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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On Sartoral Expansion, Contraction, Concealment

One of the odder hypotheses in Mindless Eating—Brian Wansink's book on the behavioral traps that lead to unwise eating habits—involves those orange jump suits worn by prisoners. Wansink contends that weight gain associated with extended prison stays may have as much to do with prison wear as with the usual suspects—lack of exercise and starchy prison diets. That’s because loose fitting orange fatigues take away the girtho-static advantages of the pants and belts that automatically let us know when we’re bulking up.

It would be criminal, though, to limit that line of inquiry to the prison population. Might it not, for example, prove a cautionary boon  for wearers of North African and Middlle Eastern garb like jelabas, hijabs, jilbabs, and ultimately, the full burqa? What a timely topic for cross-cultural empirical research.

More on the burqa. “The burqa is not welcome on French soil,” France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy has emphasized. President Sarkozy considers the burqa anathema to an open, democratic society—especially to its women. [although banning it would be indisputably undemocratic].

But aesthetics might also be a factor. What an affront the burqa must be to a society whose self-identity is enmeshed in high fashion and visual refinement? Is any nation more obsessed than La Belle France with the full disclosure of physical beauty--especially of its women? Sarkozy certainly hit the jackpot himself with his own significant other (even though she is imported).

The power to conceal. The burqa, moreover, has the capacity to conceal much, much more--Not only who resides within but what accessories may be lurking. I first learned about sleight of hand from my maternal grandmother, a substantial  woman who frequently produced tissues, a powder compact, and legal tender from her sleeves and occasionally her bodice. Endowed with  a burqa, Nanna  might have added  her alligator wallet, a deeper line of  cosmetics, perhaps even my uncle’s service revolver.

Mr. Sarkozy, take notice: Democracy can be a bitch and the open society will always have its enemies. You, in fact, may ultimately be one of them.

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