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#TheDress and Putting People in Boxes

By now, you’ve likely seen #thedress whether or not you ever cared about its true colors.
One night recently I came home from speaking at Lehigh University to a dark house. My family was already asleep. I can’t turn off quickly after speaking, so I turned to Facebook. There I encountered #thedress. A friend’s post of the photo already had dozens of comments. I became obsessed with finding out the right answer, pondering how it could be possible for this dress to have any black in it whatsoever.
For me, the dress was about categories. It could be black and blue or it could be white and gold, but not both. And what about those who saw periwinkle and brown?
We like categories. They save time and energy and make it easier to live in the world. We use assumptions to get through our day-to-day lives, with great effect. We assume that green means go and that the cars behind red lights will stop.
But people don’t fit in our categories without remainder. We can make quick judgments about people and fit them into boxes, but as we get to know them, they will undoubtedly break out.
I love the moment when I realize that someone doesn’t fit in my box. Liz is a strong, independent, single woman. She hikes, camps, and skis, shovels snow, and travels alone. And she takes ballet classes at the local community college. When I found out about her love of ballet, I exclaimed: You just busted out of my box!
Laura is a member of the board at my daughter’s preschool. She knits, runs marathons, and enjoys creative activities with her two young kids. And she’s the reentry coordinator for the county, creating programs and a network of support for those released from prison. Box broken.
It would be easier if we all fit in boxes and categories–if our colors were clear to every passer-by. But we would miss out on the glorious depth and complexity of each human being. To be created in the image of God, to be human, is not to be easily categorized and deconstructed. May I remember that no one actually fits in the boxes I put them in, even if I haven’t realized that yet. Each person is an image-bearer with a unique combination of gifts, interests, and life experiences.
Even though there is one right category for #thedress (black and blue, it turns out), there is no one category or box for a person. Thanks be to God!
Anna Moseley Gissing

Anna Moseley Gissing is Associate Academic Editor of InterVarsity Press. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her writing has been published in Let us Keep the Feast and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids, and she aspires to more reading, more writing, and more patience.

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