‘Fashion’ is an interesting subject, something that draws young and even powerful minds and hearts across the globe, and shapes the imaginations and ambitions of an entire industry and people who wish to enter it. As such, it must also have to bear on sexism and the dynamics of the genders, as do most things of consequence in the world.
The Problem of ‘Fancy Clothes’
One part of fashion is clothes. Since time immemorial, clothes aimed at ‘slimming’ women down has been the norm, with slim, small female bodies, which are also powerless, being endorsed by this industry as being the gold standard. However, the fine print most people miss is that these clothes are painful for women to wear, and smaller bodies play into the narrative of weak little things that won’t be able to resist attacks made on them.
Women’s clothing that encourage fat-phobia and celebrates thin bodies are essentially grooming women to be passive actors in society that will take harm done unto them. Also, ‘high fashion’ clothes, those displayed on ramps by top brands and then slapped onto paid female celebrities, are often cumbersome and restrictive, discouraging participation in hectic daily activities or sports with ease by women, and also making it impossible for them to flee if they have their bodies attacked. When an industry as influential as one comprising Dior and Louis Vuitton thinks this is ‘model’ wear, we cannot help but be left disappointed at the impracticality and sexism of it all.
Women’s clothing that encourage fat-phobia and celebrates thin bodies are essentially grooming women to be passive actors in society that will take harm done unto them. Also, ‘high fashion’ clothes, those displayed on ramps by top brands and then slapped onto paid female celebrities, are often cumbersome and restrictive, discouraging participation in hectic daily activities or sports with ease by women.
Accessories are a whole different ball game. Heeled shoes are as restrictive and painful as are tight tops and dresses that are suffocating. And most of these things were created and admired in a world dominated by the male gaze, to make women into weak and passive ‘eye candies’ – heels were just invented to make women’s posteriors look bigger, at the cost of the health of their feet.
In contrast to the comfortable shoes and suits that are the norm for men, the large and convenient pockets in their jeans, the schoolbags or suitcases they carry in contrast to small and strappy women’s handbags – it sometimes feels like women’s garments were created and popularised in a male world not only to beautify women, but also to harm, punish and maim their bodies.
Beauty Treatments – Few Other Things Are So Painful
Endorsed by the fashion industry and top models, females are encouraged to wax, thread and lift eyebrows (as seen on female superstars and opinion-shapers in turn controlled by big money, often male, behind them), while male models and stars often appear un-waxed, hairy, natural, admirable. And few body enhancements are as painful as a combination of hot wax skinning you and then a sheaf of paper drawing out your body hair from the follicles – in short, waxing.
Something that is often expected of women by default, but men hardly ever think about. Women are also much more into cosmetic surgery than men, going under a knife that could disfigure their bodies and lives forever in a quest to fit in a society that tells them their looks are their worth, and the good look is the young one. Even then, they are discarded on whim after their 30’s from the spotlight in the glamour world, but older looking heroes like George Clooney continue to be evergreen. The underlying message sent here is that women are powerless accessories to richer and more powerful men, and are useful only till they can produce offspring.
Also read: Queering Fashion: Indian Fashion Industry Is Rejecting Gender Binary
And with the tremendous pain brought on by some procedures women have to go through to emulate ‘fertile’ and ‘healthy’ bodies, putting themselves on diets and going through waxes and threads due to countless cues in society that tell them this is their bare minimum duty, one cannot help but note the punitive function creeping in again. One wonders what would happen if men had to wax or thread or starve on compulsion – probably worldwide meetings would have been called! But ah, woman. She suffers all in peace in society.
And with the tremendous pain brought on by some procedures women have to go through to emulate ‘fertile’ and ‘healthy’ bodies, putting themselves on diets and going through waxes and threads due to countless cues in society that tell them this is their bare minimum duty, one cannot help but note the punitive function creeping in again.
Tattoos are the other trend wherein women alter themselves in greater numbers than men. As tattoos frequently serve as tools for self-expression, and trauma and sexual assault survivors take to them very often, it comes as little surprise that this ‘fashion’ trend is more observed in the half of the population that gets sexually harassed in numbers that would make blood run cold.
Body Language is Also Fashion
The fashion world consciously and subconsciously lays out rules for how women, men and everyone else should act in public. As such, soft voices (a la Marilyn Monroe) and small bodies on women being the ‘revered’ norm connotes that women are liked by the world powerless, unassertive and docile, even in a culture that often sides against empathy. Practically painful poses like the “Wintour Pretzel” are endorsed for women by fashion legends like Vogue editor Anna Wintour, while men take up a lot more space, sitting large and comfortable, even when accompanying women much more successful than them, as seen in this picture of an interview of musicians John Mayer (net worth USD 40 million) and his then-partner Katy Perry (net worth USD 350 million):
All this seems to say to women: be small. Disappear.
The Real Danger of the Messages of ‘Fashion’ – and Implications For Mental Health
Apart from the above messages of confinement or passivity for women through fashion, the fashion industry sends out plenty of toxic signals to women, and men. The season’s most fashionable clothes are often not available for plus size women, sending out messages of non-acceptance to them. (In a blow to the patriarchy, however, Rihanna’s lingerie line has recently been beating out Victoria’s Secret). Fashion is a dangerous breeding ground for demanding conformity and homogeneity, as evident in almost all fashion sites advising women of all shapes to go for the “hourglass figure”.
Also, the word ‘fashion’ itself has a sense of setting trends of behaviour and attractiveness, and one of its literal meanings is “a manner of doing something”. If the normal manner of conducting oneself in public is being small and pained for women, and being natural and assertive for men, that leads to acceptance and reverence of misogyny in both women’s and men’s minds.
Fashion today has its own ills and pains, and as always, most of them are aimed at or propagated over the body of the female. I credit most of my understanding of this issue to Naomi Wolf’s book, “The Beauty Myth” that hugely changed my outlook on the world of trends, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.
Also read: The Ugly Truths Of Fast Fashion And My Journey With Ecofeminism
While taking up swords to combat the malaise the fashion world entails, as we must, we should also keep in mind that the fashion industry endorses beauty and glamour – we must strive to let those virtues shine through our souls instead of bodies.
Featured Image Source: The Jakarta Post