Ask Hadley

Can some­one ever just wear clothes with­out mak­ing ‘a fash­ion state­ment’? Daniel, by email

The Guardian - G2 - - News -

The lack of in­ter­est in fem­i­nism in the 90s led to raunch cul­ture, lad­dism and Paris Hil­ton

No. Ev­ery­thing you wear, Daniel, is a state­ment about you, I’m afraid, even if that state­ment is: “I am so scared of any­one think­ing I care about how I look that I am wear­ing the same gross T-shirt, Gap jeans and train­ers combo I have been wear­ing since I was seven. I am now 41.” This is what peo­ple who make fun of fash­ion never un­der­stand: mak­ing fun of fash­ion is like mak­ing fun of water, or air, be­cause ev­ery sin­gle one of us makes a fash­ion state­ment ev­ery day. Ev­ery cloth­ing choice you make – from what coat you buy to whether you get a bob­ble hat or not – says some­thing about you. To para­phrase Ron Bur­gundy, we are all trapped in a glass cage of self-ex­pres­sion and ev­ery­thing we do and ev­ery­thing we wear ex­presses some part of our­selves.

But not ev­ery­thing is quite the state­ment we might think it is. I came of age in the 90s, which was kind of a cool era for a bur­geon­ing fem­i­nist to come of age, fash­ion-wise, given that women’s fash­ion seemed to be en­tirely based on look­ing as un­ap­peal­ing to the male gaze as pos­si­ble. I based my whole wardrobe on Janeane Garo­falo’s sig­na­ture look of flo­ral dresses, ripped black tights and clompy flat shoes, which she per­fected in The Garry Shan­dling Show, Re­al­ity Bites and The Truth About Cats and Dogs. (Although that last film was a bit of a kick in the teeth, with its mes­sage that Garo­falo – gor­geous, slim – was an un­ac­cept­able fat troll and men would only find her at­trac­tive if she looked like Uma Thur­man. Hon­estly, I could – and prob­a­bly one day will – write a whole book about the weird mes­sages in 90s rom­coms.) Back then, peo­ple didn’t talk about ac­tual fem­i­nism that much. In­stead, it was seen as some­thing out­dated, a relic of the 70s, and this lack of in­ter­est, as Ariel Levy later wrote in her sem­i­nal book Fe­male Chau­vin­ist Pigs, led to the rise of raunch cul­ture, lad­dism and Paris Hil­ton. And if that isn’t proof of the im­por­tance of fem­i­nism then there is no con­vinc­ing you peo­ple.

So we bud­ding fem­i­nists had to grab what lit­tle in­spi­ra­tion there was where we could find it: sure, there was Hil­lary Rod­ham out there, telling peo­ple she “could have stayed home and baked cook­ies and had teas, but what I de­cided to do in­stead was to ful­fil my pro­fes­sion”, which was pretty damn baller of my Hills. Alas, peo­ple got rather cross about that and a lot of top ex­perts (ie, me) think you can trace a di­rect line from that quote to her los­ing the pres­i­dency con­test 20 years later. So while it was an in­spir­ing quote, it didn’t work out so well. In­stead, what we 90s kids had was Ju­lia Roberts’s armpit hair.

In 1999, Roberts came to the Lon­don premiere of Not­ting Hill, raised her arm to the crowd, showed her un­der­arm hair and promptly cre­ated one of the sem­i­nal 1990s fem­i­nist state­ments, which says a lot about the 90s. Ex­cept, it turns out, Roberts wasn’t try­ing to do that at all. She was in­ter­viewed re­cently on the ac­tor Busy Phillips’s chat­show, Busy Tonight, and Phillips asked her about Body­hair­gate.

“I just hadn’t re­ally cal­cu­lated my sleeve length and the wav­ing and how those two things would go to­gether and reveal per­sonal things about me,” Roberts said. “So it wasn’t so much a state­ment, as it’s just part of the state­ment I make as a hu­man on the planet, for my­self.”

But Ju­lia! That is a fem­i­nist state­ment. Roberts might not have con­sciously set out to be the new An­drea Dworkin. But the fact that she – prob­a­bly the most fa­mous fe­male ac­tor on the planet back then – chose not to shave un­der her arms was a bril­liant fem­i­nist state­ment, be­cause it was such a re­jec­tion of all the stan­dard­ised beauty norms she was widely as­sumed to per­son­ify.

This col­umn has had harsh words in the past for women (Emily Rata­jkowski) who claim ev­ery­thing they do, from In­sta­gram­ming their cleav­age to pole danc­ing, is a fem­i­nist state­ment be­cause they are a woman and, like, yeah. What is fas­ci­nat­ing about Roberts is she is do­ing the op­po­site: in­sist­ing that her clearly fem­i­nist act is not fem­i­nist be­cause it is just who she is. And that is ex­actly how fem­i­nism should be – so nor­malised that it is not a sep­a­rate act, just a nat­u­ral form of self-ex­pres­sion. Oh, Ju­lia. We have missed you.

Ju­lia Roberts raises her arm – but was it a fem­i­nist state­ment?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.