What does a feminist really look like anyway? // Madeline Brodt

Recent popular culture has engaged in a debate of what the word feminism means and why some are hesitant to self-identify as feminists. From Beyonce (2015) to Aziz Ansari (Murray, 2015), celebrities and critics have weighed in as to who should identify as a feminist and who currently does. A response to this debate is the creation of t-shirts that are emblazoned with “This is what a feminist looks like.” Many celebrities have been spotted wearing these t-shirts and it has led me to wonder what does a feminist wear exactly?

Perhaps it was the practicum interviews I was preparing for recently and making my aesthetic choices I made when attending them. Perhaps it was guided by my interest in contemporary pinup style clothing. Perhaps it was a recent conference experience where multiple people chose to notice my choice of clothing and initiate conversations about it. No matter what brought this up to me recently, I have found that more and more my clothing choices have been of interest to others and what they assume about me.

In order to situate this observation I should share about myself. I am a large woman both in wearing traditionally “plus-sized” clothing but also in height, as I am over six feet tall. I tend to wear dresses that have a pinup style including wearing a petticoat. I tend to not wear makeup except for special occasions or when I feel that my “war paint” would be helpful to my confidence. I have a non traditional haircut and several visible piercings. With this presentation to the world, I have noticed something similar to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes thusly “Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance” (2014, para.7). Loud colors are discouraged while wearing makeup is encouraged inside of our professional practice. I buy into this, as when I choose to wear makeup to a conference or an interview, but I wonder what these choices means about me as a feminist. Do feminists wear dresses as often as I do? Do feminists choose to wear pinup style clothing which is inspired by an era that did not have much justice for people who were not white, cisgender, straight, able bodied men? Do feminists wear suits? Do feminists wait with eager glee for the release of a special edition print dress? Do feminists wear what makes them happy even if it is influenced by the patriarchal values present in our culture? I do not have an idea.

Others have attempted to answer some of these questions. Some state that pinup clothing is feminist (Greco, 2011; Samin, 2015), or that any clothing you enjoy is acceptable (Adiche, 2014), or that an interest in fashion is feminist (Rosenfeld, 2014) and that wearing makeup is acceptable as a personal choice (Iyer, 2015). How do I square these ideas with my personal discomfort with my personal choices at times? I wonder whether or not my choice to wear dresses is simply a way to manage my discomfort with my non-traditional size or whether it is my attempt to adhere to feminine beauty norms. Style is such a nebulous concept that it is difficult to nail down how much of it is not culturally shaped by patriarchal attitudes. I engage in a lot of introspection and criticism about other types of choices in my life. At the same time, I know that totally disengaging from the feminine beauty standard would not benefit me just as presenting with hyper feminine would negatively impact me. There seems to be an unwritten fine line as to what is acceptable for women to wear. Just enough natural looking makeup, severe yet feminine clothes, and a pair of heels is the preferred uniform for women.

With this realization about the lack of introspection I wanted to create a set of questions for myself when creating my presentation in the morning:

  • ·      Am I dressing for myself or for others?
  • ·      Am I prioritizing comfort or style?
  • ·      How am I changing my presentation based on whom I will encounter today?
  • ·      Am I choosing my clothes based on my preferences or for the male gaze?
  • ·      Will I feel confident in my choices even if it is criticized?

I welcome the addition of questions that others ask themselves when working on presenting themselves.

Murray, D. (2015, March 10). A Heart-to-Heart About Feminism With Aziz Ansari. Retrieved from http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/celebs/q-and-a/a37545/aziz-ansari-feminism-interview/
Hobson, J. (2015, March 7). Beyonce’s Fierce Feminism. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/03/07/beyonces-fierce-feminism/
Adichie, C. N. (2014, February 20). Why Can't a Smart Woman Love Fashion? Retrieved from http://www.elle.com/fashion/personal-style/a12670/personal-essay-on-style-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie/
Samin, S. (2015, June 14). 7 Reasons Pinup Fashion Is Actually Feminist Even If The Time It Originated In Was Not. Retrieved from http://www.bustle.com/articles/90137-7-reasons-pinup-fashion-is-actually-feminist-even-if-the-time-it-originated-in-was-not
Greco, L. (2011, August 18). Is the Pin-Up Feminist? Retrieved from http://lachristagreco.com/lachrista-greco-1/2011/08/18/is-the-pin-up-feminist
Rosenfeld, J. (2014, April 09). Feminism and Personal Style: Can you have both? Retrieved from http://www.josephrosenfeld.com/feminism-personal-style-can-you-have-both/
Iyer, M. (2015, July 16). Makeup Beauty and Being A Bad Feminist. Retrieved from http://www.literallydarling.com/blog/2015/07/16/makeup-beauty-and-being-a-bad-feminist/

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