“I like nice things. And I’ve worked hard!” My mother has indeed worked hard. And everyone likes nice things. But when I asked my mother if she would still purchase luxury items if no one else knew she owned them, she appeared shocked for a moment and then laughed. “No! What’s the point in that?”
There is no point in either the purchase or the announcement of it. Her purchases are tickets to an arena where she will never be accepted because of her race. We are told time and time again how blackness “devalues” a brand, of executives who blanched when informed that their product had become popular amongst racial and ethnic groups. We are to be felt (i.e., provide money and labor), but not seen. Black and brown children of poverty are told that they are nothing without a proper label. Once they have sacrificed everything to obtain said label? They are told the label is worthless due to too many of them having it. To add insult to injury, what black and brown children of poverty do produce for themselves on a massively limited budget is then co-opted by the artistic elite to provide to rich whites seeking something novel. Flesh is co-opted. A Native headdress for a music video; blackamoor earrings for an art gallery opening— brown bodies become white accessories.
"Though I’ve talked some about equal representation within the lingerie industry, I haven’t written about this exact issue before because talking about race in America is hard. And I think it’s even harder when you’re a racial minority. As a person of color, you often feel like you’re caught in a perpetual Catch-22. You can either avoid talking about your ethnicity (which effectively means pretending like it doesn’t matter) or you can talk about it openly and deal with the blowback, which often includes stinging accusations like “crying racism.”
"The reason I’m bringing this up now is because, over the last year or so, I’ve watched the conversation on diversity shrink from one that was more inclusive of all women to one that only seems relevant to fuller-busted or fuller-figured women. I’ve seen so many articles and comments and blogs focusing on dress size and bra size and cup size, but next to none talking about other, equally important, issues like age, ability or, yes, ethnicity.
"In a way, I understand why. People tend to talk more about issues which personally affect them, and, since the lingerie blogosphere is primarily made up of full bust and plus size bloggers, that viewpoint has become the dominant one. Unfortunately, a consequence of that is issues whicharen’t related to size keep getting pushed further and further down the priority list in the general lingerie conversation.
"But the sad truth is I can go weeks at a time without coming across a nice photo of a woman of color in lingerie. And if we’re talking older women or disabled women, it can be months. The same simply isn’t true for fuller-figured or fuller-busted women.
"We live in a world where children as young as 5 have already internalized the message that black is ugly and white is pretty. We live in a world where fashion magazines regularly lighten the skin of women of color. We live in a world where, when asked why they didn’t use more models of color, brands respond with, “Well, we couldn’t find any good ones.”
"Even worse, we live in a world where women of color are afraid of bringing up these issues lest we be dismissed by the very industry we seek to be a part of.
"In my own life, I’ve been told that I’m “pretty for a dark skinned girl.” I’ve been told that I’m “too dark to date.” I’ve been told that I’d be prettier if only I was “less black.” And though I think we can all agree that there is something seriously wrong with those kinds of statements, that messaging is constantly being reinforced by the industry at large.
"It’s reinforced every time a lingerie company refuses to cast, or even consider, a model of color. It’s reinforced every time a lingerie brand is praised and awarded for their diversity in using fuller-figured women, but gets no comments at all on the fact their models that look the same in every other respect. It’s reinforced every time I get a snippy remark from someone who insists I don’t know what it’s like to be ignored by the lingerie industry because I happen to wear a C cup.
"And I think what bothers me most of all is that I get so many messages from the plus sized and fuller figured blogging community insisting I need to do more for women “who look like them” (which I try to do), yet there’s no such passion about doing more for women like me (or like some of you) . We all crave seeing people resemble us. And it makes me sad that the “us” in this discussion has somehow become so one-sided.”
In case you missed it, Victoria’s Secret recently launched a new lingerie collection. Entitled “Go East,” it’s the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl.
From the website: “Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.” The collection varies in its level of exoticism. The “Sexy Little Geisha” is a perversion of its reference, featuring a sultry white model donned in lingerie, chopsticks in her hair, fan in her hand. Other items in the collection include red sleepwear and nightgowns with cherry blossoms. I might have glossed over some of these pieces entirely–except the catalog descriptions had me reeling. “Indulge in touches of Eastern delight.” Translation: “Buying these clothes can help you experience the Exotic East and all the sexual fantasies that come along with it, without all the messy racial politics!”
When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to “Eastern culture” (whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it reinforces a narrative that says that all Asian cultures–and their women–are exotic, far away but easy to access. It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East.
But when a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.
This week Urban Outfitters added yet another epic fail to the clothing company’s laundry list of misdeeds.
UO has been selling a greeting card that reads: “Jack and Jill, Went up the Hill, So Jack could see Jill’s fanny, But Jack got a shock, And an eyeful of cock, Because Jill was a closet tranny.”
Angry Redditors called UO’s nursery rhyme “blatantly transphobic” with its use of the much-debated “t-word”and its objectification of trans bodies. But that’s not the only reason why UO’s “charming” card is such a slap in the face.
For years UO has been gobbling up gender-bending style and regurgitating queer fashion for the masses.
In 2009 the New York Times identified androgyny as the “it” fashion trend of the coming decade. Psychologist Dr. Diane Ehrensaft told the Times a new peer culture made gender-bending “not only acceptable, but cool.”
The cool-factor of androgyny has been amplified in recent years by icons like Lady Gaga, who performed in drag at last year’s VMA’s and played up media rumors that she is intersex in her “Telephone” music video (the pop star has since revealed that she’s not). Androgynous models like Andrej Pejic have been walking the runway for Marc Jacobs, and the andro-hot heroine of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has inspired a clothing line at H&M.
UO stores are cropping up in suburban malls everywhere, selling hip, gender-neutral accessories like beanies, tees, hoodies, plastic-framed glasses, and skinny jeans. Last year the comapny, which includes Anthropologie and Free People, opened 57 new stores, competing with preppy retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Gap.
UO stands out with is self-proclaimed “funky” (queer?) threads. I’m not suggesting that all “funky” and “androgynous” fashion is queer fashion, nor am I suggesting that all queer folks wear the same things. But come on now, where do you think UO got the idea for this photo in their winter catalogue?
In a culture that punishes princess boys and fears Chaz Bono, why is androgyny considered fashionable, even sexy? And how did gender-neutral/gender-bending clothing go mainstream? It’s no secret that what scares, sells. So when the queers go bump in the night, the scaredy cats behind UO swipe our clothes and duck under the covers.
UO has no problem taking without giving back. The company has been outed a number of times in the past few months, first for ripping of independent jewelry designers, then for selling culturally-appropriative “Navajo” clothing and accessories. But sometimes, UO co-founder and CEO Richard Hayne is in the spirit of giving, so hedonates to anti-gay politicians like Rick “gay sex equals man-on-dog humping’” Santorum.
Hayne might think the gays are scary, but his customers are probably less likely to be spooked. Now more Americans support gay marriage than ever before, and among the young, “funky” folks who buy their leggings and Bill Cosby sweaters at UO, I’d guess that the percentage is probably higher.
Since the gays aren’t so scary anymore, UO has resorted to a “tranny” jokes to get that extra “edge.” And it’s just not funny.
While the the young and hip prowl the streets in their androgynous attire, it might look like the “end of gender” is near. But as Coco Chanel reminds us, fashion fades. UO’s darling greeting card brings us back to harsh reality: When it comes to understanding and respecting the spectrum of identities beneath the clothes, we have a long, long way to go.
- Bitch Magazine
This is a really smart post.
I hate UO’s politics/actions and as much as it pains me to not shop there or at anthro - fuck them.