Met Gala 2017: A penny for the peanut gallery’s thoughts.

After the ball was over, all the wannabes and fashionistas who were unfortunate enough to not be invited to one of the most prestigious fashion events of the year, swarmed onto social media to ooh and aah over the glorious gowns worn by only the best in the west.

Or, perhaps we didn’t ooh and aah over all of them. While some left us breathless, others left us speechless, and still a few more left us utterly confused as we passed scrutinizing judgements such as: “what is she even wearing?” and “she may as well not have worn anything at all!” But that’s what makes this glamourous evening so enjoyable for the remainder of us not-yet-famous social rejects.

The 2017 Met Gala (the event I am referring to) took place on the first of May, celebrating the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s spring exhibition: Art of the In-Between by fashion (aka anti-fashion) designer Rei Kawakubo and head of the Japanese Fashion label Comme des Garçons.

Kawakubo is notoriously known for emphasizing fashion as an art form, and all the celebrity guests followed suit dressing up perfectly for the occasion in the most artistic avant-guard outfits imaginable. Forget about the runway, the garments produced for this year’s Met Ball was like viewing artworks on walking mannequins. And just like in art,  some outfits leaned strongly to towards the shock factor, while others epitomized timeless elegance.

Here’s my list of the best, worst and most outrages outfits of the night. In no particular order, because, in the end, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then we’re all winners.

Locked in language: A letter to my mother tongue

Language is embodied in everything around us. As human beings, we are constantly imparting meaning onto everything and everyone. We are walking representations of language. The clothes we wear; the music we listen to; the books we read; the ideologies we adopt, are all symptoms of the cause.

Language is the medium in which we think, speak and act and make sense of the world and ourselves. However, this doesn’t by any means make it an easy relationship to maintain. On the contrary, our relationship with Language has potential to be the most conflicted, love-hate relationships we’ll ever experience. 

This personal piece of writing is an exploration of language, monolingualism and my relationship with my mother tongue. 

Dear English,

I fear that I’ve taken you for granted for quite some time now, and as a result, I may have abused your power, so for that, I apologize profusely.

But before you think I’m going to leave you hovering over me while I lie prostrate at your feet, I’ve got news for you: You’re partly to blame for all of this. You, yes you, Lord of all languages.

The truth is you’ve coddled me. Suffocated me; killed me with kindness and partiality. Since the moment of my birth, you have established yourself as my crutch. You wrapped yourself around my finger and forced me into a partnership with you. I had no choice but to use you as my right-hand man, my magic wand that, when I waved artfully around, doors opened. The tragedy of it all is that I ended up relying on you far too much.

You were supposed to be like the training wheels on a fahrrad (bicycle) which are taken off when the child finally masters the balancing act, but you (or I, I’m too sure who) had separation anxiety and so you stayed. And I got so comfortable with your presence, that I started to forget you were still there, so it never crossed my mind to ask you to leave.

But in hindsight, I’m afraid you overstayed your welcome. I regarded you as my parent- my mother tongue and much like an over-bearing unyoko (mother), you took away my wings. And I felt so safe, that although I did try countless times, I had no real desire to fly and so I never left your nest.

Despite it all, I still owe you a lot. I owe my entire being to you, because in essence, you created me. My identity was constructed by you, through you. I am made up of words, and those words are written in English. English is the medium that enables me to exist. It is the language in which I think and speak and make sense of the world. Jy is my hart se punt. Ndiyakuthanda (I love you).

  I can’t help but love you, for you’re all I know.

Well, not all I know, but what I’ve chosen to know based on the security you give me in exchange for my loyalty. I became lethargic at the thought of wondering from the safety of your flock. It was too much effort; too scary, uncomfortable, and I was too vulnerable out there. I always felt safer in your loving care.

You were my gesondheid (health). As long as I stuck with you, you promised to elevate me higher, allowing me to reach new levels in life. You’ve been faithful to your promise because I have up until now been prosperous in your presence. I’ve made it to my third year in University, all thanks to my knowledge and application of your complex, ambiguous and at times, nonsensical teachings.

Like why is orange both a fruit and a colour? And why do words that sound exactly the same have different meanings? Why can’t ‘conflictuous’ be a word? Why do some words just sound right, but I can’t use them because they’re ‘grammatically incorrect’? Why all the rigid rules, that are full of leap holes and exceptions?

“Because I said so,” you reply, like a controlling parent and I, the subdued child am put back in my place. I know what’s best for me, so I don’t ask questions, I just do as I’m told. I’m starting to realize, that as much as you are freeing, you’re just as restricting.

Here, in this culturally diverse space of the university that you lead me to, I have encountered other people who regard you as ‘frivolous’; unimportant; irrelevant. And I know you’re probably falling off your chair laughing at the thought of people daring to live without you, because you’ve established yourself as this inextinguishable empire, brainwashing society into believing that your way is the highway to heaven.

For a long time, I used to judge those who did not understand you or express themselves using your eloquent terms. I used to think their lack of understanding could only mean they were uneducated, illiterate.

But my experiences in recent years have all built up to this epiphany moment and my eyes have been opened. I have been exposed to new ideas that are formulated from new words that I don’t know because they come from unknown horizons, and my desire to delve into this new knowledge burns through me like the langalibalele (hot sun) on my skin.

I have come to realize that just because other people do not acknowledge you as their source of knowledge, doesn’t make them any less knowledgeable, they are sometimes even more knowledgeable than I am, they just have different ways of expressing it. And I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of difference, and I have a newfound appreciation for the variation of life that exists down these different roads.

I need you to understand that while there are other worlds out there that I am dying to visit, you will always be my home. You will always be the rocket that launches my thoughts and the planet to which I will inevitably always retreat back to.

It is cathartic for me to finally get my feelings towards you off my chest. All I ask of you is to please let me go. To loosen your hold on me and undo the training wheels of my fahrrad (bicycle) so that I can finally fly. The bicycle will always be the instrument that carries me forward, in every direction I choose to go. I just need to be given the freedom and responsibility to travel at my own pace, in my own time and to my own destinations.

I want to experience the world through different eyes, using different tongues and get to know the millions of njamme (brothers and sisters) that up until now, you have isolated me from.

You will always be the ubuchi (honey) to my tea, but I’m just dying to know how tea tastes with sugar.

I hope you will understand where I am coming from, and support me on my journey. I don’t need you anymore, but you’re still a part of me I want to keep.

Yours sincerely,

Jade-Eden le Roux

Borrowed time

My mother’s fiance died when I was nine years old and for years after that, we would commemorate the anniversary of his death by sharing a box of Ferrero Rochers, his and our favourite chocolates. I don’t remember exactly how long we upheld this ritual before, gradually, year after year grief began to slowly loosen its grasp and now the day passes without me even registering its historical significance.

I don’t want that to be the case with the memory of my grandmother’s last days. In fact, I have a vivid fear of letting the memory slip away into a blur, especially since the memory is already so blurred over with overwhelming emotion and regret.

It hit me in the face the other day when the first anniversary of her death came and went and I nearly passed the day by, blissfully unaware of its bitter undertones. My mother brought me back to reality when she phoned and mentioned that the rest of my family back home would be going out for breakfast to commemorate the day and “just be together.” I felt guilty for forgetting, and my heart stiffened into a knot, tangled with a mixture of warmth, longing, and regret at the sudden conjuring up of the last memory I have of her.

On her death bed, holding my hand and looking intently into my eyes, she added a few more inches to the incredibly large shoes she was leaving for me to fill by imparting on me this profound purpose:

“Be everything to everyone,” she said.

That phrase clouds every memory I have of her now, because only after her death did I discover what she really meant and the great extent to which she embodied that phrase throughout her life. People of all different ages would come to me and tell me how my beloved grandmother had touched their lives, and I soon began to realize that although I was an only child, and had no siblings to share my gran with, she wasn’t only my grandmother. She fulfilled the role of mother and grandmother to so many other people that had need of the love she had to give. I inherited a family formed not only by blood but bonded by her love and acceptance.

In her beautifully written memoir, Letters to my daughter, Maya Angelou explains that while she gave birth to one son, she has “thousands of daughters.”

“You are black and white, Jewish and Muslim, spanish-speaking, Native-American and Aleut. You are fat and thin, pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all, here is my offering to you.” -Maya Angelou

This quote reminds me of my grandmother, my very own Maya Angelou.

In her life, she served as a mother, a mayoress, a music teacher, a company director, an excellent cook, a good wife and a treasured friend. The list goes on. She lived out her life being everything to everyone, and she did so with enthusiasm, grace, generosity, and gentleness.  She epitomized the art of being formidable without raising your voice.

How do I commemorate the memory of a life so well lived? Maya Angelou also said that “Life loves the liver of it,” and my grandmother certainly knew how to live life. Boldly and with colour.

So here I am, sitting in a coffee shop, all alone. Sipping my cappuccino and filling the empty chair next to me with all my memories of her. I’m trying to refresh them, to see them clearer; shuffle them around and place them in order, but most importantly I’m trying to reassure myself that the memory of her; all that she means to me, hasn’t slipped away and faded like an old, colourless photograph that no longer captures the life of its subjects.

Three months before my entrance into this world, my grandmother was involved in a life-threatening head-on collision motor accident. The deciding factor of whether or not she would live to meet her only grand-daughter rested on a single heartbeat. Her heart stopped beating at the scene of the accident and if the paramedic hadn’t listened to that ludicrous voice urging him to give ONE more attempt at resuscitation, I would never have been blessed with the experience of knowing and having my grandmother in my life just long enough for her to witness me emerge into the first stage of adulthood.

I’m reminded of that bible story when King Hezekiah’s life was due to come to an end, but he pleaded with God for an extension, and God proved to be more lenient than some of my University Professors and granted him an extra 15 years.

My gran was supposed to die that day. She actually did die. For a few minutes, her heart ceased to beat. But thanks to a persevering paramedic, who went over and above his normal lengths of duty, my grandmother was given a second chance at life, and I was given a chance to have my grandmother around for just as long as it took her to teach me and shape me into the person I am, and into the person her influence and her life constantly inspires me to aspire to become.

I like to think of it as borrowed time. Time leased out to fulfill a purpose. Time, that does not belong to us but is lent to us and the only way to pay it back is to pay it forward.  She was certainly a gift to me, a gift I can only repay and express my gratitude for by aspiring to follow in her footsteps, to continue her legacy.

All of our lives serve a purpose; we are all given ‘borrowed time’- time that one day we will have to give back. We better spend wisely because what we give back, is what we leave behind, and essentially, what we pass on to others.

We are all women, who in some way or another, at some stage of our lives, are called, or expected to be ‘everything to everyone’. Some see it as a curse, others, like Maya Angelou, and my grandmother, use it as a blessing to build others up and leave behind a legacy of love.

My grandmother was an exceptional woman, and I’m not just saying that in an attempt to ‘immortalize the dead’. She had her faults and her failures, but she never allowed herself to be defined by them.

She proved, to me at least, that you can do it all, and have it all, yet not be defined by it all. She was many different things, to many different people, but she is everything to me. And yes, she left very large shoes to fill, and it’s my life-long prayer, that I may never forget, that from her dying lips, she left them to me.

The Retro Revolution

They say the only constant is change, but sometimes change is so consistent you have to blink to see the difference.  To quote the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Ever left a place and returned years later to find that not much about the surrounding is different? New people may have replaced the old familiar faces that are imprinted in your mind, new buildings and structures and ideas may have been adopted, but the general feel, atmosphere, the skeletal structure has remained intact. You look around you and you’re taken back by the surreal familiarity of it all, while still nostalgically aware that the colours have lost their hue, it’s like you’re looking at a faded photograph.

F. Scott Fitzgerald not only knew this feeling all too well, he also was gifted with the ability to capture it in words: 

“Life is a journey, not to a destination but a transformation.”

I’m not exactly sure who said that but what matters most is the truth in it. We’re on a journey, and everything that we encounter has an impact on us, whether we realise it or not. The same can be said about fashion and the clothes we wear.

In her book The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant talks about the power clothes and fashion has on influencing our identities and how it reflects the different stages of our lives. She says that one could literally write an autobiography using the different styles of clothes worn through every stage of life. At every age, we embark on a new stretch of the journey accompanied by fashion, our faithful friend. The clothes we choose are social indicators of who we are and where we place ourselves in relation to the world around us. Whether we choose to fit in or stand out, clothes are bonded at the seams with ideology and we pick and choose what and who we want to embody by what we wear.

The other day in my Writing and Editing class, we were tasked with writing an overview of the year we were born and find a way to fit ourselves somewhere in the equation, because in this journey of life everything has a cause and effect, no matter how insignificantly seeming it is.

So I typed ‘1995’ into the Google search bar (because I’m that ancient you know,) and attempted to over-analyze this idea of predestination based on my subliminal reception to the outer forces at play around the time  I was welcomed into this world.  Could the global events and historical context surrounding my birth, really have that much of a significance on how I turned out as a person, and the course of life I ultimately chose as a result?

At first glance, the whole idea seemed like a somewhat horoscope-type reading of my fate. But interestingly enough, amongst other things I discovered that Amazon sold its first book the year I was born, and seeing I dream of one day being a published writer, perhaps I could see it as a sign that I too will someday sell a book. Or am I reading way too far into everything?

But then I modified my search slightly and typed in ‘fashion in 1995’ and what eventually popped onto my screen, was a classic case of déjà vu. Turns out while my mother was working out hard at the gym to lose her baby bump, the rest of the world was standing in solidarity with her, skipping the fries and piling on salads in order to fit into the ‘latest trend’: crop tops. And slip dresses, velvet, chokers, platform shoes and nude lips.

Ring a bell? Because I’m pretty sure, just the other day I saw a picture of Kendall Jenner rocking a metallic slip dress, with a matching choker. And let’s take a minute to pay a tribute to the tiniest excuse for a t-shirt in history: the crop top. It features everywhere these days. It will take you from the beach to the bar; the gym to a girl’s night out; it’s even made its way onto the red carpet countless times in recent years.

Trust me, IT girl and super model Gigi Hadid, backed by the biggest and the best fashion houses, has got plenty to lose by wearing clothes that are ‘outdated’, so when I see her constantly showing off her killer abs in crop tops, I’m going to instantly assume that this itsy bitsy insignificant piece of cloth must still be pretty significant after all.

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Let’s take a moment to salute the slip dress, for surviving 21 years and finding its way back, not only into the fashion pages but more importantly back onto the streets where it is accessible to everyone and can be dressed up and down in the most creative ways. Recently, I too set off in search of my very own slip dress to wear over a plain t-shirt, and I still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally found the one (that victorious moment holds another story altogether, but I’ll save it for another day.)

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Platform shoes and nude or brown hued lips are also all the rage these days, just in case you somehow managed to miss them screaming out at you from across the street, shop windows, or even the pages of magazines. (If this is the case, then you must be deaf).

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So it would appear my life in fashion has gone full circle (I guess that means I should be content to die now?) I’m back to where it all began; back to where my life all started. The 1990’s makes a comeback, but this time around I can actually fit into the clothes.

Yet amongst these trends, there are still the few that twenty-one years have failed to make my heart grow fond of. Crop tops, unfortunately, feature high on that list. While I don’t despise the item and admire it on others, it remains one style that has just failed to find a place in my wardrobe.  There was a stage when I was around nine or ten that everyone my age was wearing them, and so based on that premise, I too wanted one. I begged and pleaded with my mother to let me wear them, however being the classy, elegant women she is, and trying oh so very hard to turn her daughter into a ‘lady’ (trust me it was mission impossible those days,) there was no way she was going to have me baring my stomach, even in the name of a floral print. And so the desire passed, and shortly after so did the trend, for a while at least…

Fashion evolves and revolves, like waves crashing onto the shore and then retreating temporarily back into the deep blue. Through all the ebbs and flows of life, there’s one thing we can be certain of: The waves always return to the shore. And amidst this recurring cycle, sometimes we find ourselves revisiting home, watching new faces come and go in crop tops and dungarees, and those psychedelic hippy pants that speak to my eighteen-year-old hippie self. It is then that we realize, that amidst all these ‘constants’, it is us who have changed. Fashion evolves, but so does our style, it’s all part of the journey.

As the late fashion designer Yves Saint Lauren said:

“Fashion fades, but style is eternal.”

The ‘weaker’ voice: What it’s like to be a woman in a Man’s world.

On Wednesday, the world united together to celebrate the Wonder that is Women.

If you weren’t aware it was International Women’s Day, then you either live under the ocean, or the universe has punished you (or rewarded you, whichever way you see it) by sending you to a place that has no internet connection or any links to the real world- and if that were so, you wouldn’t be reading this, so we can dismiss that theory altogether.

For those of you who do live under the ocean, and just came up for some air on Wednesday, I’m sure you were bombarded with the motivational, inspirational, ‘Girl Power’ dialogue that dominated the day.

But then came Thursday, and we woke up to the void of Happy Women’s Day messages and perhaps unwillingly returned to normality- a state that’s forever being promoted as ‘over-rated’ and ‘cliché’ and compelled to be replaced with ‘originality’. “Don’t be normal,” they say, “be you!” -Whatever that means.

How do we ‘be’ ourselves; how do we embody what lies at the core of being when society, is constantly using its subtle tactics and manipulations to choke us into a mold.

Just like men, women are also classified as strong, brave and courageous, but not for the same reasons that men are. No, women are awarded the labels of ‘Bravery’ and ‘Strength’ for overcoming the daily hurdles that men breeze over without a second thought. Men are brave and courageous for fighting off giants and walking head first into battle and defeating their opponents without hesitation.

Women are deemed brave and courageous for daring to enter into a male’s world and succeed. Every step up the corporate ladder is a dagger in the heart of the giant, that is the Patriarchal society. Every woman who attempts to shout louder than society’s redundant voice dictating who we should be and what we should look like is walking head first into battle against a mob of brainwashed opponents.

We’re courageous for trying to break free when in actual fact we should never have been chained in the first place. And by no means does that place a slight on our achievements and strength at all, we’ve earned the title, we deserve it. We’ve undeniably proved that Women as a nation are a formidable force, but it’s a fight we shouldn’t have to continuously relive.

It’s all good and well that we’ve succeeded in standing up for ourselves countless times throughout history, but why do we continuously have to rejustify our case? Why do we constantly have to repeat ourselves in order to be heard? Why do our voices still feel so weak?

I like how Kriti Sanon says it in this video that went viral on Facebook.

This year, on International Women’s Day, while women around the world were for one isolated day, making sure that they were heard, I was interviewing a scientist who told me how on a daily basis she struggles with not being taken seriously in the workplace by her fellow male counterparts.

“It’s really difficult to be a female scientist in a largely male-dominated field. I feel like I’m always having to try a little bit harder to prove to everyone that I can do the tasks. If a man comes along, he is automatically trusted with a project, but the minute you’re female, you always end up having to defend yourself.” said Environmental scientist Puleng Tsie.

Puleng is based at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where she works as communications manager for Sci Enza, a company that works toward finding interactive ways to make learning science fun and understandable for learners. She said that although the field of female scientists is growing, it is growing at a very slow rate. “Women are still breaking into a field that for centuries has been dominated by mature male scientists,” she explained.

“Happy Women’s Day” didn’t seem like an apt response to that revelation. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised at her answer when I brought up the topic of gender stigmatization and discrimination in the workplace. I was kind of expecting her response to be more or less on same lines.  Her answer expressed the same underlying truth that we shove in the far out corners of our minds, and we try to flush away with every pro-women motivational pep talk we seem to be constantly dishing out to one another.

Take a moment to consider the ratio of male to female non-fiction writers who win, or get nominated for literary prizes. Majority of the time, male authors walk away with the prize.  What is it about the female voice that makes it more well-received and accepted in fiction, or when women do dare to delve into the non-fiction battlefield, why do they often settle for memoirs?

In an article published on Slate, Kate Waldman questions why the memoir genre is on the rise for women non-fiction writers and links it to the fact that female non-fiction writers fail to feature on the receiving end of book prizes as often as men do.

“Does the relative invisibility of memoir on the nonfiction prize circuit lead to the underrepresentation of women? Or is it the other way around? Perhaps women are drawn to memoir for the same reasons that NBA judges seem to flinch from it: The genre’s goals feel less explicitly grandiose and weighty, more acceptable for us—with our “emotions” and our “fine brushwork”—to strive for,”  Waldman writes.

Do women stick to fiction and memoirs because it’s too treacherous a territory to compete with the loud, overbearing voices of their male counterparts? Is it the tiny societal voice that’s been subliminally engrained in us from infancy: “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls” in the adult world can translate into “stick to what you’re good at.” Who has the right to set parameters around what areas we can excel in?

There are however the few exceptions of female non-fiction writers who braved the deep waters and succeeded. Last year, three of the four writers shortlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, were women. So, maybe there is hope, but how long must we wait around to find out?

Women finally make it to the top of the ladder; the plateau of so-called equality, only to find that they “still have a way to go”. I hate those six words, that are repeated so often they’re bordering on cliche, but maybe I hate them more because the truth in them rings out an ineffable defeat: so close, but yet so far. Will we ever find the pot of gold under the rainbow? Does it even exist, or are we all just a bunch of supreme idealists?

Where to from here? I honestly wish I knew. Puleng has some solid advice, which she stands by:

“I know my background, I understand and I’m good at what I do. If people want to check up on me, or question me, it’s their waste of time and energy not mine.” That’s her expert advice on dealing with being second-guessed just because you’re a girl.

And as much as I agree and applaud her attitude, I fear that the day will come when after screaming so loud, for so long, in the vain hope of being heard the first time, our frail voices will finally falter, be reduced to a whisper and we’ll be back at square one. Having come so far, but with so much further still to go.