Saturday, August 07, 2010

Structural Racism in Fashion, in Action on Project Runway

So for some reason the last couple days I decided I wanted to watch Project Runway so I’ve been going through last season. And boy oh boy if it doesn’t just hurt my head sometimes.

There is this one designer, Jay, I think he is probably Pinoy, and his clothes tend to emphasize a woman’s curves, especially her ass. Personally, I like this, as I have always been proud of my wide hips and my favorite part of carrying a little “extra” weight as I sometimes do is how my butt fills out to match them a little better. Well… the judges are constantly picking at him for this. The last episode I watched was especially bad, with the one judge guy going on about “no woman wants to look wider than she is; she doesn’t exist!” referring to the way Jay’s outfit made his model’s hips and ass look “bigger” (which is barely did). And all the judges joined in on this refrain of course (with guest judge Jessica Alba pointing out with some shame or embarrassment or self consciousness that since having a child her hips are wider and she’s “still trying to hide it”).

Fuck that.

I know I’m not the first person to notice this, in fact it made me think about a post I saw on Tumblr some time back about wishing that fashion would do the opposite of what it does: instead of trying to figure out how to make us all look similar, that it would emphasize what makes us look different from each other (i.e. someone has broad shoulders? emphasize that! instead of trying to make them look “proportional” which is just fashion speak for “normal” which really just means "white").

It also drove home a way in which (Western) fashion is, well, racist. Here we have this man of color who clearly (and he basically says as much) enjoys working with a very different notion of beauty than the Eurocentric one that is the foundation of Western fashion. And I know I’m not the first one to make this connection either, but it was just one of those moments where I saw this exchange unfolding and I’m going, oh shit, this whole conversation is predicated on a really specific understanding of Beauty…and it would be so easy to see that concept of Beauty as “neutral” you know, like I could just feel the words they were using trying to massage my brain into not seeing just how coded they are, but they are, they really, really are.

So anyway, despite knowing this is not a unique revelation (and probably old news since this is LAST season), it was just one of those moments of seeing this dynamic I knew existed in action, and I wanted to write it out.