Stop Telling Us What to Wear: Mini Rant

biteme

Yesterday, while I was at the library, I picked up a copy of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers Schemes by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. I’m only about 40 pages in so far, but it’s already been something of an eye opener. I’ve been aware of rampant consumerism and the way the clothing industry tries to push people (not just girls and women) into the little categories it wants us to be in (male/female, preppy/rebel/geek, “urban”/”rural”, etc) for awhile and I’ve been aware of the brand-worshiping aspect of consumer culture for as long as I’ve been scratching my head over the importance of wearing clothes just because there was a certain word or logo on it (that happened around age 9, when I moved to a new school and everyone seemed to have to wear stuff from The Limited or Limited Too and if you weren’t wearing those clothes then ohmygodwhatiswrongwithyou?). However, it turns out that there’s a little more than I ever wanted to admit going on.

What I have gotten out of this book, thus far:

  • There is always this push to make girls want to be older, faster. This is nothing new to me, but, they’re marketing “bras” and pretty underwear and bikinis to 4 year olds now. *4*!!
  • Girls are being pushed into camps from a early age
    1. Camp 1: pink, the classically feminine color is soft and sweet (which there is now a bit of a split in the pink camp, with the pastel hues reflecting innocence and bolder hues (or pared with black) reflecting a bit of a sexier edge.
    2. Camp 2: red, a bold and assertive color.
    3. From the book, “The red girl is the girl who is not like the other girls can develop into not liking what makes those other girls who they are, putting them down for being too girly and weak. The girl wars mentality we see in the media is often between girly girls and tomboys, between what we fear starts out as the pink girl and the red girl.”
  • The same items are marketed to 6 year olds and 13 year olds.
  • The hetero-normative push into what is supposed to be the most important thing on a girl’s mind: Boys! (which, even I fell victim to with the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync when I was 12-15) Stores are happy to sell all manner of trinkets and shirts that espouse love for whatever male teen star is hot at the time… and this is marketed to 8 and 9 year old girls as well as teens. Why would 8 and 9 year olds be concerned with the cuteness of boys? When I was 8, I was still listening to what my parents listened to (and Michael Jackson).

Like I said, I’m only about 40 pages in. However, while I was scrolling through teh internets, I came upon one of those stupid “what you should/shouldn’t wear” lists. From LifeScript: Healthy Living for Women (I’m already laughing, folks), is an article telling me the “Top 10 items [I will soon be] Too Old to Wear” Here are some of my favorites:

  •  I can only wear my beloved Tshirts that say stuff for another year and a month. According to this article, I have to retire my tshirts at 30 because, “the freedom to express yourself via your wardrobe is part of the teen and 20-something years… but beyond that?… ‘The message tee boom was fueled by Young Hollywood… it’s mostly a way for people to express frustration.'”  So, I guess I’m only allowed to express myself for another year, then I need to shut up and hand it all over to people younger than me.
  • Not that I like to expose my cleavage, but I am now aware that after 50, it’s no longer an option for me. That’s because, according to the article, “‘An older woman shouldn’t feel she needs to show it all off. Anything below the middle of your [bustline] has got to go,’ DeMartino says. ‘A little goes a long way,’ writes Krupp, who in her book bans excessive ‘boobage’ past the age of 40 and warns readers not to display too much sagging skin.”  That’s right, women who are 50+ need to cover up because they have “too much sagging skin” [read: not attractive anymore; gross – read: younger *should* show cleavage – read: women are to constantly be aware of, and compliant to, the male gaze]
  • Now, I don’t do much with my hair beyond a simple pony tail, because I don;t like it down and I’m too lazy to do anything else with it. BUT. If I feel like putting something cute in my hair (it happens), like my tshirts, I’m only allowed to don these items until I’m 30. Because, “whether it’s flowery scrunchies, banana clips or your daughter’s plastic kiddie barrettes, whimsical hair accessories are not fitting for a fully grown woman.”  For the record, my grandmother, a woman in her 60’s, wore a pretty red hair gizmo over the holidays -the first time I’ve seen her wear anything in her hair in my life – and I thought she looked fabulous.

Dear Internet, Marketers – Kindly stop telling us what to wear or not wear and stop pushing us into boxes. I’ll wear what I want, how I want, for as long as I want.

 

 

 

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Fashion Burkas

Last week I went to see my friend, Saad Ahmed, do his thing at an open mic in town… it’s one of the things I like to do when I am not glued to my computer screen or locked away in my room sewing. I always like to support local artists (comedy is an artform), and Saad is probably my favorite local comedian (if you ever get a chance to see him, I recommend it).  This blog post is credited in part to him for unwittingly implanting the initial idea.

In the setup for one of his jokes, Saad brings up having seen a fashion show in the middle east with all the women wearing burkas. This got me wondering if there actually was such a thing… There IS! And contrary to the remark within Saad’s joke, it is nowhere near boring. 🙂

Whether you realize it or not, when you get up in the morning and get dressed for the day, the clothes that you wear speak to other people and the rest of society about who you are. Our clothes are a form of non-verbal communication. They communicate information such as our age, our gender (whichever we identify with), what kind of work we do (sometimes how much money we have or don’t have), what part of the country or the world we come from, and sometimes, as in the case of the burka, we communicate our religion as well.
The burka is perhaps one of the most expressive and talkative of all wardrobes. There is so much that is connected to the burka.. politics, religion, women’s issues, oppression/freedom, deep and rich histories.. who on this planet does not hold some manner of fascination for the burka?

What you can wear, what you can’t wear

At it’s root, the burka is meant to provide modesty for Muslim women. It is loose clothing that covers the body, the head and sometimes the face as well. While the Koran never specifies the need to wear a burka, it does cite the need for modesty, and for a lot of Muslim women around the world, there are indeed a wider range of options. A lot of the Muslim women I went to college with wore nice abayas and hijabs, some also wore their hijabs with jeans and a shirt. I also know women who don’t really even wear hijab most of the time. There are places where full burkas are enforced, such as places in Afghanistan, and places where burkas are forbidden, such as Syrian schools and there have been a lot of controversies concerning burkas in France. (I remember reading a story last year about a woman in a burkini getting kicked off a French beach.)

Burka as a Fashion Statement

Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. donned this burka at an award show in October 2010.

This outfit, part of Iran’s 2008 fashion show, is actually quite pretty (in my opinion).

In the summer of 2008, Iran held a government approved fashion show (1) in which they tried to enliven the expression of women’s attire while still keeping with the law. While I’m not entirely sure what women in Iran would chose to wear if there were no strict dress code in place, and I doubt that Culture and Islamic Orientation Minister Saffar Harandi was really getting into the women’s psyche in his feelings that, as source 1 states,  “the show ‘freed’ Iranian women from the ‘shackles’ of the western fashion industry”, he does have a valid point for consideration. While western women (like myself) are supposedly free to wear what we want to, even we are pressured to conform to a social image and are confined either to what we have access to buy or are able to make for ourselves (if we know how). I know that I have often felt uncomfortable clothes shopping because mainstream women’s clothes in America are meant to hug your body, sit low (low-rider jeans, v-neck shirts), and more or less sexualize you. I wore men’s pants and baggy shirts for the longest time and still dread going swimming as I feel eternally self-conscious in even a one piece swimsuit. (Maybe I might opt for one of those burkinis myself, heh).

This is pretty much the “anti-burka” burka. I find the constroversial piece to be artistic and interesting. Photo from source 2. (Mattis Sanblad, Scanpix/AP Photo)

Probably as a rebellious comment upon the burka bans in France, I have come across a number of burkas and burka inspired pieces coming from French designers like Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Marithé François Girbaud (3). Of course, while it could be argued that some of these designs are offensive in that they steal another’s cultural dress and distort it to suit their needs/desires (don’t act like it hasn’t been done before multiple times by almost everyone, it’s part of cultural diffusion. Look at Japanese Lolita outfits sometime.), I think that these designs are coming as a reaction to the ban (or proposed ban.. haven’t been able to pin down how far it went, someone enlighten me) actually goes in the favor of Muslim rights.

A Lela Ahmadzai design, truly gorgeous. A work of art.

Perhaps my favorite of all the sites and articles I have come across is Burka Meets Haute Couture.
Lela Ahmadzai is an Afghani woman who, while having left and attended school outside Afghanistan, is proud of and in touch with her heritage. As part of a diploma project, she designed a series of outfits that reached out and bridged her Afghani self with the western world she was living in. I find her pieces both beautiful and inspirational… truly, this is fine art.

Sources

1) http://deathby1000papercuts.com/2008/07/iran-fashion-show-the-burka-patrol-and-the-crackdown-on-immorality/ -Article

2) http://abcnews.go.com/International/popup?id=4421425 -The Burqa Gets a Makeover

3) http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/paris-designers-react-to-burka-ban-1919187.html

4) http://www.celebuzz.com/mias-fashion-burka-yay-nay-s263081/ -M.I.A. Wears a Burka to Promote Album

5) http://www.anorak.co.uk/254149/media/syria-bans-the-fashion-forward-burqa-as-britain-embraces-muslim-punk.html

6) http://relijournal.com/islam/the-burqa-facts-issues/ – Very informative and serious article addressing the facts about the burka

7) http://www.burkameetshautecouture.com/hm_englisch.htm – Lela Ahmadzai’s diploma project addressing fashion and her Afghani heritage. Very beautiful and Highly recommended!

Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. donned this burka at an award show a couple months ago.