slowing it down

First of all, let me announce far and wide that I haven’t forgotten about y’all, or this blog, or even (perish the thought) Halloween itself. I lost my $%&*$#& tripod, probably thanks to seasonal gremlins. Although I could probably wheedle some photos out of my loved ones, it’s just not the same as manning the shutter myself. Prepare, though, for a massive backlog of posts (including my excruciatingly belated Halloween costume) when I either find it or suck it up and shell out for a new one. In the meantime, I’ll be filling this blog with writing, non-fashion photography, and maybe a few pretty pictures from elsewhere on the web.  And today I’m unveiling something I’ve been pondering for a while now.

thrifted

You’ve seen this picture before, but look – it’s an entirely vintage/thrifted outfit!

Starting on January 1st, I will no longer be participating in fast fashion. I’ve been disappointed for some time with fashion blogging’s emphasis on consumption over creativity. I’m tired of same-old-same-old editorials with brand names in full, obnoxious view, as though the price tag were the end-all of a garment.  I’m tired of uninspired outfit posts with no story to tell, just a label to flaunt. The way I see it, fashion blogging is supposed to be about bringing the art of clothing to a wider audience. Taking it into our own hands and pioneering new styles. I’m all about the democratization of high fashion (and high art in general). There are so many talents out there whose work might never see the light of day were it not for the internet and blogging culture. So it kinda bums me out when I see post after post about endless acquisition of off-the-rack basics. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the creation of something the world has never seen before?

On its face, I don’t really have a problem with this. Hell, I’m not immune to attention-whoring when I find a really excellent vintage hat. But I’m tired of pretending that the glorification of status and materialism has no cost. I want to acknowledge that much of American culture’s pursuit of beauty ascends at the expense of human rights and environmental preservation. Yes, I know that Forever 21 dress is cute. But what’s that cuteness worth? Exploited children, shoddy factories, erasure of real craftsmanship? Not to mention that it’ll fall apart after three or four washings, and you’ll be left browsing the racks once again, perpetuating the cycle. I’m done with it.

Starting on January 1st, I will be buying exclusively vintage, thrifted, and handmade clothing. Admittedly, that isn’t much of a statement, coming from me. The clear majority of my clothes already fall into at least one of those categories. But I do occasionally cave in and go nuts at Charlotte Russe or Urban Outfitters. In two months, it stops. As a fashion blogger, I sit in a uniquely advantageous position: I can prove, with visual evidence, how awesome secondhand clothes can look. There’s so much clothing in the world. Why should it fall to ruin because predominant mores decided it’s no longer relevant?

So much of the activism in the fashion world is ultimately superficial. Yes, it’s great that so many people are pushing for a more inclusive perspective of beauty. It’s great that more companies are expanding their audience by marketing to different sizes and economic brackets. But if your definition of “inclusive” includes only those who have the privilege of contemplating fashion in the first place, it’s fundamentally flawed. Compared to the other flaws in the fashion industry, it’s one big ol’ first-world problem. How about including the often indigent workers, the local communities displaced by factories and urban sprawl, the children asthmatic from pollution, in the global discourse on fashion? How about finding balance between luxury and sustainability?

Beauty is tainted when its production is ugly. I am not okay with seeing my art propped up by corrupt, ozone-frying industries. I’m not going to pretend the gobbling of shoddy resources isn’t just another tick of the metaphorical time bomb. And on a more personal level, I care about the fashion world. I love its glitz and grotesquerie, and I damn well want its art to last. It’s the very least I can do to support ethical production and earth-safe materials. We have to lift this metaphorical house from the sand and plant it firmly on solid ground.

Starting January 1st…

  • I will buy primarily from local secondhand/vintage stores. Not only does that recycle the old, it supports the local economy.
  • I will also buy handmade artisanal garments when I can. Etsy is my friend here.
  • No more box stores or fast fashion franchises. No Urban Outfitters, Charlotte Russe, etc. I will, however, keep doing my research, and if certain box stores are particularly ethical, I will continue to patronize them.
  • I will begin making my own clothes more often. I’d like to find sustainably produced fabrics, too, but that will be a later project. I’m easing in.
  • I will keep what I already own. Poorly produced though some of it may be, I find it ultimately disrespectful to throw it out for some grand ideological reason. It was made, I’ve bought it, and I might as well get all the use from it that I can.
  • I will consult Annika’s ethical clothing directory as often as I can. That girl is doing great work.
  • I’m undecided about what to do if someone gifts me a fast-fashion item. Family and friends know about my pledge, and I have no qualms about reminding them of it when holidays and birthdays roll around, but what about acquaintances? Distant relatives? Family friends? Handing it back or asking for the receipt seems like such a cringingly awkward thing to do. Has anyone else who’s made a similar pledge figured out a good system for this?

a little pedagogy with your nightcap

Last week, the Cynic, one of UVM’s student papers, released a Valentine’s Day issue. Its cover featured a girl unbuttoning her flannel shirt (as though there were any doubt that we’re Vermonters to the syrup-dripping core) to reveal a lacy camisole. This week, the following letter to the editor was printed. I’ve redacted it for brevity and boldfaced parts most relevant to my subsequent critique.

I appreciate the [Cynic‘s] efforts to balance itself as a viable news source while remaining edgy to retain the attention of its target population – college students.

The Cynic has taken this a step too far, however, with the nonsensical objectification on the cover of its Valentine’s Day issue. Because, while this “Sexy Issue” is meant to be the Cynic “unbuttoned”, the only thing truly unbuttoned in this issue is the cover model’s shirt.

Besides the cleavage gracing the cover, the photo posted online the night before with an alternative cover titled “Something big is coming” with a suggestively half-naked male, is equally concerning.

Within this issue, there is no explanation for the displays of skin, no caption or follow-up article. The somewhat forced theme of romance and sex is present, but the cover is only implicitly connected to these stories, which simply leaves room for a shady interpretation.

There are interpretations that could accuse the Cynic of objectifying women … and men. Or maybe the newspaper has decided to just throw some skin on its cover for more student readers. Perhaps the Cynic has decided to embrace its naked culture and become a porn magazine – it’s all up for interpretation.

This sleazy marketing strategy is definitely an attention grabber, and a totally unwarranted one. The choice is ultimately not risque – only tacky.

Anonymous, Class of 2014

Objectification. Something tells me Anon here doesn’t do too many photo shoots. A photo shoot is a collaboration between model and photographer. It’s a lot more nuanced than the subject/object dichotomy to which many critics are fond of reducing it. To use a graphic but (I hope) illuminating metaphor: the dom in BDSM, or even the top in more vanilla sex, is not necessarily in control. It’s a partnership.

I find the word “objectification” itself more than a little insulting. The word itself, and the attendant concept, reduces me to an object far more than anything a photographer could do behind a camera. When you say that a person (usually a woman, and I’ll get to that soon) has been objectified, your implications are themselves objectifying her. You are saying that being photographed is something done to a woman rather than something in which she actively engages. When you tell a model she has been objectified, you are telling her she is an object without choice in the matter of her portrayal. I’ve always hated hearing media critics talk about how women “are portrayed” – passive voice, as though women themselves are never the primary actors. Give them a little agency, for chrissakes. Rarely do I hear anyone raise the possibility that women collude in their own portrayals.

I don’t know anything about the girl on last week’s Cynic cover. I have no idea what the terms of her shoot were. For all I know, the use of her image wasn’t consensual. But it’s patronizing to assume the negative. When I see a woman posing provocatively, I owe her (and all women) the dignity of assuming her choices are her own unless stated otherwise. For me, in that instance, to call her objectified (or sexualized, or any other passive-voice adjective) would be tantamount to shitting on her personal agency.

And it’s always women. I’m using the feminine pronoun not by accident or whim but because these conversations, 95% of the time, are about women. At least Anon threw in a little nod to men’s potential objectification. Other than that, I can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of times I’ve seen similar “concern” applied to male models or actors or athletes. Men, for better or for worse, are generally granted the assumption of autonomy. A man takes his clothes off, and people don’t look twice. Maybe a few of them swoon a little. A woman takes her clothes off, and everyone and their sister’s chihuahua has to have an opinion: why did she do it? who is she doing it for? is her decision “good for women” or “bad for women”? I’ve always hated the buzzphrase “good for women”. We rarely ask whether something is good for men. Men are afforded the assumption of independent agency, while women are still regarded (often by nominal feminists!) as not only fundamentally reactive but as interchangeable. Monolithic – what’s good for one woman must be good for all, because god forbid I be a human before a female.

You can disagree with what I do. By all means disagree: I enjoy and encourage debate. But I draw the line at being told I’m not actually running my own life. You’re perfectly entitled to think my sexy photos are disgusting and ought to be shipped on a flaming raft to the sluttiest circle of hell. But don’t you dare try to tell me that these photos were something done to me. When you “accuse the Cynic of objectifying women”, you’re forgetting that there’s a living, breathing human behind that photo. That, not the close-up of her cleavage, is what I call objectification.