Friday, April 1, 2011

For ladies only: This dress is cute... but on a chimp???

I’ve blogged about some heavy issues over the past month. Suicide, child abuse, animal cruelty, laughter and forgiveness. In the weeks ahead, I plan to reflect on what I call my 1970s era of the three Rs: rape, religion, and recreational drug use. But before we go there, I have to get something off my chest, so to speak. Today’s blog is for ladies only, so men should just move on. Go watch a baseball game.

Okay, are they gone? Can we talk?

Do you hate dresses, nylons, bras, and makeup as much as I do? I know I’m not the only one...

Aunt Elsie with her chimp, posing outside
of B'wana Don's in Ferndale, MI, circa 1950s.
Look at this little sweetheart with my Aunt Elsie. I don’t know why, but Elsie owned a chimp who she took to birthday parties and local TV shows. It couldn’t have been a huge moneymaker, so maybe she had the same urge that motivates some childless women, to nurture a cute ape baby who clings to you as if her life would end if you left her in a cage.

In any case, if you’ve been paying attention to this blog you’ll know I was not exactly a fashion plate in the 1950s. Plaid shirt with flowered skirt and white tube socks. Davy Crockett t-shirt and a babushka. And you haven’t even seen the worst pictures! So I really don’t have room to talk, since that chimp’s dress is kind of cute.

My point is this, however: As I grow ever closer to 60 years old, I really really HATE dressing up. After ruining my feet by wearing high heels for decades, I don’t even own a pair of pumps now. I loathe nylons. I long for the carefree days of the 1970s, when I could go bra-less -- and no one would even notice (!?#@!). I can’t wait to get home from work so I can get out of my business suit, and put on baggy jeans or a muumuu.  And make-up? Sundays are wonderful because I can go au naturel and no one gives a shit.

I look at that little chimpanzee who – if there was justice in this world - should be climbing trees completely clothes-free. She should feel the grass with her bare feet, forever and ever. Instead, my aunt put her into this frilly dress and stupid shoes. My heart is with that chimp. Be free, my sister!

As I think about it, though, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Aunt Elsie. We used to love having her visit on Christmas, because she always brought wonderful presents. My brothers would get new shirts and pants, and she’d give my sister and me pretty dresses.

Oh. Now that I think about, that chimp’s dress looks vaguely familiar…
Why do people get a kick out of seeing an ape in a dress? Why do marketers know their ad will score big if they use a chimp in human clothes? For more on the use of chimps in marketing and entertainment, check out these video clips on ChimpCARE.


  1. I loved this-- I believe that the Great Apes are undergoing a transition in how they are perceived by the general public. Gorillas, chimps, and orangutans all started out as being seen as little more than vicious beasts (think Frank Buck and his flanged male orangs that he provoked), and then they became the clowns/jesters/entertainers/specimens (orang boxing, chimps on bicycles, Vegas shows, etc...). The last step is being accepted as beings that are very similar to us: thinking, feeling guys & gals that should be respected. Many people are uncomfortable with their animal-self and seeing their qualities reflected in an especially hairy cousin can be disconcerting. I think that perhaps dressing apes in human clothing is an expression of longing for a connection, some kind of sameness that isn't so difficult to embrace.

  2. When the Oregon Zoo's wonderful (and dignified) Charlie died in 2009, the community came to a 'celebration of life' service for him. In attendance was the family of the man who had originally brought him from Africa (rescued from some trappers, the story goes). They had photos of baby Charlie dressed like a toddler. I felt embarrassed to look at them -- sort of like looking at your boss's naked baby photos. I thought about the irony of it afterwards: it can be embarrassing to see naked baby pictures of a respected adult and equally embarrassing to see clothed baby pictures of a dignified adult chimp.

  3. I was thinking of the horrific guilt trip people would have to deal with, if/when they accept what they have done to "The Great Apes".......