Category Archives: fashion

In Defense of Ugly

The first week of spring term when students and professors alike blearily stumble back to campus disoriented from the sheer quantity of food and booze they’ve consumed over winter break.  Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s a cruel joke to refer to something that begins in January as “spring” anything, particularly in the midwest, where nothing resembles spring until about May.

However, being back on campus means that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing many an undergrad conversation on a smattering of topics.  A topic recently topping the conversation charts has been the Golden Globe Awards, specifically, what everyone WORE to the Globes.  My interest in award shows is minimal at best, I’ll watch the Oscars for the gowns and the Tonys because duh, but that’s generally all the enthusiasm I can muster.  I only took notice of the Globes discussions because almost everyone had something to say about the awful appearance of Jennifer Lawrence.  This peaked my interest for two reasons: I have a soft spot for J. Law and my litmus test for good fashion is how poorly a garment is received by the masses.  After referencing my googlemachine for images of this “awful” dress I discovered that a lot of the internet had very strong feelings about this dress (they even compared it to the sheet and rope dress from The Little Mermaid).

This may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, but I loved the dress.

The point of this blog post is not to defend J. Law and her dress (I would like that job though) but rather to offer my comments on a larger cultural trend.  One of the words most frequently used in reference to the offending garment is “ugly” as in, “that was such an ugly dress.”  This, then, is the real point of my blog, to provide a brief (and very biased) defense of “ugly.”

Quick etymology lesson: Ugly is a rather unusual word because it’s formed from Norse root words meaning “fear” or “dread.”  I’m also rather partial to the softened 14th century definition of “ugly” as, “very unpleasant to look at.”  More often than not, it seems to me (and people far smarter than I articulate this in greater detail) that fear is deeply connected to uncertainty or the unknown; I believe it was Andrew Smith who said “People fear what they do not understand.”

Stay with me here, so when something is deemed “ugly” it really means that the looker does not understand what it is they are looking at.  “Ugly” then becomes a fascinating space to occupy particularly in contrast to its antonym; beauty.  “Beauty” refers to “physical attractiveness” and also “goodness and courtesy” and, more importantly, “beauty” is easily understood.  “Beauty” is a socially agreed upon status conferred on bodies etc that are both easily legible and palatable.  For me, “ugly” is much more interesting because it is so hard to pin down.  It comes from a place of illegibility that makes us culturally uncomfortable and so we reach for somewhere to put it.  I’m a proponent of what is commonly referred to as “man repellent fashion” or “ugly fashion” which is so called because of its bawdy, ostentatious style that is somehow unattractive to men?  I mean, my fiance digs it so joke’s on you.  It’s difficult to fully summarize this aesthetic, think: loud prints, non-normative lines and shapes, some of it could even be considered “unflattering” but it is certainly never boring or safe.  As a bonus, if you do it right, people will be talking about how “ugly” your outfit was years after they’ve forgotten about the millionth beautiful little black dress.

So come on, be ugly with me.

 

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They’re My Heels, and I’m Not Sorry

I love to wear high heels. Pumps, boots, spikes, stacked, platforms, I love them all.  I remember the first pair of heels my mother bought me: little white ones (barely able to qualify as heels) for Easter, and when I put them on I felt like I owned the freakin’ world.  Ever since that day I have had a deep spiritual love affair with my footwear.

And then I got tall, and then I got very tall.  When all was said and done I measured in at 5ft 11inches, great for basketball not so great for 7th grade boy-girl dances.  I have always been, and continue to be, proud of my height.  I have very good posture and carry myself with my shoulders back and eyes up, I am not sorry for the space I occupy as many tall women are.

For those of you who are not tall women let me give you a crash course on growing up tall:

In American society women are “supposed” to occupy less physical space than men.  We are supposed to be shorter, slighter, cross our legs and fold our hands in our laps, and generally be less present than we actually are.  Having a body that transgresses the acceptable norm (ie: the body of a tall woman) ensures that your body is a constantly visible one.  Some girls grow up ashamed and or embarrassed of their tallness, they develop what I call the tall-girl-slouch.  You’ve all seen it, that weird sort of rounded back, hunched shoulders, rumpled posture that begs to disappear.  It is a silent apology for a deviant body.

I have always embraced my height, and have never been afraid to wear my high heels.  Though I am constantly surprised by the number of people who comment on my heels and my height.  I invariably get people who ask “aren’t you tall enough?”,  “Why are you wearing those?”, and there have even been a few instances where I’ve been confused for a drag queen (note: I love drag queens and really wish I was one).

So what’s all the tall girl heel hate about?

To be honest, I wish I knew where it was coming from.  It could be intimidation, it could be abjection, it could be that you’re jealous of my stunning shoe collection, which is quite impressive.  What I do know is that I am not now, nor will I ever be shamed into taking off my heels.  I relish being the tallest girl at the party, and remind other tall women that flat footwear does not have to be your fashion lot.

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How Offensive Can You Be, or thoughts on the Anna Rexia halloween costume

For those of you who haven’t yet heard about this Halloween costume allow me to appall you:

On-line and in some Halloween stores (though most have pulled the costume by now) a costume entitled Miss Anna Rexia debuted earlier this month.  The costume is a skin tight, tiny black micro dress with a glitter skeleton screen printed on the front.  The dress comes with a bone hair clip, a red heart shaped pin-on bearing the name  “Anna Rexia”, and a measuring tape belt which the smiling, voluptuous model coyly holds at her waist. sexy, right?

Many news stations are now covering the controversy ‘Anna Rexia’ has caused, and much to the credit of the masses there appears to be widespread rejection of this awful costume.  However I am not interested in adding my voice to myriad of outraged citizens, I would like to examine the bigger issues surrounding the creation of and anxiety over this costume.

If you were to google “fat Halloween costume” you come up with pages of results.  Fat hula dancers, fat Draculas, Fat Bastard, fat tourist couples, lots and lots of fat suits.  Google’s related search tab suggests “funny Halloween costume”, fat is funny.  A tourist, for instance, is not very funny or clever but add a fat suit and you’re a costume contest winner.  You will also find a few blogs bemoaning the lack of costumes for ‘fat people’, blogs about ‘fat girls wearing revealing costumes’ and a whole lot of ‘hilarious images’.  Unlike the Anna Rexia costume no news networks are covering the offensive nature of these costumes, no citizens are outraged at the fat cheerleader costume, no medical experts are condemning the costume industry for making light of a potentially fatal, serious medical issue.

If extreme weight gain can be so damn funny, what’s the anxiety over extreme weight loss?

I suggest that the root of the outrage over this costume is our cultural anxiety over, and obsession with thinness.  Not to negate those who are actually offended at the idea of making anorexia sexy, but I think there is something bigger at work here.  After all the fashion industry has been making anorexia sexy since the 1960s with very little recourse.  It is socially acceptable to laugh at fat people, to make fat phobic remarks, to engage in sizest and fat shaming practices.  (For more on fat activism see Marilyn Wann’s Fat!So? or the Fat Studies Reader)  Hence fat-spoltation costumes are not met with ethical criticisms, just laughs.

But thin is an entirely different issue.  I will not delve into the issues surrounding our compulsion to transform everything into a sexy Halloween costume, a sexy bee?really?  Suffice to say, the desire to hyper-hyper-sexualize Halloween begs further examination, and a lot less spandex.

The model seen wearing this costume is certainly thin, but does not have the appearance of a body ravaged by anorexia.  Her face is not sallow, her bones do not jut out at aggressive angles, she has boobs and lots of them, her hair is not thin or wispy, her complexion is not pale or sickly.  She is conventionally hot, read thin.  This costume effectively erases the cultural line between thin and too thin, which is what I believe is causing much of the anxiety and uproad around it.  Perhaps unintentionally(because I doubt Halloween costume manufacturers are really spending time considering the cultural ramifications of their costumes) this costume makes anorexia the new thing to be, the new “it” girl is pro-ana and proud of it, so what does that mean for the rest of us?

Note: Most Halloween stores have pulled this costume from their shelves (bigger question: why the hell did you carry it in the first place?)

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Respect yourself, re-dress yourself.

Well here we are, at the close of another successful conference, and as I sit here in my hotel room(with my over priced Chinese food) I reflect on the last two days.  I’ve heard some very interesting papers, and some not so well researched ones, had the immense pleasure of hearing Gail Dines address technologies of misogyny, and had a successful presentation of my own.  But more than all those things, my mind keeps returning to one thing: the clothing.

I’d guess around 50 to 70 people attended one or both of the conference days, which means I’ve viewed well over 100 outfits.  And I can count the number of well dressed people on 1 hand.  Much more difficult to count, and to witness, was the proliferation of flip-flops, jeans, and general unkempt disheveled-ness.  Now I know some of you will say, Liz let it go, not everyone can dress as well as you.  True, but I am not asking them to.  And let me be clear, I am not opposed to personal style-in fact I laud it, what’s life without it- but venues should factor into stylistic choices.  Which is a long winded way of saying, conferences are events where you should be well dressed.  Once again, I can hear you bemoaning my institutionalized thinking, especially at women’s studies conferences.  But I am not prescribing only one course of dress, I appreciate a variety of styles, so long as they are appropriate to the event.

Why do I care so much about what other people are wearing?  Shouldn’t I keep my style politics to myself?

Maybe. but this is my blog, so I get to say what I want.

But seriously, before you disregard me as another “slave to fashion”, hear me out.

I am a firm believer in the idea that clothing is a non-verbal communicator.  Consciously or not, the clothes chosen each morning construct who you are, what you want to say, and to whom you want it said.  From a sweatshirt and jeans to multi-layered couture, the things with which we adorn our bodies are the textiled road maps to our inner cores.  And while I would like to redress between 60 and 75 percent of the people I see on a daily basis, I normally do not trouble myself with the poor style choices made in day to day life.

But I cannot help but be bothered when I see my peers so grossly under-dressed for an event that their school, their department is hosting.  I will admit that perhaps I dress a little severely for Florida(as most of my conference wardrobe consists of black and architectural pieces), but in no way do I think jeans, t-shirts, cut off shirts that show your bra straps, flip flops, sunglasses, or shorts are conference worthy.  Seeing my fellow graduate students dressed in such a manner communicates the following messages:

I do not respect my work enough to dress for it.  I do not respect your work enough to dress for it. I do not take this event seriously enough to dress for it.

To clarify again, I am not asking that everyone don peep toe heels and matching business suits, I am saying that I would hope there would be enough internal sentiment as to warrant exterior manifestations of respect.

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