Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Look is currently selling a smock top featuring the greys and yellows that characterised the Gucci ready to wear collection last week. It has been featured in Cosmopolitan and Elle so if you want one snap it up quickly.

Melanie Rickey reiterated in the comments section earlier this week that sizing is not standardised. The size zero (UK size 4) literature appearing consistently at the moment revolves around false measurement of women's bodies and it constructs an idea of femininity that is at best flawed. Freud noted that femininity and masculinity are simply attributes. I've written about this before in other contexts and it continues to be important in contemporary thinking on the concept of femininity. A century ago corsets were falling out of fashion but they had been extremely popular for a very long time, objects that not only obstructed the movement of the chest but actually caused widespread deformity in women, reshaped their bodies so that the chest became a V rather than the shape that is familiar to us. Tight lacing remained a common practice up to the end of the 19th century, particularly among those who were upwardly mobile. In a sense that reflects the nature of contemporary fashion at the level of consumer. Those with the most money have the most motivation to stay slim, they cannot purchase the best and most expensive ready to wear items if they are not slender enough to wear the clothes. Both the feminine and masculine have been subject to human fashion for centuries and when taking the influence of fashion into consideration it should be remembered that people are less influenced, less controlled by it than ever before.

Many dress historians and feminists think of the corset as an example of women's subordination and from there all kinds of questions concerning the size zero trend arise. The idea of women submitting to a male viewpoint on attraction is often espoused yet this works poorly for both trends. Corsetry was the accepted mode of dress among empowered women, the ideal of the slim waist is ever present in our society and it's not only men who are the driving force behind it. This is the ideal that's accepted by all people and while exceptions are present that notion hasn't changed for centuries. Western ideas of femininity are simply related to the shape of the body, a small waist, curves at the bust and hips and these notions are carried forth even now. The ideal feminine is fetishized by everyone and not necessarily in the sexual sense of the word, it has to be accepted that this discourse leads women to fetishize their own bodies if they have the money and time to do so. The size zero/four obsession is simply another example of our culture creating fetish through the feminine and what better way to get to the feminine than through the female body? Women simply lean further toward the feminine than the masculine. A slender waist is the ideal for masculinity as well, a sense of power displayed through the shoulders and chest rather than through the hips. Jutting curves are not powerless displays, femininity in the most idealised form is as aggressive as masculinity and the size zero/four desire that we are seeing in our culture at the moment is not a desire to be powerless but a desire to be the representation of that ideal. Through weight loss comes consumer power, a sign of wealth and control and though it isn't healthy and the ideal feminine is never attainable, women will continue to construct themselves in line with it.

There is a sense of hysteria around the notion of femininity, in part because many people are scared that its representation signals the end of a recognisable feminism or a change in the cultural landmarks that we are so used to, particularly in fashion. In the 90s the reaction to the strident supermodels, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Elle MacPherson, women with a sense of masculinity about them, was heroin chic. Delicate models like Kate Moss emerged and their size was criticised because it was viewed as an encouragement to anorexia and other eating disorders. The trend has continued and the media continues to view it in the same way but in hand with this is a lack of recognition that femininity is an attribute rather than a rule. Women are not automatically feminine so there is supposedly a danger that they will spend too much in attaining it. That fear fails to recognise our cultural history, that all people have leant their hand to achieving these attributes for most of their lives and that anyone who has seen a face without make up and a body unclothed knows the difference between female and feminine, male and masculine. That difference means that all ideals are ultimately recognisably flawed.

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