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!

Adventures with my food processor (Part One of an occasional series)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Luke and I love making food but as all of you who work full-time probably agree, time-consuming and exciting cooking isn't always what you feel like doing when you get home after a busy day. Recently we felt like we'd been getting into a bit of a rut with our evening meal, making the same things week after week and not particularly caring about our food. We decided to have a whole week of making completely new dishes that we'd never cooked at home before. It was great. But on one night that week, we were going out and had to make something which would be ready quickly.

Pasta with some sort of sauce and vegetables. Gnocchi with some sort of sauce and vegetables. Everybody eats it, right? It's quick, it's easy and you don't have to slave over a hot stove for two hours in order to produce it. Since we've been training for the Great Eastern Run we've become quite conscious about what we put in our mouths and cooking most of our meals from scratch has become a priority for us. A while back we decided to stop buying sauces in jars, when we could - seeing as we recently acquired a food processor we thought we'd better crack on with using it. And I decided to make a vegetable-filled, delicious sauce from scratch.

What I used to serve two people:
200g sunstream tomatoes on the vine
One red pepper
One yellow pepper
One red onion
Three fat cloves of garlic
One medium-sized red chilli
Olive oil
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Sea salt and pepper

1. Roughly chop all ingredients except basil and place in a baking tray.

2. Season well with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast at Gas Mark 6/200C/400F for half an hour.

3. Pour the entire contents of the tray into food processor, add basil leaves and whiz until mixture is as smooth or as chunky as you like.

4. Serve over pasta (normal or stuffed), gnocchi etc. There's mine with some gnocchi, mixed leaves and freshly-grated parmesan.

Really simple, full of goodness and tastes delicious - the chilli gives it a nice kick.

Mail Fail of the Day

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Daily Mail reports on Asda's new range of Asian clothing for women - believed to be the first collection of its kind available on the high street.

As we all know, a story like this is guaranteed to have the Mail's most bigoted readers mopping their brows and asking for the smelling salts and the comments definitely don't disappoint. You can just imagine 'David, Darlington' foaming at the mouth as he typed:
'Ok - another appeaser off my list of places to shop. No doubt alongside halal meat, barbaric!!'
There you have it - it's not just a cause for outrage, it's barbaric. Presumably David's good friends with the person who claimed that the results of a recent survey of teachers asking which names they associated with naughty children signalled feral Britain at its finest!.

'Tailgunner, Essex' makes a mistake common to Mail readers and confuses the word 'Asian' with 'Muslim' as he or she furiously types:
'A turning point indeed! The islamic colonization of our country shows no sign of slowing down, infact it's gathering pace as the tipping point approaches.'
'John B, Wakefield' is so incensed that he suggests that everyone living in the UK should wear clothing personally approved by him:
'Sorry, but isn't ASDA aware of the existing social problem of Asians failing to integrate ? I believe that this is an ill conceived idea, as our Asian residents should be adopting western clothing as the norm whilst living in the UK.
I wonder if he'd feel the same and swap his 'Western clothing' for the clothes of a different culture if he moved abroad? Somehow I doubt it.

My absolute favourite, however, comes from the no doubt charming and personable 'Sue Daley, England':
'So, no patriotism allowed, no free-speech allowed, don't mention the BNP, don't complain about green-belt building to accommodate the influx, don't dare say you're a Christian, don't complain that your local church is now a mosque, don't be alarmed if your local town now looks like Islamabad. For Gawd's sake, is there no end to the destruction of Englishness? When I shop in an English shop, I want to see English things.....is that so hard to understand? Asda, you've seen the last of Mrs. Daley's lolly.'
Presumably she didn't get the memo when Asda became part of WALMART in 1999.

I'm holding out for the comment which ends England has gone to the dogs. I'm glad I moved to Spain when I had the chance!. The only thing worse than a bigoted, racist Daily Mail reader is a bigoted, racist, expat Daily Mail reader.

Further reading:
Do Mail commenters create a toxic environment for brands?
Asian clothes makes Daily Mail readers' heads explode

This is what a feminist looks like

Saturday, 5 September 2009

fem·i·nism (f m -n z m). n. 1. Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. 2. The movement organized around this belief.

Here I am (on holiday, hence the tan) - we do indeed come in all different shapes and sizes. A good couple of months back, Anna Corbett wrote a feature called Confessions of a Brand New Feminist for The F Word. In it, she detailed how she came to call herself a feminist and the changes this decision had brought to her life. It inspired me to start jotting down some notes about my own journey from someone who never really thought about feminism to someone who considers it a huge part of her life. Life got in the way a bit, then more women started blogging about their own journeys towards feminism for Women's Equality Day and at this point, my laptop was laid up with a virus so I couldn't do anything. One complete reinstall later, it's back in my possession and I've spent the week catching up with everything. I'm not sure if my story is typical although I imagine that it's recognisable to many women who started to identify as a feminist while at university.

I honestly don't remember ever thinking much about the word 'feminism' during my years at school. I knew I believed in 'equal rights' for women in terms of politics and education but I don't believe I was ever exposed to much which made me think about the sort of issues that affect us as women. I had a pretty quiet, sheltered childhood - I was very bookish and introverted and so were most of my friends. I stayed in every evening and got my homework done. My life revolved around getting good grades, orchestra and choir, whatever bands I was into, teenage friendship dramas. I had all sorts of privileges that I didn't even think about - being white, middle-class, straight, living in a stable home with both parents (who both worked). Nothing you could write a misery memoir about. I don't ever remember anyone I knew talking about feminism - none of my friends were interested in politics or activism.

If you'd asked me, as a teenager, about women and equality, I would have said that we'd achieved it. But then I'd never had a relationship, hadn't entered the world of work, didn't really have more than a couple of male friends if I'm honest. I remember studying women's struggle for enfranchisement in A-Level history and being quite affected by it in the sense that I realised how important it was - and how important the women's rights movement in general has been, but I don't remember dwelling on it that much or feeling that it still had relevance today.

And so I went off to university. Well-meaning and encouraging relatives told me that I'd meet 'loads of like-minded people' at university and that it would be 'much better than school' in that respect because people would be 'more mature' and 'have different interests'. As every single one of you who's ever been a fresher knows, that's not necessarily the case. I remained introverted and socially anxious - living in halls seemed like one big popularity contest sometimes and those who talked loudest, partied hardest and looked conventionally attractive came out on top. It became noticeable that so much casual misogyny was bandied about. Bottom line - if you weren't considered 'fit', you weren't worth much. Events put on at the union, contests and parties did nothing to dispel this. We had beauty contests, Playboy-themed events, constant pressure on women to take their clothes off to win drinks or prizes.

I don't think it hit me entirely until I'd spent a few weekends visiting my boyfriend, then a fresher at a different university. He was also in halls and lived on a corridor with a big group of guys who were mostly single. Many of them made it quite clear that they considered me a hindrance to his university experience, to the extent that they encouraged him to get rid of me so he too could play the field at the union every Friday night. To top it off they were big fans of porn and lads' mags. Every time I visited Luke I would pick up his student magazine and was often speechless at the misogyny I encountered. The university hosted events put on by Nuts and FHM at a time when some stories about 'raunch culture' (as it came to be known) and the impact of lads' mags on women were starting to appear in the news.

I despised how this culture made me feel as a woman. I knew I was worth much more than how many boxes I ticked on the list of 'conventionally attractive attributes' and how many men wanted to have sex with me. It depressed me that so many people, male and female, were clamouring to be a part of a culture that encourages women to do all they can in a neverending quest to appeal to men yet berates them for what they wear, how much they drink and how they behave if they become the victim of sexual assault or rape. I met people whose low self-worth and experiences with men had caused them a whole lot of pain and I started to see how these things all tied together. My self-esteem was at rock-bottom when I started looking at websites such as About-Face and One Angry Girl. I was reading about advertising, eating disorders, empowerment, exploitation and a lot of anti-porn resources. All of a sudden - in the summer of 2004 - my personal journal was crammed with rants about objectification, lads' mags and the beauty industry. I was reading stuff written by women who called themselves feminists and realising that I was one too.

The blogs and organisations I'd found online, along with experiences I'd had at university, led me to start considering a whole spectrum of issues facing women that had never really worried me before. Rape, domestic violence, equal pay, forced marriage, abortion, the right to education, human trafficking. At first, realising how privileged my life had been, I felt ashamed that none of this had ever been an issue for me before. I started answering back to those who think feminism is somehow ridiculous, or that women have 'achieved equality', or that casual misogyny is hilarious. It started to enrage me when people pulled the good old 'what about teh menz?!!' line or when people told me that 'surely equality would mean having an International Men's Day as well' (as if, you know, it hasn't been International Men's Day every single day for thousands of years). I felt a level of solidarity with other women that I'd never felt before and so much more compassion. I realised how important it is to check my privilege. The internet has been invaluable to me in my journey towards feminism. I've sometimes considered the fact that we spend a lot of time blogging and discussing things on forums and maybe less time than we should involved in direct action and being out in the world, but you can't deny the importance of the internet in consciousness raising.

On International Women's Day 2007, I posted the following statistics in my personal journal:

- At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime. This figure comes from a study based on 50 surveys from around the world.
- More than 60 million women are “missing” from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide.
- Women make up 51% of the world's population, do 66% of the world's work, earn 10% of the world's income and own 1% of the world's wealth.
- 70% of the 1.3 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are women.
- The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
- In every country where reliable, large-scale studies have been conducted, results indicate that between 10% and 50% of women report they have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Population-based studies report between 12 and 25% of women have experienced attempted or completed forced sex by an intimate partner or ex-partner at some time in their lives.
- Over a quarter of the world's population live in countries where abortion is entirely prohibited or only permitted to save a woman's life

- Around 1 in 10 women (9.7%) have experienced some form of sexual victimisation (including rape) since age 16.
- Around 1 in 20 women (4.9%) have been raped on at least one occasion since age 16.
- Under 6% of rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction.
- Many women do not report rape through fear of being put on trial – women are still asked what underwear they had on and whether they have had abortions or been “promiscuous”.
- In heterosexual couples, even where both partners have full time jobs, in seven out of ten cases the woman does most of the housework.
- 17.2% hourly pay gap between women and men working full-time.
- The hourly pay gap between what women working part-time earn and men working full-time earn is 38.5%.
- Women make up just 19.7% of our MPs.
- Two women a week are killed by their current or former partner.

These are just some of the reasons I am a feminist. What about you?

PS: I loved this - Raising a feminist/raised a feminist


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