When waifish, white and wealthy wins

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I used to look at quite a lot of fashion sites and style blogs. While not obsessed, I do have an interest in fashion and the explosion of blogs over the past few years, coupled with the popularity of sites such as Lookbook means that you can spend hours looking at the way 'real people' dress. However these days I'm finding I look at them less and less. It was a while ago now that I started to feel completely uninspired by most of the blogs I was reading, not because they were full of badly-dressed people, or because I'd lost interest in clothes, but because it was difficult to find anything new. Many fashion bloggers are building up an incredibly high profile for themselves now and I've always hoped that this could bring a bit more diversity to the images of style and beauty the industry gives us. An end to - or at least the beginning of the end for - the dominance of the rich, the white, the very young, the very thin and the generally privileged when it comes to clothes and what's considered attractive. But while a variety of bloggers have gained fame and fans on the internet, it seems that the fashion industry is proving resistant to change, preferring to work with those who fit a certain mold and don't deviate from the classic 'model' image we're used to seeing in magazines and on the catwalk.

Fashion bloggers at the Weardrobe NYC Conference earlier this month (image from nyc.weardrobe.com)

In terms of what people on the internet want to see, you can tell nothing has changed simply by looking at the highest-rated photos on Lookbook or any similar site. Despite some variation in ethnicity what you end up with is a very uniform collection of extremely young, thin people with the same features, the same hairstyles and the same 'look'. They're the 'most popular'. The 'highest rated'. What hope for everyone else? I feel over the hill just looking at those pictures - and I'm only 25. I know that a lot of other people feel downhearted when they see this sort of thing for other reasons - they see nothing which represents their style, their size, their shape. I've seen people say as much in discussions online and witnessed people commenting back with no offence, but they 'don't want to see pictures of fat and ugly people on fashion blogs' (how on earth can this be a case of no offence, but?). Clearly this attitude comes through strongly when people decide what they want out of a blog.

Obviously there are plenty of bloggers and fashionistas out there who are challenging the status quo and gaining recognition despite not fitting in with the industry-approved image and many of them have to deal with a hell of a lot of criticism because of it. But when high-profile bloggers are seen at huge fashion events, or start modelling, or design their own collections, or get courted by of-the-moment designers, they become the 'ones to watch' and inspire young women who are just starting up blogs of their own. And because these are invariably the well-connected, catwalk-thin, conventionally-attractive bloggers, it remains that there's a sadly small range of people being seen as 'inspirational' - hence the seemingly identikit host of blogs about at the moment. A couple of days ago I started a discussion about this online and got some interesting responses - the definite feeling was that a lot of bloggers who make it big stop being 'one of us' and become something 'unobtainable', with the ideals of the fashion industry and magazines still being the ones which young bloggers want to aspire to. Many of the young women who commented on the discussion expressed a desire to see more popular bloggers who were 'like them', or otherwise more daring and outspoken - women who are defining fashion on their own terms rather than sticking to magazine-approved 'looks' to 'flatter' their figures and 'disguise' their 'bad bits'. One even talked about how she'd been heavily into style blogging and Lookbook but decided to stop because she didn't like the way it made her feel about herself and the way she felt towards others. Another said she didn't like the fact that (on fashion communities on Livejournal) 'as long as you're white, thin and wearing something designer, your outfit will ALWAYS be applauded'.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly the fact that designers are still very reluctant to embrace your average person on the street, with their average body types, heights and facial features. In the past week alone, the news that a stylist walked out on designer Mark Fast over his decision to use size 12 and 14 models at London Fashion Week has generated a lot of debate. And that's size 12 and 14 - still smaller than the average woman. It's been recognised that sample size clothing has got so small that models have trouble fitting into it - and although many professionals are calling for a more realistic standard to become the norm, many others in the industry are resisting. As long as this mindset is in place, I don't think the internet will have the democratising effect on fashion that there is such potential for and challenge current beauty standards as much as it could. Privilege always wins and people still idolise the catwalk, the classic 'model' physique and expensive clothes. It doesn't challenge us, but people go for it every time.

As part of my discussion, I asked people to come up with their favourite style blogs or the ones they find most inspiring. Here are a few of them:

Style Bubble
Kingdom of Style
Young Fat and Fabulous
Flying Saucer
Saks In The City
Corazones Rojos
Style Rookie
Hail Mary
The Fashion Void That Is DC

Feel free to comment with more inspirational finds!


ramona quimby said...

I adore Karla of Karla's Closet http://karlascloset.blogspot.com/ -- yes, she's white and attractive but I think she's pretty adventurous in her clothes and wears a mix of 'h+m' type things and designer stuff, and is decidedly 'curvy' (in a thin, healthy, hot way, but in a way that's sadly deviant in fashion) and basically I think is pretty much made of win.

Helena said...

Lovely article!

And I agree so much. In my opinion, Lookbook is more of a place where aspiring models and photographers can be seen. Hel looks is quite good though, and more diverse.

Eline said...

I loooove this! Strangely enough after I made my rant on LJ I've seen a lot of discussion about fashion blog going on, constantly ending up with a great debate and conclusion. I still don't quite know what to make of it all myself but I'm not ashamed any more for having a fashion/style blog any more myself.

This blogger brings up some lovely things here: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2009/09/plea-for-bodily-diversity.html

& Andrea is ranting here: http://acatofimpossiblecolour.blogspot.com/2009/09/small-rant.html#links

not on all the same issues but I love that they're bringing this up & though they aren't in the fashion induestry I think they've a high rate of followers so we can hope that this does good not only to young girls but women still fighting with body issues.

I might make a link post about all the articles I've come across, and I have to add your post if you don't mind :D

julia aka garconniere said...

i've been trying to write something along these lines for the past month, or since i joined lookbook and noticed the same thing. these are really important points and you express it really well.

definatalie said...

I posted this as a reblog on tumblr, but I'll leave it hee!

Some fat fashion bloggers are trying to encourage all types of bodies to join weardrobe.com! It's cute, and even if I'm not the same size as most of the cohort, I get lots of ideas :D

I also post to DEATHFATTIES, No More Mumus, Fatshionista and wardrobe remix on flickr.

As a part of the fatosphere (I blog at definatalie.com and Axis of Fat) I'm always up for challenging assumptions about fashion and body types, so I try to contribute as much as I can. I think it's important to make myself visible as part of the "normalisation" thing - which kind of sucks when you KNOW that very very slender bodies are not, in fact, the norm!

Hannah Mudge said...

Eline, i wouldn't mind at all! Thanks for posting the links as well.

Natalie, thanks for reblogging and for all the links. As you say i think it's really important to challenge assumptions about body types. The thing i always see with curvy and fat women is that they seem to get pushed towards certain styles of dress or certain fashions as if that's *all* that they suit. It's cool to see bigger women pulling off a variety of styles!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this post. Skinny white women are not the only people in the world who exist but judging by some of these websites, you wouldn't know it. One of the main reasons I stay away from most things "popular" or mainstream is because of the lack of diversity. Not only that but one of the main reasons I lost my interest years ago in fashion PERIOD was because of how difficult it became for me to do something as simple as shop at a mall. God forbid my size 12-14 ass actually want to look good! It was unbelievably depressing (still is, actually) to walk into a store, see tons of cute clothes, but nothing in your sizes because, A, they sold out of what little stock they had in your size or, B, they straight up don't carry it.

When it comes to the fashion blogosphere I feel like I'm in an interesting and kind of difficult spot because of my "average" size. I don't fit in at the more popular fashion sites because I'm not stick thin, but I also don't really fit in at the plus-sized blogs because I'm not plus-sized. And to complicate things even further, women my size are considered plus-sized in the fashion industry. Despite this, I definitely see a lot more of myself and feel more at home at the plus-sized blogs than the others.

I still have yet to find a blog that caters specifically to average sized women, or one that genuinely caters to and features everyone, no matter what race or size they are, but I will keep looking.

These are some of the blogs I read:


- Jenn

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more!



Anonymous said...

You've basically said everything that I was going to say in my next blog post! I'm a size 16 girl, and though I would like to lose a bit of weight I'm generally happy with my figure and my shape (probably the reason why I find it so hard to diet!), but despite this I still find myself being very critical of my figure in outfit pictures simply because I don't look like this blogger or that blogger, which I know is stupid but as you've pointed out, there isn't much inspiration around for larger or more unusual looking girls. I completely agree with other comments about hel looks though, it's by far my favourite fashion blog.

slanderous said...

I've come to this post late, but I wanted to give you props. I feel the same about most fashion blogs, and I write one! But you might like it, since it's more about the politics of fashion than, say, "Here's what I wore today."

Check it out: Threadbared.

Hannah Mudge said...

Thanks! I've been checking out (and enjoying) your blog :)

chuck n. said...

again, great post!

i know it's a bit (very) paradoxical, but as a blogger myself, i hate this entire fashion blogosphere. i feel like it has simply become a race for the most followers that has forced people to become replicas of each other.

though i have a pretty mainstream/bloggers style, i believe bloggers have lost the edge that renders them unique: personality. they now all strive to be the next rumi neely or tavi gevinson. it's actually pretty sad.

and yes, the most popular bloggers are always the rich white girls wou wear designer pieces because they are so connected and rich.

i actually wrote an article on this whole blogger phenomenon in my own fashion magazine ALOOF (http://thealoofhipster.blogspot.com/2011/03/fashion-is-aloof.html)

i realize one definitely isn't enough... (ohhh, suspense)


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