The Star (Nairobi)

14 November 2012

Kenya: Why Fashion Is a Form of Ugliness

I attended a meeting recently where one of the speakers shared that research has shown that the average age in which children enter puberty has moved from 13 years to roughly 10 and 11 in recent years.

What was previously regarded as pre-teen has also shifted downwards. It was a relief realising that what I had silently observed with my children was actually a documented fact.

At 11, TJ is now officially a teenager. The fact is both consoling and scary. Consoling in the sense that I now realise that what I was assuming was disrespect and disregard for my opinion is merely a bid for autonomy, and scary because I must change the comfortable routine I had developed for dealing with a young child.

To be honest, I always thought I was prepared for teenage in my children; being a youth worker and all. Boy was I wrong. I realised the knowledge that all those who preceded me in this journey have garnered over time, that you can never be the cool adult to your own teenager; you will always be shady and lacking 'swag'.

I remember the first time my son told me that I lacked style. I almost collapsed, me the ultimate style diva... or so I thought. It was over a pair of jeans.

He wanted to wear fire red skinny jeans (in my days known as 'pipes') now I have nothing against skinny jeans (even though I was a teenager during Kriss Kross and the fashion then was 'baggy') but I figure bright red is a little over the top more so if you happen to be skinny yourself. Needless to say, I lost.

A friend of mine once told me that fashion is a form of ugliness and I concur. What seems so fashionable today looks so bad tomorrow. Like the whole guy carrying handbag thing ... oh pardon me 'man bag'.

Yet every group of young people must find their own way to say, we were here. In the 1960s it was the flower people with their multi-coloured maxi skirts, long hair and box guitar. In the 1970s it was the afro and bell bottoms.

In the 1980s it was the leg warmers and the stereo, 1990s it was baggy jeans and body suits and now I guess it is fire red tight pants and man bags.

The truth is as long as there will be the transition from childhood to adulthood it will be marked by an outward expression (often in the form of fashion) or the need for autonomy.

Realising that my son is now entering into this new phase of his journey, has freed me to be more accommodative of his desire to express his own individuality.

With more battles ahead, I am learning that clothes are the last things we need to fight about. My prayer is that as he navigates his way, I will every once in a while get the opportunity to speak a word in season.

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