New Name and a Dress: your most important relationship…?

I’m at the stage in my life when all my friends seem to be having kids and/or getting married. I’ve been to three weddings in the last month.

Watching these celebrations of relationships,  I’ve become aware of my own relationship… with my body. Are we destined for a happy life together? Let’s see… In preparation for these recent weddings, I have:

  1. stopped eating bread
  2. drunk Puritee every night for a month in an attempt to trick my metabolism
  3. eaten meals off a side plate to cut down my portion sizes
  4. lived off Special K for a week
  5. Eaten nothing but protein for a four day stretch

Is that nice? I think not. In fact, if my bod was a child, I’d be in trouble for maltreatment. Seeing my dieting attempts in black and white makes me think it’s all a bit, you know, crazy. And why have I bullied my body this way? I think you can guess: so I wouldn’t feel upset when I saw the wedding photos.

When I first heard about one wedding, I was feeling brave and bought a lovely outfit: champagne pleated skirt, red silk t-shirt, knockout gold wedges. I want to look fabulous, I said to myself in an encouraging fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So why did I end up in a floor-length dress and cardigan? Because I couldn’t face catching a glimpse of my upper arms in a mirror. I punished my body for not losing weight, and hid it in fine knits.

I was bridesmaid at another, and bought a very slinky purple number – my derrière got some attention, let me tell you.

 Your curves look great in this, I told myself. But even after the Special K and the waist cincher, the day of the wedding found me sobbing about my side view. What’s wrong with this picture…?!

This sounds terribly self-absorbed. Weddings are about other people, after all; I know it ain’t all about me! But there’s something about weddings – including the sheer amount of photographs – that ups the ante. We women put more pressure on our bodies to be thinner or more tanned. Ever burst into tears trying to pick an outfit for a night out? Blamed your body because a dress wouldn’t fit right? Well, chuck in a bride, a groom, and a four-tier cake and that feeling is magnified ten-fold.

As someone who blogs about fashion, I feel I should be positive about my body – show it off and big it up. I just find that really hard. Pearl W was teasing me the other day about the fact I used to leave my head off blog photos:

Baby steps! I’m not saying it’s right to feel this way – it strikes me as really sad – but I know I’m not alone. A lot of us have complex relationships with our bodies, often starving them, depriving them, resenting them and hating them. Would we ever treat someone else like that? I doubt it.

Of course, it doesn’t help that we can’t move for media-proffered diet tips. Even Kate Middleton was rumoured to be on the Dukan Diet in the run-up to her wedding, and not a day goes by without someone somewhere commenting on her weight. (It’s that she’s “too thin”, but the emphasis is still on her size, no? All she’s done is pre-empt criticism that she needed to drop a few pounds.) I see the whole Kate phenomenon as emblematic of what many of us women feel – that eyes are on our bodies, judging. And that losing weight for a wedding should a given, whatever it takes.

 

I wanted this to be a chipper post, I really did, but it’s been on my mind lately and I’d love your feedback. Last night, Claire tweeted something in response to a convo about weight loss that gave me a slap round the face:

 

She’s dead right, as I’m sure you know: forcing your body to change isn’t always the answer – accepting yourself should be.

Christopher Hitchens said, “We don’t have bodies; we are bodies”, and I can’t help thinking that sentence holds the key to it all:  if I started thinking of my body as my self, rather than something that I own, I might be a little kinder and more forgiving – impending nuptials or no.

So, where does that leave me? Weddings are lovely, of course, but to quote Samantha Jones:

“I’ve been in a relationship with myself for…years and that’s the one I need to work on”.

After all, we’re together now, for better or for worse…

 

What kind of relationship do you have with your body?

What tips have you got for those who need to work on it?

 

This post is one of a series of monthly posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers.
Read the rest of the ‘Dating and Relationships’ roundup here.
Join the discussion in the Google group here.

Delighted, Destroyed and Dangerous: women in the media.

Do you ever get fed up of the same messages from trashy magazines? Tired old aspirations that belong in another era, for example?

 

Or thinly disguised warnings that we can’t have it all?

 

I had a bit of fun with Company’s female fashion tribes a while back, but the lazy pigeonholing doesn’t stop there. May I introduce you to three of the biggest women clichés… The Delighted. The Destroyed. And the Downright Dangerous.

So who are they?

Delighted!

Key words: radiant, glowing, ecstatic, fulfilled
Most likely to be photographed… smiling happily at the camera, nuzzling lover in some street-side cafe

Of the three this is probably the tamest, but the most passive…and as a result, just as insulting to us ladies. Who gets to be delighted? In general, anyone who has been ‘given’ a baby by their fella, anyone who has been proposed to (and by extension saved from the bleak future of spinsterhood). Kate Middleton is one of the more recently delighted, of course, and her high-street shopping is celebrated as some kind of move against the highly traditional institution that she’s entered into.

Lucky old Chezza, eh? What will she do about her career now?!

Destroyed!

Key words: crushed, humiliated, distressed, devastated, gutted
Most likely to be photographed… looking thinner, looking down or in huge ‘hide the eyes’ sunglasses

Oof. No-one wants to be in this one…unless it works for PR purposes. This includes personal tragedies, like Kylie’s battle with cancer or Lily Allen’s miscarriage, but the media becomes a real circus when someone’s partner is unfaithful. This may well have all started with Jennifer Aniston, who can still barely escape from the ‘Brangelina’ shadow years later. Will she ever be considered in any other way than the dumped woman who can’t find love? I hope so. The classic example is Cheryl Cole – Mr Cole’s sordid exploits generated incredible media sympathy, and led to endless discussions on her weight loss and appearance. Everything she’s achieved since has been viewed as ‘one in the eye’ for Ashley. What else could a girl do? If she’d crumpled, put on 3 stone and gone grey overnight, that would’ve been it. You can’t deny it. I saw this post the other day:

She may have been screwed over by the man she loves, but at least she’s still wearing a fabulous lipstick!! Phew!

Dangerous:

Key words: seductive, provocative, enticing, inviting
Most likely to be photographed… in very few clothes

Uh oh. Enter: Imogen Thomas et al. These ‘homewreckers’ are demons of the first degree, apparently. Women without morals who eat men for breakfast, they are that end of the madonna-whore spectrum. Most women foolish enough to have flings with married footballers are lumped into this category, a category which entitles the media to speculate about the variety of one’s sexual partners, often conveniently forgetting that it takes two to tango…

SEX-HUNGRY, no less.

See? Sexual liberation has a lot to answer for. It’s also insulting to men, suggesting that some women’s sexual magnetism is so great it unzips their trousers for them. And gay women get a look in – later the article suggests RL has had flings with women too, as proof of her ‘depravity’.

NB: Angelina Jolie has managed to dodge this particular bullet; the fact she ‘broke up’ Hollywood’s golden couple has been neutralised with her charity work and love of adoption. Plus, you know: she gave Brad children, so job done.

The Passive Sense

I know you don’t need me to lay it on any thicker than that, so I’ll put the trowel down. I’m sure you’re also aware that male stereotypes exist (which certain Premiership footballers seem determined to perpetuate): the laddish moneybags, the ageing and sleazy lotharios, the ‘date em and dump em’ Hollywood bad boys. What I can’t stand is the passivity of the female clichés. Look at the vocab: fulfilled, crushed, gutted – these are things that are done to a person. The Dangerous Dames, who actively lure men away from wives and families, are an exception, and their very activeness is used more as an excuse for male infidelity.

And, as usual, sexuality and power are conflated, and either either stifled or over-blown.

"What do you mean, there's no 'Middle Ground Bubblebath'?!"

How do you feel about images of women in the media?

And what other stereotypes do we need to get rid of?

 

This post is one of a series of monthly posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers.
Read the other ‘Women in the Media and Popular Culture’ posts here.
Join the discussion in the Google group here.

What Have the Feminist Fashion Bloggers Been up to?

The Circus, 1870-1950 by TASCHEN

Edited by Franca from Oranges and Apples.

In a new series on Feminist Fashion Bloggers, we are compiling posts that weren’t produced as part of the FFB themes/topic prompts, but sit along the intersection of fashion, body image and feminism. Some but not all the posts were written by FFB members, and some were put forward by the authors, while some were nominated by others.

The range of the various posts is wide ranging and thought provoking as usual! There’s posts about the socially accepted rules of dressing, including dressing to hide one’s perceived flaws, dressing sexily, dressing modestly, dressing at costuming events, dressing while pregnant, the perennial problem with the phrase ‘real women’, perceptions of fat people and tattoos and Niqabs, and girls’ desire for Barbies.

Enjoy!

The Alt Librarian“You Were So Pretty Before”: Gender and its Implications within Modern American Tattoo Culture (submitted by Millie of Interrobangs Anonymous)

Beauty SchooledEnough with the fat hate (submitted by Autumn at the Beheld)

The BeheldMy First Barbie (submitted by Mrs Bossa)

Decoding DressFiguring out Sexy Part 1 and Part 2 (nominated by Autumn at the Beheld)

Hugo Schwyzer“Your body is not so powerful it can drive others to distraction”: a letter to a teenage girl about clothing, modesty, and Slutwalk (submitted by the Beheld – and again by Franca)

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of careImperfections

Mrs. Bossa Does the DoDressing for your shape part 1, part 2 and part 3 (submitted by finder extraordinaire of many great reads Autumn at the Beheld)

Tea and FeathersAll together now: we are all real (submitted by Sadie at Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care)

One Techies Search for Something Resembling StyleFollow Up: Feminism and the Slave Leia Costume

Oranges and ApplesDressing Pregnant Bodies

Lids, Sewn ShutNiqab: Just a piece of cloth (submitted by Millie of Interrobangs Anonymous)

Holiday Identities: time to experiment!

It’s guest post time on Mrs Bossa Does the Do, as part of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers network. This excellent post is written by Millie of Interrobangs Anonymous – head over there to read my post. And remember to visit the FFB blog to read the posts by my fellow fashionable feministas!

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So Mrs. Bossa and I are both writing about holiday identities, using this paper called “It’s like Planet Holiday: Women’s Dressed Self-presentation on Holiday” as a starting point.  There’s a lot of ground covered in the paper, and there’s a lot of directions I could take a discussion of it.  But one of the most persistent sentiments underpinning the interviewed women’s experiences was the erasure or absolution of guilt associated with constructing a holiday identity.

I could definitely go for some beach time right about now.

It’s not surprising to me that the various interviewed women all described constructing a modified, often bolder and less restrained, identity for use while they’re on holiday; I often find myself doing the same thing when I’m, say, in an unusual city where I don’t expect to meet anyone I pass on the street again.  I’m less concerned about how I appear, because I am confident that anyone’s judgment or opinion of me is fleeting and won’t follow me home.  Holidaying offers this same anonymity:  the vacationer will not see the vast majority of the people she (here, all the interviewees were women) again, and so any impression they have for her will not impact her significantly beyond her holiday.  I am surprised at how freeing women found building this identity (and the wardrobe used to communicate it), and how unencumbered they felt doing all the prep work for it.

These women recount putting a lot of effort into their holiday images:  they carefully build a day and night wardrobe by shopping and borrowing, they go tanning, they try to lose weight, they shave or wax, get their hair and sometimes nails done… and throughout the article there’s no indication that they feel resentful about this work.  It’s framed as a luxury or a treat much moreso than it is an obligation, even though many of the women say this work is to a large degree necessary for them to fully enjoy their holiday.  Contrast that with the everyday up-keep work that many women do:  much of that same work that in the context of a holiday is freeing and enjoyable becomes tiresome and irritating in an everyday context.  There’s no guilt attached to any of it either — no guilt about taking time to do this prep work, or spending money on it.  As someone who feels vaguely embarrassed about spending time fiddling with her hair, or applying makeup, or much of any feminine-coded bodily upkeep, having a context to justify my work helps me feel less embarrassed about doing it.

At the same time, though, the emphasis on prep work is foreign to me.  I’ve never gone on a formal beach-y holiday, but I can’t envision myself spending much money on creating a new, temporary identity.  I understand wanting to use the opportunity of being away from your usual social environment to explore and experiment away from judgment or social memory, but things like spending time go tanning in preparation for going to a beach and getting your hair coloured (when it’ll get bleached by the sun and salt) seem like futile endeavours — the end result will be eroded by the fact that you’re out in the sun all day.  Buying clothes for a trip, with no lasting intention to wear them afterwards, seems wasteful;  I’m more likely to work what I’ve got in different ways, or borrow, or maybe buy one or two things cheaply to test the waters.  I understand better the women interviewed who went on holiday in preparation for a revamping of their wardrobes/identities — the holiday served as a testing ground in a very tangible sense, and the constructed identity was extended almost completely into their everyday lives.  Maybe the other women took pieces of their constructed identity back into their everyday lives afterward too, but I didn’t see anything in the paper about that so I can’t say one way or another.

Now why can I never find something along this line in a brick-and-mortar store? Bathing suits are not something you can reliably judge how it'll fit and look on you just by a picture.

 

I was surprised that the article didn’t talk more about bathing suit shopping, since that’s socially constructed to be a Big Deal.  Bathing suits are a pivotal piece of clothing around which beach attire (and thus identity) is centred, and yet these women mention it in passing but don’t dwell on it or talk about any extra stresses they had finding a bathing suit that fit and made them feel good.  As someone who struggles to find a bathing suit that fits, let along one that makes me feel good, I’m pleasantly surprised at this.  This complete lack of self-deprecating talk and internal body-shame was heartening, because that’s not what we as a society tend to see in either popular culture or our own lives (or at least my life).  We get bombarded with the message that we’re inadequate, that our bodies are insufficiently sexy to be scantily clothed in public, and that we should be ashamed that we don’t live up to this unattainable ideal.  The twenty or so women in this study didn’t buy into that, or if they did, they didn’t talk about it to the researchers, or the researchers didn’t talk about it in the paper.

And that’s really the point I took from this — these women took a potential minefield of body negativity and talked about it in very positive ways.  They saw their holidays as transformative, and the work they put into their holidays as relaxing and fun rather than compulsory (even though they often said that the holiday wasn’t worth having without having done all that work).

So, what’s your take on this?  How do you prepare for a holiday, and do you feel free to play with your wardrobe while you’re there?  If you do, does that translate into your everyday life when you return?


Ladies in (the) Red.

Today I’m wearing…red – for those ‘in the red’.



Yesterday was ‘Equal Pay Day’ in the States – the day that symbolises how far into 2011 women have to work to earn what men earned by the end of 2010. Here in the UK it is in November, highlighting the fact that, because of the pay gap, women are in effect not paid for the last two months of the year. And people claim there is no longer a need for feminism…

 

 

It’s common on both sides of the pond to ‘wear red for those in the red’, as well as in other parts of the world (see New Zealand, above). Of course, red has also been used to raise awareness of heart disease, AIDS, and more recently the events in Japan, but personally, I’m quite pleased that a colour so significant for women – and one so sexually loaded – is worn to highlight the pay gap.



The media happily tells us that ‘men prefer women in red‘ because of its associations with sex, even a signal of some basic biological impulse. On Valentine’s Day shops are awash with red, from cute cards to raunchy underwear. That aside, red has always been one of my favourite colours to wear. As a child, many people told me I couldn’t wear it because of my red hair, an rule I happily ignored. I love its associations with glamour and power, boldness and dynamism.

 

Red as liberation?
A few months ago I read an article called Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth. In it Dr Elaine Webster (aka ‘Dr Frock’) interviewed numerous people, discovering that many linked red shoes with sin, prostitution and illicit sex, as you’d expect. Some also associated red shoes with dance, perhaps symbolising freedom …or even just as a means of injecting a ‘bit of colour’, which she suggests, is a “metaphor for an enriched life”. Appealing, no? Red in this sense is a vital colour, suggesting choice, sexuality and a strong identity. And let’s not forget the Ruby Slippers, shoes that enable the wearer to both escape and return home…

 

Red as a restriction…

By contrast, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, women are denied their sexuality and an escape route. Women who have been chosen for childbearing are dressed entirely in red, with a white headdress which literally and metaphorically limits their vision. In one section, Offred, the main character contrasts the old and new connotations of the red clothing that form part of her imposed ‘uniform’ – once associated with dancing, red clothing has been easily transformed into symbols of women’s function:

 

Gilda pulls the gloves off, Offred pulls em on.

Red has many other interpretations, of course: it’s a warning, a sign of courage, virility, vitality and anger. But in this case, it signifies debt. It ain’t all about the clothes! If you’re a UK citizen, go to the Fawcett Society website to find out how you can do your bit to help close the pay gap. US citizens, try the Pay Equity site. We need to keep fighting this.

What does red mean to you?

Did you wear red for those in the red?


References

Atwood, Margaret, (1996) The Handmaid’s Tale, Vintage Classics: London

Webster, Elaine. “Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth.” Textile 7.2 (2009): 164-77. Art Full Text. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.



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This post is one of a series of monthly posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers.

Click here to read the other posts.

Click here to join the discussion in the Google group.

 

Reflections.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #56, 1980

Picture the scene: an art gallery in central Germany. A 17 year-old girl in skater gear stands admiring an intricate textile piece. Then she realises it’s an embroidered pornographic image. She blushes. She never forgets it.

Such was my introduction to feminism. Ghada Amer’s controversial pieces made me realise not only that I felt strongly about pornography, but also that I too wanted to reclaim traditionally ‘female’ pursuits and use them to dramatic effect. I got the message about the ‘male gaze’ right there, and realised I wasn’t happy about it. By the time I’d turned 18, I’d covered myself in paint and made imprints of my body on perspex. I wanted to be an active participant – not a passive role-player.

Ghada Amer – don’t look too closely…               [source]


Fast forward a decade: I’m writing a fashion blog, and am also an active member of a local feminist group. I start to feel…well, a bit weird that I’m writing posts about ‘the 12 best winter hats’ in the same week as a letter to my MP about lapdancing clubs. I figure: there must be some way that these two parts of myself can co-exist, online and everything? And what do you know? I was right.
With the Feminist Fashion Bloggers, we set out to write a batch of posts on fashion and feminism for Women’s History Month, and I don’t think anyone was prepared for what surfaced. Between us we covered everything from modelling to Marxism, body-image to beauty icons, stereotyping to slave Leia costumes to soldering in heels. As individuals writing about the fashion/feminism crossover, we contributed to the wild array of topics and opinions, made an impact in the blogging world, gained new readers and discovered new  blogs. But for me, when 40 bloggers participated in March 16th group event, our thoughts became an inspiring collective voice. I ain’t gonna lie to you, folks – I felt so excited that day.
So what has this project taught me? I’ve learnt that whether you want your fashion/feminism funny or gritty, subtle or meaty…you’ve got it. I’ve learnt that there are tons of fashion bloggers who aren’t afraid to align themselves with another ‘f word’…and some who ferociously and unashamedly wear it on their sleeves. I’ve learnt that however different our views may be, there are at least 70 women who want feminism and fashion on the agenda, who want to discuss feminism in line with their other passions and are fired up enough to keep the conversation going. We’re not done yet.
Back in January, the fabulous Citizen Rosebud asked: “where are the feminist fashion bloggers?” Two months on, I think we can all join together in saying, “Here we are.”
Have you been reading Feminist Fashion Bloggers posts?
How do you feel about the recent fashion-feminism mash-up?!

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This is the last part of the series of posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers for Women’s History Month.
Click here to read the other submissions on the new FFB blog.
And click here to join the discussion in the Google group.


Friend Friday: Wearing Your Beliefs on Your Sleeve.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about links between fashion and other social issues. I for one am glad these discussions are being had – we don’t blog about fashion in a bubble, and I think it’s thrilling to see what a  statement we can make when we band together. This week’s Friend Friday asks: where do our (feminist) beliefs fit into our wardrobe? Read more Friend Friday posts here.




Do you think there is an incompatibility between feminism and a love for fashion?
There shouldn’t be! There seem to be some daft and pervasive ideas that the ‘frivolity’ of fashion undermines the seriousness of feminism. I think you can support equal pay and wear high heels, just as I think you should be able to wear your own clothes without being harassed. Fashion as an industry has quite rightly been called into question for its role in important social issues, such as low self-esteem in young women and exploitation of women workers, and these are questions that still need to be addressed. But as fashion-loving or fashion-conscious feminists, we are in the perfect position to raise awareness of these issues and speak out when we disagree. Let’s move on from tired old stereotypes and take this thing forward!

FFB’s Feminist Fashion icons – proof the two can co-exist.                                  By Franca.


With the fashion industry still being a male-dominated profession, how do you think it would differ if women played a larger role?
When the power players of the industry, ie Queen Viv and Miuccia Prada refuse to identify as feminists, it’s hard to say! There’s no denying that female designers have played an increasingly significant role in the last couple of years, Phoebe Philo’s role in the ‘new minimalism’ being an obvious example, and Donatella Versace aside, there is a case for women’s designs heralding en era of less obvious sexuality. Male style blogger Arash Mazinani recently wrote a post about male designers ‘bringing the sexy back’, and while there’s no denying that Tom Ford et al produce some seriously hot clothes, I’m happy to get less of that on a plate – I’m more interested in clothes that are designed with the wearer in mind.

Marni AW11 – my kind of sexy.





How is your self-image and the way you carry yourself informed by your beliefs?

I’ve gone from hiding myself in sweatshirts to emulating fifties filmstars and back again, in line with my developing opinions. I discussed my ambivalent feelings in a recent post, so I’ll quote it here:

Do you think clothing/makeup/hair helps communicate the truth about yourself or are those things superfluous add-ons?

I don’t think they are add-ons as much as extensions, or in some cases – let’s be honest here – enhancements. I certainly don’t advocate buying into a ‘stereotype’ (see my post on Girl Tribes!) but think the beauty of fashion is that it gives us chance to show various ‘truths’ about ourselves; the chance to experiment with colour and silhouette is a fun and creative process. 

Fascinators: fun…and not just for weddings.

There is more to each of us than a love for fashion, how do you incorporate every aspect of yourself into your blog?
I think that comes over time. I felt uncomfortable ‘leaving out’ my feminist beliefs, but with questions like this and the newly-established Feminist Fashion Bloggers I feel I am now bridging that gap and hitting my stride. That said, I don’t think there’s any need to incorporate every aspect of yourself. I once likened the blogging world to a big social event, and I believe that analogy holds: it’s up to you how much of yourself you want to present to the world. Keep the rest under your hat – you’re entitled.




How do your beliefs colour your wardrobe?