeling powerless to do much of anything to change the status quo. The world seems so full of flaws that should be easy to fix, like this problem of workers separated from the end product.

Would it really be so hard for the cocoa bean buyers to pay these workers just a bit more, so that they can actually purchase what it is they make?

Would we, as global consumers, really mind it so much if we paid just a little more for the chocolate we enjoy, if we knew those making it continents away were living better lives because of it?