Anatomy of this Outfit: Hat, top, and coat – Urban Outfitters | Shorts: Broke + Schön | Shoes: Beyond Retro

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

Today in Hamburg, while riding the U-bahn back to Superbude in Schanzenviertel, there was a man on the train asking for money. Now unless you have been living under a rock for the entirety of your life, or are so sheltered/(un/)fortunate/privilidged as to live in a world in which you have never experienced poverty second hand, this is not a unique image by any stretch of the imagination – especially if you live in a big city like New York, London, or Berlin.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

You also know as well as I that the world is not a fair place. Although hardships come in all different shapes, sizes, orientations, colors, ethnicities, religions, etc., despite all of these other factors, some of us are born into into a life of comfortable “middle-classness” (although as the divide between rich and poor continues to increase, those of us who find ourselves here are become few and far between), others into a cushy upper-middlclass life, a very select view (I would even go as far as to say 1% – har har) into pure luxury, the majority into a life of “managable” poverty, and countless others into abject poverty.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

For those of us who have grown up in developed societies, for the most part, we are only confronted with this lowest level of the income bracket when we encounter homeless individuals either via volunteer work or begging for money from the larger society. I myself have made no attempt to hide the fact that although I myself was born with nothing – not even a bloodline or a name – things changed rapidly over the next 4 months of my infant life when I was adopted by a family in America. I have had the fortune of not being born “well-off,” but adopted into it. Knowing that my life could have turned out very differently is something I always try to bare in mind.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

And so my personal encounters with those that are in the grips of extreme poverty have only been during volunteer work (which has unfortunately not happened nearly enough as it should) or during my daily commute around the city. But each and everytime I encounter someone begging for money on the train, on the streets, or just simply pass by another living and breathing soul on the streets, my heart legitimately hurts. And yet, I still am not quite sure what the best course of action truly would be.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

It’s hard when you live in a city, becuase although I often do try to give money when I can, it would be damned near impossible to give a Euro or two to everyone who directly asked for it, or passively sought it. In a city like Berlin, I would be donating 5-10€ a day on average. And although I am lucky to come from a family who has always looked after me, my family being financially stable is very different than me being financially stable on my own. This is an independence I am working towards, and technically means I don’t have the means to donate at will randomly.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

Then there is the question of where that money will go – to a meal, or a habit? To a woman with a child, or a mafia boss? Now I am much less inclined to judge someone with a habit, as I make it a point to not pass judgement on other people, and if the sad reality is that this individual doesn’t have a hopeful future, who am I to tell him or her how to spend the money they have been given? (Now I will judge the mafia bosses who force women into slavery because my judging begins where another person’s adherence to human rights ends.)

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

And then there is the big question of guilt and selflessness v. selflessness. Can one truly donate money as a selfless act? Because inherently if I give money to someone because it physically and emotionally hurts me to see their current state, doing so is still in some measure being done to assuage my own guilt and satisfy my own pain. After all, they do say that no act can truly be selfless. (And now I feel like it is a perfect moment to refer to Joey and Phoebe’s discussion about selfless good deeds…) But still, that pain comes from empathy and regardless of the motivation, when a good deed is done this is an overwhelmingly good thing no matter how selfish.

Love from Berlin - anatomy of an outfit - photography by: Thommy White

But I’m getting off on a huge tangent here. In fact, at this point I am not even sure what kind of point I am trying to make other than the fact that being human is about wrestling with pain and confusion – that we bring unto ourselves, that others put on us or that we take from other people and put on ourselves. And what I do know is this: every single one of us are born into the world as innocent human beings without a stain, without a tarnish (unless you believe in original sin). It is this thought that I have whenever I see a homeless person whose life seems full of pain. We are all born with the world in front of us. Yes, there is inequality, yes, some of us are simply born into situations that are easier than others. But essentially we are all innocent creatures when we take our first breath in the world. At that moment we are able to do anything we set our mind to – some of us will simply have an easier road to get there than others . And the fact that this can change so rapidly for some of us – whether by our own hand, bad luck, or whatever – is a concept I accept as reality but find extremely hard to live with.

This post has no happy ending, witty last sentence, or motivational catch phrase. Because life isn’t always tied up in a big-ass bow. Life is hard and life hurts and life is not fair. I’m just trying to wrap my head around what can actually be done to make the little time we have on this earth a bit better for all of us.

Photography: Thommy White

LFB is hosting an incredible giveaway! Click the image above to enter!

Thank you to my September sponsor, Sophie!

Stay conscious, Rae

Rae Tilly

Rae the EIC of LFB and YEOJA Magazine. She is also a photographer and social media influencer.


    • rae

      Thanks Sofia!

  • Cara E

    You always write so beautifully, it’s so refreshing seeing such a truthful post on a fashion blog! This outfit is gorgeous too, you always have the best photography x

    • rae

      Thank you so much Cara that means so much to me!

  • Elizabeth Hisle

    This quote really stood out to me:

    “Knowing that my life could have turned out very differently is something I always try to bare in mind.”

    Even as someone who wasn’t adopted, I am always in awe that I was somehow chosen to be with an upper middle class family (well, in the 90s we were upper middle class at least). I mean, why? Why did I get the high income father when other kids get the Burger King manager? Not that there is anything wrong with ANY honest job, but make no mistake – society values some more than others. Seeing people beg on the streets always makes me so effing grateful, not just for the financial security that came from my family, but for the fact that I have a family. Not everyone does.

    And you are right, if I helped every homeless man in my city, I’d be broke. But as my husband put it the other day “If I can afford a slice of pizza for my lunch, I can buy this guy some lunch too.” We always do what we can and that’s good enough. But maybe it is just as selfish to help as to not… I had never thought of that. I suppose though, that as long as it’s a good thing, who cares if you did it to feel better? Someone else will be getting a full belly for a few hours.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. I just was really excited about your post today, haha. You always make me think.

    • rae

      That is the funny thing about life. There are a lot of lotteries you either win and loose and it is due to no action of your own. Some people are born smart, others beautiful, others into/adopted into/married into a rich family, some with incredible health, etc. etc.

      While we do have our own human agency and can change many things, it is so important to remember that so many things in life just happen without our control and that makes us no better or no worse than the homeless man on the corner.

      And yes, I think that when we are having good months and have a bit of extra money to give we should. I totally agree with your boyfriend. There was a time when I treated myself to a very nice and expensive item from an expensive luxury brand (it was a weird phase in my life, okay?!). While riding the train home, this guy was begging for money. I gave him a 20€ bill. My thought process was, if I could just shell out several hundreds of euros for this item, what’s 20€? I actually felt pretty bad about myself in that moment that I was so frivolous with money when what I bought could have paid for someone’s rent.

  • Thank you for the wonderful read. It’s always so hearbreaking to see people suffering and living on the streets. I live near NYC and whenever I visit I arrive at Penn Station which is always surrounded by dozens of homeless people. It’s so sad how become the norm and people walk by totally unfazed. I know I’m guilty of it too!

    Another time I remember there was a woman running a “scam” on the train, asking people for money because she needed it to buy a train ticket to visit her child. I didn’t know it was a “scam” at the time so I gave her some money. Afterwords another passenger told me what happened and at first I was upset that she lied about needing to see her child, but then I realized if she were desperate enough to make up a story then obviously she really did need the money.

    I also totally get wondering where the money will go. I remember sometime ago Gigi Hadid had partnered with Mcdonald’s or some other fast food company to give out gift cards to homeless people on her birthday. (Of course this could sort of fall under the whole no such thing as a selfless good deed) But doing something like that, you kind of increase the chances of it being spent on food.

    Mili | Sharmtoaster

    • rae

      So glad that you enjoyed this post, Mili! And I could not agree with you more. When I first made trips to DC and NYC before actually LIVING in a city, I always stopped and gave people money. Now, although it does emotionally affect me, I probably give 10% of the time. Penn Station is pretty tragic, as is Port Authority – I lived in NYC for a while and also took lots of buses to and from Port Authority – I think the difficulty with locations like this and trying to help is that they are also known for not being the safest areas either, which complicates the issue even more.

      And yes, I just shared a story above about a man scamming kind-hearted people out of their money during Christmas. He lived in a normal house and was from a good home, so I find this really unacceptable but in the case of this woman if she really needed the money, I really don’t blame her for coming up with a story that would lead to more money from strangers. I blame society for forcing people to have to do things like that.

      And I actually think giving out food gift cards is a great idea, although who knows if these cards would be traded for money??? I try to give food when possible because at least I know where that is going.

  • I love these kinds of honest posts. I know exactly the scene from Friends you’re talking about. While every action ultimately is driven by some sort of unconscious emotion or feeling, I think doing good can be both selfish and selfless, like a win-win. :]

    // ▲ ▲

    • rae

      Really glad that you enjoyed this post and I do agree that in this case it is the perfect definition of win-win!

  • Beautifully written. It’s so hard. I don’t give money to people in the street generally because of those scary posters that tell you that it could lead to their deaths(!) so I have a standing order set up to a homeless charity. It doesn’t feel enough though. And over the past few years I feel like I’ve seen homelessness triple.

    • rae

      Thank you so much Emmie, so glad you liked this post. And what posters are these and where are they? I have never seen posters like this before, but is it basically arguing that giving money means that money will go to alcohol and drugs? I think that giving money to a charity is a great way to help and also allows you to have some kind of idea about how that money is being spent! And yes, the homeless population probably is growing. Although I have no statistics to share and would need to research the topic to be able to fully speak on the manner, I assume that it’s due to the ever increasing disparity between rich and poor.

  • Gorgeous outfit lovely :) x

    Nev | Miss Nev

    • rae

      Thanks Nev!

  • this is really real and interesting, rae. i’d say heartwarming because you took time to write down things that may have unseen by many people.

    i couldn’t say i was born well off but i had a good life, having no hardship within my childhood. couldn’t say the same for my brother since he was born when everything changed this country and our family was the ‘collateral damage’. everytime i wake up i always remind myself that going from wealth to poverty is a very thin line to cross so use your wealth wisely. i know it’d always be a debate whether to give or not (there’s this revealing article of one beggar actually have houses and cars back in his hometown in my country) but i guess it’s the intention that counts.

    • rae

      Thank you so much – I actually find it surprising that you think this is something unseen by many people as I think (or at least hope!) that this is a topic most of us struggle with. In terms of LFB readers though, it seems like you guys all are aware of the problem and are sensitive to these kinds of issues which makes me happy but yes we are not representative of the rest of the world! Still, I really do hope that more often than not, people find the disparity of wealth problematic and sad.

      You are absolutely right that there is a very thin line when it comes to using your wealth wisely. That being said, I also do not think it is right when those with less try to tell those with more how that money should be spent. Where are you and your family from again, and what political situation changed everything? Were all families and people affected economically or specific people in specific fields?

      And yes it is the intention that counts I think – there was a similar story in the US about a man who pretended to be homeless around Christmas because he made more each day begging than he did at his office job. He counted on the sympathy and kindness of strangers especially during the holiday season. Although it is really unfortuante that he used people’s generosities and emotions for his own selfish reasons, it makes me happy that so many people did give because it shows that humanity is not all bad.

      • i think i chose the wrong word. rather than unseen it’s more like choose not to see it. poverty is indeed everywhere as we look, but some people couldn’t bring themselves to care a little more than a pity. i think most of your readers are the most aware upon everything that’s happening in the world and it’s lovely :)

        ah it was the economic crisis in 1998. there were so many companies that have to either shut down or have to lay off some of their workers in indonesia. my dad was laid off thus no longer could provide for the family. it was a dark time /sighs

        i heard similar stories here about a beggar that caught by the police and revealed that he has houses and cars back in his hometown, all from being a beggar for 30 years. it made me furious because he could’ve work and it’s as if he’s ‘stealing’ money that people could give to less unfortunate ones, the ones who need it the most :( but yeah i think we could still have a little faith in humanity. not all people are bad.

  • Lou

    This post and your words gave me the realization. I’ve been lurking in a society where people walk through rich and poor beings. Although I don’t get what I want most of the time because financially we can’t afford, I can always say that I am living a good life and that’s the main reason why I am still celebrating life. Kudos to this kind of post!

    Lou |

    • rae

      It is great that you can appreciate your life! I think that it is also okay though to want things and to feel bad no matter what your status because at every level of the socio-economic ladder there are things that are out of reach (except if you are the Kardashians) and just because you have some money does not mean you have to immediately feel guilty or be in a constant state of self-deprication and denial either.

  • Such a heartwarming post for this time of year. I’d never seen my life as privileged until I began to really see the world for myself but always make a conscious effort to give and give back wherever I can.

    I’ll be forever grateful that my parents worked hard every moment of their lives up until their early retirement to make sure us three had the childhoods we did, a University degree and that we can remain living at home whilst we save for futures of our own. That in mind, I find it incredibly important to pay it forward, to spare some change for the homeless man at my local train station, to duck into Pret and pick up a Styrofoam cup of hot water for them. Whether you’re fuelling a meal or a habit, it’s good to imagine the best in people, right?

    • rae

      Thanks so much Michelle and I didn’t even think about the timing of this post, haha but it is very true that it is even harder to see homeless people in fall and winter because in summer sleeping outside (although also definitely not warm or ideal) is far less brutal than sleeping outside in minus degree weather. Luckily in Berlin there are designated U-bahn stations where the homeless can sleep when the temperatures dip to a certain degree and there are also these night busses for the homeless as well.

      I think it is really good that you do what you can to give back and that you appreciate all that your parents have done for you and your siblings. And yes, paying it back is so important. I think buying food often helps as you know exactly what you are giving and where it is going but even with that I feel as if it is always a temporary solution and wonder if there is not something with more lasting power/longevity that can be done. In Berlin there is a magazine put out by the homeless so when homeless people on the train ask for money while selling this paper, I am happy to give them some spare change as I am pretty sure all of that money needs to be accounted for and is part of a program to mobilize and help the homeless.

  • I haven’t reached a conclusion with this either. Many years ago I read an interesting article about altruism & self-interest, though I can’t recall where I found it. But it was mind-blowing for me to realise that sometimes (often times?) atruistic acts are done in self-interest -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    • rae

      I would be really interested to read the article if you ever remember the name or where you found it! I do not actually think that it is necessarily a bad thing to be honest. I mean when I see someone that needs help my first thought is not “Oh let me help him so I can look good in front of other people and feel better about something that makes me sad!” It’s “Oh man that person needs help!” (If someone falls over or something) Or “Oh man that is such a sad situation to be in I wish I could do something to help” – not because I need to be the one doing it, but because I would like that person to be in a better situation then they find themselves in, but it is impossible not to feel good after a good deed or slightly chuffed with oneself I would say. Then there are people who blatantly do good things for the high it gives them or the praise of others – which is why I am sick to teeth of seeing viral videos about people helping other people or posts about people basically rehashing the “good deed” that they did in order to “share the love.” Those kinds of things are ridiculously transparent if you ask me.

  • Rae, your photos are absolutely stunning and you are so pretty!

    Auradelle // Parapixelife

  • Sophie Lee

    This post makes me thinks much about myself too :)

    xoxo, Best Wallets for Men 2016