What’s the line between personal expression and being respectful?

When I was in high school and college, I was certainly one who had an eye out for fashion. I’m not sure how often I hit the mark, but I thought I was pretty styling (perhaps even the use of that phrase shows just how far off I was!).

For my senior year of high school, I had wanted a pair of pointed-toe, flat-heeled, black leather boots to wear with jeans.


I had seen the whole look in a poster and couldn’t forget how cool I thought the guy looked. His haircut, his shirt, everything said what I wanted to say about myself. Even the incredibly daring small gold hoop earring that he wore in his left ear.

My best friend Bryan and I went on a quest to Salt Lake to shop for clothes. My favorite shoe shop in the mall was The Wild Pair. I’m pretty sure the name says it all; at any rate, the sign above the door was very appropriate.

I found them.

We’ve all had a favorite pair of shoes at one time or another. These were mine.

I was so excited all the way home and could see myself looking just like the guy in the poster. Bryan and I planned somewhere to go to break in the new boots, and it was just a few days later that I was walking through the kitchen to the garage on my way to our party.

“Greg, what in the world do you have on your feet?”

Busted. My Dad was in the kitchen and spied my outfit of faded jeans and black boots.

I stopped and slowly turned around. I took a glance at my Mom to see how much moral support I could count on. It only took a second to realize that I was in this one on my own.

“They’re my new boots for school this fall.” Not being the greatest at subterfuge, I didn’t know when to stop, but kept on going. “What do you think?”

Should have stopped.

“I think they look like prostitute boots.”

I was dumbfounded. I had no idea how he had made the leap so fast from incredibly cool boots that were the latest style to something, well, disgusting.

Suffice it to say that we decided that this was my way to find my own outlet for expression after they were reassured that I, in fact, did not have any desire (much less any notion as to how) to start a sideline to make some extra cash with my new boots.

After about a month of wearing the boots and having worked through the shock of people seeing them for the first time, Bryan and I were out again shopping and saw the same poster that started the whole footwear expression experiment.

I thought that I had the look mostly down; my jeans were close, the boots were dead on, my shirt worked great, and my haircut was exactly what you would expect it to look like with a naturally curly top and it being 1985 (my children still find great joy and laughter in the photos).

All except for the little gold loop earing in the left ear.

The more I stood and looked at the poster, the more I thought that I could pull the ENTIRE look off. Being one to slightly obsess over things, I thought and thought and thought and thought about it.

Finally I got the courage up and entered the kitchen once again, this time stopping to sit at the bar with my parents.

“What would you guys think of a tiny, fine, small, almost-invisible gold hoop earring for my left ear? I don’t think you’d hardly even notice it was there or be able to see it at all”.

I lost confidence quickly as my parents asked questions and my answers sounded hollow, even to me.

I think you can guess that there was no unanimous decision that this was yet another outlet for my personal expression.

It was actually a pretty healthy and helpful discussion. My parents didn’t care about what the neighbors or people at church would think. They didn’t really care how it might reflect on them as parents.

They cared why I didn’t understand that it was too far over the line. They cared that the line had become blurred for me.

The earring wasn’t really the issue.

The fact that I could only see the immediate present and not the long range implications was the issue.

I wasn’t as grown up as I thought I was.

My point isn’t that all people with a fine, tiny, gold hoop in their left ears are bad people.

I’m sure that there are people with the earring that are incredible people, just as there are most probably some pretty rotten people out there who have the earring.

My point is that I was being taught to look outside myself and my own actions to how they communicate respect. Respect for self, respect for others, and respect for principles and ideals.

What is the line between personal expression and showing disrespect?

I don’t think it is a “one-line-fits-all” proposition as so many of us would like to think. It would be easier that way, for sure.

Boots = good; earring = bad.

But it is not.

How I look on the outside reflects how I feel about what is going on inside.

What are we reflecting through our outward appearances? What does it communicate to others about us? Are they seeing what we want them to?

Maybe the more important question is, what do we want them to see? Why do we want them to see it?

It’s all about looking on the heart, even at ourselves.

I will always be too flashy for my own good; I love a good look.

But now I know where my line is. Anything that would show disrespect is out, I understand that now.


I have learned to have confidence in, and respect for, the things that really matter to me.

I still think the fine gold hoop looks cool. Just not on me.



2 thoughts on “What’s the line between personal expression and being respectful?”

  1. As an accomplice to this event, I had better give my perspective on the infamous boots. Your parents were right about the boots and the earring. It’s interesting how we behave differently and have a different self image in certain clothes and accessories. We hope that we can control the messages that our clothing is displaying to the world, but unfortunately the world is the judge on this one. Life was more simple when it was just a Levi 501 and tee shirt world. Different is good until it’s not. It’s good we grow out of somethings and learn our little life lessons, we’d hate to repeat them. Take care my friend and put those boots back their memory box where they belong. haha – BH

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