What I wear is none of your business – or is it?

immigresenHave you ever worn something only to take it off the very next minute because it does not meet the standards or dress code set by society?

Just as we know better than to show up in a place of worship in a bikini or go for a date in our pyjamas, we should also be wary not to present ourselves at a government office wearing shorts, exposing half our bum or a tank top, exposing all our belly. Everything we choose to wear should be appropriate while meeting our own comfort levels.

We recall all too clearly the many incidents when members of the public were shamed into wearing sarongs to cover up their ‘indecent’ clothing. While some were justified in complaining about it (especially those who were in essence already dressed decently), others were making mountains out of molehills.

Truth is, those incidents had less to do with shaming anyone and more to do with whether the individual’s choice of clothes was appropriate for the venue he or she was in.

I refer to the recent case of Gillian Benjamin, who endured a horrid experience at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport recently when an immigration officer behaved rudely towards her and her family because of her choice of attire.

Gillian was in a pair of shorts and a singlet. Her choice of clothes that day ultimately made the immigration officer question her ethnicity and her (un)worthiness of receiving respect.

While many netizens questioned Gillian’s ‘indecent’ attire, I would like to point out that she was not at the airport to meet a government official or attend a black tie event. She was merely travelling with her family.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have personally seen many people of different races and religions dressed in shorts and singlets when travelling. Do all of them not deserve our respect? Would Gillian have been shown respect if she had worn something more “appropriate”, say a baju kurung?

Many people dress for comfort when travelling. As Gillian did. To expect them to dress up in order to meet the expectations of say, immigration officers, is totally unacceptable.

Likewise, how we dress when we are out shopping, catching a movie, bowling, grabbing a cuppa, picnicking, or lepak-ing with friends, is none of anyone’s business. And anyone who makes it their business deserves a tight slap.

A woman in a mini skirt and high heels is a slut. A woman in a burqa is an extremist. A woman with a crew cut is a lesbian. A woman with body piercings and tattoos is wild and a woman in shorts and singlet is Chinese.

Wearing a skirt too short, too long, too tight, too loose, of poor fit, too dressy, not right for one’s age, out-of-style or plain ugly – as much as society has the right to have a personal opinion about how others dress, people have the right to dress up any which way they please.

The thing is, while I respect the right to an opinion, no one has the right to disrespect others based on that opinion.

A company has the right to reject the application of a candidate who attended an interview in their yoga pants but they MUST NOT disrespect them. A black tie event organiser has the right to refuse entry to anyone in flip flops but they MUST NOT disrespect them. Likewise, a preacher has the right to advise his followers to cover-up when in a place of worship, but he MUST NOT disrespect them.

While Gillian hopes for an apology from the immigration officer who insulted her, I say this same lady officer does not deserve such leniency. Since this lady officer clearly judges a person by their attire, she should be subjected to the same.

As an immigration officer, she was wearing her uniform – which requires she conduct herself professionally, carry out her duties diligently and treat Malaysians and foreigners passing through the airport with the utmost of respect.

Sadly, she failed miserably on all three counts.

And for this, I say she doesn’t deserve her uniform nor the job it represents.

While Malaysians have fixed ideas on what constitutes decent attire, it is time we got off our high horse and learnt the simple virtue of respect, regardless of how the other dresses or whether their choices go against our personal set of principles.