28 July 2008

Background Color, Redux

I've been pleasantly buoyed by the great responses to my original entry on the Beth Ditto NYLON editorial. Today it's being republished on Racialicious, but meanwhile Fatshionista and other blogs belonging to fashionable and fabulous people have also penned some thoughtful responses. Here's a sample of some!

Over at Ballad of a Ladyman, Chrisomatic (who would hate to know that I wear high-waisted and wide-legged jeans like a second skin) had this to say: "It feels like a rehash of the Riot Grrrl movement where white, class privileged, activist women focussed largely on their own oppression while exhibiting racist, classist attitudes towards women of color and working class/poor women who sought to participate in a supposedly inclusive movement. I know she probably doesn't have 100% control over the editorial direction of a magazine photo shoot but she certainly has the power to say 'NO' in the same loudmouth way she speaks out against sizeist beauty standards, sexism and homophobia. "

Make Fetch Happen also linked the entry, and a commentator notes, "I have browsed through a hipster/alternative fashion magazine or two before and they always made me feel discomfort because they always seemed to be even more racist than people believe Vogue magazine to be." The subject of hipster racism in fashion, which is qualified as such because it is accompanied so often by a posture of irony that imagines that hipster + racism is incompatible or emptied out of historical depth, is totally fascinating and worth a closer look for sure.

And Matta Baby contrasts this editorial with other forms of "colonial chic:" "I find the offhandedness of the image heighten how disturbing it is to me, as if it's suggesting that this is the natural order. As comically obscene as something such as, say a Free People catalog is, at least they bother to appropriate their culture in the spread, at least it’s of some kind of twisted interest. Instead, here we are only offered the perpetual bleak sterility of working class life when you weren’t blessed with the natural sparkle of a complexion that stepped straight from the decks of the Mayflower."

And finally, at Fatshionista, Tara springboards off the entry I wrote to address the fat activism communities about intersectional analyses: "This tension plays out when someone who reveres Beth Ditto reads this article or sees this photo and immediately becomes defensive of her actions. My guess is that they feel betrayed and sad and maybe even desperate because all of a sudden, one of their icons has fucked up. And because there is such a dearth of fat cultural icons, they cling, because holding that person accountable for their choices probably means that they should reconsider their support of that artist/actor/performer/etc. And I venture this guess because I can imagine exactly how *I* would feel if one of my icons did something that betrayed my values....What does walking the talk of intersectionality look like? Is it 'ok' to give fat media icons a little more leeway because there are so few of them? Is the willingness to lower the bar proof that the FA movement isn’t taking race and the racism in our community seriously? How do we hold a media icon accountable for their actions when we can’t always engage or interact with them?"

Of course, there's also been the usual dismissive "people are too PC" and "it's fashion, it's not supposed to be real or meaningful!" too. These arguments miss the point that fantasy is just as powerful as reality in shaping our experiences of the world. See the entire histories of Africa as the savage "dark continent" or of Orientalisms, which are fantasies about "the other" that had tremendous impact on how lives and lands were transformed irrevocably.

Other thoughts -- the perception of Ditto's styling as "Oriental-y" seems to be a historical piece of the New Wave/No Wave aesthetic, spanning both its mainstream and underground incarnations to incorporate exoticism into its imagination. (Hi, David Bowie's "China Girl," Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok," the Vapors' "Turning Japanese," et cetera.) Also, I'm glad someone could tell by her cards that Ditto's hand is a winning one. It certainly adds another detail to the photograph's dimensions.


ohnochriso said...

Ah, but Mimi, you have the ability to wear clothes that would look odd on anyone else and make them look chic and cool. I think a lot of it has to do with actual personal style vs. people hopping on a trendy bandwagon and wearing things that don't actually suit them/they're not comfortable in.

And I'm glad to see people are spreading the word about the Nylon spread. Maybe it will get back to Beth Ditto and give her some food for thought.

threadbared said...

Chriso, you're too kind! :)

It's been lots of fun seeing the editorial make the rounds -- lots of the women are Fatshionista! have written to Beth too.