Category Archives: Contemporary

Measuring Up

“Judgments,” Image courtesy of Rosea Lake, http://www.huffingtonpost.com, 2013.

This photo, taken by Capilano University student Rosea Lake, is a visual representation of the many judgments passed on women based solely on their appearance. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Lake spoke about the subconscious objectification of women and her own tendency to “look down on and judge any woman who didn’t express her sexuality in a way that [she] found appropriate,” which were her inspirations behind the piece.

Even simple fashion statements, such as the length of a woman’s skirt, can lead to broad and negative assumptions about one’s personality and sexuality – and a woman’s “freedom” to dress as she wishes can be trumped by her fear of being labelled like the legs in this photo.

The photo, which was posted to Lake’s tumblr on January 5th, 2013, has received close to 800,000 notes.

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Selling “youth, sex, and casual superiority”

In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch

“Abercrombie & Fitch chief’s ‘cool kids’ comments draw outrage,” Los Angeles Times, latimes.com, 2013.

In a 2006 interview with Salon.com, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries revealed the company’s formula for success: targeting a small market of people who fit into even smaller sizes. Jeffries also made it clear that consumers who buy A&F clothes are not just buying clothes – they are also buying into and representing an entire lifestyle ideal.

When the interview resurfaced seven years later, Jeffries came under heavy fire for his implications that consumers who are not thin enough to fit into A&F clothes are also not cool enough, not pretty enough, not young enough, and not ideal enough to wear the brand. Wearing the label of the “casually flawless” “all-American youth” is a privilege reserved only for those smaller than a size 10. In the case of A&F, a consumer’s freedom to wear what they want is thwarted by the company’s “exclusionary” vision.

Back to School Uniforms

“Students Wear School-Sanctioned Dress,” Images courtesy of National Center for Education Statistics, usatoday.com, 2013.

Despite inconclusive research about school-sanctioned clothing, an increasing number of public schools are instating strict dress codes and/or uniforms for their students in hopes of fostering “better grades, better behavior, increased self-esteem and school pride.” Though popular with educators and parents as a straightforward and cost-effective way of enforcing discipline, there has been little to no evidence that dress codes and uniforms are actually benefiting students in the aforementioned ways.

The notion that school-sanctioned dress is conducive to a better learning environment also implies that the students’ loss of individuality and freedom of expression is beneficial – or, at least, less important than what they can potentially (or supposedly) gain. Regardless of the student’s own belief in the “better learning environment” or not, dress codes and uniforms force them to conform to the standards dictated by the education system, or face disciplinary action.

Raising a “gender-free” child

“Boy or girl? It’s a secret — and an international controversy,” Video courtesy of HLN, CNN.com, 2011

Toronto couple Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have attracted attention for their decision to raise their child, Storm, without sex or gender. Giving Storm “the freedom to choose who he or she is wants to be” has incited fierce debate. The couple has been praised for their brazen defiance of a “culture that’s obsessed with gender” and labels – as well as criticized for allegedly making gender “a bigger deal than it necessarily needs to be” and implying that “gender is wrong” and therefore must be hidden. Critics also point out that the child will bear the brunt of any negative repercussions, such as bullying, name-calling, or social exclusion.

At the time of media exposure, Storm was four months old – too young to actually have a say in how he/she is being raised. The preference of incorporating or excluding gender-specific material in child rearing is therefore not that of Storm’s but of his/her parents. In addition, if or when Storm is able to act on his/her own accord, dressing in traditional gendered clothing could be seen as an act of yielding to oppressive societal standards, and not doing so could lead to ostracism.