Authenticity in pop music: Examining #representations from today

Throughout history, pop stars and pop singers have distinguished themselves from regular, everyday people by being eccentric, over-the-top, and unconventional, both on stage and off stage. However, there has been a recent trend where many pop stars are going against this typical image and instead #representing themselves as authentic and real, which has been generally well received by the public, as shown by these singers’ popularity and success. By representing themselves as authentic, these pop stars are symbolizing and portraying this “realness” with both their choice of dress as well as with their mannerisms and modes of expression. When examining these representations, however, it is important to consider that this authenticity is only true to a certain extent because these singers do possess high social status and high wealth, and therefore are not really “just like us” and are using this “just like us” façade to sell both their music and their image.

One example of a pop star who represents herself as authentic is Miley Cyrus and she does so by explicitly rejecting notions of traditional femininity. As explained in her chapter “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” Sandra Lee Bartky states that people are born male or female but not masculine or feminine, and that femininity is an artifice and a “mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms” (95). According to Bartky’s examination of societal ideals, women are supposed to be submissive, take up little space, and be generally modest and refined in their postures and gestures (97). These disciplinary practices of femininity are completely contrived and arbitrary and by blatantly and specifically defying these expectations, Cyrus is able to expose them as fabricated. Cyrus, in her performance style and meet and greets, is very out there. She sticks out her tongue and allows fans to do outrageous poses with her. She also posts photo of herself that show that she is not concerned with being viewed as beautiful at all times, including a photo wearing false rotten teeth. By doing this, she is stepping outside of the norms of femininity and showing that a “real” woman who is famous does not need to embody the ideal that a woman is required to be tame and meek to be successful or desirable, and is simultaneously showing her female audience that they do not necessarily have to follow the strict constructed idea of femininity to be viewed as a woman.

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Another pop star who also represents herself as authentic by defying expectations of femininity is Demi Lovato. According to Michel Foucault in his chapter “Docile Bodies,” a body can be “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (136). Foucault further affirms that through discipline, culture instructs people to change their bodies, which thus makes the body “an object and target of power” (137). At the beginning of this year, Demi Lovato began posting no makeup selfies on her personal Instagram account with the hashtag #NoMakeupMonday in order to show her fans that they are beautiful without makeup and should feel confident with themselves with or without makeup. By posting photos without makeup, Lovato is showing her fans her “real” appearance, without any adornment or enhancements, and is encouraging them to do the same and feel comfortable doing so. Through this, she is rejecting notions that women must discipline their bodies to look a certain way, and is instead using her unadorned body to make a statement that femininity is constructed and that women should be seen as beautiful without these disciplined practices.

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In a somewhat different manner, singer Katy Perry demonstrates to her fans that she is authentic. Perry constructs her off-stage persona in a specific way by often choosing to wear very silly outfits and quirky styles, which fans of all ages and tastes can copy. In doing this, Perry shows that she is authentic, which Alice Marwick discusses in her paper “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” According to Marwick, a person can be viewed as authentic if he or she has a unique “personal style” and is not “overly influenced by trends and sponsors” (11). Through wearing uncommon and distinctive clothing, Perry is producing her image as “different and resistive” by demonstrating that she has “a sense of expression, creativity, and personal ethics” to her fans, which then leaves an impression that she is accessible (13). Through her off-stage fashion choices, Perry is very clearly making a statement about how she wants to be viewed by her audience. As explained in his chapter “Do Clothes Speak?” Fred David explains that fashion can help to “make clear reference to who we are and [who we] wish to be taken as” and that clothes constitute a “visual language,” which express meanings to others (148). Through wearing silly and humorous outfits in her everyday life, Perry is representing herself as relatable, rather than as perfect or contrived, which is how many pop stars represented themselves in the past.

Katy Perry dresses up as a Cheetoh at Kate Hudson's Party

Katy Perry causes chaos as she visits the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Traditionally, pop singers have signaled to their audience that they have high social and financial status through “conspicuous consumption,” which is the idea that in order to show off your wealth, you must continuously spend your money on luxury goods or expensive brands to signal to others that you are in the elite class. In his work The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen further elaborates that “in order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power” but that this wealth and power must be “put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence” (24). Though many celebrities and pop stars specifically have followed this model in the past by wearing elaborate costumes on stage, and expensive, well-known designers while they are not performing, Swedish pop singer Tove Lo rejects this notion and thus presents herself as more relatable and authentic than some of her peers. Through rejecting this idea, she is showing that she is more of a “regular” person, similar to those who make up her audience, and is therefore more explicitly aligning herself with her fans by not partaking in the culture of conspicuous consumption. In order to show that she is accessible, Tove performs in very simple clothing—she frequently chooses to wear plain black jeans or jean shorts paired with black fitted shirts, none of which tend to have visible brand labels. In addition, she often performs barefoot because she feels more comfortable without shoes. Through examining Elizabeth Wilson’s chapter “Adorned in Dreams,” it can be seen that Tove Lo’s style of dress “is an extension of the body” which helps to creates the link between that body and the “social world” (3). Through selecting to reject norms of consumption that other pop stars frequently subscribe to, Tove is able to distinguish herself from them and represent herself as different and more authentic than other pop singers.

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By representing themselves as authentic and “real,” these four pop stars are able to more easily connect with their audience, which in turn leads to greater popularity, and therefore more sales and profitability. When considering these singers’ different ways of depicting themselves as authentic, it is important to keep in mind that these images of realness and relatability are only somewhat genuine because as highly wealthy and successful women in the music industry, they possess influence and consequently, this constructed illusion of “realness” is a at least partially a ploy to sell themselves more successfully to their consumers.

Works Cited 

1.  Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” Femininity and Domination: Studies  in the Phenomenology of Oppression. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

2.  Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.

3.  Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

4.  Marwick, Alice. “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” International Communication Association annual conference, Boston, MA, 2011. Print.

5.  Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934. Print.

6.  Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. Print.

Britney: Transformation Through A Spectacle

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After watching an episode of Tim Gunns Guide To Style, which revolves around the wardrobe transformation of people who want to change their look, it made me think about how important it is for one to be able to transform into roles and how a fashion transformation impacts his/her overall life. By transforming, people are able to gain more cultural and social capital, increase relationships, improve self-confidence.

Transformation can be defined as the process of change in terms of appearance, character and beliefs. Fashion transformation is about more than fashion; it is about growing up and escaping from a previous representation and transforming into something else, possibly a spectacle.

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According to Elizabeth Wilson, “Fashion is dress in which the key feature is rapid and continual changing of styles. Fashion, in a sense is change, and in modern western societies no clothes are outside fashion”(3) so it is evident that transformation has always been an integral part in keeping culture interesting in terms of appearance and beliefs. Looking back at the female pop singer, Britney Spears, we can trace her transformation through her stage outfits. She started off as the girl next door and has transformed herself into more daring looks making her a spectacle. As we all know, clothes are semiotically rich so each costume within a concert will carry with it meanings.

Britney Spears has always been known for her over the top performances rather than her distinct vocal abilities. She started off by being part of The Mickey Mouse Club and has transformed herself into having a residency in Planet Hollywood, in Las Vegas. Britney used her resources, the financial capital she had acquired as well as the cultural capital associated with her, to progress in her career. Cultural capital can be described as knowledge and taste one possesses that is usually produced by social and economic surroundings. Bourdieu writes “A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code into which it is encoded.” (2)

After achieving two full years of success with well-known singles as “Oops I Did It Again” and “Baby One More Time” in 2000-2001, Britney Spears wanted to escape the girl next door image and transform herself professionally and personally. What greater way to do this than put on a memorable MTV VMA performance! Spears performed her single “Slave 4 U” at the 2001 MTV VMA’s and this marked her transformation to sexy and exotic for life. She was a spectacle meant to be looked at and not only was the performance something to look at, but also the costume she wore. According to Hebdige, “spectacular subcultures express forbidden contents in forbidden forms (transgressions of sartorial and behavioural codes, law breaking, etc.). They are profane articulations, and they are often and significantly defined as ‘unnatural’.” (91-92). Britneys’ transformation from an ordinary girl from Louisiana to a pop icon was not an easy ride, since she had to transgress from behavioral codes and transform herself into a spectacle that people are willing to pay a lot of money to see.

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Next, The Dream Within A Dream tour was the fourth concert tour she had in 2001. Most of her performances were accompanied by extravagant special effects, including confetti, laser lights, artificial fog and snow. Throughout the concert she transformed into many characters, one being the all american girl in her outfit for “Lucky”. She started off by being in a giant musical box dressed as a ballerina but then tore off her tutu and put on a long white satin coat. According to Bartky, the female fashion silhouettes illustrates how style is relative to time: “Styles of the female figure vary over time and across cultures: they reflect cultural obsessions and preoccupations in ways that are still poorly understood” ( 95) and looking at Britneys’ transformation we can see the cultural obsession with the glam look,the ballerina look, the girl next door look, which are all looks she transforms into throughout her concert.

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The Circus Starring Britney Spears was her seventh concert tour in 2008 and was the most theatrical and intricate in terms of fashion designs and production. Fashion designers Dean and Dan Caten created the costumes. According to Marwick, designers are attracted to certain celebrities based on their appeal to the public since celebrities are “valuable commodities for brands as their endorsement can create trends and spur sales”(4). Britney was seen as a valuable commodity by DSQUARED since her transformation to a theatrical performer directly fitted the fashion style of the designers. In these shows she transformed from a ringmaster to a policewoman to a slave and created a spectacle for the audiences’ entertainment.

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Although Newton talks about the notion of camp within the homosexual sphere, which is a strategic way of acting that responds to a situation that resists the straight world, Britneys’ performances can be seen as camp because they are highly theatrical and performative in nature. He says that, “Both the drag and the queen and the camp are expressive performing roles, and both specialize in transformation”(104) Camp uses incongruity to reach a “higher synthesis”(105) which in the case of Britney would be to reach something amazing the fans can look at with admiration and transform herself through it. Although we cannot talk about Britneys’ transformation in relation to homosexuality, we can say that her performances have similarities with camp since recurrent characteristics are “incongruity, theatricality and humor”(106).

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 Her most recent stage outfits take place in her Las Vegas residency Britney: A Piece of Me that started in 2013 and continues up to today. In one of the calmer moments of her 90-minute show, Spears descends to the stage wearing enormous white angel wings while performing her 2003 hit “Everytime” and transforms herself into an angelic performer. For this show she relies on technology, costumes and props to transform herself into a spectacle and is definitely meant to be looked at.

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The fashion industry is not only comprised of the people directly related to it who produce fashion content, but it also includes those using fashion to support their creative expression. Transformation is key to the success of any creative process because mundane and static has never gotten anyone that far.  Transformation can be achieved in a concert through multiple stage outfit changes. This does not only impact the appearance of the performer, but also the impetus of the performance since a spectacle can be created. It is important for artists to have many sides and portrayals in concerts in order to keep the audience interested and surprised but it is important to stop and think of how far the obsession with transformation will go and whether it will eventually overshadow the quality of the performance.

Works Cited

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault,Femininity and Patriarchal Power.” Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1984.

Hebdige, Dick. “The Sources of Style.” Subculture, the Meaning of Style. London: Methuen, 1979. Print.

Newton, Esther. “Role Models.” Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1979. Print.

Marwick, Alice. (2011). “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” International Communication Association annual conference, Boston, MA.

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. Print.

– Natalia Karavasili

Calculated Transformations: The Key to Remaining Relevant as a Music Artist

Successful music artists mustn’t only be chameleons in music, but also in self. Through transformations, artists convey to fans/audiences that there are many layers to them and have more to offer. A transformation is an intended major change in someone’s appearance through fashion to convey a facet of his or personality within the context of their cultural capital. Through calculated transformations, artists are making major changes to their appearances through their fashion to express themselves within the framework of their music to remain relevant and to ensure longevity in their career. By analyzing the trajectory of heavyweights within the music industry such as Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga, it is evident that there have been significant transformations in how they present themselves visually to the world. Those who do transform, cash in on their cultural capital to convey new aspects of themselves thus revealing their artistic and social mobility which keeps them relevant, ultimately helping them move forward in their careers.

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What an artist wears becomes as important as the music itself in defining the artist’s intent and relationship to the audience. When Justin Timberlake was making his transformation from boy-band member to leading man, not only did his sound change but his entire aesthetic also changed. He had to convey to his audience that he had grown up, matured, and could hold his own. So what did he do to convey to his audience that he was serious? He wore a suit and tie…and sang about it, too! Pierre Bourdieu in Distinctions argues that taste is acquired over time and if you have good taste you understand the codes of fashion (Bourdieu 193, 201-202). Timberlake’s cultural capital of being an established celebrity within the music industry suggests that he has good taste. Timberlake understood the unspoken codes of fashion and used those codes to transform how others perceived him, “what we wear…can be subsumed under the general notion of code” (Davis 154). He knew that mature, business oriented, serious, and influential men wore suits and Timberlake was trying to fit into the standard of a serious man, knowing these standards have already been set by society (Veblen 64-65).

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Timberlake substituted his baggy jeans and braided hair for a slicked back hairdo and suit to convey that he had grown up and was indeed a tastemaker. Timberlake had cashed in his cultural capital to ensure that this new projected image of himself would be clear to as big of an audience as possible. He made a music video, appeared on SNL, and had a tour all in this new style of dress; “through clothing people communicate some things about their persons, and at the collective level this results typically in locating them symbolically in some structured universe of status claims and life-style attachments” (Davis 149).He ultimately embodied his cultural capital by making it seem effortless that he was a solo artist/leading man when years ago he was one of five guys in a boy-band. He made a statement by becoming overall very fashionable and ensured that his transformation was consistent on all media outlets.

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How artists wear certain styles and fashion construct value and communicate information about the wearer. Elizabeth Wilson in “Fashion and City Life” explains how “individuals participated in a process of self-docketing and self announcement, as dress became the vehicle for the display of the unique individual personality” (Wilson “Fashion and City Life” 154). By transforming her dress, Miley Cyrus was able to show the world a completely new side of her personality that was hidden from the world when she was still associated with her Disney past. Cyrus made a complete transformation from innocent Disney star to wild child. Wilson goes on to state that fashion functions like a language with shared codes and meanings, “street dress became full of expressive clues, which subverted its own anonymity because it was still just as important, or indeed even more important, to let the world know what sort of person you were, and to be able to read off at least some clues from the clothes of other people.” Dress allows outsiders to immediately perceive certain aspects of the wearer’s personality. As codes of dressed developed, the more the individual became what he wore (Wilson “Fashion and City Life” 137). Cyrus used certain fashion codes in her favor. She started wearing more revealing clothes, cut off all her hair, and started inking up. Knowing some audiences would view these choices as scandalous, she was able to tell the world visually that she wasn’t Miss Perfect. Cyrus was able to disassociate herself from her Disney image by going against the fashion codes of what it means to be innocent and childlike.

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Cyrus started to wear skimpy leotards and pasties when she went out to move further and further away from her old visual self; “although many individuals experience fashion as a form of bondage, as punitive, compulsory way of falsely expressing an individuality that by its very gesture cancels itself out, the final twist to the contradiction that is fashion is that it often does successfully express the individual” (Wilson Adorned” 12). Her transformation was to show the world another side of herself and that she had finally broken free from the grips of the Disney star image. Transformations like Cyrus’, help artists break free from fixed molds or niche markets through their fashion. Such transformations allow for a larger audience reach, in turn helping artists’ careers, because they allow the artist to appear more dimensional. Cyrus’ economic capital gave her the ability to pay for numerous tattoos, haircuts, outfits, and outrageous stage costumes. Because she is so financially successful, she is able to pay for certain adornments to meet the expectations of her projected image/personality.

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Fashion and style are visual counterparts to musical expression. When musical artists decide to switch genres, if the music is changing, so should the fashion. Bourdieu claims that we distinguish ourselves by the distinctions we make (Bourdieu 6). Lady Gaga made this evident from her transition from pop to jazz by understanding what distinguishes styles from others. With her transformation, she conveyed to the world that she was not fixed as a pop-singer and could fit into the realm of various genres. In Adorned in Dreams” Wilson states “[dress] as a cultural phenomenon, as an aesthetic medium for the expression of ideas, desires and beliefs circulating in society” (Wilson Adorned in Dreams” 9). Gaga herself became a consumer and accepted the ideologies that surround the jazz genre and began transforming herself visually so she too can be integrated into that lifestyle and viewed as a classy lady. Bourdieu states that “the interest the different classes have in self-presentation, the attention they devote to it, their awareness of the profits it gives and the investment of time, effort, sacrifice and care which they actually put into it are proportionate to the chances of material or symbolic profit they can reasonably expect form it” (Bourdieu 202). Gaga’s attention to her dress was important for the success of her transition into jazz and her visual transformation would directly affect the success of her jazz album. Gaga cashed in on her cultural capital to take the time to learn the trade of jazz along with the aesthetic elements that are expected with it. Through her newly adorned fashion, she is conveying to the world that she is an authentic jazz singer. She invested in styling her body to fit the style of the musical genre and used her cultural capital as a celebrity to connect with other jazz musicians such as Tony Bennett to obtain knowledge of what it means to look and be a jazz singer.

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Ultimately, these three artists made very calculated transformations to further their careers. They wanted to show the world that there was more to them and they did so visually through fashion. They made these aesthetic changes by cashing in on their cultural capital to ensure the success of their transformation; “he ‘makes’ the opinion which makes him; he constitutes himself as an absolute by a manipulation of symbolic power which is constitutive of his power since it enables him to produce and impose his own objectification” (Bourdieu 208). Timberlake, Cyrus, and Gaga’s musical talent, star power and celebrity status provides them with the cultural capital to control how they are visually represented within the media. If they are performing at the Grammys or VMA’s they control their stage “set”, props, costumes, and their own personal adornment. Through their cultural and economic capital (from cultural capital) they are able to control the discourse that surrounds them and therefore, they are meticulously choosing what side of themselves they want the world to see. Through calculated fashion choices music artists are able to control the vision of themselves they want the rest of the world to see.


Works Cited:

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984. Print. 1-209.

Davis, Fred. Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?. Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2007. Print. 147-58

Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Adorned in Dreams.” Fashion and Modernity. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Fashion and City Life”. Fashion and Modernity. United Kingdom: I.B. Taurus and Co, 2003. Print. 134-289.

Michelle Obama’s representation of the ideal First Lady

Every four years a few politicians run for the opportunity to become the next President of the United States. In 2008, history was made when Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. Almost eight years later, he is still in office and has become a commonly talked about figure in popular culture. To say America, and various countries around the world are smitten with President Obama and his family would be an understatement. While President Obama remains in the spotlight, his wife Michelle Obama has become a fashion icon and extremely influential First Lady. For those of you who are familiar with Michelle Obama, you would know that she is an accomplished woman and successful in many ways, however I would like to argue that the First Lady’s style has become a representation of what the ideal first lady should encompass.

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You might asking yourself what does the word representation have to do with style choices and an individual such as Michelle Obama? Representation is the act of speaking on behalf of someone or something. One can easily examine this definition of representation in fashion by analyzing the style of the First Lady Michelle Obama, that have epitomized the traits all first ladies should encompass.

The sketch located below was drawn and designed by fashion designer Jason Wu. After designing Michelle Obama’s inaugural dress, Wu’s clientel and popularity skyrocketed. The dress in this sketch represents high-fashion and isn’t your run of the mill dress you can get from any store. As First Lady, Michelle Obama has come a long way. Once known for her professional and academic accomplishments, she is also a representation of the ideal First Lady Americans want to continue seeing in the White House. As Michelle Obama’s style has evolved over the past five years, her taste has changed and can be seen in the images included in this post. According to Georg Simmel, “Naturally the lower classes look and strive towards the upper, and they encounter the least resistance in those fields which are subject to the whims of fashion” (Simmel, 545). Michelle Obama’s tendency to wear high-fashion clothing pieces that connote elegance represents her social status. Because she is such a prominent public figure, her style is extremely influential and desired by lower class individuals that want to feel like they too, can become a representation of the “ideal first lady”.

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In this image taken from a talk show appearance, Michelle’s outfit is representative of what some might consider middle class fashion. She is wearing J-Crew clothing, which some middle class citizens would consider affordable clothes. By wearing this outfit for this specific occassions where millions of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds are watching her, Michelle Obama’s outfit is telling the public that they can dress like her and therefore be a little more like her and possibly First Lady one day.

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The dress Michelle Obama is wearing in the image above represents a more conservative, buttoned-up First Lady who is classy and stylish. Instead of wearing a simple black dress Michelle chose to wear a dress with texture, making it stylish and appropriate. According to Georg Simmel, “Fashion is a form of imitation and so of social equalization…the elite imitates fashion and when the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate the external distinctions of class, abandons it for a newer mode…a process that quickens with the increase of wealth” (Simmel, 543). As first lady, Michelle Obama’s style has shifted from low-fashion and high-fashion. The image below is an example how Michelle Obama has become a representation for the ideal first lady in her ability to find a balance between the “conservative” First Lady and “fashion savvy” First Lady. Her outfit encompasses both characteristics; therefore it makes her representative of a fashionable first lady.

This silver gown is a more recent image of First Lady Michelle Obama. I chose to include this image because of the transformation in her appearance. This gown coupled with her tight curls make Michelle look stylish head-to-toe. Once again you can see that they First Lady is fond of dresses that show off her arms. Some people have criticized that a sleeveless dress is less casual than a dress with sleeves. I disagree with this opinion. According to Dant, “The engagement of the wearer and the garment such that they become part of each other, also gives the clothes meaning” (Dant, 383). Although Dant uses jeans as his example of a garment that “has a rigid form as fashion but become[s] a vehicle for individual identity through [its] material malleability” (Dant, 383).

Michelle Obama in a Zac Posen custom beaded gown at the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Hairstyle: coils
Michelle Obama in a Zac Posen custom beaded gown at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Hairstyle: coils.

As First Lady, Michelle has become known for wearing sleeveless dresses. Unlike First Ladies before her, she has become the representation of a First Lady who is well rounded and daring in her fashion choice. Her outfits have the ability to represent middle class, low class, and high class fashions. As you can see in the image below, our First Lady knows how to keep up with the trends and hardly disappoints when she is set to appear on a popular talk show. Her black romper and pointed heels may not have been the “go-to” outfit for First Ladies before her; as a result this outfit exemplifies how Michelle Obama has become a representation of the modern First Lady. The public doesn’t need to know her personally, to know that she has style and a personality.

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Another example of Michelle Obama’s representation as a style icon and fashionista can be seen in the image below. This outfit is far from boring. From the colors, studddd belt, and magenta gloves we can see that our First Lady has style and this makes her similar to a model in the sense that “models lend their image to sell products, incorporating their likeness into the image of a brand” (Wissinger, 274). 15dpgxzMichelle Obama does this in the image below. She is pictured with President Barack Obama and her two daughters. Her dress is more conservative and simplistic. It is connoting that she is the First Lady of the United States of America and that she is the ideal representation of a First Lady.obamas

Works Cited

Dant, Tim. “Consuming or Living With Things?”

Simmel, Georg. “Fashion.” The American Journal of Sociology 62.6 (1957): 541-548. Print

Wissinger, Elizabeth. “Modeling Consumption: Fashion Modeling Work in Contemporary Society”. Journal of Consumer Culture 9.2 (2009): 273-96. Web.

The Representation of Beauty on Instagram: Beauty on Fleek

Before the introduction of the popular phrase on social media “Eyebrows on Fleek” eyebrows and the precision of makeup or the lack thereof was an un-monumental act. Peaches Monroee’s satisfied declaration of her groomed eyebrows then resulted in the phrase “Eyebrows on Fleek”. What was once well made up eyebrows, contouring and makeup overall has now become a spectacle in the eyes of social media. The phrase has branched out from having eyebrows that are “on point” to revolving an overall trend on Instagram where beauty on a woman’s body and how she paints it, has become a site for discipline.

At the start of the course we defined discipline as a training to obey rules, a code and a punishment in order to correct behavior. Having good eyebrows according to Instagram means having them be “on point” or just right, in terms of the use of makeup to enhance them or the grooming required to have the right shape. It is assumed that there must be a form of control on them. It is something to be worked on, and discipline is needed to have good brows. If not, the punishment results in a judgment of character, of not having a control of brows, a grasp on life and what it means to look like a woman. This is done to achieve the “ideal woman’s body” especially over the look of a natural makeup. Makeup is shown as productive in that it allows the freedom to paint oneself however they want. It also is repressive because to have good eyebrows is to follow certain rules about how a woman looks.

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Since the birth of “Eyebrows on Fleek” the trend has transferred to Instagram, where it meets with other trends in makeup such as the dramatic contouring that Kim Kardashian wears or the exaggerated lining of the lips that Kylie Jenner often sports. Much of this makeup can resemble what some call natural and what others find similar to drag queen makeup. Many of the popular hashtags surrounding these trends are #instagrameyebrow #instamakeup #eyebrowsonfleek and #kyliejennerchallenge where instagram users put on display their makeup, and general transformation of the face to be judged by others.

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In Sweetman’s Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self?: Body modification, fashion and identity he writes about how the “modification of the body’s surface,” in this case makeup being the tool, can help to “construct a viable sense of self-identity” (307). The woman posting their makeup looks on Instagram are perhaps adding to the identity of what it means to have the ideal woman’s body. though Sweetman talks about tattooing, the adornment of the face can also indicate the “construction of a coherent and consistent self-narrative” (307). Makeup is a construct of self identity, but ultimately a tool for the construct of the ideal woman.

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With the female body comes discipline and rules that dictate it. Often on Instagram, those that have eyebrows on fleek, put eyebrows above other grooming and who practice the rigorous shading involved in the “instagram eyebrow” are applauded. Anyone with mediocre brows or makeup skills are shown by example that their own brows can be worked on and shaped by discipline much like Foucault’s idea on the docile bodies . He believes that the body that is docile can be “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (136). Eyebrows on fleek is more than just a celebration of what one think makes a perfectly groomed eyebrow. It means that those claiming strong eyebrows game are then meeting the standards of what it means to be a woman, that training is occurring in a “look,” and that an ideal of what good makeup and brows look like is kept in mind, like that of Cara Delevigne, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner.

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Having discipline requires having the knowledge of what matters when it comes to beauty. This comes in the form of beauty videos on Youtube, influencers like celebrities, or by observing the looks filed under the #instamakeup. Along with knowledge, the act of purchasing makeup goods conveys what Veblen would call “conspicuous consumption” in that money is used to show off not just wealth, but knowledge in how to use certain makeup products. Those with a highest skill level who can pull off makeup looks that are not over the top are ranked higher on Instagram. For Veblen this act of conspicuous consumption can be seen as nonproductive because its about showing the consumption of makeup products, however its productive in that it shows others on Instagram the transformative power of makeup. This is similar to Foucault’s idea that discipline is productive in addition to repressive, meaning that if the women that show their makeup looks on Instagram are disciplined enough, they are showing others that this work can be productive because they feel good about themselves and want others to feel good as well by then imitating the look. 

image via https://instagram.com/ladychebli/

In order for beauty on Instagram to be an act of conspicuous consumption, there needs to be an authority or an authentic voice on the subject. Makeup artists and beauty gurus such as Wayne Goss produce videos demonstrating how to achieve a certain look and how to use makeup, all while talking about it and showing off. His position as “authentic” then gives him the power to critique and punish the beauty trends on Instagram. His most recent controversial videos touch on how he thinks the Instagram eyebrow should be illegal, and how Instagram is turning girls into drag queens. What he proposes is a more natural makeup. In his two videos he says that Instagram beauty is all rooted from “drag technique” which is seen in the fading technique on the Instagram brows. For him there is a spilling of drag makeup into the makeup world for “non-drag people”. Instead of makeup being used to transform male to women, to soften features and look like the real life ideal woman, the drag technique turns woman into an “Instagram ideal,” where the face shape becomes more angular and masculine because of makeup. This could then be read like a form of “camp” in that what is considered drag makeup is put on women who wish to perform a form of drag that says that they are in control, are proud of their look and assures their self-identity as ultra feminine. Perhaps women are then escaping the “trapping of oppression” that Frye touches on in “Politics of Reality” which plays on the way drag queens do their makeup (137).

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In Jantzen, Ostergaard, & Vieira “Becoming a ‘Woman to the Backbone’: Lingerie Consumption and the Experience of Feminine Identity” the authors write that women judge the way others wear their lingerie and then put them into groups in order to better understand them (196). Instagram makeup serves a similar purpose in that makeup artists like Wayne Goss or other women on Instagram can judge who is trying to adhere to the Instagram ideal versus the natural makeup ideal. Instagram and beauty gurus become sites where the rules are taught and perpetuated as well as a tool to control the women on Instagram.

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Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1983. 136-41. Print.

Jantzen, Ostergaard, & Viera. “Becoming a ‘woman to the backbone’: Lingerie consumption and the experience of feminine identity”. Journal of Consumer Culture. Sage Publications: July 2006. 177-202.

Sweetman, P. “Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity.” Body & Society 5.2-3 (1999): Print.

Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934

The double bind of discipline: Body hair is wrong…right?

Imagine a woman with long, silky and smooth hair walking down the street. Throw in some wind and you got yourself a shampoo commercial. Plot twist? She lifts her arm to run her hand through her hair and suddenly you’re met with a scandalous sight: her armpit hair.

For a woman, taking care of her hair – wherever it may be – is an indicator that she has a certain economic, social and cultural capital. However there is a significant difference between the processes a woman employs to discipline the hair on her head and her body hair.

When the body is subjected to discipline, the body thus becomes docile – an anatomy which serves to achieve an ultimate ideal body that society equates to normal. Discipline, defined by Foucault, is the “calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behavior” and as such, adheres to a reward and punishment system. Within the context of discipline, the relationship between women and body hair illustrates how fashion is but an inorganic form that is equally free as it is disciplinary.

A smooth, body with no hair: the female ‘normal’.

To be considered natural, a woman still must put in a certain amount of physical and mental effort to appear natural to the public sphere. The definition of natural within the private sphere is starkly different to the normal that she performs in public. The balance between the two take a considerable amount of discipline, she must adhere to the social norms or rules that society has either explicitly or implicitly set out; the danger in this lies in the fact that in order to master her docile body to become disciplined, she is at risk of viewing the word normal as the distorted version of natural.

Another word that discipline can be linked to is fashion. In what way you may ask? As fashion showcases the unnaturalness of human social arrangement, we can interpret its inorganic form as a way society disciplines itself by adhering to the current trends. Moreover, fashion implies that there is an industry around it; the idea of change and innovation is almost always on par with fashion. Wilson, in her book Adorned in Dreams, states “to dress fashionably is both to stand out and to merge with the crowd, to lay claim to the exclusive and to follow the herd.” (Wilson, 6) Fashion’s contradictory nature thus emphasizes how unstable it is. Can we trust fashion? Perhaps not. Though one thing is clear, without the necessary discipline to follow trends, one is rejected from society in some form or another. In this way, fashion treats the body as more than a biological entity, it becomes a cultural artifact.

From this viewpoint, discipline has distorted the relationship between natural and normal. Natural is only acceptable when it has been disciplined into the public sphere’s version of normal, which in society’s case, is a euphemism for ideal. When a woman is seen having body hair – in public – she is punished accordingly. She can be subjected to public shame, general stigma or silent disapproval. Likewise, she can internalize her punishment by feeling inadequate, feeling rejected or unable to achieve the ideal.

 However, according to Bartky, “the disciplinary project of femininity is a “set-up”: it requires such radical and extensive measures of bodily transformation that virtually every woman who gives herself to it is destined in some degree to fail. (Bartky, 100) Following this train of thought, it would be just to say that to a certain extent, the pursuit of the ideal is but a mere illusion. Nonetheless, the practices of self-discipline have been so ingrained in society that it seeps into the minds of women; this self-regulatory technology is arguably the most powerful tool of discipline as it relies on previous bodies of knowledge to achieve the set of rules provided.

A key example that ties into body hair and its relationship to discipline, is the issue of black hair. Naturally, black hair is coarse, kinky and anything but straight. But throughout history, black women have undergone a multitude of processes (weaving, relaxing, straightening) in order to achieve more ‘normal’ hair – the European ideal of straight and smooth hair.

Mercer’s essay on black hair, has the same underlying principle as the issue of body hair on women. He says, “hair is never a straightforward biological ‘fact’ because it is almost always groomed, prepared, cut, concealed and generally ‘worked upon’ by human hands.” (Mercer, 34) Historically, black hair was left in its natural state. Coarse, black hair was associated with being a plantation worker. The rich, upper-class white ladies of the plantation houses all had straight, smooth and silky hair. After the end of the civil war, black women still attempted to mimic the hairstyles of their former owners partly to signify freedom, but also, to signify their knowledge and application of what it means to be fashionable.

Razors: the cheapest alternative for body hair removal.

When looking into body hair on women, the less the better. Razors can be purchased to shave one’s legs, armpits, or pubic hair. Hair removal cream brands like Veet also help women to remove unwanted body hair on her arms or face. Institutes like laser hair removal dermatologists, eyebrow waxing parlors or waxing clinics are also part of the technologies she has under her disposal. The key fact to remember is that these technologies further demonstrate her discipline, both her knowledge of how to use said technologies but the self-regulatory discipline she has to withstand body hair removal.

The question therefore lies in why a woman must put herself through such discipline in the first place? The double-binding nature of discipline answers this question perfectly. With a fear of punishment from a lack of discipline also comes the motivation of reward, which in this case, is social acceptance as part of the ‘fashionable’ and the ‘powerful’. The topic of lingerie helps to shed perspective. In Jantzen, Ostergaard, & Vieira’s essay, “Becoming a ‘Woman to the Backbone’: Lingerie Consumption and the Experience of Feminine Identity”, the title already speaks for itself.

Yet the items sold at lingerie’s most famous brand Victoria’s Secret suggest that femininity equates to an exaggeration of the female body. Therefore, in order to wear these products, women must in turn discipline themselves as worthy models. They must remove body hair in order to showcase their smooth and silky bodies; a woman in lingerie does not have armpit hair, hairy legs or pubic hair. The lingerie simply does not allow for it.

Essentially, the overarching concept of discipline is not only a restrictive force but also a language that involves shared codes and meaning; both the signified and the signifier must be recognized. As Roach and Eichler noted in The Language of Personal Adornment, without an understanding of the knowledge and application of discipline, it is not considered fashion if others can’t interpret its language in some shape or form.

As an ending thought, we can turn to the latest trend in body hair and surprisingly enough, it has nothing to do with hair removal, rather, hair coloring. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus proudly show off their dyed armpit hair. At first, this blatant disregard for discipline can be seen as resistance. Yet, is this the next step of discipline? The act can be interpreted as a political move, one against feminine stereotypes, a show of power or even a new fashion trend. Perhaps when you know the rules, master them, then break them, it is discipline. Perhaps resistance is actually the highest form of discipline.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “5.” Feminity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenolgy of Oppression. New York: Routledge, 1990. N. pag. Print.

Foucault, Michael. “Docile Bodies.”Discipline And Punish, The Birth of the Prison. Vintage Books, 2007. Print.

Jantzen, Christian, Per Østergaard, and Carla Vieira. “Becoming a ‘woman to the Backbone’: Lingerie Consumption and the Experience of Feminine Identity.” Journal of Consumer Culture 6.2 (2006): 177-202. Web. 5 May 2015.

Mercer, Kobena. “Black hair/style politics.” New Formations, No. 3. Winter. 33-54. Print.

Roach, Mary Ellen and Eicher, Joanne Bubolz. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 109-21. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Adorned in Dreams.” Fashion and Modernity. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Print.

The Rejection of Normative Culture Through Lolita Fashion

Although Japan is known for its uniform culture and social highly encouraged rules of social conformity, Tokyo has become the hub of exactly the opposite: youths participate in a wide range of strange fashion subcultures, ranging from Yamamba to Decoras, in order to resist the mainstream culture. Currently, the city remains to be a melting pot of a variety of styles, one of them being Lolita, a street fashion subculture that emerged in Harajuku in the 1980s, but gained popularity in the 1990s. This fashion group is inspired by the general aesthetics of the Victorian and Rocco periods and is still seen on the streets of Tokyo. The Lolita subculture provides insight into the idea of fashion being used as a form of resistance to oppose societal norms when we look at the social, cultural and economic context of Japan during the 1990s.

The structures of Japan remain to be rooted in Confucianism and Feudalism and as a result, the role of women has not shifted either: women are treated as second-class citizens. A glass ceiling exists in all the professional fields and therefore, parents’ pressure their daughters to secure full time jobs until they are wedded and can “retire” to become housewives. Moreover, various Confucian philosophies are also engrained into the culture, such as filial piety, a virtue of respect towards those older than oneself. Ultimately, these societal morals in addition to the major recession period that hit Japan in the 1990s, due to the crash of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, paved a way for the Lolita subculture to carry a meaning of rejecting the homogenous culture of Japan.

Resistance through fashion is to oppose societal norms through clothing and thus, the Lolita subculture emerged as a reaction to the Japanese uniform culture. In addition, this community resists the shift in sexualizing the female body and essentially uses fashion as a marker of their differences like the punks, anarchists and the zoot suiters. The fight to combat the homogenous image begins with visibility and the self-created spectacle. In “’I’m Not Joining Your World:’ Performing Political Dissent through Spectacular Self-Presentation”, Portwood-Stacer writes, “By styling themselves in non-mainstream ways, some anarchists make a spectacle of themselves. They seem to invite the looks of others by consciously adorning themselves in ways that stand out from the crowd of more politically moderate subjects…this stylistic production is ‘spectacular’ in the sense that it is meant to be looked at, to be seen by others.” (52). In the same way, Lolita fashion is certainly “spectacular.” Adorned in bows, ruffles, hats and large petticoats, the clothing of this fashion group takes viewers back into the Victorian period, heavily contrasting the mainstream style of dress.

Like the zoot suits, the physically large size of the skirts generates visibility and claims an awareness of their existence in society—an escape of the feeling of anonymity of the densely populated Japanese cities. Refraining from the stylistic norms of Japanese uniform also ties in their resistance to the established values of up-keeping a proper image for the family name. In Japan, drawing attention, especially for females, is heavily discourages and thus, if a young woman is to visibly defy the traditional culture, she is immediately bringing shame onto not only herself, but also to her parents and family members.

Japanese Lolita & Harajuku Fashion Show (30)

In addition to the cultural rules, the economic context of the 1990s allowed this fashion group to reject the mainstream customs. The Tokyo Stock Exchanged crashed in 1992 and it was considered to be a “titanic real-estate bubble burst”. As a result, women were heavily encouraged to find stable careers in order to support themselves and their families from the recession. However, just as the zoot suits represented a resistance to wartime efforts and punk resists the traditional ideology of the working class, the Lolitas resisted entering into the adult world of financial safety—a commonality between the three subculture groups.

Example of a Sweet Lolita: most over-the-top, extravagant style that includes the most noticeable aesthetic that is associated with the subculture. Resembles a child-like image by using bows, ruffles and light colors.

Hebdige writes in Subculture: The Meaning of Style, “[The punk subculture]… were, in short, challenging at a symbolic level the ‘inevitability’, the ‘naturalness’ of class and gender stereotypes.” (88-89). Lolita were escaping the corporate world of “career women” while avoiding “salary men” to display the rejection of marriage and the traditional path of becoming a housewife. These two routes were the most common paths for women to ensure economic stability and yet, the Lolitas resisted walking down either. Instead of pursing financial security during this time of economic turmoil, Lolitas were following a similar path of the zoot suiters by spending lavish amounts of money, $200-$300, to buy a Lolita outfit from brand names like Baby, The Starts Shine Bright.

But beyond the pursuit of money and career, the Lolita subculture resistance to the growing normalcy of sexualized dress, male gaze and male-created beauty is highlighted. Although Lolita is clearly a feminine style that is inspired by the Victorian period, it is so hyper feminine, especially the style of the “sweet Lolita”, that it transcends the patriarchal tradition of the original eras and becomes a form of rebellion instead. Japan known for its pornography and historical roots in prostitution, Lolita was a new form of Feminist resistance that emulates innocence, modesty and purity. There is also a definite rejection of other Japanese subcultures that emerged during this time, such as Ganguro, a group that follows a provocative aesthetic.

The Lolita’s use of hyper-feminine clothing to achieve a child-like appearance is clearly a display of the binaries that women are contained to; women cannot look too sexy or too modest. However, Lolita fashion breaks the standards of expressing femininity or sexuality that women are bounded to. In Hebdige’s Subculture, he writes, “These deviation briefly expose the arbitrary nature of the codes which underlie and shape all forms of discourse.” (91). Through the differences in styles, the Lolita resists these binaries of sexualize dress to achieve a girlish and delicate look; they break the standards in which they are boxed in. This aspect of resistance is what enables the Lolita fashion to go beyond Japanese culture and break into other nations as well. For example, the Lolita subculture has a large following in Amsterdam, a city known for its liberal views on sexuality and drugs. The Lolita community returns to demure clothing to dress for themselves and not the male gaze.

This is an screen capture from Refinery29’s documentary Lolitas Who Aren’t Asian: Why This Style Is Actually Universal. This group of Lolitas are from a local community within the Netherlands.

The Lolita aesthetic reclaims what defines femininity and allows them to take agency of their own womanhood. Their fashion choices are ultimately used to rebel against the expected norms of the Japanese culture, such as finding a husband and disobeying their parents. In a homologous culture, these defiant acts serve as what Hebdige calls “prison graffiti, merely paying tribute to the place in which they were produce.” (136). Through this we see that the Lolita community are primarily using their differences in order to create a visible resistance to the culturally expected norms. They are labeled as the “other” but by opposing the established regulations, they regain their power to make decisions for themselves.

 


Bibliography:

Bernal, Kathryn. “The Lolita Complex: A Japanese Fashion Subculture and Its Paradoxes.” (2011). Print.

Friedman, Seth. “The Changing Roles of Women in Japanese Society.” The Changing Roles of Women in Japanese Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 2015.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture, the Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Portwood-Stacer, Laura. “I’m Not Joining Your World’: Performing Political Dissent through Spectacular Self-Presentation.” Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism Bloomsbury: 51-73. Print.

Black Identity Defined By The Weave: Status or Prejudice?

It has been argued that the ideologies of ‘beautiful’ have been defined by, for, and against black people since the development of the European slave trade during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, when variations of pigmentation and hair texture were seized upon as signs of identification and classification within the hierarchy of human worth (Mercer 35). The introduction of the Other to the European and Western world ushered in the concept of “whiteness” as the predominant measure of beauty, while non-whites were condemned as “negro,” a term that suggests the negation of aesthetic beauty altogether. Thus, the stigmatization of black identity, with particular emphasis to the appearance and texture of African hair, was born.

Since then, acts of straightening, perming, and weaving one’s hair have been integrated into black culture, particularly for women, as a way of imitation and appropriation of the white, European aesthetic. The idea that ‘good hair’ is ‘straight’ hair within the African American community goes against the naturalness of black hair and black culture altogether. It is therefore believed that black consciousness unknowingly incorporates everyday rituals of grooming that psychologically reinforce the negative stereotype of black identity. Desiring to achieve white aesthetic through hair, black women perpetuate the problems of race and racism that are inherent against black culture. Yet, is the cultural significance of the weave that simple? In order to determine whether the ritualism of weaving one’s hair is psychologically demeaning to black identity, the definition of an identity must first be established.

Basic definitions loosely categorize identity as the conception and expression of the self and other’s individuality or affiliations. However, identity is not as organic as we may think, possessing a far more complex definition in relation to self-individuality. Identity is fundamentally tied to a false notion of choice; we believe we have the power to mold and create a sense of self. Instead, the body is a product of society, and identity becomes the conditioned ritual of that body, both structured by and participated alongside a community. In Adorned in Dreams, Elizabeth Wilson discusses the dichotomy of fashion as a hindrance and an outlet for the cultivation of one’s identity:

[…] Fashion cements social solidarity and imposes group norms, while deviations in dress are usually experienced as shocking and disturbing. […] Although it remains an emotive subject, it cannot be quite so normative as once it was [however]. It’s stylistic changes do retain a compulsive and seemingly irrational quality, but at the same time fashion is freed to become both an aesthetic vehicle for experiments in taste and a political means of expression for dissidence, rebellion, and social form. (6-8)

As Wilson argues, fashion merges the gap between individual expression and social appeasement. Sense of self and the cultivation of identity cannot form without preconditioned normatives, both internally and externally, of a structured community. As a result, identity is shrouded in the figment of false-individuality.

It is natural to assume that the weave signifies black appropriation of the white aesthetic. Like that of perming and straightening, the weave aims to provide a desired texture to black hair that is otherwise unnatural. Yet, the argument that black women weave the psychological discourse of racism into their daily grooming practices oversimplifies the significance of the weave altogether. One aspect of the weave is that of appropriation, which can be supported by Roach and Eicher’s statement that “the form of society’s language of personal adornment depends upon environmental resources, technical developments, and cultural standards for judging what is fine or beautiful” (109). However, the weave may also signify the upholding of class and status boundaries within black culture. In “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fred Davis discusses the high social variability in the signifier-signified relationship:

While the signifiers constituting a style, an appearance, or a certain fashion trend can in a material sense be thought of as the same for everyone […] what is signified (connotated, understood, evoked, alluded to, or expressed) is initially at least, strikingly different for different publics, audiences, and social groupings […]. In short, while certainly not rigidly caste like in its configuration, the universe of meanings attaching to clothes, cosmetics, hairstyles, and jewelry–right down to the very shape and bearing of the body itself–is highly differentiated in terms of taste, social identity, and persons’ access to the symbolic wares of a society. (151)

The universe of meanings attached to various forms of adornment do not bear the same significance for all members of a given society, nor are these meanings constant and fixed. Therefore it is only natural to assume that the meaning of the weave has shifted to incorporate the identity of a more modern black culture, perhaps not so fully charged with the political implications of racism and prejudice.

Last October, Director Justin Simien released his first feature film, “Dear White People,” a clever campus comedy that juggles the hypocrisies, blind spots, and micro-aggressions that African Americans experience in their daily encounters with well-meaning caucasians. Immediately after its release, the New York Times responded with nothing shy of praise, stating that “Dear White People” had effectively dealt a deck of “race cards, most of them jokers.” According to writer A. O. Scott, the film “[lead] its characters and its viewers–pale skinned critics very much included–down a path strewn with eggshells, some of which [sat] on top of land mines.” Without surprise, the intricacies of black hair are within the narrative. Main character Samantha White, played by Tessa Thompson, hosts a series of campus radio broadcasts and viral internet videos in which she sharply critiques white peoples’ clumsy appropriation of black idioms and pop-culture, one of which being hair. The trailer for the film begins with Sam’s daily report:

Dear White People. The minimum requirement of Black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man Tyrone does not count.

Followed by:

Dear White People. Please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?

Lionel, as played by Tyler James Williams, is often subject to the touching and petting of his afro by white students at Winchester University.

The incorporation of black hair culture is split evenly amongst all major characters in the film. As Sam’s world intersects various black students at Winchester University, each uses hair as a form of tactical expression in Simien’s racial dialogue. Most significant, is the incorporation of both the Afro and weave, worn by two starkly different characters for very different reasons. The Afro, worn by Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), the gay-nerd-trope on campus, is a nod to what Kobena Mercer describes a “positive black self image or a politically healthy state of black subjectivity” (33). According to Mercer, black hairstyles of the 60’s, like that of the Afro and Dreadlocks, counter-politicized the signifier of ethnic devalorization, redefining blackness as a positive attribute (37). The Afro embraced racial politics of Black Power, which assumed a more “authentically black” ideology, avoided artifice, and encouraged the naturalness of black hair (33). In the 1970’s, however, the Afro lost its political charge, becoming a part of mainstream fashion, which possessed its own set of signifiers. Mercer argues that by the 80’s, black hair had lost its politics for the black community. Thus, it is important to de-psychologize the concept of both the weave (unnatural) and the Afro (natural):

As organic matter produced by physiological processes human hair seems to be a ‘natural’ aspect of the body. Yet hair is never a straightforward biological ‘fact’ because it is almost always groomed, prepared, cut, concealed and generally ‘worked upon’ by human hands. Such practices socialize hair, making it the medium of significant ‘statements’ about self and society and the codes of value that bind them, or don’t. In this way hair is merely a raw material, constantly processed by cultural practices which thus invest it with ‘meanings’ and ‘value’. (34)

Mercer then goes on to state:

The historical importance of Afro and Dreadlocks hair-styles cannot be underestimated as marking a ‘liberating’ rupture or break with the dominance of white bias. But were they really that ‘radical’ as solutions to the ideological problematization of black people’s hair? Yes […]. But, on the other hand, perhaps not, because within a relatively short period both styles became rapidly depoliticized and, with varying degrees of resistance, both were incorporated into mainstream fashions in the dominant culture. What is at stake, I believe, is the difference between two logics of black stylization – one emphasizing ‘natural’ looks, the other involving straightening to emphasize ‘artifice’. (37)

Coco, played by Teyonah Parris, gets ready for Pastiche’s outrageous, ill-conceived annual Halloween party, “unleash your inner Negro,” at Winchester University.

Most important, however, is the film’s incorporation of the weave into sophomore Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners (Teyonah Parris). Coco, who wants to impress a reality-show producer in the hopes of becoming famous, refuses to be defined by her blackness, going out of her way to disassociate herself completely from her fellow peers. Defined as a “nose job,” Coco tries to hide her blackness in exchange for whiteness. As such, she is the antithesis of Sam, an advocate of assimilation and upward mobility. However, Coco calls attention to the conscious consumption of her weave, recording a video for her YouTube Channel “Doing Time at an Ivy League:”

Welcome, muffins. So, I hate to do it to you, but Imma have to get real Black with you for a second.

So the other day, a girl had the nerve to fix her mouth and ask me if my hair was weaved.

Weaved. Really, bitch?

First of all if you’re going to fix your mouth to ask me something like that, say it right please? It’s weave. Noun. Present tense. Second of all don’t assume just because you see a sister with some hair that it’s a weave. Is it? If a bitch could grow straight Indian hair directly out her own head she wouldn’t have just over-drafted her account paying for this shit, but that ain’t your business, boo boo. Are those your lips sweetie? Is that really your skin? These white girls and their tans, they’re starting to get darker than me, which isn’t that dark. (Simien 25)

As Davis notes, people communicate their personas through various aspects of adornment, which, at a collective level, result typically in the symbolic location of their identity within the structured universe of “lifestyle claims and lifestyle attachments” (149). So what does the weave signify in this instance? Again, the weave could be taken as sole appropriation of white culture, easily supported by what Mercer would describe as a “de-racializing sell-out,” fueled by the desire to achieve fame by “becoming white” due to the morbid symptom of a “psychologically mutilated black consciousness” (33). Again, this is an oversimplification of the weave, for it would be foolish to assume that this form of adornment carries no economic weight or social status beyond the politics of appropriation. In “Do Clothes Speak?” Davis states that “clothing styles and fashions do not mean the same things to all members of a society at the same time and that, because of this, what is worn lends itself easily to a symbolic upholding of class status and boundaries in society” (151-152). For Coco, her hair signifies both her economic and class status; she even goes so far as to remind the reality-show producer that there is “nothing hood” about her identity, and states in her blog that she over-drafted her bank account in order to pay for her hair, signifying her weave is of fine quality. As a result, the weave within black culture calls into question a far more complex notion of social identity.

For black women, identity can be rooted in the notion of a good weave. Weaves and hair extensions have become fashion accessories, especially when considering the perpetual usage of them among A-list celebrities like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj. However, the desire for hair to appear straighter, longer, and fuller isn’t the only reason why black women are purchasing them. According to Merle Ginsberg in an online issue from The Hollywood Reporter, “[Weaves] are so expensive, now it’s status to have them.” Weaves do not come cheap. Advancements in hair extension installation, including lace front wigs and fusion, have upped the expense. The price of a “good weave” can be anywhere from $300 to $4,500. In fact, a downpayment on a weave isn’t unheard of within the black community; many women pay for their hair monthly, which can cost some roughly $40,000 by the end of a decade. Breaking the bank for a weave may connote a black woman’s social identity within the symbolic wares of her community. It is not surprising that hair, what has always been so political within black culture, has come to embody a modern lifestyle of particular class and capital. As such, wealth and status are freely expressed through these woven extensions.

In “The Language of Personal Adornment,” Roach and Eicher state:

Personal adornment is characteristic of all societies […]. For many people, dressing oneself can be an aesthetic act, and all aesthetic acts are acts of speaking, through which an individual may speak as an individual, what is said having meaning only because of relationships with other people. Aesthetic acts do not grow out of a vacuum, but from what is learned from others. (109)

The question of how ideologies of “the beautiful” have been defined by, for, and against black people will perpetually remain crucial within the dialogue of black hair. After all, we cannot deny that acts of straightening, perming, and weaving resulted from the idealization and appropriation of white “beauty,” dating back to the seventeenth century. Yet, the exaggeration that such hairstyles as the unfortunate result of a diseased black consciousness oversimplifies the entire identity of black culture. For black women, these methods of grooming do not perpetuate the psychological mutilation of black identity, but rather, reinforce the various hierarchies of economic and class status found within any culture. The modernized depoliticization of black hair has therefore created a notion of identity that is no longer objectified as racially dissociative. Once defined by the natural and unnatural trends of previous hairstyles, black culture challenges the weave as an archaic symbol of the antithesis of black identity. Today, the weave articulates a very different story, one of social and economic status through the interwoven aesthetic of black identity.

Work Cited:

Davis, Fred. “Chapter 13: Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 147-58. Print.

Mercer, Kobena. “Black Hair/Style Politics.” New Formations, No. 3. Winter. 33-54. Print.

Roach, Mary Ellen and Eicher, Joanne Bubolz. “Chapter 9: The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 109-21. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Adorned in Dreams.” Fashion and Modernity. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Print.

Authenticity in pop music: Examining #representations from today – (Web Skeleton)

Intro/Thesis:

Throughout history, pop stars and pop singers have been known to be eccentric, over-the-top and extremely different from regular, everyday people. However, there has been a recent trend where many pop stars are going against this typical image and #representing themselves as authentic and real, which has been generally well-received by the public, as shown by these singers’ popularity and success.

My definition of represent: To symbolize or portray a certain idea with a choice of dress or mode of expression

Example 1: Miley Cyrus’ rejection of traditional femininity

Miley Cyrus Phoenix Meet and Greet004

Source: http://forums.superiorpics.com/ubbthreads/ubbthreads.php/topics/4417952/Miley_Cyrus_Bangerz_Concert_Me

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Source: http://www.j-14.com/posts/miley-cyrus-fake-teeth-sell-out-online-45559

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Source: https://screen.yahoo.com/miley-cyrus-licks-sledgehammer-wrecking-214414085.html

Example 2: Demi Lovato’s no makeup selfies

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Source: instagram.com/ddlovato

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Source: instagram.com/ddlovato

Example 3: Katy Perry’s “street” style

Katy Perry dresses up as a Cheetoh at Kate Hudson's Party

Source: http://www.celebuzz.com/2014-10-31/katy-perry-halloween-cheeto-costume/

Katy Perry causes chaos as she visits the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Source: http://www.splashnewsonline.com/2014-08-06/katy-perry-rocks-a-pepperoni-pizza-onesie/

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Source: http://fotpforums.com/topic/99188-shark-onesie-made-a-debut-in-spain/

Example 4: Tove Lo’s performance style and rejection of conspicuous consumption

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Source: http://wmucradio.tumblr.com

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Source: http://www.picksysticks.com/2014/08/kiesza-tove-lo-and-echosmith-featured.html