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Let's Talk Girls, Fashion, and Feminism

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 02:05 pm
I just threw a Project Runway-themed party for a bunch of 10- and 11-year old girls.

As far as I can tell they had a blast. I provided raw materials (mostly cheap plastic tablecoverings and seven different types of Duck tape) and they created outfits for each other and then did a runway show and were judged by Heidi Klum (my husband in a blonde wig).

Heidi Klum was a little extra goofiness and thematicness, my husband didn't really do the judging, I took notes and told him what to say.

Still, he was a little uncomfortable in a way I hadn't really foreseen. To me, this was a bunch of girls being creative (and they were super-creative! I was so impressed) and I was looking at what they had made, which they happened to be wearing. He wasn't completely comfortable with the whole model walk/ strike a pose thing, plus several of the outfits were short/ tight/ etc.

This all got me thinking of various semi-random things:

- I didn't want them to do makeup for the show, which would've been thematic but a) we didn't have time and b) it seemed too "grown-up." Why was I comfortable with "fancy" clothes but not makeup?

- I didn't want them wearing high heels. What makes heels different from the rest of it?

- My daughter was recently asked by an adult acquaintance, in jest, "are you smart or are you beautiful?" He thought he was paying her a compliment, and it was taken in that spirit, but the dichotomy has kind of stuck in my head.

- Is it shallow and anti-feminist to be very interested in fashion? Why or why not? Is some fashion more feminist than other fashion? If so, what's the dividing line?

Kind of all over the map, but... what do you think?
 
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 02:11 pm
@sozobe,
Quote:
My daughter was recently asked by an adult acquaintance, in jest, "are you smart or are you beautiful?" He thought he was paying her a compliment, and it was taken in that spirit, but the dichotomy has kind of stuck in my head.
Doubtful that she/he meant to imply that a girl can not be both, more likely he/she was thinking that for a female to be successful in life she needs to be either smart or beautiful or both....she/he was asking if your daughter has what it takes.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 03:39 pm
@sozobe,
For the issue of fashion in general, i think that's a non-starter. To put it in a different perspective, at various times in the history of Europeans, fashion has been very important--to men. That means your ordinary, look-at-me-the-wrong-way-and-i'll-cut-your-heart-out men.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d8/Gillesderais1835.jpg/220px-Gillesderais1835.jpg

Gilles de Raïs was a famous warrior and general at the end of the Hundred Years War, and a companion of Joan of Arc. Modern scholars are also certain that he was a serial killer. As he aged and his hair turned gray, he dyed his beard and hair blue--although there is a great deal of dispute about who the "real" Bluebeard was, many think it was de Raïs. Although this was the only portrait i could find, he was also famous as a "clothes horse," who set fashions, rather than following them.

http://www.storiain.net/arret/num60/borgi601.jpg

Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, was famous for his vanity, his fine clothes, his courage in battle and his cruelty. I'm sure everyone will recall his sister Lucretia.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_xPFxR-OvwJs/THhJOP7tW0I/AAAAAAAAAPo/R2kAL-4VrDg/s400/Francis+I+King+of+France.jpg

François 1ere (Francis I) was also a very vain man, a warrior and reputedly very cruel in battle.

http://www.artsunlight.com/NN/N-D0015/N-D0015-193-mountjoy-blount-st-earl-of-newport-george-goring-baron-goring.jpg

These two men, Mountjoy Blount, Earl of Newport, and George, Baron Goring, were both fighting men, generals who served King Charles in the first civil war in England in the 1640s.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Alexleslie.jpg

Alexander Leslie fought on the other side--his lace was an important fashion statement which advertised his wealth and social position.

http://a1reproductions.com/william-ii-prince-of-orange-and-princess-henrietta-mary-stuart-daughter-of-charles-i-of-england-by-sir-anthony-van-dyck.jpg

Mary Stuart (the King's daughter) and William, Prince of Orange were the parents of the William of Orange who became King William III of England. This protrait by Anthony van Dyck was painted on the occasion of their engagement.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-pG0zZpY1qzQ/TefXCJjDTpI/AAAAAAAAEDo/wdP-wiG03Fs/s1600/1.jpg

King Louis XIV of France kept Europe in turmoil for about the last 45 years of his life, going to war with nearly every neighboring nation, except Spain, which he hoped to hand over to his grandson.

For all of these men, fashion was very important. Men like Louis XIV and Cesare Borgia were fashion trend setters. All of these men considered that clothing made the man, especially because, as i've said, it advertised one's wealth and social standing. We happen to live in a time when men's fashion is not as important as it once was. Throughout the middle ages, sumptuary laws prohibited people of the lower classses from wearing the furs, silks, brocades, satins and velvets with which powerful men and women advertised their status.
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 03:44 pm
http://www.britishbattles.com/waterloo/images/trafalgar/nelson-post-captain.jpg

This is an early portrait of Horatio Nelson, in the uniform of a post captain in the Royal Navy. When going into battle, or assembling on the quarterdeck to witness punishment (floggings), it was de rigeur to wear one's best uniform, as a tribute to the enemy or the man who was about to be punished. Although in Nelson's lifetime "Hessian boots" became a naval fashion, most officers continued to wear knee-length silk hose, one of the reasons being that it would be easier for the surgeon to cut away if he needed to amputate a leg.
engineer
 
  3  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 03:56 pm
@sozobe,
I think if they are dressing up because they want to dress up and look great, more power to them. I think if they are doing it to meet someone else's expectations of how they are supposed to look then it's not so good.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 05:24 pm
@engineer,
Interesting! I like that distinction.

The question of "looking great" is so fraught, though. Who decides what looks great?

And lovely selection of photos + info, thanks Set.

Hawkeye, no, that wasn't really the context. He'd already made it clear that he thought she was very pretty, and then he said that after she'd said something to him in a very mature/ intelligent way. In context it was something like, "I already know you're pretty, now I find out you're smart too."

But the "or" was still interesting. He was purposefully teasing/ discomfiting her (he knew she wouldn't want to say "both" and seemed curious about how she'd react), but it does seem like it's a dichotomy that we see a lot of.

It had come up recently too because C, one of sozlet's closest friends, is very smart and embraces the nerd label wholeheartedly. As it happens she's very pretty, but she's actively rejecting that. She wears big t-shirts and nondescript jeans everyday, barely washes her hair, pulls it back in a sloppy ponytail, etc. She was NOT enthused about the party theme but ended up putting together something really creative and having fun with it.

She moved here from another district a couple of years ago and purposely changed her identity here. In the old district she was "popular" and she felt like too many people were trying to become friends with her because of the pretty/ popular thing rather than who she is on a more fundamental level.

Sozlet, at this point, doesn't want any part of the dichotomy -- she loves fashion and she's not worried about showing her smarts.
Questioner
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 05:48 pm
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:

- I didn't want them to do makeup for the show, which would've been thematic but a) we didn't have time and b) it seemed too "grown-up." Why was I comfortable with "fancy" clothes but not makeup?


It's a preference, no doubt. It's been my limited experience that the addition of makeup to an ensemble is done when you want to impress people or hide what you consider to be blemishes. I can easily see how a parent would be hesitant about their daughter starting to show any type of concern about either of those two issues.


Quote:
-My daughter was recently asked by an adult acquaintance, in jest, "are you smart or are you beautiful?" He thought he was paying her a compliment, and it was taken in that spirit, but the dichotomy has kind of stuck in my head.

Jesting or not, that sort of comment just shows how recent the actual realization of women's liberties occurred. That it still comes to mind so innocently shows how far we still have to go as a society.

Quote:
- Is it shallow and anti-feminist to be very interested in fashion? Why or why not? Is some fashion more feminist than other fashion? If so, what's the dividing line?

Not at all. I'm married to a very strong-willed and intelligent woman, which was what attracted me to her in the first place. My wife has a mind and she expresses it as she pleases. She dresses how she wishes to dress and she enjoys what she wishes to enjoy. One of the things she enjoys doing is knitting.

It has nothing to do with her being a 'little woman' nor is she at all nervous about justifying someone Else's stereotype. She just happens to enjoy knitting when she's not producing scholarly papers for various journals at her university.

I ramble, but hopefully some of that made sense.

engineer
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 06:35 pm
@sozobe,
Here's a quote from long ago by Jon Wertheim, the tennis writer for Sports Illustrated. In his mailbag column, a writer asked about a layout in GQ magazine where young, foreign B-level tennis stars were shown mostly nude in erotic poses. Here are his comments. They aren't pertinent to 11 year old girls, but maybe more to the issue in general.

Jon Wertheim, 2002 wrote:
Regarding the "soft porn" photo spread (as you put it) in this month's GQ: Is Daniela Hantuchova lying to us when she repeatedly claims that her tennis is all that matters, only to do photos like this? Or, as your comments insinuate, is someone higher up in the WTA-- or, God forbid, managers or agents -- pushing players to parade in front of the cameras in this way? If someone at the WTA is in charge of this, questions need to be raised about the tour's promotional tactics and sense of morality. We all know that sex sells, but the WTA had made a point, pre-Anna Kournikova, of not doing so this blatantly. What's the deal?
—Andrew Keith, Cincinnati

Amen.

The WTA Tour's fingerprints are all over this (perhaps that's an unfortunate choice of words). The tour has, unrepentantly, chosen to peddle the sex appeal of its players, and lately hands were being wrung over who could replace the desultory Kournikova (see: Popova, Simonya). To the WTA braintrust, the GQ photo shoot was a great coup. Here are three more young faces to make sure women's tennis still rates in the babe department. (Some of us in the media were even given a breathless heads-up from WTA HQ that a salacious spread was forthcoming.) Rest assured the players' agents were in on this, too. Suffice to say, magazines aren't going directly to players and convincing them to pose nude on the backs of large mammals.

This subject is ripe for healthy debate. When female athletes pose in various states of undress or underscore their sexuality in other ways, are they empowered? Or are they being exploited? The simple answer is that it's about taste, context and packaging. If in winning her third straight Grand Slam Serena Williams wears a Lycra catsuit on the court that accentuates her form, that's great. If Brandi ("I ran my ass off for this body") Chastain wants to pose naked with a strategically placed soccer ball prior to the World Cup, good for her. If swimmer Jenny Thompson wants to pose topless in Sports Illustrated, flexing her muscles, the photo accompanied by a glowing 2,000-word article about her athletic achievements, more power to her. If Kournikova wants to vamp on the cover of a magazine, and a lengthy article on the inside extols her tennis, so be it.

To issue a blanket condemnation is to end up sounding like the village scold or some moralizing Dr. Laura. Let's also be realistic and acknowledge that if the women posed only in starched linens for tennis-specific magazines, the sport would have the popularity and appeal of the LPGA Tour. The critical question: Is the subject ultimately being portrayed as an athlete or as a sex kitten?

In the latest GQ, the answer is obvious. As the breathless cover blurb "Three Eastern Bloc Hotties Who'll Make You Forget Anna What's-her-name?" would suggest, this is 100 percent cheesecake. Visually, nothing in the spread indicates that these are elite athletes, much less tennis players. Myskina is naked on a horse -- a horse, we're told, that became visibly excited when she hopped aboard. Hantuchova is in a post-coitus pose, her hands behind her head, her legs spread. Elena Dementieva is giving us a glimpse of her panties, one of her hands inexplicably bound. This has nothing to do with celebrating the human form or posing subjects artistically; this is simply (hyper)sexualizing the women in question (and providing fodder for onanists everywhere).

We also have the matter of "informed consent." Chastain was 30, a wife and a stepmom, when she posed naked. Thompson was in her late 20s, a Stanford graduate headed to med school. When, for that matter, a Jason Sehorn poses in his underwear for a Jockey ad, he does so as a thirtysomething married man. Hard to make the case they didn't know what they were getting into. Anyone who has dealt with the three "Eastern Bloc Hotties" in question has to wonder whether they understood the implications of what they were doing. Mary Carillo recently said that Hantuchova is "totally clueless" that she is being marketed as a sex object. And Carillo is right. You have an icky feeling that the three players (none over 21, none raised in the U.S.) were sweet-talked by tour operatives and simply thought this was an easy way to fulfill one of their dreaded Aces obligations. (An aside: When the tour oversees photo shoots of players showing undergarments and laying naked atop horses, can it really be shocked that the sport has a problem with stalkers?)

Perhaps above all, pictorials like this have the effect of trivializing women's tennis and minimizing the achievements of the players. I was a guest on a radio show the other day and a caller phoned in to ask "if that chick who was naked on the horse has a wild reputation." It's a shame that the caller didn't know Myskina's name or care about her tennis abilities, especially since she likely will finish the year in the top 10. It's a worse shame that the WTA Tour is complicit in this.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 07:12 pm
I pretty much don't get any of this.

(oh, look, more to read)
0 Replies
 
roger
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 07:12 pm
Someone once dumped a box of books on me instead of making a trip to Goodwill. Most, I tossed. There was one titled How to be a Girl, or something like that. It even included less obvious ones like "Never was your food down with a beverage. It leaves unsightly food particles on the rim of the glass". I thought "My God, they are in training for this girl stuff their whole lives." And they are, even if they don't study it in books.

I knew that particular girl as an adult, and it didn't seem to have hurt her, but it's hard to trust 'em after reading all that stuff. They seem so natural about it all, but they've been studying.
ossobuco
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 07:44 pm
@sozobe,
Who decides the right kids have to look great and concoct costumes?

I'm increasingly put off by this.
You spend fair parts of a year working up costumes with your daughter, Soz.
I have admired you all the way.
But mostly by now I'm not getting it. What is this about?
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 07:55 pm
@ossobuco,
It's nothing specific.

It was something I was turning around in my head, in a way that sometimes leads to interesting discussions on A2K.

I don't have a thesis, it's open-ended.

Interesting posts, Questioner and Engineer.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 08:10 pm
@sozobe,
I'm probably biased and will read back, but I'm having a reactive episode.

When I was eleven we talked at our parties, thus my conservative view on theatricals, but probably I haven't been paying attention re what this is all about.
This is a function of my not experiencing recent parties of eleven year olds.

What are you doing, Soz?

ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 08:42 pm
@ossobuco,
I don't mean to be very hostile, but I really don't get the whole costume thing for holidays and parties and I figure that some other people don't either.
Some do.
How about starting a small theater?

aidan
 
  2  
Reply Tue 15 Nov, 2011 11:53 pm
This very subject has been a source of conflict and learning for me in my relationship with my daughter has she's gotten older, in that she and I approach it very differently.

I'm a natural type - don't do manicures or make-up very often or very much. I do like clothes, shopping, etc...but not sexy stuff. I'd be more excited about a pair of new and comfortable Doc Martens than a pair of highheels - which in fact- I've never worn aside from my wedding day.

Okay, and then I have this daughter who from the age of two or three was standing in front of mirrors pretending to put on necklaces and earrings and lipstick. She used to say to me in her little toddlers voice, 'Let's polish our fingernails mommy,' and I'd have played along except that I didn't HAVE any fingernail polish in the house. The last wedding I went to, I had to borrow make-up from my daughter - I didn't own any and didn't have time to go to the store.

She watches all the project runway and America's next top model stuff on tv. I can't be bothered. I mean, I appreciate the creativity evidenced but I absolutely hate the histrionics that accompany what to me seems a very uninimportant focus or endeavor in the scheme of things like child poverty and neglect etc.

So, yeah - I do always sort of struggle with letting my daughter and her friends just be who they are without judging. I TRY not to judge, but inwardly I do. They've all seemed to have chosen fashion and looks. Not that they're not smart, but they seem to place more importance on wanting to look good than seem smart.

I think there's a balance. I mean, I'm glad most people don't seem to consider me ugly- being considered attractive DOES bestow a sort of power on a woman - that can't be denied. And I DO enjoy feeling that I look nice - but I don't get suppressing and perhaps sacrificing other aspects of life to ALWAYS focus on looking good.

Maybe it's that these girls are constantly posing for pictures and we didn't have to do that.
But yeah - I find it sort of frustrating and sad. I wish I never had to look at another picture of a teen-age girl in a tight dress sticking her tongue out and licking another girl's face.
I'd rather see them out rock-climbing or something.
But I feel judgmental saying that.
firefly
 
  2  
Reply Wed 16 Nov, 2011 02:28 am
@sozobe,
That sounds like a great party, soz, such a fun and creative theme. You have such inventive ideas!

I don't watch Project Runway, but I Googled it to get the general idea of what it was about.
Quote:

- Is it shallow and anti-feminist to be very interested in fashion?

Good Lord, I hope not. I love fashion--clothes, accessories, jewelry--all of it. And the older I've gotten, the more attention I pay to it. I've never been a high fashion dresser, but I think I've always been a careful dresser who pays attention to the little details, and I like looking good, and stylish, and as well turned out as possible. And putting the whole package together, and planning the way I want to look or dress on a particular day, is a creative process I enjoy--it's an expression of myself and my taste. And there are times I dress to make an impression, or to project an image, but an image that I hope really reflects something about me, and sends a message about me in visual terms.
Quote:
Is some fashion more feminist than other fashion?

It has never occurred to me to even connect feminism and fashion in my mind. Fashion is fun, frivolous, part of the costume I face the world in, but nothing I take all that seriously. My fashion sense is decidedly feminine, and I like looking sexy, but when I want to look business-like, or professional, that's the way I look and dress, because I don't want my appearance to distract from my work, or negatively affect how people relate to me, but I still want to look good--as a woman. I don't leave the house without my makeup--to go anywhere--because I just look better with makeup, and I like the way I look with makeup. And I love, love, love jewelry--mainly all kinds of costume jewelry, necklaces of all types, pins, I have a fantastic collection of interesting pins I wear on suit jackets, coats, sometimes a hat, and I feel almost naked without earrings.

Is all of this shallow? Not really, because I view it as a sort of entertainment, it amuses me, I enjoy it. And it's far from my only interest, or my only expression of myself. If this was all that mattered to me, and the externals mattered more than the substance of myself, then I'd be worried.
I just think it's great that women have such enormous variety, in everything, to choose from in adorning themselves--clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves, hairstyles, make-up, colors, patterns. What does a man get to pick out--a shirt, a different tie to wear with the same boring suit? I wish men now dressed like the pictures Setenta posted, then they'd look more interesting too.

All this fashion stuff is the fun part of being a woman, the wrapping on the package. And we all put it together differently, in our own way, so we all look distinct. There isn't one image of a woman that we all have to conform to.

What is feminist fashion anyway? Is there such a thing?










Mame
 
  2  
Reply Wed 16 Nov, 2011 06:20 am
I don't think fashion and being fashionable is shallow. Why do you brush your hair before going out? Why do you buy clothes that fit instead of baggy things? How you present yourself is part of who you are.

Re the kids - I think it's a stage most of us go through. Look at the boys with boxers and baggy saggy pants - it's sort of a uniform, if you know what I mean.

Fashion has always been around, and likely always will. It's just a part of our world. It's a way we can express ourselves. And as long as everything's in balance, I think it's okay and perfectly normal.

I don't think feminism has anything to do with it. Some people are interested more than others, period.

Like firefly, I didn't pay attention to fashion, hair, accessories, etc once I was out of my teens until just recently. Now I have more shoes, earrings, watches, rings, scarves, hats, etc than I can believe. LOL I'm finding it fun now. I don't spend much time on hair and make up (ie I just brush my hair and 5 min or less on make up) because I'm just not that interested, but I do like dressing up from time to time.
spendius
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Nov, 2011 07:17 am
It's just vanity girls. Pure vanity. The Venus of Willendorf is what we want and not a tricked up puppet doll.

Get doffed off darlin' --I like it raw.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Nov, 2011 08:19 am
@ossobuco,
You don't get costumes for Halloween? At this age, or in general?

The party was more about the process than the result -- it was a four-hour party, the runway show was 10 minutes.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Nov, 2011 08:20 am
@aidan,
Aidan, interesting! That's all very much in the same category of what I'm thinking, thanks for picking up on that and expanding.

Quote:
But yeah - I find it sort of frustrating and sad. I wish I never had to look at another picture of a teen-age girl in a tight dress sticking her tongue out and licking another girl's face.
I'd rather see them out rock-climbing or something.
But I feel judgmental saying that.


I know exactly what you mean.
 

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