During an interview with Mimi Thi Nguyen, Tanisha C. Ford alluded to fashion as a political choice that allows its wearer to make a point about certain normative expectations of beauty. However, Ford may have overlooked a problem: not everyone has equal access to fashion or beauty practices as a means of rebellion or empowerment. Ford’s citing of female professors of color “us[ing] their clothing to challenge and redefine notions of ‘professional’ attire on their own terms” ignores other women of color who are more limited in their fashion choices due to their humbler fiscal means. Additionally, it is difficult to assess whether those choices would be “read” as similarly empowering if a black woman had to fight against multiple discrimination in terms of her size, sexual orientation, and ability-status.
Ford finds white, Eurocentric beauty norms already stacked against her, so her investment in style and fashion is “a means to reimagine and redefine black womanhood” (Nguyen, “Haute Couture Intellectual”). However, we still wonder, could a poor black woman employ fashion in this same way? Could she afford to spend money on clothes that she can survive without? Would a plus sized black woman be able to find properly-fitting clothes that she could use to subvert social norms? Even if she did, isn’t wearing hippy costume for a job interview to rebel against social norms significantly trickier for them than thin black women? Would they be willing to take the extra risk of dressing unconventionally for a job interview when they have to worry about the negative pre-judgements made on them simply for being more oversized than average? What about queer black people? For example, when talking with queer professors of color, many have cited that the expectations of how they should dress are radically different for them and white male candidates. During an interview process, a past visiting professor from Carleton College remembered that all of the people of color were dressed to look as Eurocentrically professional as possible, yet the white men in the room were wearing sandals and shorts. This divide demonstrates that fashion as a means of rebellion is not always available to the people who are most marginalized in society. In order to be taken as seriously as a white man, these queer and trans people of color couldn’t rebel, lest they be seen as unprofessional, and therefore unhirable. Minh-Ha T. Pham, an assistant professor in the graduate Media Studies program at the Pratt Institute, states that marginalized identities– especially women of color–attempt to “fashion themselves in ways that diminish their racial difference” from white people (Pham, 2011).
At a more fundamental level, fashion is merely an unattainable luxury for many women around the world who need to focus on surviving in exploitative working conditions and cannot enjoy the symbolic fabrics of “freedom and feminism”. What becomes clear is that not everyone can participate in the active use of fashion as a means of rebellion. Ford’s push for sartorial subversion is quite narrow and is available to select people who are able to, in some way, use their privilege as a shield when they rebel. It falls victim to the “everyday deployment of mass cultural representations” mentioned by modern feminist philosopher and cultural historian, Susan Bordo (24). Although Bordo is specifically talking about the grasp that Anglo-Saxon, heteronormative aspects that hold onto mass cultural representation, we believe other qualities such as class and size are also normalized in the discourse for representation, which then make their way into people’s personal politics.
Post by: Wanchensicle, ilovethearb, gheebuttersnapps, AL, & laylortynn