Sometimes you just have to write…
I spent the afternoon today on an outing with a group of my secondary school students, and I noticed again something I’ve noticed before: fashion isn’t fair.
It’s commonly known, these days, that girls feel a lot of pressure to look good, to look sexy, to look fashionable.
Boys feel pressure too, but much less. The media in general and advertising in particular are much more focused on convincing girls that they look bad, and then selling them things to help them look better.
I’ve written before about how boys these days put gel in their hair and wear perfume in a way that girls don’t anymore, yet still girls spend much more time and money on their appearance. They buy lots more clothing, along with makeup and hair products in vast quantities.
Girls are much more likely to be convinced that they look unattractive: too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, badly dressed, pimply, bad hair, etc. This leads them much more often than boys to move toward all sorts of unhealthy, self-hating, self-destructive behaviors: eating disorders, for example.
This is all common knowledge. But given this knowledge, why is the current fashion the way it is?
Boys wear baggy jeans and baggy tee-shirts. Sometimes their jeans are so loose they have to adjust how they walk to prevent them from falling down, but, on the plus side, no one sees how their bodies are shaped under the jeans and tee-shirts. They could have a paunch. They could have “man-boobs.” We wouldn’t know.
We make the girls, on the other hand, wear short shorts or leggings. When I say “short shorts,” I mean very small shorts that are so tight they look painted on, and so short that the bottoms of their butt cheeks show if they’re not careful. When I say “leggings,” I mean what we used to call tights and used to wear only under a dress. These show just as much as the shorts, since they’re so tight and often transparent. When I say “we” I mean the world of fashion and advertising and the whole of our society that helps build up pressure to follow whatever the current fashion trend is, whether it’s attractive or not.
Girls are the ones who are most critical of their own appearance, yet they’re the ones we pressure into wearing clothing that exposes every possible blemish, bump, tiny spot of cellulite, pimple: anything and everything that there is to see is visible.And of course it sexualizes them. Every curve shows in the tight tops they’re expected to wear. Even young teens who have very few curves yet still end up sexualized when their clothing is so tight and exposes so much skin.
The boys, on the other hand, are desexualized. Their muscles don’t show, and neither does the shape or size of their genitals. They’re gender-free, in those baggy clothes. What a sense of freedom that must give them!
There are certainly girls who buck the trends, who wear baggy clothes anyway. Yet those are the ones who are most likely to get teased or bullied or excluded for not fitting in, for not conforming.
Why do the fashion and the advertising industry do this to them? Could it be some sort of intentional conspiracy? Maybe that’s it: they conspire to dress teenagers in a way that will expose and embarrass them the most. This will in turn increase girls’ dissatisfaction with their bodies, which will lead them to spend even more money on diet products, make-up, and clothing, and perhaps even cosmetic surgery.
I tend not to think that it’s a conspiracy, though. Rather, I think it’s just a certain single-mindedness about profit – anything for the bottom line – combined with a latent sexism that unthinkingly requires women but not men to be sex objects.
And I think we need to resist!