It’s a question I see thrown around a lot at the moment – how can you claim to be a feminist whilst still devoting your time and your passions to aesthetics, to fashion and beauty? As a strong and intelligent woman, how can you waste your life by devoting it to such ‘trivial’ means?
I was faced with these questions at 16, when my Chemistry teacher singled me out and asked, rather accusingly, why I’d chosen such ’fluffy’ subjects such as textiles, languages and history for my A-levels, when my academic ability meant that I could make a ‘real difference in this world’. I almost cried. It’s a typical view nowadays that in order to live a meaningful life, it must be dedicated to the sciences or the law…you know, ‘proper jobs’. I resented that. It seems we have forgotten the impact that arts: that poetry and language and creativity, have had on this world, and fashion is exactly that – an art form, a language and a display of creativity.
The way we look, whether we like it or not, communicates to others a sense of who we are. The clothes we wear and our personal style is a form of art – a visual representation of our personality, whether that says ‘I’m very much into fashion’ or ‘I dress simply to cover my body, as is necessary in modern society’ is regardless, the communication is still there. In the same way, fashion is a language, with garments acting as words that mean different things when placed in different locations: wearing jeans on a trip to the cinema for example, can say something entirely different to wearing them at a funeral– both communicate different messages depending on the context.
As many have pointed out, I do not think it is a coincidence that fashion and beauty are the only art forms and means of self-expression in which women are granted more freedom in society than men, and yet they are the ones branded as the most trivial, even ‘dumb’, and to be honest I’m getting pretty sick of it. I’m fed up of telling people I’m a fashion journalist and receiving comments such as “awww” or (in a high-pitched girly voice, whilst doing whimsical arm movements) “ooo fashion”, I’m fed up of being patronized or being thought of as less intelligent or strong because of my specialism. I’m also fed up of people, mostly men, assuming that women do their hair and their make-up, and dress well for the appreciation of the male population, when we absolutely do not. If we did, we would just strut around naked and never even think of touching a pair of Birkenstocks, culottes or other ‘man repelling’ style staples. I dress for myself, and more often than not, the approval and admiration of other women, and if my boyfriend doesn’t like my outfit, then tough shit.
The same view goes for beauty and make-up; women are undoubtedly granted more freedoms than men in this area, and yet it is derided as shallow and frivolous. I have a great amount of respect for make-up artists, or even just the girls I follow on Instagram who have an insane talent for ‘doing their face’, and so would a lot of others, if only they weren’t applying their artistry to their faces… If the same skill and talent were applied to a canvas and placed in a gallery, it’d be an entirely different story; there could be international acclaim, lots of nods and murmurs of approval and maybe it would even sell for some ridiculous sum at auction…But no, because it’s a predominantly female art form that revolves around aesthetics.
It would appear that neither industry can muster any amount of respect from anyone who moves outside of their (most often intertwined) circles. Whilst I do agree that both the fashion and beauty industries are still quite backward in their representation of women, there is a whole new generation of young and inspired women (and men) emerging, who are ready to break into the business and incite real change.
For me, neither fashion nor beauty are trivial, or dumb or shallow. Both are inspiring, empowering and ever-changing art forms that have the ability to communicate powerful messages. And I’m not standing for it any longer, (repeats to self) I am a strong, intelligent woman; I am a feminist and I just bloody love fashion… and with that, Dave the Chemistry Teacher, I will change the world in my own way.
Love Ellen xx