It’s time to bin the ‘gay conspiracy’ myth, writes
Is it pernicious to say that homosexual fashion designers dress their models to look more like boys? Without feminism, gay rights would not exist. Britain’s homosexuals would be imprisoned, married or dead. But there is a homophobic lie so often repeated by feminists and female columnists that it has become an accepted truth: that the West’s obsession with skinniness, size zero and the crisis of
self-image that follows, is the fault of gay fashion designers. They want emaciated models, it is said, because they want women to look more boyish. They want women to look like young men – devoid of curves.
This was a line along these lines in the August 7 edition of the London-based Observer: ‘‘It has long been said that fashion is a con-trick by largely gay male designers to make women look more like men: breastless, hipless, as skinny as a boy’’ (from ‘‘ Vogue is not a magazine for children’’).
The British Daily Mail had a similar line: ‘‘The elite of mostly gay designers has been creating catwalk designs for pre-pubescent teenagers, and each year wanting models who looked less and less like women . . . The designers were wanting women to look more and more like young men.’’
This theory has never been challenged, becoming the socially acceptable line in homophobic thought, but it is not acceptable. Implicit in the belief that gay designers want women to look more boyish is the notion that gay men are only capable of finding beauty in the masculine, that by making women more androgynous, they become more alluring, that gay men are aroused by boyishness, rather than manliness. These are all untrue.
Those who believe gay men have only an aesthetic appreciation of the androgynous or the male, need only turn to art created by gay men – Michelangelo’s Pieta or Caravaggio’s Penitent Magdalene, or they could note the adoration of womanly women in contemporary gay men’s musical tastes – Beyonce, anyone?
No matter how masculine – or boyish, as the rhetoric would have it – a woman looked, a gay designer would never find her sexually attractive. So why, we must ask, would they purposefully mould women in the alleged fashion? What would be the point? In short, gay men are attracted to men, not boys. To blur this line is to perpetuate the most poisonous of homophobic slurs: that gay men are all paedophiles.
The real reason fashion slashes women’s curves is commerce. This isn’t so much a patriarchal conspiracy as a capitalist one. The way to extract money from someone is to encourage fear and the desire to control. Fear causes us to buy that which prevents social rejection, to be ahead of the Joneses – deodorant, the latest cut of jeans, the constant upgrading of gadgets. Controlling tendencies lure us to products that shape ourselves and our environment, such as liposuction. A thin control freak is fashion’s ultimate customer.
Which brings us back to clothes. The history of fashion contradicts those who repeat the gay designer slur. Coco Chanel introduced the more boyish look – the structured, straight up and down silhouette, ignoring the hourglass. It was women who made the archetypal male attire of trousers fashionable: Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. It was a heterosexual male designer, Andre Courreges, who first brought long trousers to couture womenswear in the early 1960s.
Today, which designer is most routinely feted for his celebration of the womanly shape? Roland Mouret, the gay creator of the Galaxy dress.
When journalists speak of an industry dominated by gay men, they ignore both the plethora of female designers (Stella Mccartney, Sarah Burton, Vivienne Westwood, Donatella Versace, Amanda Wakeley, Luella Bartley and more) and the straight men such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.
They ignore, too, the immense power of predominantly female fashion editors. Gaultier and Lagerfeld don’t control fashion – US Vogue editor Anna Wintour does.
This anti-gay theory, this splutter of lazy, baseless thought, born out of justifiable despair at body fascism, deserves to die now, or perhaps more fittingly, it simply deserves to go out of style.
Patrick Strudwick won the British Journalist of the Year at the Stonewall Awards and the Best National Newspaper Feature at the Guild of Health Writers awards in 2010 for his investigation into therapists who claim to ‘‘cure’’ homosexuality.
Girls will be boys: Adesign from the Chanel Fall-winter collection by German designer Karl Lagerfeld. Is he wishing she was a boy?
Fashion power: US editor Anna Wintour dominates fashion. The designers don’t.