Oh the places you’ll go: on clothes and shoes and eating my words

A few weeks ago I made the declaration that ‘You can’t be a feminist and buy fashion magazines’. This is the bit where I backpedal.

My grandmother was a dressmaker. To be more specific she made couture gowns for high society in the 60s and 70s. She also made a lot of wedding gowns and taught pattern making at East Sydney Technical College. I have a memory of standing next to her in a department store, probably David Jones, while she made sketches of designer gowns so she could copy them later.Image

I inherited her love of a well cut frock and was a little obsessed with clothes as a child. This was back before you could buy voluminous tulle skirts in any kids clothing store, she made made them for me herself. I would do drawings of dresses that I dreamed up and she would make them for me. My strongest memory is of standing on her coffee table while she took pins from between her lips and pinned the hem of the calico toile she had made for my First Holy Communion dress. She later made the final dress from taffeta and lace that we chose together from a fabric store in Cabramatta. I wanted a strapless sweetheart neckline with a fitted bodice and full, billowing princess skirt. I got my wish, with the compromise of a long-sleeve lace overlay which was deemed more suitable for ones first communion with the Eucharist.

Later, when I was fifteen, I bought my first fashion magazine: a September issue of Harpers Bazaar with Christy Turlington on the cover. I sat at the dining room with Grandma and we poured over the pages together while she used the nebuliser which was keeping her alive. (She called fashion magazines Wish Books.) We discussed the dress that she would make for my year ten formal, folding the corners of pages for later reference, we would take this hemline, that neckline, this waist. She passed away soon after and I went to the formal in a store-bought dress: fitted bodice, flared skirt, black lace overlay.

I suppose what I am saying is what so, so many women have said before: some items of clothing are much more than items of clothing. I was taught to look at clothes the way an architect looks at a buildings. Some clothes are invested with meaning and carry the ethereal power of possibility. Yesterday I went to the sales with my dear, London-dwelling bestie. We tried on designer labels and I got that giddy light-headedness that one gets when one stands before an iconic painting or meets a super-duper movie star. For a few moments, in the changing room, I wore McQueen. It has never happened before and probably won’t happen again. My bestie bought McQueen and DKNY at ludicrously low prices. I bought a pair of outrageous canary yellow heels by Sass and Bide. They’re not really the sort of thing that will fit into my day to day existence. I won’t wear them to do the groceries. But that is clearly not the point. I may not spend much time strolling by the Eiffel Tower in incredible shoes, but I now have some ready to go should the occasion arise.

Lest to say, trying on clothes like that is not something I do often. Magazines remain my only regular portal into the Fashion Dreamland which I will only ever fleetingly inhabit, even then with a security tag attached. So for now I shall dismount from my high horse (his name is Fred, he’s a bolter). I shall try and remain self aware and on guard to the risks associated with repeated viewing of images of very thin people. And in a little while I will probably backpedal again.

You can’t be a feminist and buy fashion magazines.

This week a study reported that seventy-five percent of men, when they see a woman, don’t look at her face, they look at her body.* I for one an neither surprised nor enraged. I fact, I think that sounds quite healthy and imperative to the human race’s survival. I do like to imagine, say, Prince Charles trying to keep his eyes above the shoulders of every of the two hundred women he might greet at an average afternoon tea.

Meanwhile this video has been floating around. And it’s made me wonder about the opposite. Not women looking at men (everyone knows we are a bunch of salacious perverts and there is no hope for us) but rather women looking at women. Heterosexual women looking at women. That is a study that would be worthwhile.

I went to the beach this afternoon. I could tell you about ten different women I saw and what their bodies were like in detail.

I don’t think that’s healthy.

Ask any parent of young girls and they will tell you that girls start worrying about and evaluating their bodies as young as five. FIVE. I don’t need to tell you about the problems with the representation of women in the media. But just for good measure I challenge you to name more than three women regularly seen on television who aren’t the ‘conventional’ image of attractiveness. (i.e. a size eight) Now try men, yes, think of all the men you see on television who aren’t totally bangin’. List them. It should take about half an hour.

(Later, go and read Lisa Wilkinson’s Andrew Olle lecture on women in the media. She was the second woman in fifteen years to be offered the gig! Girl Power!)

I can’t help but wonder how this kind of visual onslaught affects the very physiology of the female brain. But chances are you could do a study and find out it damages us beyond repair and nothing would change.

So what can be done?

I recently went on a three-week beach holiday. My great weakness on holiday is Vogue magazine. Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, InStyle, Vanity Fair, Elle, I freakin’ love them because I love clothes. There are people who say they can see the magisty of God in a sunset. I saw God in Prada’s Spring/Summer 13 collection. I’m not joking. Some people think that clothes are all about vanity and trying to look good. To me, appreciating a well cut garment is no different to appreciating great architecture. My favourite labels are Prada, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Miu Miu, in case you are interested. Do I own any garments by these said designers? Are you kidding? I’m a WRITER. (i.e. poor by western standards.) The closest I am likely to come to a Prada dress is gazing at a picture in a magazine. (Unless The Sky So Heavy sells like, 500,000 copies. Hop to it people!)

I only read fashion magazines on holiday because I’m a bit like a social smoker: I know they are going to do bad things to me, but if I don’t get my occasional fix I’m going to lose the will to live. And surprise, surprise within two days of gazing at these freakish women who just look amazing in McQueen, I decided I would give up dairy. Who cares about osteoporosis? I want to be skinny. When I realised there was dairy in chocolate I decided instead I would fast two days a week because I’ve heard that’s, like, really good at, like, flushing your body of toxins. (AND YOU CAN LOSE 10 KILOS.)

Never mind the fact that eating tissues is a known strategy used by models to manage hunger and maintain weight. Yep, when you’re next sitting down to a chicken sandwich (on wholemeal!) spare a thought for the fifteen year-olds who have replaced food with disposable snot-management products. And yet we snigger at the Victorian convention of strapping women into corsets. Those poor women! Someone pass me a tissue.

Never mind the fact that my body is perfectly healthy the way it is. Never mind the fact that I can swim two kilometres of freestyle. After two days of Vogue, I don’t care if I don’t have the energy to walk, I want to be thin! Yeah!

Keep in mind, I am a fairly intelligent person. I have a sound sense of self-worth. I have a dreamy husband who loves me the way I am and tells me so regularly. But, I know that the moment I pick up Vogue is going to be the moment I start to obsess about the size of my thighs. You want to talk about achievement? I would feel a greater sense of achievement if I could fit in to a size ten pair of jeans than I do about the fact I HAD A BLOODY NOVEL PUBLISHED.

Magazines are a fraction of a problem that infests every form of media. It stretches from the kinds of women who read the news to the kind that appear in music videos. If two days of Vogue reading can have such an effect on me, imagine the effect the kind of images our media is saturated with has on the mind of a thirteen year-old. She doesn’t stand a freakin’ chance. And if I starve myself and teach my sons that a woman’s worth is equal to her hip width, I am just as bad as the fashion editor who puts a forty-five kilo model on the cover. And she would have been airbrushed with Photoshop to get rid of that lump in her tummy area, WHICH SHE USES TO STORE THE TISSUES SHE EATS FOR SUSTENANCE.

If Marilyn Monroe were around today she would not get a single published anywhere except Who magazine, where they would have an arrow pointing to her stomach, asking ‘Baby bump?!’

Seriously what the FUCK, people?

So what’s it going to take, I wonder? This blog is just another voice in the chorus. It’s nothing you haven’t read before. So what can we DO?

As far as magazines go, bans on catwalk models under fifteen aren’t going to make a difference. Committees of fashion editors sitting around talking about the seriousness of the issue aren’t going to make a difference.

The power lays squarely with the consumer. Imagine what would happen in the fashion industry alone, if every woman in the country said enough is enough and stopped buying not only fashion magazines containing doctored images, but tabloid magazines that publish pics of post-baby bodies and highlight patches of cellulite with arrows.

Because I don’t think it’s an ethical issue any different to buying fair trade coffee or chocolate, or refusing to buy garments made in sweatshops.

This issue is no different to any other major feminist battle throughout history.

You can’t be feminist and buy magazines which fuel an industry that serves to make women feel inadequate, that peddles a body ideal constructed from digitally enhanced images that are no way realistic or obtainable. There, I’ve said it. I understand the love of Vogue and the like. I REALLY, REALLY do. But can you imagine if architects decided that buildings looked better with impossibly narrow doorways, so that the only way an average person could enter would be to have bits of their body surgically removed?

Something has got to give.

*Your going to ask where those results were published, aren’t you? I don’t know, I saw it on The Project. So lets just say the results are available for viewing on The Internet.