Amish Individuality

Wow! I am impressed with the questions you all came up with. Some of them will be hard to answer, because they are beyond the scope of my knowledge. I has been thirty years since I last lived with the Amish. There are things that have changed in my community, but I am not always privy to what these are. Also, I am learning just how diverse the Amish are, in terms of what is allowed and what is not from one community to the next. Keep in mind that I grew up in one community and never moved until I left home, so I can only answer from my point of view. 

My plan is to take these questions in the order I received them. Some will be paired in one post, but the more involved questions I will answer one per post. So, without further ado, I will answer Joanne’s questions.

Joanne asked: Are perfumes or scented lotions or even scented soaps allowed? And even though a certain way of dressing was expected were there ways that you expressed your own individuality without getting in trouble?

In my community, perfumes, scented lotions, and scented soaps were allowed. At young people’s gatherings, the men often smelled like aftershave and cigarettes that often lingered in their paths. I had a musk oil that I used when I went to the Singings — a little of that went a long way. I don’t if every Amish community allowed perfumes and such, but my guess is that some did not.

Joanne with your second question, I take it you are not just asking if we could express our individuality in the way we dressed, but in general. I will first answer it about ways of dressing. There were styles and trends in dress in my home community. At that time I was in my late teens the shorter dresses, smaller head coverings, and wide, pointed collars on dresses were “in.” We all tried being hip and being “in style” but it was harder for those of us who had stricter parents. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth the battle.

As far as expressing ourselves as an individual, we could, but only insofar as we stayed within the acceptable “genres.” My cousin in Wisconsin became really good at making ornate, appliqued quilts, for example. My mother was about the only woman in the community who made woolen braided rugs, so that was her way of doing her own thing and being unique. My sister was a very good artist, and she managed to express herself through her paintings. But that only goes so far. All the ways I wanted to be an individual were unacceptable. I yearned to get a formal education, which was completely out of the question. I wanted to ride a bicycle as a means of transporting myself, but in our community bikes were not allowed. And I kept asking “why?” on so many Amish rules. Each time I asked these questions that boiled up from within, I would only manage to brand myself as a rebel. So, the answer is yes, people could express their individuality without getting into trouble, so long as they did it within the confines of the Ordnung. I did not manage to do this myself, though I saw others find a way to be themselves within the community.

Joanne, thank you very much for your thought-provoking questions. 
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5 thoughts on “Amish Individuality”

  1. Hi Saloma, Thank you so much for answering my questions. I always thought that scented lotions and perfumes were not allowed because they would call attention to the wearer~ I am glad that some women you knew were able to express themselves, but I feel badly for you. I was raised in a very strict household and I can’t imagine what you might have gone through. So sad to have a dream and feel trapped thinking it could never be. I’m glad you found your way and followed your heart. Thank you for your answers. Blessings, Joanne

  2. Saloma, interesting subject here! And I want you to know that I read your memoir and I LOVED it. It’s very disturbing as well as enlightening, but the world needs a little of both sometimes. Thank you for being so brave and writing an eloquent testimony to your experience.

  3. Wow. For some reason I am very surprised that scents were allowed. I’ll be looking forward to reading the rest of the questions and answers.


  4. From some of your other postings, the rules seem so arbitrary. One group allows hardwood floors, another insists on linoleum. Was there any sort of basis for these rules? Certainly there’s nothing in the Bible about floor coverings! Did the rules ever change in mid-stream? A thing was allowed and then changed when the wind blew from a different corner, so to speak?

  5. Joanne, it’s my pleasure to answer the questions. As I said, I doubt very much whether all Amish communities allowed perfumes and such. Thank you for your empathy… I am also happy I followed my bliss, and am forever grateful for all that my life is now.

    Rossyln, thank you so much for your compliments on my book… if you are so inclined, I would love for you to write a review of the book — (GoodReads, Barnes and Noble?). I so look forward to your book, and I will be happy to write a review for it as well. I expect I will learn something new from reading your book, if it is anything like what you write on your blog.

    Deanna, so glad you are anticipating. And you should be getting your book any day, if you haven’t already.

    Lady Anne, yes, from an “English” perspective, the Amish rules seem arbitrary. But when you think about how we adopt new technologies into our lives, that too is arbitrary… depending on what becomes available on the market at any given time. Having said that, there is really no rhyme or reason to some of the Amish rules… the no hardwood floor rule was new to me, too — wood is a lot more natural than linoleum! What it boils down to is who are the elders in a given community when a given technology came into question. Once the decision has been made, it rarely changes — and if it does, it changes slowly. There are always holdouts (people wanting to adhere to the old ways), which means it takes at least a generation for something to be allowed when it wasn’t before.

    Thanks all, for your comments and questions.

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