Right. So far on this blog, other’s media commentary has (more or less) been left alone. But no more.
On Sunday, in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times, I read this article about how teenage girls should dress, which, to put it mildly, seriously pissed me off. Honestly, after spending my morning shifting a herd of cattle and a bunch of horses off a very low-lying (ie. sea level) property on the Banks Peninsula so that the tsunami wouldn’t scare them (the surge did end up flooding the property!), one of the last things I wanted to read was a snarky opinion piece that spent its entire word-length indoctrinating young girls into a world of low-self esteem and insecurity about their bodies.
Now, I know that Sunday Star Times is a trash-bag paper, so I wasn’t expecting in-depth intellectually rigorous journalism. But neither was I expecting such preachy, prudish, conservative ranting that uses phrases like “preserve modesty” and says that for teenage girls it’s best to “keep things hidden” – here they mean breasts/cleavage but by using “things” all they do is to encourage girls to be super-aware and extremely uncomfortable with their changing bodies. Why not call breasts breasts people?
Author Lois Cairns does address those tacky semi-sexual slogan t-shirts teenagers have a preference for (though one of the examples cites – “Miss Bitch” doesn’t seem that sexual to me). I agree that it’s creepy when say, a seven-year-old wears a t-shirt emblazoned with “Porn Star!” or asks for a g-string, but she's talking about teen dressing - a majority of teenagers are nothing if not ludicrously horny – if they want to advertise this across their chests, well, it’s a bit trashy, but let them.
However, the worst part of this article for me was the way it encourages young girls experimenting with fashion to only think about how they look in negative, restrictive terms. Cairns quotes a “leading stylish” (she's been on breakfast television) (and who the fuck is actually a “stylist” anyway), Stephanie Rumble, who lays down a number of key “rules” girls have to abide by. She draws attention to “heavy thighs” and says that girls who have these terrible legs must wear longer-length tops in order to “hide” the heavier part of the thigh. Because, you know, shock horror, society isn’t prepared to accept that people and their bodies come in different shapes and sizes. Can you imagine what this article could (and probably has) done to some girls’ esteem? Because you’re “heavier” you’re told you’re not allowed to wear the latest fashions and instead have to hide away? This is not only discriminatory but just so very damaging to girls who are already insecure.
All Cairns achieves here is a perpetuation of the incredibly limited range of socially acceptable body shapes. Moreover, she also highlights how women are lectured to, made to be aware of their appearances, and told to follow "rules" (ie. “Don’t be a slut! Hide those breasts!” and “If you’re a fatty, hide under a mu-mu!”) from a very young age. This is not about dressing “appropriately”. This is about setting women up for a life-time of insecurity about bodies, clothes and the world of dressing in general. And this pisses me off.