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.
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.
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?