October 01, 2011

On the discourse of "flattering" continued…

Wearing an unflattering 3.1 Phillip Lim dress

Recently, I've received some prescriptive feedback about flattering clothing as well as the occasional insult about my shape. This is to be expected and I'm not posting about it with the hopes that other readers will rescue me from anything. I am an adult who is confident in my appearance and my intellect. Obviously (and despite the unquestionable vanity in keeping a photo-heavy personal shopping and wardrobe blog) my appearance is not the only source from where I derive my value as a human being. Furthermore, I believe that criticism is a valuable tool when used effectively. We don't have to agree all the time. Civility might be a plus on occasion, but I also realize that the wheels of social progression were not pushed forward with polite conversation. So I am not of the opinion that we all should be nice to each other all the time.

Notions about what "flatters" a figure are subjective and individual. We all have different tastes and we all have been inundated with messages from the fashion and beauty industries as well as the mass media about how a woman *should* look. We all know the "rules" say that for women, dressing to flatter consists of making the body appear as small and/or thin as possible. Conventional wisdom tells us to be diminutive and small; to achieve thinness by any means necessary, even if doing so means sacrificing health and happiness. I don't claim immunity from any of the above influences. In fact, I've written here and elsewhere about the struggle to find peace in body acceptance. I wear Spanx tights regularly. And there are some days when I *do* try to dress in a way that flatters, in that narrow, traditional sense.

I also believe in health at any size. I reject the discourse of flattering for its inherent sizeism as well as its sexism. Trying to ensure women take up as little space in the world as possible is only one of many ways to minimize our social value and cultural input. Aesthetics are not universal. And beauty standards are not prescriptions to which we have to adhere. Taste, style, and fashion are moving targets that hold different meanings for different people within different social, political, and historical contexts. The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg takes a historical and cultural approach to the study of this very subject. And Sal of Already Pretty blogs regularly, with intellect, respect, and confidence about these very ideas.


My own notion of what flatters is contextual and malleable. It changes depending on my mood, my physical state, my self esteem, my tasks for that day, etc. I don't tend to focus on wearing only the outfits that hug the narrowest part of my body. I don't tend to dress in a way that provokes traditional "sex appeal." I don't lament that my body isn't model thin or model tall. It never has been. It never will be. I still like my body and am grateful that it is able and relatively healthy. I am glad that it hasn't changed much since I began upgrading my wardrobe because I also really like my clothes and want to continue to make use of them. I am not willing to constantly forgo comfort, stability, or practicality in the name of beauty. And I invite you to disagree with me about it.

28 comments:

Marianne said...

Oh dear, I am certain that I have used the flatetering compliment on you in the past. I hope you know I only ever meant you look even more lovely than usual.

Raquelita said...

To be honest, the sense that I could no longer avoid these kinds of discourses, as well as the amount of time I was spending blogging, played a significant role in my decision to leave FA. 

I'm sorry to hear that you have received negative comments about your figure, as I think you have a beautiful shape as well as killer style. 

angela stich said...

Unflattering dress my ass! 

I'm also sad to hear that this even needs to be address, but I'm happy to see you intellectually kick your troll's ass.

Dana said...

Whoever thinks your dress is unflattering is seriously mistaken! There is onthing wrong with your figure or your outfit! You are beautiful!

Dana said...

*nothing

M. said...

Is this one of those blog posts in which I commend your style, applaud you for addressing the issue, and reply with a serious comment and question . . . and then you receive less comments from your readership overall than if you had just posted the "unflattering" photos?

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Haha! To be clear the unflattering photos are already up. They're all over!

BiblioMOMia said...

My first thought when the window popped open was "wow, that's an amazing dress."  But when I say that I don't just mean "the dress," as it would look on a hanger, or "the dress," as it would look on a runway model.  I mean the dress as it looks with your particular figure in it.  

I think one of the most interesting repercussions of so many intelligent women entering the blogosphere is that such normative comments that ask us to fit into a particular aesthetic are dwindling.  Your voice (and people like Sal and the academichics, although they're now gone) are a huge part of that force.  Even so,  the paradigm remains pretty solid--as women, we're supposed to want to be diminutive in all respects.  I think our voices are a way of counteracting that paradigm, but there's always going to be pushback.

Let's just put the troll to death and agree that the dress is great.

Mermaide100 said...

You rock the dress. Statuesque. I am one of the small women...and am often overlooked, disregarded. I also won't do heels, I won't do spanx, no cosmetics, in fact, no bra. I will not be uncomfortable.
I am not a doll, I am a human being,

Cynthia said...

Hear, hear.  The mandates of "slimming" and "long leg lines" and wearing heels because a perpetual near Charley horse supposedly makes your leg "look better" and all that, are mandates which irk me.  I reject them, and I don't think that all fashion bloggers should be required to have them as a prime directive.

Laura Martin said...

Jess,

It was this dress that sparked the snark?  Why? I love the bib and buttons.  It hugs along the sides, so it shows off your small waist. It's not at all un-flattering. You know I would tell you constructively if it were. I would certainly attempt to offer an improvement. I think the best thing you can come away with is...your Troll had the intention already in mind.  It didn't matter what you said, or what you were wearing. It was going to happen regardless. These idiots are wasting our time for nothing.  I never openly addressed the age discrimination comments on me.  We all know it's just stupidity. Instead I opened Season on myself. I hoped Readers would have a chance to practice offering suggestions constructively, and could practice taking criticism gracefully.  Trolls aren't going to use constructive criticism.  But our true readers will.   Body snarking can't be turned into constructive criticism.  Any more than age discrimination can. Trolls will be Trolls.  It's sad, but I don't think you can educate one through explanation.  But, it doesn't hurt to open the comment line for the well meaning rest of us.  

Bronzi said...

Excellent. As us women are bombarded with magazines, news and all firms of media to tell s we should be a size 0 or horrors a size 2' we have taken that brainwashing into the workplace and are continuing to be small. This is the real reason more men are in the upper levels of major corporations.

Everyone genetically won't be a size 0 or 2 or 4, etc. Doesn't make any of us less attractive or intelligent or attractive. We need to feel good in the skin we are in and accept that skin.

Frankly, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with your pictures. I though you looked great :)

Laura Martin said...

Terri,  Your last statement is exactly why I thought Jess should address the Troll. I'm happy she chose to do it in her own way. At first I was concerned when she stated that it went against her better judgement.  But now I am reconsidering.  Sometimes going outside what is normally comfortable for us, is exactly what brings progress. Jess said it herself.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

A mission statement might be a good idea for a lot of blogs. I have written about this subject many times over so I think even if I had a mission statement there would still be people who didn't see/read it or didn't agree/understand it. That's ok too, I think. When and if I want a choir to which I can preach I'll switch the blog to invitation only.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That makes a lot of sense. It can be really difficult to participate in this sphere without reproducing or legitimizing things that are problematic about fashion, consumerism, bodies, etc.

The negative comments are to be expected in a public arena. I don't think my style or my looks or my writing will resonate with everyone and that's ok too.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

I know people say just to ignore or disregard/delete any trolling which was why I said it was going against better judgment.

But on the other hand, I have a public blog and it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to think the same, have the same tastes, value the same attributes, and constantly agree. Although I think it is cowardly of this one reader to keep trying to mask that they are in fact the same person over and over again making insulting comments about my shape and my clothes, they have every right to their opinions. I just want them to be aware that analytics betrays their low number (an "n" of 1) and that their comments speak volumes about their own assumptions and values. For them it seems that the worst thing in the world is to be fat. That's just not the case from my vantage. I think healthy and attractive bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

Thank you for your comment, Angela! It isn't really about kicking their ass intellectually so much as making clear that we don't value the same attributes. If "fat" is the worst thing they can think of to critique about me then I think I'm in pretty good shape (pun intended). It's just a big bummer that for so many people this is a go-to insult against women.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

To be clear, it wasn't this dress or any one dress. It has been many dresses, outfits, and body parts that have inspired insulting commentary from one person trying to post as many different people. In their most recent contribution they went so far as to say I have a "nicer" figure which made me lol, especially after reading the things they previously contributed. Believing that one could finesse an insult enough that I wouldn't realize what was happening is far more insulting to me than the content of their comments.

They have every right to think my body, style, shape, etc. are awful. I don't begrudge them that for a second. And they can express it here if they want. But I also recognize that we're different people with different tastes. And that's ok too.

Raquelita said...

At the same time, I feel like a lot of the more successful style bloggers still fit into those categories. Their figures or their styles still often promote the let's make our legs look long and our waists look nipped. This is not necessarily a criticism, but an observation. And it seems to me that there's not nearly as much dialogue as there should be between plus sized (I hate that term by the way) style bloggers and other style bloggers.  

April and Maya said...

I don't disagree at all.  While I often do try to play up my body's "plusses," there are times when I just want to wear something that's "wrong" for my body type just because it's comfortable or the garment itself is pretty.  Thank you for saying something I've wanted to articulate for a long time. 

E_Jo said...

Really well put!  Also, what a generous and thoughtful approach to this criticism.  

Margaritats1 said...

very nice dress!!

aloopylife said...

I love this dress on you.  I donn't think it looks unflattering at all!

Martina Lynne said...

What a stunning post! I have to admit, your eloquent and well-reasoned take on the body-mind duality that plays out on women's bodies -- the discourses of good or bad, madonna or whore, saint or witch that our physical appearances are entangled in -- is a perfect introduction to your blog. I'm so happy to have found you!

Or, more accurately, I'm so happy that you found the Academia and Fashion page so that I could find you. Welcome! You're all linked up and if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or want to take any action, feel free to shoot me a line!

Sabina said...

for an item to be "flattering"  - it should make you look good, or look good on you REGARDLESS of your size shape.    That said, it is obviously in the eye of the observer.  There are some universal rules that some shapes can successfully "break" that others can't, but still do.    In the end, if the item in question makes YOU happy, and makes YOU feel great - wear it !

Adriana said...

although i'd like to welcome the challenge, you make it hard to counter that argument. I often feel like the smallest person in the world (although we seem to share similar dimensions). I applaud and admire your confidence! 

Mermaide100 said...

Back atcha!!

Sonya said...

I am running on very little sleep at the moment, so all I've got to say is I agree with you. Being conditioned from a young age to be meek and take up as little space as possible as women and to make sure we emphasise our "best bits" while hiding our "bad bits" goes completely against what I stand for.

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