“We’re all born naked – the rest is drag.”
So said Ru Paul once upon a time, gifting the world a fabulous Instagram caption as well as a nice wee summary of the link between fashion and identity. Everyone is dressing up, he tells us, drag queens are just a bit more honest about it.
Whether it’s head to toe black, the latest from the runway, or a lumpy cerulean sweater, what we choose to put on our backs says a lot about who we think we are. Or who we’d like to be. But when it comes to fashion and feminism, what should be an innocuous filler topic can descend into fiery argument real quick.
If we wear makeup and heels are we allowing the patriarchy (and its strict beauty standards) to define us? What if we shave our legs and underarms? What if we (gasp) prefer to rock them hairy? Are we trying to say something with that?! WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO SAY?!
When you think about it in a vacuum the answer seems obvious: who gives a damn? In an ideal world, we’d care about people’s style (and grooming) choices as much as we care about our colleague’s random dream last night. Which is to say – we’d hardly care at all.
If a woman wants to fill her face with Botox and wear scanty dresses into her twilight years? Fab! A woman who only rocks sweats, jeans, and suits? Powerful! A woman who follows fashion trends the way others follow sports? Fun! And impressive!
But we don’t live in an ideal world, and a woman’s fashion choices are ripe fodder for how much the world at large respects her. Not to mention how some people equate a woman’s attire with deserving (or not deserving) sexual assault. The ridiculousness is enough to make you laugh – if you weren’t already screaming.
And often it’s women doing the fashion critiquing.
If only Beyoncé wore pants, they say. If only Madonna would age gracefully. If only Gaga would chill out. This is how to be woman! This way! No! Wait! Over here! Like this!
But the women who say such things do the work of the patriarchy. It’s the patriarchy that wishes to divide and conquer women. By keeping us squabbling they keep us powerless.
None of this is to say I’ve never judged a woman (or girl) for her fashion choices. Of course I have. I grew up under patriarchy. It’s what we were taught to do. It was in every magazine I read. It was basically a high school pastime.
But in order to free ourselves from the patriarchy, in order to smash it, we’ve got to create space for all kinds of womanhood. We’ve got to create a space that respects girly girls as much as it respects tomboys. And vice versa.
Shows like Fashion Police and its knock-offs can be fun to watch, just as it can be fun to whisper something to your bestie about the girl over there. And it’s easy to feel better about yourself by knocking someone else down. But when we criticize a woman for her version of womanhood, we all lose out. The space gets smaller. The noose gets tighter.
To really be free we’ve got to allow for all of it. We’ve got to allow for all of us. We’ve got to remember – it’s all just drag.Support Villainesse