Over the past couple years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of the Little Black Dress Initiative, also known as LBDI. LBDI was started by the Junior League of London in 2014. It is a social media campaign to raise awareness and money for women living in poverty. Women participate by wearing the same little black dress every day and post pictures on their different social media outlets throughout the week.
This year, the Junior League of Athens is using LBDI to raise awareness for the 53% of homeless women who do not have access to feminine hygiene products. We are raising money and collecting feminine products for an amazing organization: Fem(me).
Wearing the same dress, day in and day out has caused me to feel shame. I’ve attended important meetings with wearing a dirty dress. The choice to be embarrassed has given me the opportunity to stand in solidarity with my sisters who are held in bondage by poverty. It has also empowered me to believe my voice matters.
The fact that I’m a white, middle class, straight, Christian American woman means that I have privilege. I'm often unaware of the things I have. I can easily drive to the store and buy whatever we need. I never think twice about spending money on essentials like tampons. And every day, I have the luxury of putting on a clean, professional outfit for work. Because I look professional, I am treated well by strangers. These privileges – and many others – I take for granted.
Where my closet is bursting at the seams, many women only have one outfit to wear to work. The shame they feel is not a choice, but a fact of life. By choosing to experience the embarrassment of wearing the same outfit every day, I am choosing to stand with those that live daily in the bondage of financial insecurity.
It also shows me that financial insecurity complex. It’s not just that some woman cannot afford food, it’s that applying for jobs is often difficult because of lack of appropriate clothes. It’s judgmental stares that some women who are homeless receive because of their one outfit gets dirty. It’s the multiple essential needs some women must forgo because of the expense; like tampons or pads. There are many levels of financial insecurity and many problems that go overlooked because of lack of understanding.
Too often, I try to help by writing a check. But when I don’t try to learn the complexity of the issue, my “help” is just another form of bondage.
But by choosing to stand solidarity with my neighbors, I’m getting an opportunity to learn more about the problem. So that when I try to help, I’m not just offering what I perceive is needed, I’m listening to the needs and providing the help that is required to address the issue.
The Power of the Collective Voice
This year, we’ve seen the power of women’s collective voice. But even with the impact of the #metoo movement, I often doubt that I can make a difference. I’m just one woman who is juggling work, a toddler, and a husband. My heart breaks for issues of injustice but I’m overwhelmed, and I feel like there is nothing I can do.
However, LBDI is a reminder that I’m not alone. And while my voice feels small, the collective voice of hundreds of women is a chorus demanding for change.
My part in the LBDI is relatively small. I wear the same dress every day, take a selfie and post the selfie with information about the lack of access that low-income women have to feminine hygiene products on my different social media accounts. It is an additional 2 minutes out of my day.
But my selfie joins hundreds of other selfies and becomes a chorus. We have raised awareness and money for a critical issue, and through that, I’ve learned that my voice matters.
Women are half the population. And yet issues of injustice and poverty affect women at a higher rate than they affect men. When I see statistics of poverty that affect women in our country, I am no longer going to push it aside. Instead, I’ll remember that my voice matters and that I can make a difference.
We can Make a Difference
Sometimes this world is dark and scary. Raising a little girl leaves me asking, “Will it change for her? Or will she also have to experience this too?”
The problems that face women in this country are astronomical – lack of women’s health care in many rural areas, inequality in the workforce and unchecked violence against women are just a few of the issues that are impacting women in our country.
This is not the world I want my daughter to grow up in. And even though my life – and hers – is relatively idyllic, many of our neighbors are stuck in poverty. I want to see the chains of injustice broken. I want to see the shackles of poverty smashed.
In 1920, women won the right to vote. And now we have a voice. We can advocate for change. We can advocate for one another. And if we are willing to lift our voices together, we can see the world change.
While my planner is filled and my to-do list clamors for my attention, LBDI has taught me that it’s worth taking a break to advocate for others because we can make a difference.
All I’ve done this week is wear a black dress, but in doing so, I’ve been inspired to believe that we can make this world a better place.
In the words of Johnny Cash:
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But is there because he's a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.
Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes, But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen' that the Lord was on their side, I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen' that we all were on their side.
Well, there's things that never will be right I know, And things need changin' everywhere you go, But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You'll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day, And tell the world that everything's OK, But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back, 'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black