Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

April 21, 2008

Smart and Superfantastic

Our internet friend Shannon turned our attention to a delightful fashion-related article in an online publication called “The Smart Set.” Writer Jessa Crispin reviews various books about fashion . . . .

Instead of alleviating our body fears, however, so many books advising what to wear do nothing but exaggerate them. The entire structure of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine’s book What Not to Wear is built to help you define your particular version of body dysmorphic disorder. Do you think you have short legs? A big butt? Big arms? There’s a chapter telling you how to dress around each perceived flaw. It’s hard to walk out the door feeling hot and feisty when your entire dressing process has been focused on your main source of anxiety. If I tried to dress to hide all the parts of my body I have ever been self-conscious about, the only thing left to wear would be a hazmat suit.

. . . . and ultimately recommends The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable by Hadley Freeman.

If more fashion writing was done in the tone of smartypants Freeman, we could avoid the fear that caring about our appearance makes us a vain fool or a victim. A work colleague recently took one look at the four-inch peep toe heels I was wearing and snarled, “Don’t you know why men invented high heels?” I doubted anything I said would deflect what was coming next, so I just shrugged. “So you can’t run away when they want to rape you.” I understand. I used to be a humorless feminist, too, complete with shaved head and my father’s combat boots. Then I discovered Charles David heels and got over it. If only The Meaning of Sunglasses had existed sooner, I could have spent less time being a self-righteous twit.

Francesca says: It is possible to be intellectual and feminist and fashion-conscious!


  1. Crispin makes excellent points in the first excerpted paragraph, but she loses me completely in the second – why randomly turn the review into a vengeful, trite anti-feminist invective? I guess if we don’t chose to wear high heels for whatever reason or dare to have political views surrounding fashion we’re all “humorless” feminists and self-righteous twits? Or is it only when our particular feminist views are in opposition to Crispin’s? Insulting women with a political point of view on fashion is not feminist, and responding to women who don’t like your shoes with lazy anti-feminist tropes is not intellectual.

    Comment by OTM — April 21, 2008 @ 9:42 am

  2. Well, exactly. Being a feminist means having the freedom to wear whatever I want — if it’s combat boots, fine, and if it’s a lovely pair of heels, that’s fine too. And I shouldn’t have to choose a pair of shoes based on my ability to escape rape while wearing them.

    Comment by Emily — April 21, 2008 @ 10:01 am

  3. We need more books like this one by Ms Freeman!

    Comment by Cybill — April 21, 2008 @ 10:22 am

  4. Yay! for lightening up about fashion! Trinny and Susannah make my hair hurt between their carping tone and constant insistance on concentrating on what’s ‘flawed’ about your body. A book that teaches us to point up the positive and have confidence in ourselves sounds wonderful.

    I was always a humorous feminist, myself. The reason I don’t do heels is simple: I am a klutz. When I wear high heels, I tend to resemble a Firesign Theater routine: “he’s no fun; he fell right over.” Oddly enough, few people notice on meeting me that I’m a short stuff, even though I’m wearing flats and not worried about doing anything to make me look taller. ‘Tude, it turns out, does wonders for the image we project.

    Comment by Twistie — April 21, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  5. Actually the high heel was invented by men for men – they were supposed to make riding in stirrups easier.
    Wiserecracking aside, Hadley Freeman is rather brilliant and has a regular fashion column in The Guardian.

    Comment by Anastasia — April 21, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  6. Sorry, OTM, but anyone who would buy that line of crap about the “reason” for high heels, much less repeat it, is a humorless, self-righteous twit, and gullible besides. Women (and men) like that are to be found among feminists, and it’s hardly “invective” against the entire belief system to point it out.

    I do not fly the feminist flag myself, but terminally earnest suckers are to be found in all circles and embracing every ideology. A sensible idea or set of ideas won’t be undermined if somebody occasionally notes that a fellow believer has gone off the deep end.

    Comment by Bridey — April 21, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  7. Ah…I think Hadley Freeman doesn’t realize she equates feminism with humourlessness and a bad, but just as strict code of “dress”. There were a lot of those girls around in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and now they’re all telling us how they’re not feminists anymore, no sir, now that they’re in the job or the school or the position they’d never have had access to if it weren’t for the backbreaking work feminists did for them. I know: it was part of feeling really lost and exceptionally insecure, as well as completely in need of direction. Whether its in 4 inch peep toes or whatever she thinks is “feminist” wear, she’s really telling us very clearly she’s cowtowing to someone else’s standard (and clearly, we’re supposed to submit like she did and “get over it” too). Sheesh. Can’t a gal/woman/wymmyn wear whatever the heck she wants one day, and whatever the heck she wants another day, and not be told to “get over it” at all?

    And, yeah, Anastasia’s right about who invented high heels, and why–by men, for men! So a little fact checking on that part of her work wouldn’t have hurt her, either.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — April 21, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  8. Are there any fashion guides that take a more positive approach? Can’t a fashion writer explain how certain clothing accentuates a feature (“this neckline accentuates cleavage” or “this skirt length emphasizes calves”)?

    I can’t comment on “What Not to Wear” since I don’t have cable TV.

    I have to agree to disagree about Crispin’s article. Too much politics mixed with fashion is just preachy and humorless. Now I remember why I am not a feminist.

    Comment by dcsurfergirl — April 21, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  9. Francesca –Please give us “humorless feminists” a little credit here(I assume you are referring to women who broke through in the workforce in the 1960s and 1970s?). It is because of our work at the barricades in that period that women your age do not get questions in job interviews such as “Where does your husband work?” “Are you married?” And my favorite: “And what form of birth control are you using?” I was personally asked all three of these in job interviews in 1974 and 1975. All those troubles are, of course, in the past…women no longer have any issues with pay equity or other forms of workplace equality, right? The only thing we have to worry about now with the Supreme Court the way it is presently constituted is…hmm, let’s see now…does choice over our reproductive capacity ring a bell?

    Comment by Toby Wollin — April 21, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  10. I’m with OVM on this–an easy, cheap potshot. There’s a lot of debate about fashion/consumption to be found the area of feminist scholarship about clothing and dress, and there is diversity of opinion about what fashion means/is wrt women, their bodies, and structures that support female oppression. So whoever wrote this post doesn’t have a clue about the complexity of modern feminism and chose to fall back into kneejerk stereotypes about feminists that are widely voiced and accepted in the mainstream culture.

    Comment by Chaser — April 22, 2008 @ 1:21 am

  11. “…why randomly turn the review into a vengeful, trite anti-feminist invective? I guess if we don’t chose to wear high heels for whatever reason or dare to have political views surrounding fashion we’re all “humorless” feminists and self-righteous twits?”

    My thoughts exactly, OTM. If for whatever reason — rape avoidance, NYC walking, general comfort — we avoid heels, we’re ugly, unfashionable, unattractive, don’t care what we look like, ruining the line of the clothes, I believe “lesbo” is also a frequently used pejorative.

    And I like flats with bows. I just like Pumas too, and I’m sick of both boys AND girls telling me “You need a heel … it just looks so much better … heels are so much more feminine …” Please SFTU.

    I loved La Streep in Devil/Prada, but the only time I really got ticked with her character (because I’ve had bosses like that without the excuse that they were women being judged twice as harshly for being in charge) was when she gave Andy/Anne that LOOK for her shoes in the early scenes.

    I understand that with the branding of fashion and all, blah blah, so I understand that as the business excuse — but when I listened to the commentary (yes, I own the DVD) and about all the times Emily and Anne literally went down in those heels — and did anyone else notice that La Streep’s heels were much more platform, much more substantial — and ha ha, wasn’t that funny; they’re Equity actresses, they have health insurance; no one gives a crap whether they tear an ankle ligament as long as they look good doing it???

    All I’m saying is, please feel free to rock your fabulous stilettos, but unless you’re my tailor — and even she knows better — leave me the freak alone about my flats.


    Comment by littlem — April 22, 2008 @ 5:00 am

  12. I think some people are missing the point that OTM was trying to make… I don’t think anyone here is saying that the coworker quoted in the original article was RIGHT or even THOUGHTFUL. But there’s a big difference between saying, “my coworker made an absolutely inane comment about my heels today. Obviously she’s a dunce” and “Wow, she mentioned rape, which is something only feminists care about, ergo all feminists are humorless with shaved heads and combat boots who don’t give three shits about how they look”, and that is exactly where that quoted excerpt went for no apparent reason other than to make feminist women look bad.

    Whether or not you fly the feminist flag, this should be an issue. It’s this exact same fucking attitude that gets a woman who can’t do math translated into “WOMEN can’t do math”, one woman is a clutsy driver so “WOMEN are clutsy drivers”, a woman who enjoys being a mother into “WOMEN enjoy being mothers”, etc.

    I don’t think it’s so much to ask that this particular space which is supposed to be a safe place for big superfantastic girls be free of the attitudes that create and perpetuate stereotypes that are ultimately harmful to all of us.

    Comment by JadedKitten — April 23, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  13. I understand Toby Wollin’s point. It’s just that any time I deal with feminists and feminism, someone is complaining about clothing , song lyrics,the spelling of “women” (Womyn? Wymyn? Whaaat?) or other issues that are not worth that much debate. Styles change, songs fall off the music charts–why deal? Such talk belittles the work of past feminists.

    You like what you like. Live and let live.

    Comment by dcsurfergirl — April 23, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  14. dcsurfergirl, I can see what you’re saying, especially in the context of the specific comments in question.

    Speaking as a proud shoe-loving, hair-vain, eyebrow-waxing feminst, it’s frustrating when people hold up comments like the one in this post as “feminist” comments along with the stereotype that feminists are ugly, unkempt women who wouldn’t know a hairbrush if they were clubbed over the shaved head with one…

    It’s about as insulting as if someone said, “I used to be a fat cow too, complete with grease from my fried chicken skins dripping down my chin and onto my tent-like moo moo. Then I discovered vegetables and got over it.”

    Comment by JadedKitten — April 23, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

  15. I’ve given this post a few days thought, and not to change the thread of the discussion too much, but I completely disagree with Crispin’s characterization of Trinny and Susannah. I watched as many of their episodes as BBC America would syndicate and having lovingly poured through all of their books. Yes, they do suggest that you minimize your flawed areas, but what they suggest is being realistic about what’s AWESOME about your body. If Jessa Crispin thinks she needs a hazmat suit, she’s not being realistic (at all — we’ve all seen the nude vignette of her at the top of bookslut). Every episode of Trinny and Susannah, and this is a theme through their books as well, is that every woman has something extraordinary about their bodies that they can play up and feel confident about. Are you a big girl? Possibly you have kick-ass calves and can rock a short skirt. Probably you have stunning cleavage that would make any tiny woman jealous. Their point was that every woman’s body is different and beautiful and something to feel proud and confident about and that no woman, ever, needs wear a hazmat suit.

    Comment by Nemtynakht — April 25, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

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