Tuesday, July 17, 2007

“New and (not necessarily) Improved”

It’s hardly news that as a society, we are far too obsessed with youth, beauty, and perfection. Just consider all the plastic surgery and non invasive cosmetic procedures being performed on members of both sexes, (from the very young to very old), and even pets, in record numbers these days.

Whereas in many other cultures, the elderly are honored and revered, here in the U.S. that is hardly the case. Quite the opposite in fact. Beauty is generally (and mistakenly) measured by how youthful, unlined, unmarked, unflawed, and unwrinkled one is. And this doesn’t only apply to people, faces, and bodies. There is a national obsession for what is young, fresh, and new as those properties pertain to ‘things’.

As someone who has long appreciated and collected vintage clothing, accessories, and items for the home (years before it was considered ‘in’ and ‘acceptable’ to a wider audience) I must say that I’ve never minded little marks, dents, lines, flaws, scratches, and other ‘imperfections and have never considered them to be ‘negatives’.

Quite frankly, I have always looked upon the above character laden attributes (which happen to be the outward manifestations of aging) as something positive: a reminder of a well lived life with a captivating story, a romantic history, an interesting past, and in a world of mass produced sameness, proof of honesty and authenticity.

Of course, I realize that I am hardly alone and there many others who prefer, if not purposely seek out, well worn items. What I didn’t realize is that there is actually a name given to this practice. As I was thumbing through the Sumer 2007 edition of “Washington Spaces”, www.washingtonspaces.com (my sister’s family room was photographed in a 5 page spread), I came across an article, “The Way of Wabi-Sabi”, written by Kelli Rosen. Ms. Rosen references author and wabi-sabi expert Robyn Griggs Lawrence who penned, “The Wabi-Sabi House”.

Wabi-Sabi refers to the Japanese art of imperfect beauty (what’s old is new again). According to the article, it’s “all about honoring the beauty of the imperfections that occur with age- like scratches or decay- and revering the authenticity of items made by hand, rather than those mass produced by machinery, especially those ubiquitous pieces purposefully dented and sanded to resemble antiques”. And, as Ms. Rosen explains, “It’s all about letting go of the belief that imperfections are undesirable and instead accepting them as perhaps comfort food…”

While the term “wabi- sabi” is being used vis a vis home décor within the context of this article, it obviously has far reaching implications and can be applied to all facets of life as well as fashion. With fall fast approaching, that means new store windows, a dearth of ads for new merchandise, and of course, major fashion magazines will be coming out with their BIG fall issues.

While I’m hardly trying to dissuade you from buying retail, or buying in general, I simply want to suggest that there are options and I’d like to remind you that most of us buy too many unnecessary things. Should you find yourself being seduced by persuasive ads and editorials that suggest you ‘have to have’ that brand spanking new bag, pair of shoes, coat, etc.; or if you’re being ‘bullied’ into thinking that your older, time worn versions are not up to snuff, maybe you want to consider Ms. Rosen’s observation, “As for me, I’m learning that imperfection translates to character and every scratch, nick and dent tells a story, whether it’s from the artisan who handcrafted the piece or from my daughter who thought it would be fun to throw her sippy cup at the coffee table. Indeed, these are all stories worth telling…”

And by the way, you may want to relate the practice of “wabi-sabi” to aging (as it pertains to you). The next time you look in the mirror and see a few more lines and wrinkles than you’d like, simply consider that they are indeed telling a wonderful story. And remind yourself, “You’re not getting older…you’re getting better”!

-Marilyn Kirschner

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