Fat people, for example, do not have to look monstrous. Dressed correctly, as fat West African women often are, they can even achieve a magnificence that does not preclude elegance. But fat people in modern society do not dress like this. On the contrary, they insist on squeezing themselves into the most inappropriately figure-hugging costumes, often of pastel shades that accentuate their figures in the most unflattering possible way. As a consequence, they do not look magnificent, as fat West African market-trading women do (their turbans are in themselves a joy to behold); they look grotesque.
The problem is not merely absence of self-respect, it is active hostility to self-respect, replaced entirely by self-esteem. The former says, “I will keep myself looking good in the eyes of others;” the latter says, “What is good enough for me is good enough for everyone else, and if they find me an eyesore they can jolly well put up with it.”
Modern scruffiness, then, is a manifestation of egotism. Outside one of the shops in Amsterdam was a large plasma screen showing models wearing the kind of clothes to be had within. They were precisely the insolently ragged clothes that the great majority of people in the street were wearing anyway. This was a form of flattery of the public, for it implied that its members had nothing to aspire to in the matter of dress higher than that which they themselves were already wearing”that in the matter of appearance they had already reached acme of the possible.
There was yet more. The models, in their T-shirts, baseball caps, sneakers, and so forth, as uniform as any army, walked with the kind of vulpine lope that one associates with the less law-abiding young males of the American ghettoes. But even more striking was the expression on their faces, which were cachectic in the case of the women, androgynous in the case of men: a fixed, determined, humorless stare that indicated a hatred of the world and all that was in it, including their fellow-beings. If one saw such a person at a social event, one would go to some effort to avoid or to flee or not to talk to him or her. The models” faces were vacantly earnest, as if they wished for annihilation of everything around them for some personal reason, no doubt trifling.
This is the first age in which people do not dress to please others, but dress to displease others, to make sure that everyone knows that I”m not going to make any effort just for you. And this, no doubt, is because I am as good as anyone in the world, bar none: His Majesty, myself. And what starts out as an attitude becomes an unexamined and ingrained habit.
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