Moving South is unbecoming on me. Or it is my becoming. I’m not sure. For the first time in my life, I care about what I wear to the mall. I make sure to wear matching socks. I make sure I wear make-up. I make sure I have something not too wrinkled on. Sometimes. Most of the time.
I hate the mall.
Or I hate that the people at the mall from whom I am trying to buy goods treat me like I am from the wrong side of the tracks who has no business being in their shiny, ridiculously expensive store filled with things from origins unknown and created by unknown people. What factory did that sweater originate from? Asia? Central America? Do you think it came overseas on a ship and airplane, on a semi? Hello, salesperson, don’t ignore me! Oh, there she goes. She is ignoring me, again.
I live in Durham, North Carolina. It’s quirky, retro, and trying to relive the 90’s in hipster style. Think: the more tattoos and mohawks and vintage clothing the better. Local artisans, food trucks, and community gardens are where Durham pours its resources. It’s hip, it’s entrepreneurial, it’s grungy.
And I fit in. In fact, I’ve mastered the hipster grunge look. I am a mom of two young kids, so I’ve haven’t slept in five years. You might think the “she looks like she just got out of bed” was on purpose, but no. I probably forgot to brush my hair because I had to chase my daughter around the house in order to brush hers. Except when I go to the super suburban, high end shopping mall twenty minutes south of the gritty, brick, tobacco warehouses called Downtown Durham, then I try to brush my hair, brush my teeth, and wear my Sunday best.
I grew up outside the Washington, DC area where BRAINS were what always mattered, not whether you wore Lululemon or Kate Spade or Tory Burch. Growing up, I was told, “who you are” is more important than what you look like. And so I cower, when women at the make-up counter with flawless but obviously overdone makeup say things like,”I treat anybody who comes in here the same. No matter what they look like.”
Are you talking to me? What are you talking to me about? What impression am I giving you as I try to keep my four year old from trying on every single lip-gloss? Do I look like a strange hobo? Is there a reason you are pointing out your graciousness? Do I look that bad? I did not try on purpose. Honest. Umm, here, please take my hard earned money, and give me some tinted moisturizer for sensitive skin. Hush. Please don’t talk anymore. You are giving me a complex, over-dressed salesperson.
The mall makes me vain. It makes me feel inferior. Perhaps that is the marketing strategy: Make people feel so unfabulous that they have to buy fabulous, unnecessary objects to make them feel better. Except, I just I feel unworthy. The mall has become a place where I feel my unworthiness. And it’s unbecoming on me. I turn into a grouch, my neuroses and angst come out, then in defense I become a snob. They judge, so I judge. It’s a terrible game.
So I am here, on the border of the conservative south, where the mall is located, and a liberal academic town, where my favorite coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and community spaces are. In one, I am secure and know myself. In the other, I am puzzled by my insecurities and apparent weakness for vanity.
And then there is God.
I hear Him and his strong sturdy voice, reminding me He is the God of every place. He speaks, almost with a chuckle, “Child, you are my child. Let those microaggressions roll off your back. The mall is not my kingdom. It does not recognize you as I recognize you. I am the source of all you need. The mall, the mall is mammon. You don’t need to worship at its throne. Durham, Durham has it flaws, too. You know that. You know that the world is filled with people in need…of Me.”
And later, on the car ride home with my bags of materialistic items from China, Mexico and Haiti, I realize that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable at the mall. I should feel different. I should feel like an outsider and befuddled and an imposter. Because that is what I am. I was not made for that world—I don’t want it to “become me.” And I don’t want Durham to “become me,” either.
I want something else to become me.
I want grace to become me. I want God’s grace to become me. I want to wear that no matter where I am, whether I am enjoying a beer with tatted friends or buying a pair shoes with people decked out in Burberry. God is the God of Comfort and Discomfort, and the power of His grace is found in the tension between them.
Thanks all for these thoughts! I’m so glad the post resonated with you. I sort of felt silly (exposed?) for writing it. I mean, I’m admitting I am vain! That I care about what impressions I make! It means a lot that you all took some good things out of it.
I also think I need to take a book to the mall and record all my interactions. I didn’t even touch on the time the salesperson told me my daughter sounded like a dinosaur… Thank you so much for reading!!
Love this reflection, Sarah. We spent some time in the South this summer and Durham did seem like it was a little island unto itself. I found that I was amazed at how the southern ladies dressed for church, compared to the DC approach in the summer to just surviving an un-airconditioned sanctuary, these ladies looked really nice. I found myself a bit distracted by it, even though I know that wasn’t their goal, to make me feel under-dressed. It’s a good reminder of the relationship between hospitality and dress, feeling welcomed and at home, or remembering that this is in fact, not our home.
I love this with a very large love! I, too, hate the mall. If I go, I make sure I’m wearing clothes I won’t feel too out of place in, but I always wind up feeling old and dowdy. So I take my teenager to the mall and sit in the food court, reading, while they shop. I love where you took this piece, too — marvelous.
Thank you for making me laugh, Sarah, and for your very honest look at the transformation you undergo when you go to the mall. I am now an “older mother,” not a young mother, and the mall in my small town is far from fancy, but I remember well this feeling: “The mall makes me vain. It makes me feel inferior.” In fact, that entire paragraph is spot-on, as is where you take us as you close your post: “I was not made for that world—I don’t want it to ‘become me.’ …I want God’s grace to become me.” Yes. Amen.
Sarah, I love this. It makes me feel the very opposite of ‘inferior’ and ‘unfabulous’. It makes me feel like I’m in good company. Thank you.