Sunday, April 15, 2012

Learning How to Be a Feminist Fashionista

Is it sad for a 31-year-old to admire a 15-year-old? Probably. But I still think Tavi Gevinson is awesome.
Gevinson started the fashion blog The Style Rookie at the ripe old age of 11 and quickly became a star. Within two years her blog was being closely watched by fashion’s elite and was helping her snag invites to runway shows and parties. Last year in September she launched Rookie, an online teen magazine with a feminist point of view for which she serves as editor-in-chief.

If that wasn’t reason enough to love her, Gevinson recently shared remarkably wise words about feminism at TEDxTeen:

I wanted to start a website for teenaged girls that was not this kind of one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because I think one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be a feminist they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers and this is not true and actually recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I understood that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process.

I am so glad that this girl has figured out at age 15 something I didn’t realize until I was about 30.

I was in my early 20s when I began to embrace the title of “feminist.” Initially identifying myself with the feminist movement felt quite empowering. Then it became paralyzing. I was constantly second guessing my choices and preferences, particularly with regard to fashion. I inundated myself with questions about my clothing choices: If I choose modesty am I succumbing to the Puritanical notion that women’s bodies are somehow evil or sinful and need to be covered up? If I dress provocatively am I participating in and perpetuating my own objectification? Is it wrong to wear heels? Is it OK to wear makeup? Is the fact that I love the color pink somehow anti-feminist?

And then I’d beat myself up for putting so much thought into how I looked since a true feminist would be more focused on the beauty of her mind. It’s a miracle I managed to get dressed and out of the house back then.

Later I went the opposite direction: I decided that my fashion and my feminism should exist in separate universes, that one should not inform or be a reflection of the other. This was stupid. This method may work for some feminist fashionistas, but not me. I am a person who strongly believes the personal is political. So trying to separate my fashion choices from my feminist convictions would be a hideous example of not practicing what I preach.

Eventually I learned to relax. Today when it comes to my beauty and fashion choices I ask myself one simple question: “Why are you wearing this?” If the answer is “Because I like the way I look and feel in it,” I leave it at that. I could, perhaps even should, ask myself follow-up questions such as “Well, why do you like the way you look in this? Is it because it’s slimming and magazines have convinced you that you’re fat? Is it because you think men will find you desirable in this outfit?” But I don’t ask follow-up questions because if I did I’d never get anywhere on time.

Sometimes, the answer is not “Because I like the way I look and feel in it.” Sometimes the answer is “Because I might run into my ex and I want to show him what he’s missing” or “All my friends will be wearing stilettos and hip-hugging dresses so I should too so I won’t look like a little boy standing next to them in pictures. The images, after all, will be immortalized on Facebook.”

In these cases I then ask myself, “OK, what do you really want to wear?” The answer is always clear. Then I take a deep breath, change into the right outfit, and head out the door knowing I am being true to myself and to my style.

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