Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Ranty Rant in my Pants; It's my Body and I'll Wear What I Want To

I've been thinking lately.

There's this super dramatic, moralistically encompassing, and horribly guilty-tripping argument going on in my head. I've had it there for years, ever since my feminist switch was turned on.

How can I justify the exorbitant amount of pleasure I get from fashion, beauty and (in particular, and some would say arguably) pedantic and prohibitive television shows like What Not To Wear with my feminist ideals?


For a while there it just ate me up; I thought about constructing internal arguments in regards to sexless, genderless beauty, glorying in the sometimes mystical battle cry of art, culturally symbolic skewerings taking on conceptual levels of probing critique and intellectual insight.

But truthfully, none of those stuck.

It finally dawned on me, as I was staring at one of the many fit-yourself-into-this-shape resources (you know, the ones that compare your face to geometry and your body to fruit?)

I was desperately trying to figure out which one of these face shapes fit me. Yarg! I thought, metaphysical fist shaking, round or heart? ROUND OR HEART! If only they could make it clearer, I'd be able to choose the perfect haircut, dammit!

The thing is, they're right: if you have large (insert body part) and a small (insert body part), and if you dress in XYZ, then you'll draw attention away from your "flaws" and towards your "assets".

The visual principles upon which they're basing the advice are sound.

The problem is 1) the language these guidelines tend to use and 2) the fact that they assume if you have large (insert body part) and a small (insert body part), you want to draw attention away from whatever flaws they claim you have.

What they do is give you an entry point to the information that's predicated upon a series of questions, meant to sort you based on your body shape. This has nothing to do with what you particularly like about your physical self.

These shape comparisons, all these guidelines, they're all pointing you in a direction which will make you (in your flawed humanity) look as much like what you're supposed to look like as possible.1 Using words like flaw and asset make it clear that they're working from this basis: you want to look like (for lack of a better term) Barbie. So logically, your "disproportionate" waist-to-hips ratio should be "disguised", and your "correctly" proportioned bust line, an "asset", should be played up.

What they should do is change their language and general attitude. Treat women like fully actualized adults with a brain and the ability to decide on their own what they like and what they want to do.

But! My brain shouts, the visual principles are sound! They might be talking down to me, they might be assuming I want to accentuate my waist but draw attention away from my non-existent bum, but they're right: wearing a baggy, high-necked sack dress without a belt will make me look like a stumpy and lumpy tent.

Yes, the visual principles are sound. Certain lines, textures, colours, and other tactics will draw attention to one part or disguise another.

The crux of the issue (for me) is this: you need to flip this "advice" around and use these tools, these visual principles, for what YOU want.

Who cares if you're a bloody "pear", "apple", or other such nonsense? Let's be positive here! If there's something about your body that you like, you can use visual principles to accentuate it.

I suppose the easiest way to utilize the existent information would be to work on it backwards. Do you like your bum? Read through the tips/advice for whichever shape happens to glorify the bum and use it for yourself. Skip the stupid sorting questions at the beginning. They just tear down your self confidence and make you feel like dirt anyway.

And that ends my ranty rant.

1 That is, accentuate your sexyhawtbits so that the menz will be able to use you for your express purpose: visual gratification.


Unknown said...


Kristen said...

Yes! If you (collective you) think your round tush is awesome, you can highlight it if you want, even if someone else with the same figure might want to hide it. I got into a discussion about whether a particular lady's outfits were flattering recently, and my basic frustration with the discussion was that my impression was that her look was pleasing to her and the people she wanted to please. So what if some other people didn't like it? She wasn't wearing dirty, ill fitting clothing. It wasn't a look I wanted, but I thought she looked neat. I mean, I get certain criticisms - people often dress the way they think they're supposed to without consulting their own wants, but I don't understand why we must all strive to look...alike.

Bonnie said...

I think you're very clever and have hit upon something important. Use the advice but use it to accentuate what you want rather than what someone else wants. Thanks!

mel said...

Absolutely could not have said it better. I second the bravo!!

Nyssa Jayne said...

i too have an unjustifiable love for makeover shows and fashion shows, but i must say, i rarely take the advice. my shape suits a sort of "naughty secretary" look (hourglass), with pencil skirts and scoop necks, but i can't dig it. i don't like that they manage to make a lot of their subjects look very similar, even if that look is very nice.

however, if i can cinch the waist on my outfit, i will!

(i find the one show that is slightly different is anything by gok wan, like 'how to look good naked' or my personal favourite, 'fashion fix'. he quite likes the idea of "love your favourite bits", even if he does, in the end, just put belts on people.)

Anonymous said...

I always find the shape things a little weird too- and I think it can easily change as you age in life, so it's not worth getting hung up on the labels at all. I hate it when once you have your shape dictated, you have these rules about how to dress your shape, as though its a given that you have flaws, when really, it's wonderful that we're all so different.

meredith MC said...

Thank you for this post- I have felt the same frustrations with the comparisons of body to fruit- and I don't so neatly fit into any one variety anyway. This is why I loved how in Ysolda's "little Red" book she made a point of saying something like:You're not fruit and I'm not going to insult your intelligence by referring to your body that way.
Thanks for another great post- I appreciate the way you reject all of your "excuses" for love of fashion, etc. and your advice to discover what you love about yourself and promote that, regardless of the advice of 'professionals.'

Anonymous said...

Sorry this is late. I've been traveling. At last, someone has come right out and said what has been bothering me for ages. Why, as women, are we reduced to fruits and other shapes, thereby reinforcing negative images of ourselves. (I must wear shift dresses because I am an apple, etc.) I think it is meant to be helpful but doesn't end up turning out that way. Thanks for putting those theories in their proper place so we do not become obsessed by them.


David said...

How do peeps such as yourself manage to delude yourself into ignoring basic biological facts? A woman’s appearance is supposed to appeal to men. And vice-versa. This isn’t even a nature vs. nurture thing either, infants already find certain features more appealing.
That you don’t like that this is the case does not change its reality. Of course, from that fact there follows no “ought”. There is no moral imperative that says you have to care about this and act accordingly.
However, neither does that make anyone who does put value on said features some chauvinistic scumbag/ignorant sheeple who supports oppressing the poor womyn.
Your call for an end to preferences for and valuation of certain body types is no more or less valid than the propagation of same.

In short, less conceited preaching, please. People are entitled to their opinions as well as to sharing them and this whole discourse would be less toxic if people such as yourself would recognize as much. Saying “You’re an awful person for believing X” isn’t helping anyone.