Culture, Essays

Call Me Crazy, But We Need to Talk About Mental Health Right Now

Like most Americans right now, I’m extremely distraught over the shooting in Orlando, Florida, where I lived from 2009-2012. I’m horrified by how bigotry and hatred played into this act of terror, and I hope we all continue to shine a light on that aspect of what’s happened, because we absolutely cannot tolerate intolerance. I could use this moment and this space to preach about equality, which should always be our first priority, but I don’t believe I have anything new to offer on a subject that should be so obvious; we’re all people, and as Lin-Manuel Miranda put it at last night’s Tony Awards, “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.”

Less than two weeks after a shooting at UCLA that, to my knowledge, had nothing to do with sexuality, religion, or race, I personally want to focus on some things I believe we can immediately control in order to effect necessary change. Gun safety is the big one. Everyone’s talking about it: guns are dangerously easy to acquire in the U.S., and the country needs to loosen its ridiculous grip on the second amendment, adjust its policies, and work harder to prevent putting automatic weapons into the wrong hands. I feel like the conversation always ends there, though, and we rarely talk about what we mean by the “wrong hands.” In fact, I feel like a lot of people disgracefully use that subject as a vehicle for Islamaphobia, but religion hasn’t been the common thread tying the endless string of shootings in America together…The discourse on mental illness in America remains severely hushed, and the stereotypes surrounding mental illness are as ingrained as ever, despite the fact that mental illness is extremely common. As someone who isn’t ashamed to admit that I have to take medication every day and visit a therapist regularly in order to avoid manic-depressive episodes and manage my crippling anxiety, I’m curious as to how America plans to confront the role mental illness plays in gun violence, or begin reducing gun violence, if we can’t even manage talk about mental health at length at all. We need to be brave adults and just bust open the dialogue on mental health and de-stigmatize mental-emotional issues, because right now, for many Americans, guns are easier to access than health care and appropriate treatment. Mental illness doesn’t have to be shameful, and it doesn’t have to ruin lives.

I suppose I’ve contradicted myself. I am preaching equality: I don’t think people who suffer from mental illness are treated fairly in America. Many of the people we ultimately call monsters are people we cast off for being different, people we’d rather ignore than assist. At this time, I’m not going to bombard you with a bunch of statistics or clinical facts regarding mental illness; I’m just going to tell you, plain and simple, that stigmatizing or silencing groups of people based on fear, discomfort, a lack of understanding, and general prejudice, leads to unsafe situations, and when we aren’t safe, we aren’t free.

I hope you won’t think I’m being insensitive, or in any way excusing the Orlando shooter’s heinous, homophobic actions, or his affiliation with ISIS. There is no excuse for such bigotry, violence, or terrorism. The shooter is not the victim here. However, as many Americans gear up to place blame and fight hatred with more hatred, I think we should acknowledge that extremism, religious or not, often stems from mental-emotional instability. (The shooter’s ex-wife has stated that he was mentally ill, and cites this as the true root of his actions. She laments how this will affect the Muslim community.) I’m not saying a few therapy sessions or a prescription could have prevented this nightmare. I’m saying that the list of senseless shootings aside from this one is so long, that we must examine these massacres collectively and consider how we address mental illness more carefully. I could go on a million tangents in a million different directions right now, because the way I see it, most of our country’s problems are tightly intertwined, to a dizzying degree. But the bottom line is that we need to listen to each other, we need to accept each other. We need to give each other love, or at the very least, respect. And we need to open our eyes to reality. We need to ask ourselves why America faces mass shootings more frequently than any other country in the world, and and we need to become solution-oriented, instead of just angry and hateful. (I don’t know about you, but I am pretty fucking exhausted from being angry, and I’m certain I’ve exhausted all of my Facebook friends, too.) (…Insert angry rant about people who constantly talk about the Founding Fathers and harp on concepts that are completely irrelevant today…)

I’m sad, I’m scared—but I’m hopeful; and while I understand that a lot of the seemingly (or totally) empty “thoughts and prayers” on social media frustrate those who so desperately want to actively achieve change, I also personally appreciate how social media has created a platform for people to come together, enlighten and uplift each other, and initiate real conversations about real issues. Just think about Brock Turner: a judge may not have had the sense or decency to punish Turner appropriately, but social media has allowed us to rally together to raise his victim’s voice, to see that this injustice does not get swept under the rug, and to ensure that Turner ultimately won’t be entitled to the privileges he renounced as soon as he chose to rape someone. Similarly, in the wake of our country’s most recent tragedy, we can use social media to educate each other, sound off, brainstorm, and demand better protection for Americans and HUMAN BEINGS everywhere.

For my fellow Bostonians who’d like to show their support for Orlando beyond the digital world, a vigil is being held for the victims at Boston City Hall Plaza this evening at 6pm.

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Essays, Feminism, Pop Culture

I Was Not Born a Feminist

I was not born a feminist. I did not even finish high school as a feminist. In my third year of college, I signed up for a women’s studies course. I’m not exactly sure why; I think it was a matter of scheduling, and wanting to take an introductory-level course, as school has always been challenging for me. I mention this because I did not even walk into that course as a feminist. On the first day of class, the professor asked those who did identify as feminists to please raise their hands, and I didn’t raise mine. It’s not that I didn’t understand the question, it was just that…I didn’t understand the question. Three years into my higher education, I still had no idea what feminism really was. That’s why I try not to lose my shit when I run into guys who still make “jokes” about hating feminists because all feminists are angry as a means of making me angry, therefore “proving” that feminists are angry—or when I see that random Facebook users comment that Amy Schumer is only considered a feminist because she is “fat and ugly,” or that racism and feminism have nothing to do with each other. While plenty of assholes and Internet trolls exist on this earth and do make it their bizarre mission to instigate arguments and piss people off, the majority of people who seem ignorant are exactly that. They have no idea what they’re talking about, because no one has educated them on the subject, and while it makes my head spin, I can only get so mad about it, considering that I don’t know whether or not I would be writing this essay if I hadn’t taken that women’s studies course just a few years ago. I can share my opinion that middle school, high school and higher education programs should not only include, but should require gender studies classes. I can try to use this blog as a platform to help contribute to people’s understanding of feminism. I can still picture the smile on my professor’s face when she promised that each and every one of us would consider ourselves feminists before the semester was over. My view of the world, my view of myself—my life—was never the same.

While I can’t blame strangers on Facebook or at school or in the streets for gaps in their education, I can and will call out magazines, social media outlets, and other channels of pop culture, which claim to preach feminism when convenient, for hiring people who clearly don’t have a grasp on the subject, and for letting those people write misguided articles that perpetuate stereotypes, stigmas, ignorance, and general negativity, and for perhaps even capitalizing on the fact that feminism is a popular topic, intentionally confusing the issue to increase engagement on social media. In spite of free speech, I believe that high-profile publications, both in print and online, have an obligation to try to serve as part of the solution, and lately, as many of my readers who follow along with my Facebook page already know, most of the publications I enjoy and follow online—some of the most prominent publications in the world of fashion and that cater to women—have recently and persistently published a slew of antiquated, inflammatory articles and essays that directly contribute to social problems, and swiftly hinder progress.

It’s not as if I grew up without any strong female figures in my life, or that I was taught to avoid feminism. I think growing up, aside from the fact that no one had formally explained feminism to me, I assumed I didn’t have permission to claim the title because of my interest in fashion, which is something people have used to denigrate me for as long as I can remember. When I first started high school, almost ten years ago, I felt that it was largely considered not just uncool, but also apparently indisputably shallow to care about your clothes. I wore what I wanted regardless, and received my fair share of compliments, but someone went out of their way to make me feel stupid, guilty, immoral, and just all-around bad for loving clothes basically every day. Looking back, I realize that what my peers punished me for was not really my interest in fashion, but my desire to be different, and their inability to move past the social stereotypes that no adults were correcting. While the word “superficial” was always closely attached to the conversation, everyone seemed to ultimately take issue with the fact that I didn’t show up to school in the unspoken female uniform of the era: jeans, a Northface fleece jacket, and Ugg boots, all of which typically cost about $200 individually. People liked to use my passions as reason to point a finger at me, call me spoiled, and assert their incredible down-to-earthness, but the only real difference between most of the accusers and myself was that my outfits stood out aesthetically. The irony that I let people use my appearances to call me superficial continues to astound me. I guess if your wardrobe has variety, it’s fair to assume that you spend more money on your clothes, but that’s not the point. If you are reading this and are already aware of intersectional feminism, as well as general common sense and goodness, you know that passing judgment on and shaming people based solely on their socioeconomic background and/or the clothes on their back is inappropriate and unproductive. (I’m aware, by the way, that kids get bullied for much worse in high school. I’m aware that these complaints do come from a place of privilege, but pain is not a contest; no one deserves to be judged on a surface-based level.) What I’ve learned since my teen years, among so many things, is that “feminism” means I get to care about whatever the fuck I want, and express myself however the fuck I want. I didn’t play soccer. I didn’t need cleats. I didn’t play an instrument. I didn’t need lessons. My first love in life was to express myself through personal style, and clothes are my outlet for doing so, and that is valid, and it is no one’s place to tell me otherwise. I have learned that anyone who thinks that this has any effect on my intellect probably isn’t very smart. In college, in the same year that I took women’s studies, I participated in a literary internship that gave me the opportunity to spend some time with author and now-famous feminist, Chimamamanda Ngozie Adichie, who told me that shoes “are her favorite subject” before anything else. She didn’t know it, but in that moment, she freed me from a lifetime of shame. These days, when I encounter people who would like to belittle my passions and what I do, I sometimes get annoyed, but mostly I pity those who live so far in the past and who feel the need to put others down for living lives that don’t exactly mirror their own.

When one of NYLON Magazine’s online writers smugly captioned an article listing facts about Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s high school graduation with “1. They graduated?” on Facebook, it struck a nerve. I had heard that tone before. I had been the target of it too many times, and I couldn’t just sit there and pretend it was ok, especially after NYLON had just shared an excellent essay by a young woman who proudly identifies as fat, and explains that crop tops helped her accept herself. Feminism has no room for favoritism. If you think it’s ironic to defend the Jenner girls in the name of feminism, well we have arrived at my point: don’t bother taking into account that neither Kendall nor Kylie Jenner is even 20 years old and both have full-blown careers and make millions of dollars; the fact that these young women represent what you may consider superficial values does not negate their accomplishment of earning high school diplomas. There is no tasteful reaction to someone’s academic success other than applause, or silence (if you can’t something nice, don’t say anything at all), no matter who that person may be. As someone who always appreciates a good joke, I can confidently say that while it may be a fine line, there is a definite difference between comedy and downright girl-bashing. NYLON’s two words, punctuated by a sarcastic question mark, implied that because the Jenner girls are associated with pop culture, and more specifically, with fashion and beauty, they automatically don’t have what it takes to complete their high school requirements—that pursuing a career in modeling or getting lip injections directly connects to one’s performance in home-schooling. So, I went ahead and took the liberty of tearing NYLON a new, freshly waxed asshole. When my initial comment on the article started to pick up “likes” and replies echoing my frustrations, NYLON wrote back to me with a disappointing excuse, telling me by name that they were being “totally, totally facetious,” and of course not at all condescending or hypocritical, considering almost all of the writers at NYLON presumably earned their professional positions based on both their academic backgrounds, as well as interests that much of society deems low, unimportant, or superficial—interests they share with Kendall and Kylie Jenner. NYLON’s petty reaction reminded me so much of confronting kids for talking behind my back in high school, or for rolling their eyes at the mere sight of me. The magazine’s lame attempt to deny their flagrant insensitivity was absolute bullshit, and it only bothered me and my sudden band supporters even more. Something lit up inside of me when I saw the response I was receiving from strangers, and it’s still growing brighter and stronger every day.

As a feminist and fashion-lover who’s also extremely passionate about writing, and whose life essentially takes place on social media (I’m not embarrassed. You’re reading this.), I can’t stop noticing the troublesome language that myriad publications for women, and which supposedly stand for feminism, use and put out into the world with such ease, as if even they don’t believe that social media matters. What the fuck is a “yummy-mommy?” Well, it’s Vogue’s not-so-adorable term (that doesn’t even rhyme) that perpetuates the notion that pregnancy and motherhood inherently make women unstylish and unappealing. What’s wrong with Rihanna’s latest ad campaign? Absolutely nothing; Rihanna doesn’t have to dress a certain way to prove that she’s black, or that she cares about being black. What is wrong is tossing around a term like “whitewashed” as if it carries no history or weight, and insinuating that anyone who strays from the confines of the stereotypes attached to their race, ethnicity, or culture are automatically abandoning those things and setting a bad example. (For the record, I think Rihanna often does set a bad example for young women in many ways, but I also think she is perhaps one of the most eclectic style icons of our generation, and shows us that having a signature sense of style doesn’t necessarily mean you always adhere to one niche in the world of fashion.) Why is this Harper’s Bazaar list of tips for looking “skinnier” on Instagram problematic? I don’t want to patronize anyone, myself, but I also honestly wish I didn’t have to address such nonsense: body image is a major, and often life-threatening matter to which social media unfortunately sometimes contributes on its own by posing unavoidable comparisons. People need to learn to love themselves, and that’s all the more difficult when they log on to Facebook and see a headline that suggests they should learn to hide instead. Why is this Who What Wear article about which lingerie men prefer also problematic? Well, for starters, because feminism is not just about women. It’s about everyone. It’s for everyone. Gender-equality is an all-inclusive concept, and while we’re making strides here and there, it still seems quite out of reach. (Please watch Emma Watson’s inspiring 2014 United Nations speech about gender equality and her #HeForShe campaign.) As I recently wrote on Facebook (and I’m rewording a little bit here), what so many people fail to understand about the endless stream of articles, books, TV shows, and movies that insist that everything women do and say and wear should be in the interest of pleasing men not only prompts women to remain submissive, but also pressures men into believing they have to act as aggressors, and constantly exert control over women and their bodies in order to be perceived and accepted as “masculine.” Like a lot of people, I used to think women were the only true victims of sexism, but men aren’t as liberated as we typically assume. In that women’s studies course, we watched a documentary (unfortunately, I cannot remember the title) about the vicious cycle of society’s perceived gender roles, and how society continuously imprisons men with its rigid standards of masculinity. I sat there shocked as it showed the evolution of the G.I. Joe action figure. (Why can’t I call it a doll? Why aren’t they all just toys?) Society has spent decades in an ethical debate over Barbie and her unrealistic measurements, which have always been the same, but few people realize that the original G.I. Joe looked like an “average-sized” man with totally attainable muscle mass, and has slowly evolved to resemble someone whose body-type could only be obtained by spending countless hours lifting weights, and/or with the assistance of steroids. Society clings to this “boys will be boys” perspective on male violence, when so much of that violence is the result of social constructs we’ve created ourselves, and to which there are solutions. In some ways, we have achieved equality, in that everyone in this world is at some point asked to step inside an easily identifiable box of social norms, and stay there. Most of the time, it doesn’t fit, but so many people don’t admit to their discomfort, and instead choose to conform for fear of being outcast. Why isn’t it ok to question whether or not Caitlyn Jenner’s docuseries I Am Cait lives up to the “hype”? Well, because she isn’t telling her story for the sake of ratings. (Seriously, stop saying that.) Caitlyn Jenner isn’t just the former-Olympian father figure on Keeping Up With the Kardashians anymore. She’s officially one of the foremost transgender icons and role models in the world, and in human history. To those stubborn Facebook users out there: why can’t you compare transgender teen, Jazz Jennings, of I Am Jazz, to Caitlyn Jenner? Well, for starters, because they’re two different people, but also because the transgender community is in desperate need of role models and social representation, and to limit that group to one spokesperson is to marginalize their existence, and also ignores the many other, diverse transgender individuals who’ve already come out and stood up as activists. (It’s bemusing how, when people take to social media to bash the reality television industry and claim it has no merit at all whatsoever, they often inadvertently reveal that they are not actually capable of seeing of what’s not immediately visible to them on reality TV shows.) The suicide rate within the transgender population is reason enough to avoid pitting transgender celebrities against each other, and not for nothing, but how can anyone’s scope be so narrow that they fail to see how incredibly lucky we are to have a 15-year-old transgender woman and a 65-year-old transgender woman in the spotlight simultaneously? The entire angle of Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer made it clear that most of the world feels unfamiliar with the transgender experience, and we need to educate ourselves. Would you assume you could learn everything about what it’s like to be African-American from one black person alone, or that one Jewish person’s take on Judaism could sum it all up? No, because that would be absurd. (Also, not many people seem to actively wonder why we need to know what “real housewives” are arguing about in multiple cities, but I’ve read literally dozens of comments on Facebook from people who think they have to choose one transgender celebrity to support.) We learn some overlapping, but ultimately completely different and equally valuable things from Jennings and Jenner and their friends and families, all of whom have put themselves out there to promote acceptance and safety, to let people in the LGBTQ community know that they are not alone—to save lives. In addition, if I’ve learned anything from the three installments of I Am Cait that have aired so far, it’s that Jenner’s vantage point of privilege does not even begin to scrape the surface of the struggles so many transgender people face, and society needs to witness a wider spectrum of those experiences in order to increase understanding and improve those precious lives. (Jenny Boylan, Laverne Cox, and many others have been reminding us of this fact for a long time, from platforms less glamorous than the cover of Vanity Fair.) And for those of you who think it’s blasphemous to associate the word “feminism” with anyone who’s been on Kardashians other than Caitlyn, read this Rolling Stone interview with Kim and then get back to me. It definitely got me thinking: no other women talk so unashamedly about their vaginas on television as the Kardashian sisters do. None. Why am I harping on the Kardashian clan so much right now? Because I want you to understand that feminism is broad, forgiving, and can never be gauged on image alone. Because I like to spend my money on clothes, facials, and decorative manicures, and I read the product reviews on Sephora.com more frequently than I read any major newspaper, and I sing to my own reflection for hours on end—and sometimes I hate what I see—and none of that makes me dumb, or a bad feminist, or a bad person. None of that even comes close to defining my whole complex existence.

The difficulty of writing this essay is that I could go on forever. Because feminism is intersectional and so very multi-faceted, it bleeds into every virtually every aspect of human life. I won’t stop here. I’ll definitely write more essays that discuss (or yell about) feminism going forward; but I guess I’d like to close this one by saying that there is hope. Anger isn’t the only emotion I experience as a feminist. Progress has been and continues to be made every day, and I see it every day. (I’m proud to report that NYLON actually revised some of the Facebook headlines about which I complained to have a more positive, politically correct tone, and even published an interesting article admitting to their conflicting and often imprudent messages, stating, “…we don’t always have a united front when we should, but we are always figuring it out. And sometimes, our readers rightfully call us out on this fact.” (However, this article unfortunately attempts to pawn their racism and other offenses off on other companies, such as Instagram, and does not confront some of the mistakes they’ve made that most urgently need to be addressed and redacted.)) The problem with how many mixed messages I see on my Facebook Newsfeed, many of which come from the same sources, is that it makes it so difficult for people to navigate their role in society and know how to conduct themselves in social situations. When I’m confronted by someone who still thinks “I hate feminists” is a legitimate punchline (good one…), or anyone who casually/”jokingly” says anything that I find downright anti-feminist, racist, etc., I have to wonder if it’s because that person has just received too many mixed messages through social media, and simply can’t decipher the positive from the negative. Perhaps that person was essentially told, in a matter of sixty seconds, that Amy Schumer is a comedic hero for all audiences, that it’s ok to physically abuse women if you’re a professional athlete, that there is finally a woman coaching in the NFL, that Rihanna’s latest ad campaign is a disgrace to black women everywhere, that Rihanna should be able to reveal her nipples on absolutely any platform, that women should choose their clothing based on what men like, that women should feel proud of whatever size they wear, and that Caitlyn Jenner’s most recent accomplishment was wearing a formfitting dress. I can’t imagine being inundated with that contradictory, and frequently politically incorrect content without that lone, introductory course under my belt. I’m not an actual expert on feminism, but I am proof that it doesn’t take long to become comfortable with the concept if you have the resources, open your mind, and really listen.

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Essays, Fashion

“It’s Just Clothes, Annie…”

I worked for a leased vendor at Bloomingdale’s for a year a while back. I was twenty-one, with no retail experience, or any professional experience at all, for that matter. Regardless, I felt confident that my passion for styling and my people skills would serve me well, and I was excited to learn and grow in the position of a sales associate. I took the job seriously.

Just a couple months into my time there, my then-manager was offered an outstanding position in New York City, and she couldn’t pass it up. Happy for her as I was, myself and one other part-time employee were left with no manager and not enough coverage for over two months, and I had a hard time keeping up. One day, I was the only present representative for this leased vendor, and I arrived to discover three enormous boxes of new inventory. Usually, once new merchandise arrived and had been accounted for, I would contact the brand’s visual merchandising specialist, tell her which items we’d received and which ones we still had, so that she could tell me exactly how to organize the selling floor according to the brand’s standards. When I called her this time, she told me she was on business in Miami, and that I would have to fend for myself. I was stunned, and I panicked. I had never attempted this task on my own, and though it may seem like a simple task, brands are actually quite particular about the way in which their products are displayed, and the amount of clothing I had to place was a much larger quantity than anything I’d dealt with previously. Let’s put it this way: visual merchandising requires visual-spacial skills, and I have a hard time making everything fit in my fridge. I wanted so badly to prove myself as a valuable employee, but with so little experience under my belt, no available guidance, and crippling anxiety, I had no idea how I was going to process, sensor, and organize these clothes, and still find time to make some sales. I became a total wreck. I found myself literally sitting on the floor—the selling floor—at my place of work, surrounded by clothes, and visibly in unraveling. Eventually, one of my closest coworkers, who represented a different leased vendor, looked at me and said, “It’s just clothes, Annie,” and I realized that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the selling floor wasn’t up to corporate standards for one day.

I’ve felt similarly stressed about the blog this winter. As much as I love fashion and blogging, my life doesn’t exactly cater to the field; I have precisely four friends who share my interest in fashion, and two of them are my mother and sister. My closest fashion-loving friend, who also happens to be a phenomenal photographer, helped me get the blog rolling, and then moved to New York City last May (are you sensing a trends here?) to pursue her career in photography. And again, as happy for her as I am, I can’t afford to pay a professional photographer, and so the blog currently depends on the kindness of my other, equally indulgent friends, who set aside their time and disinterest in fashion to help me take pictures whenever they can. But spare time can be hard to come by, and I’ve made a promise to myself to never guilt or exploit my friends for the sake of the blog. I’m also still in school, so sometimes I’m the one who has to turn down the chance to shoot for the blog, because I’ll only have one shot at my midterm.

And then we meet the factors in life that are truly beyond our control, incidents and circumstances that pervade schedules and plans. In December, an immediate family member of one of the people closest to me encountered some serious health problems, and while that individual is going to be more than ok, there were a lot of scares and uncertainties before this point, and there’s still a long road of adjustment ahead. Just as my friends give up their time to help me, I’ve had to focus on supporting this friend during this difficult time. And then the literal storms swept in…and wouldn’t stop.

Of course one can look stylish during the winter season. Hats, coats, boots, scarves, and lots of layering—winter offers some of the most exciting opportunities for style-enthusiasts. But, I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life, and I have to say, there’s a difference between winter as I knew it, and what we’ve experienced in Boston this year. Last winter was bitter-cold, but we hardly got any snow, and I hardly had to compromise my outfit choices. My shoes didn’t need to be anything but closed-toe. If a light jacket looked better with my outfit than an actual winter coat, I would brave the cold in the name of fashion. This year, however, on the rare occasions that I do step outside, I abandon my “dress for yourself” motto, and dress to survive this apocalyptic winter: I wear fleece sweats, big snow boots, giant turtlenecks, a big black puffy coat, and basically look like a charred marshmallow. As I trudge through gusts of freezing wind and wet slush, I actually whisper and mutter to myself, “Please, please no more…” You know, like a crazy person. I know there are some Boston bloggers (with more photography resources than I) who have posted playful pictures of themselves in the snow, but the fact of the matter is that my regular attire and style are not compatible with making snow angels, and I’m not going to publish posts of outfits that represent this unprecedented weather as opposed to my personal style. One of my main priorities for the blog is to help people dress stylishly for any situation, but I’d like to think this kind of winter is a one-time deal. My blog is about what makes fashion fun, not that which kills it and may also cause frostbite.

I woke up this morning with plans to shoot some outfits, but quickly learned that the forecast had changed to include snow. I felt disheartened, and gripped with anxiety. I’ve promised my readers and followers over and over that there wouldn’t be any more long breaks in between posts, and yet, another three weeks have passed since my last one. If everyone’s busy, or the snow won’t let up, or someone or something needs my attention more than Instagram, the blog has to wait, and sometimes that makes me feel like I’m back on that selling floor, halfway to tears, ill-equipped to tackle my to-do list, and unsure of what to do next. I want so badly to be a great blogger, but sometimes I have to accept certain setbacks.

You might be asking yourself, why don’t you just shoot indoors? Or maybe you’re flabbergasted because you thought I shot these outfits spontaneously as I was actually on my way somewhere fabulous in said outfits. Well, for one thing, my current apartment does not lend itself to pleasant photography, and it’s hard to pack up my clothes and shoot at other locations, because it’s hard to find a place to change in between looks. And as for the reality of photo shoots, while the outfits I post on this blog are one-hundred percent always outfits I have worn or plan to wear in real life, the best way to keep the blog consistent is to shoot as many outfits as I can in one session; but as I explained, those sessions have been scarce lately, and my friends and I aren’t really the kind of people who feel the need to acquire photographic evidence every time we #HangOut. That means there are frequent nights when I rock a killer outfit, but only those who see me in person bear witness to its awesomeness, and it’s all very if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods-y.

Just as with my job at Bloomingdale’s, when I started Annie’s Fashion Sauce, I didn’t really know what I was doing. It’s been so rewarding to grow and establish myself as a blogger, and I’m so grateful for the success and opportunities that have come my way so far. But the truth is, I’m still figuring the whole blogger-thing out, and sometimes life gets in the way. You can’t predict the challenges you might face, and you certainly can’t predict the weather. This blog is so important to me, and I hate the fact that, in these last few months, I haven’t been able to hold the Sauce to the high standards of my hopes and aspirations. Sometimes duty calls, or blizzards swoop in, and I have to remind myself, It’s just clothes, Annie. So I’m asking my readers here in Boston and all over the globe to please have patience, and to trust that once this weather passes and my life regains some stability, the blog will too—and the Sauce will be spicier than ever.

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Essays, Feminism, Humor, Pop Culture

LOL: I Received Death Threats For Saying I Don’t Think Shailene Woodley is a Good Actress

Before I get into the details of the title of this post, I’d like to apologize for my near month-long hiatus from the Sauce. I’ve been getting back into the swing of school, trying to become a legitimate adult who doesn’t smoke weed every day and does laundry on a regular basis, and spending quality time with my boyfriend, friends and family without checking social media every minute. Oh, and I cut off about eight inches of my hair and bleached the ends, and I am LOVING it—but more on that another time. I’ve been meaning to let my readers in on the fact that I consider myself a writer first and a stylist second. I’ve been meaning to write more essays about pop culture and feminism on the blog, and last night presented the perfect opportunity to start.

A while back, some journalist or whatever (it’s a loose term these days) asked 22-year-old actress Shailene Woodley if she identifies as a feminist. It’s something the media wants every woman in the public eye to address right now—not because it’s a crucial topic, but more often because, in a disgrace to the idea of feminism itself, it has, in many ways, become a misguided trend that certain people carry around like a handbag. Don’t get me wrong; society has made some incredible feminist progress lately, but there are also many people who don’t actually know what feminism means (cough, cough, Rhianna) and who seem to say “I’m a feminist!” the same way they might say “I’m wearing Valentino!” Shailene Woodley is not one of those people. Her response to the question was basically that she does not identify as a feminist because she doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to suggest that women are superior to men. Clearly, Woodley was a little confused on the topic, and the media consequently pounced on the opportunity to shame her for this, which bothered me. For one thing, Woodley is quite young—a year younger than myself—and, given that she’s starred in a new movie just about every hour for several years now, I think it’s safe to say she hasn’t had time to take a Women’s Studies course, which is where I came to comprehend the true meaning of feminism, a mere year before the dialogue on feminist issues became the lively, ubiquitous one it is today. Without the luxury of taking that course on gender-related social conflict (a subject that should be required of all liberal arts programs), I’m not so sure my response would have been any better informed than Woodley’s. Secondly, Shailene Woodley is an actress: it isn’t exactly her job to talk about social/political issues or to explain the concept of feminism to the rest of us, and even though her level of celebrity comes with a certain level of responsibility, I still don’t think it was right for her to be cornered or criticized in this way. I also happen to think she’s not a very good actress.

I must admit, I can be a film and television snob. I have my guilty pleasures, but for the most part, I’m picky and critical when it comes to film. Film and television are two of my foremost passions, perhaps in part because dialogue is my favorite component of writing. I literally watch a full movie almost every day, and I’ve gone out of my way to study the subject formally even though I am an English Literature major (Boston University offers some wonderful film/lit combo courses), so I’ve been trained to hold all aspects of film, including actor performances, to a certain standard. I should state that I do understand movies should be judged for what they are: not every movie is made to be an Oscar-worthy, meaningful masterpiece; in fact, most movies simply serve to entertain a specific demographic, but, in my opinion, that shouldn’t affect an actor’s drive to convey their characters authentically. Before I say anything about Woodley’s acting ability, I should also confess that I haven’t seen The Descendants (2011), which was Woodley’s breakout, critically acclaimed movie, nor have I seen this year’s blockbuster Divergent, because, you know, I’m not in high school. (See? I can be a snob.) I did, however, recently watch Woodley’s movies The Spectacular Now (2013), The Fault in Our Stars (2014), and White Bird in a Blizzard (2014), all of which are based on successful young adult novels, and I feel strongly that Woodley’s performances in all three were weak, synthetic, forced, and mechanical. Woodley wasn’t my only problem with these movies. I thought The Spectacular Now was a flat-noted rip-off of an iconic movie called Say Anything (1989). Maybe you’ve heard of it? I also thought Woodley received a little too much applause when she cut her hair for her role as a cancer patient in The Fault in Our Stars, based on the novel by John Greene (which I happened to enjoy). She’s not the first actor to alter her appearance for a role, but she is the only one I can think of whose “team” felt compelled to share a tearful video of the transformation, and, you know, there are actual people with cancer who don’t get paid millions to lose their hair. Anyway, while the book made me cry, the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars made me cringe. Plenty of filmmakers have managed to gracefully incorporate today’s technology into their movies, while the masterminds behind The Fault in Our Stars decided the best way to depict teen-texting in a tale of complex love and intense loss would be…animation? As for Woodley, she can’t be blamed for that flaw, but I felt she made the character seem a bit too apathetic, although perhaps this was her subconscious reaction to her costar Ansel Elgort’s painfully cheesy performance (—acting is reacting!!!). The trailer for White Bird in a Blizzard promised a suspenseful and unique coming of age story, but it’s actually just another movie that perpetuates the notion that husbands “walk out” on their families, while wives “disappear.” (Let us always keep in mind that both men and women are victims of gender stereotyping.) Not to mention, it’s a total bore. The entire movie seems to avoid its own plot (that Woodley’s character’s mother has mysteriously vanished), and is mostly comprised of Woodley and Gabourey Sidibe taking swigs of vodka and having cliché conversations about loss of virginity, as if it is the single most important goal a girl will encounter. The way Woodley and Sidibe read their lines is reminiscent of a high school play, but not of high school itself. Neither Woodley nor I was 17 years old so long ago, and yet, based on her performances in these movies, you’d think she has no memory of that chapter in her life. Well, maybe she doesn’t; after all, she’s been playing the role of an adolescent girl on-screen since 2008, so it’s possible that she never really got to be one. Either way, if an actress takes on a role, I expect her to fulfill it, and I feel that Woodley repeatedly misses the mark. And I know you might think that I’m pompously over-analyzing movies meant for an age group that hasn’t fully matured, but if you compare these current hyped-up teen flicks to classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004), you might realize that the quality of these newer movies actually patronizes the teenage demographic.

Let me digress for a moment and explain something about myself. There are few things I value more than humor; I love fashion, but I live for laughs. In spite of my stylish social media presence, I spend most of my time in sweats, trolling Netflix, Amazon, and On Demand for fresh comedy that will make me laugh out loud. I have been watching South Park religiously since it first aired in 1997—when I was seven. I have watched almost every stand-up special (and every documentary about stand-up comedy) available on Netflix more than once. I believe that comedy helps us better understand the world and each other, and that it helps us heal. Comedy colors so much of my identity as a woman, as an American, as a person of Jewish faith, and as a human being trying to get through each day with a smile. Making people laugh makes me feel good, and as sentimental as I can be about humor, I also tend to revel in the “mean” kind of jokes that society so badly wants women to avoid. Needless to say, I adored and admired Joan Rivers, and I was devastated by her passing. Sarah Silverman, another hero of mine, put it perfectly when she wrote of Rivers, “She was 81 and she was taken too soon.”  In many ways, Joan gave me permission to be the dynamic type of woman I am today—a woman who can be fashionable and funny without feeling like a contradiction. Joan knew the importance of laughing a little at everyone, including herself. When she died, there were plenty of “haters,” if you will, who expressed bizarre happiness over the comedienne’s death, probably because Rivers had at one point made scathing, but nonetheless harmless jokes about said haters’ favorite celebrities. Part of me wanted to retaliate against those who celebrated Rivers’ death instead of her life, but if I know one thing, it’s that if there is an afterlife, Joan is somewhere laughing her ass off at those negative remarks, and blowing kisses at the people who cracked jokes about the fact that the Queen of plastic surgery died on the operating table. She would have loved that. Anyway, Joan’s particular sense of humor had a major impact on my own, and my sense of humor is something of which I’ve always been quite proud.

So, last night, after Modern Family and South Park, I decided to give Woodley another chance, and rented White Bird in a Blizzard, mostly because I really liked director Gregg Araki’s classic stoner movie Smiley Face (2007). (See? I’m only a snob to an extent.) Unfortunately, I found myself sitting through another one of Woodley’s dull portrayals of a young woman “discovering herself,” and so I tweeted, without hesitation, and perhaps in the spirit of honoring Joan Rivers, “It’s not Shailene Woodley’s job to accurately define feminism. Her job is acting. She just happens to suck at that too.” I gave myself a laugh, and didn’t give it much thought, because my tweets typically get little to no attention, and because it never occurred to me that my stance on Woodley’s performances would matter to anyone. After all, it wasn’t a comment on her character, just on the way she portrays fictional characters…No one in Twitter Land had anything to say about my two prior tweets that day: “I hate when a piece of food I really want refuses to get aboard my utensil and into my mouth. #GetInMyBelly”, and “GAP’s ‘dress normal’ campaign is giving me rage blackout. #BeAnIndividual.” My Woodley joke, however, did make some waves. Within seconds, Divergent diehards were ripping me apart. I was asked not “h8.” I was called a “wannabe hipster” and told to “go do a photo shoot with a pumpkin spice latte” (I don’t drink coffee). I was repeatedly reminded that Woodley has received close to thirty nominations for various awards, which I will admit is pretty impressive for such a young actress. However, in an era where ten films get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture just so the Oscars will have higher ratings, and since the majority of Woodley’s nominations have come from less prestigious associations that specifically honor young actors’ performances in projects targeting the teen demographic (a Teen Choice Award isn’t exactly proof of notable talent in my book), I’m just…not convinced that she’s so exceptional. I was told, in myriad ways, to shut the fuck up. These comments made me laugh harder than my own, but then I was told that I am “the reason white people are perceived as retards”, which I found especially troubling, because I don’t think my negative opinion of a young starlet’s career to date warrants using the word retard in that ugly, derogatory manner, and because I’m not sure how or why my opinion on Woodley as a professional actress could trigger such racism. (Plus, I’m 99.9% sure that Woodley is white…so I was pretty confused about that particular person’s point.) And then a shocking number of people said they would kill me.

Everyone knows the expression that no press is bad press, and maybe that’s true. Regardless, I have to admit, receiving death threats freaked me out a little—though perhaps not as much as the incalculable spelling errors in those threats. (If you regularly spell words with numbers instead of letters, you should reevaluate your life.) Mostly, I was left thinking, What’s the big fucking deal? I realize that Shailene Woodley is the star of many popular movies based on beloved young adult novels, and that she sits front row at Miu Miu fashion shows. However, as far as I know, she hasn’t actually won any of the more high-profile awards to discredit my opinion (the operative word being opinion—there are plenty of actors with Golden Globes and Oscars under their belts whose work I also dislike); Woodley certainly isn’t making progressive feminist speeches at the U.N. that bring me to tears (for the record, I don’t think Emma Watson’s acting track record is so hot, either), and, most importantly, who the fuck threatens someone’s life for not loving an actress’s body of work? For years now, I have considered social media to be a venue for jokes, and it makes me sad that there are people out there who feel compelled to take this side of pop culture so seriously. If you consider the history of the entertainment industry, you’ll realize that criticism plays an integral role in the fun of it all—and that’s what I was doing: having fun; so I find it highly disconcerting that Woodley’s Twitter fans took such a violent approach to enjoying her work. If you love an actor/actress, do you need complete strangers to agree? Ultimately, it’s not a big deal. I realize that I have a minuscule following, and that Twitter users will be over me and onto the next apparent travesty before I even finish writing this. What does bother me is that I honestly believe that if I’d previously tweeted something about how Woodley was wrongly criticized for her misguided commentary on feminism, no one would have noticed.

If you read my blog regularly, you might remember my angry rant regarding people’s negative Facebook comments about Lena Dunham’s body, and you might be thinking to yourself that I of all people should understand how it feels to be upset by savage remarks about a celebrity one holds in high esteem. There’s a difference, though, between judging someone for their appearances, and judging someone for the quality of their work. I honestly don’t care about Shailene Woodley’s looks, the same way Dunham’s body doesn’t affect my perspective on the integrity of her career. You might also be thinking to yourself, Didn’t Joan Rivers host a weekly show called Fashion Police, on which she eviscerated various celebrities for their appearances, and aren’t I therefore being extremely hypocritical? That’s a very good question! However, Rivers never, to my knowledge, suggested that a person’s outfit choices had anything to do with talent, and I feel that many people discredit and dismiss Lena Dunham’s work simply because they find her physically unappealing. I discredited Woodley’s work solely based on her work itself. Ultimately, I’m sure Shailene Woodley is the wonderful lady her fans so ferociously insist she is, I just don’t think her talent matches the hype, and I really don’t think that’s a good reason to want me dead. And not for nothing, but you know who definitely doesn’t give a shit about my Woodley joke? The young actress who makes millions of dollars and has millions of fans (who are apparently prepared to kill to defend her honor) and sits in the front row at Miu Miu runway shows. So I don’t think Shailne Woodley is a good actress…Kill me!

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Essays, Feminism, Pop Culture

Lena Dunham: Why Are You Still Talking About Her Body?

Fashion Food for Thought…

Today is Lena Dunham’s 28th birthday. I’d like you to take that in—consider all she has accomplished by this young age, and how much you yourself achieved, or hope to achieve, by 28. In honor of her birthday, one of my favorite fashion magazines posted a picture on Facebook of Lena in a lovely dress, with a link to a compilation of that magazine’s favorite witty and wise quotes from Ms. Dunham. This made me happy…until I saw the first four comments. One man wrote, in all capital letters, “FAT SLOB.” I browsed this guy’s profile pictures. He is well overweight. Another man wrote, “What a mess!” Yes: a young woman with a wildly successful and dynamic career, incalculable accolades for said career, and a positive self-image…such a mess! Another young woman commented, “She is fate.” Since that doesn’t make sense, I presume this person was attempting to write, “She is fat.” Actually, Lena Dunham is a talented writer, and one should probably grasp the spelling of first-grade level, three-letter words before deciding to scathe her. The only remotely positive comment I saw on this post read, “LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT!” Assuming the woman who wrote this is not Lena Dunham’s mother and doesn’t know Lena Dunham personally at all, what does that even mean? Dunham has never been accused of any kind of lewd or criminal behavior that we often see and associate with young starlets, and her evidently loving, healthy relationship with her musician boyfriend has never, to my knowledge, been scandalous enough for the tabloids. So—and maybe I’m the one with the problem here—I can’t help but figure that this Facebook user’s “loving” remark was her way of saying, “I enjoy your work even though you are not conventionally attractive.”

Ok, where do I begin? Everyone wants to know why Lena Dunham chooses to expose her body so frequently on GIRLS, but fewer people seem to wonder why Sports Illustrated needs an annual swimsuit edition (although I must send good vibes to those who called out the magazine for that totally bizarre Barbie thing), or why the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is such a hyped-up televised event. Here’s the thing, and I know this may shock some people…but skinny folks aren’t the only ones having sex. In fact, skinny people aren’t the only ones who receive sexual attention and affection. HBO’s GIRLS, whether you like the show or not, attempts to depict the real-life experiences of twenty-somethings (who come in all shapes and sizes), and sex is a big part of that. Sex generally plays a large role in most of stages of life, but as a twenty-something myself, I think I can attest to the fact that sex and dating cause especially extreme confusion during this chapter—and I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure most people don’t wear clothes during intercourse. With the freedom HBO gives its shows, why should Dunham have to reduce the verisimilitude of the highly relatable sexual content in GIRLS just because she doesn’t look like those girls in Sports Illustrated? (Isn’t that kind of the point of the show itself?—that is focuses on regular girls?) Something tells me Dunham is more satisfied with titles such as writer, director, actress, and Golden Globe-winner than she would be with Victoria’s Secret Angel, and society needs to allow her to take pride in those roles she does fulfill. After all, it’s not like she sought out to be a style icon. If anything, viewers should feel vexed by how other TV shows that claim to convey the human sexual experience, such as Showtime’s Masters of Sex, seem to exclusively cast actors who do meet society’s unrealistic standards of physical beauty. I also can’t help but speculate that, if Dunham did fit into our culture’s warped conventions, people wouldn’t be so disgusted by her nudity, and the vast majority would harp on how miraculous it was that a “beautiful” woman could also be so intelligent and successful.

Please do not think I am shaming models or any female public figures who do fit the typical description of “beauty”; as a fashion enthusiast and blogger, I am aware of the genuine hard work that goes into modeling careers (plus, for every five remotely attractive pictures you see of me on this blog, there are about a hundred blackmail-worthy shots, too), and as a lover of “high fashion” in particular, I know and appreciate that the models in fashion magazines and on high-profile runways usually have unconventional features, themselves. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably also admit that I am entirely guilty of worshipping various models, actresses, singers, etc. based on their physical features and outfits alone. Still, it bothers me that someone like supermodel Miranda Kerr receives little to no criticism for building a career based on her body, and is constantly praised for things like birthing a child, practicing yoga, and sleeping with magic “healing” crystals on her nightstand, while Dunham’s accomplishments are so frequently overshadowed by the scrutiny of her physique. However, as I’ve mentioned before, this issue does come full-circle: while society urges Dunham to put more effort into her looks, many of us who do take fashion seriously are automatically stamped as shallow and unintellectual. Although writing a fashion blog may seem to highlight the importance of appearances, my goal as a fashion blogger is actually to highlight the importance of self-expression, and in that regard, Lena Dunham is more of a role model to me than many of the people who are directly connected to the fashion industry. As a devoted fan of GIRLS, I can honestly say that Dunham’s body never phases me, because her body is essentially beside the point. Of course some of those scenes make me uncomfortable at times—ambiguous relationships and sexual encounters in the midst of quarter-life crises are fucking uncomfortable—but I watch each episode feeling relieved and empowered, because Dunham so accurately portrays and represents the excitement and the awkwardness that come with romantic and sexual discovery. Regardless of my dress size, when I watch Lena Dunham on GIRLS—that “fat slob,” as some call her—I see myself. And so, I just have one question: why are you still talking about her body?10312416_10152260589807562_3503956057375354444_n

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Boston, Essays, Pop Culture, Press

Boston Globe: “My Instagram”

IMG_2021I’m so excited to announce I’m in today’s Arts Section of the Boston Globe! Staff writer Christopher Muther does a weekly “Instagram Fashion” Q&A with a stylish Bostonian, and this week, I’m the featured Instagrammer (@thefashionsauce)and he also featured one of my favorite shots by my faithful photographer and best friend, Amanda Rosen. Since the interview was condensed, I’d like to take a moment to elaborate on my last answer, in which I discuss how people often discriminate against and underestimate fashion enthusiasts. Muther included the whole story of my harshest encounter with this particular kind of condescension, but left out my feelings on the subject. In the full interview, I said, “It’s ironic how some people who identify as intellectuals can be superficial and ignorant enough to assume another person lacks depth based on appearances alone.” I think the notion that style and intellect are inherently separate can be extremely harmful, and I strive to diffuse that stereotype. I started this blog not just because I love writing and fashion, but also to demonstrate the artistry of personal style, because fashion is many things, but first and foremost, it is art. Yes, the story I tell in the interview was, in fact, “a major blow to my academic confidence,” but my story didn’t end there. I went on to find that confidence in college, where I had the opportunity to work with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose name you may recognize from her amazing literary accomplishments, and/or because Beyoncé sampled Adichie reading a feminist speech in the song “Flawless.” In 2012, I participated in a writing internship/workshop with five wonderful authors, and Adichie was one of them. Considering her résumé, I think it’s safe to say that my fellow interns and I felt particularly intimidated by the idea of working with Adichie. What could we possibly say or offer to this young woman who’d earned a MacArther Genius Grant? When she arrived to her welcoming reception, I was, honestly, relieved to see her wearing an adorable printed dress, beautifully complimented by a printed headscarf (I believe it’s traditionally called an ichafu in Nigeria)—mixing prints is difficult business! Still, I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to approach her, so I chatted quietly with a few other female interns. I was telling them about a pair of killer five-and-a-half-inch platforms I had just ordered, when suddenly, Adichie’s head popped into our circle. She said, “Are we talking about shoes? Because that is, like, my favorite subject.” As you can imagine, we bonded instantly, and I was overjoyed recently to see a personal essay she wrote titled Why Can’t A Smart Woman Love Fashion?” trending on Facebook and Twitter. Our time together, and her essay, continue to give me so much hope and validation. Times are changing. No one should have to forgo their passions or self-expression to be taken seriously, so wear what you love, and wear it with pride.

IMG_1556My signed copy of The Thing Around Your Neck, complete with a drawing of me in my platforms.

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Essays, Fashion, Feminism, Humor, Pop Culture

Talking Fashion

During a recent pause my in my anthropology class, a female classmate and I got into an enthusiastic conversation about fashion—about how street style culture in Boston is definitely on the rise, and about some of our favorite designers. One of the boys in class (who, by the way, wears one dangly earring, and in my opinion has a pretty distinct sense of style) interjected to patronize us, saying, “I don’t get why anyone cares about designer labels. I rip the labels off my clothes.” (I guess he’s never considered that some underprivileged children might have worked really hard to sew those labels in. But like, what could be worse than adhering to labels!? Oh, wait—being the person who says, “I don’t adhere to labels” out loud.) I looked at him and asked, “Do you like music?” and because he is a living, breathing human, he said yes. So I explained to him that being a fan of a fashion designer is no different than being a fan of a musician (or a painter, or a writer, etc.). I explained that I wear certain labels because I appreciate their work—because it speaks to me on a personal level. If their work were to become shitty (poor in quality or simply not relevant to my personal style), I wouldn’t keep buying their stuff…the same way people reject musicians or authors or movie directors when their work goes down the toilet. A designer’s body of work is like any other artist’s, and those of us who understand fashion reference it similarly. Specific collections and eras in fashion are just like albums and eras in music, and all other artistic media. (1950s Christian Dior, “Led Zeppelin II,” 1990s Helmut Lang, Picasso’s blue period…You get it.) And I added, “Music, and all art forms, are just as superficial as fashion, and I’m amused by people who think it’s any different.” He shifted his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other and grumbled, “Well, now it’s like that…” as if the music industry was molested by its drunk uncle and then ran away with its already corrupt friend, the fashion industry, to self-destruct and destroy all our souls—as if music hasn’t had a strong superficial side since long before this kid was even born. In my opinion, mainstream music has become more about image and less about artistic integrity while fashion has strived to exponentially push creative boundaries. But because fashion is so directly linked with physical appearances, people constantly assume it’s a shallow and artless industry, and that people who take an interest in fashion are empty, superficial people. This…is bullshit, and an ironically judgmental and superficial point of view.

I was struggling in my sixth grade science class, so the teacher pulled me out of the classroom not to ask how she could help me better grasp the material, but to tell me that I was “just like Cher in Clueless” and that I viewed school as “nothing but a fashion show.” Forget the fact that everyone has a different learning style—I liked clothes, so obviously this was the source of my academic difficulty, right? It’s been ten years, and I have more than a few cute outfits to put on my résumé. And yet, there will always be people who dismiss me for loving fashion—for “caring about designer labels.” Designing clothes, constructing garments, and putting outfits together are extremely artistic, labor-intensive processes. For me, getting dressed is a liberating form of self-expression that’s actually devoid of labels—I can be a different version of myself every day. It helps me get out of bed in the morning, and I’m never going to let anyone put me down for taking joy in that.

Yes, fashion has its superficial qualities: money, intimidation, popularity, sex appeal, harsh criticism, and some other deadly sins play major roles in the whole fashion scene (not to mention the issue of manufacturing), and these aspects of the industry have presented some moral conflicts for me at times. People tend to automatically respect artistic media such as writing or what you might find in art exhibits and galleries because they expect that kind of work to represent larger moral concepts, while fashion is vilified because it presumably only represents “what’s hot right now.” However, the fact that society tells us it’s okay to spend thousands of dollars on a painting and shames those who invest in clothing is problematic—because this has caused me to ask myself, Can I be a good person if I pursue a career in fashion?; If I follow that path, am I automatically anti-feminist? I took a women’s studies course in which we read a book called The Cult of Thinness, which compared America’s obsession with weight and appearances to some of the most dangerous religious cults. The cover of the book was a photo of a fashion show finale (—judging by the nude-colored sheaths, I would venture to guess it was a Calvin Klein ’90s catwalk), and I felt a pang of guilt for knowing more than one of the models by name. I had a momentary identity crisis, and then I realized that feminism means exerting my power to pursue whatever career I want, and that I can have a positive impact on this so-called “cult.” I can remind people that fashion is an art, and encourage everyone to embrace their unique beauty and to wear what makes them happy, not what the media claims is cool. Though fashion may seem like the most exclusive club, it’s actually wildly inclusive: it’s all about celebrating the weird (i.e. that high fashion stuff that is often categorically unwearable), drawing inspiration from different cultures, uniting those cultures, and, of course, unconditional acceptance. What would the fashion industry be without the LGBT community?

There are countless movements within the fashion world to right its wrongs—more and more companies/designers are sweatshop free, make stylish plus-sized collections, and collaborate with stores like Target to offer high-end looks at affordable prices. And everyone who actually understands fashion knows that those who do buy and wear designer labels for the sake of status just don’t get it. Plus, if you’re going to attack the fashion industry for being a “cult” that pressures people into an unhealthy obsession with appearances, you might also want to examine the whole “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” thing…and if you think trends don’t play into music, movies, TV shows, and the whole “real” art scene, well, you’re pretty fucking delusional. Fashion might appear to revolve around trends and putting people down, but I’ve witnessed fashion’s power to raise spirits. I spent the last year working in fashion retail, and helping women piece together ensembles that visibly boosted their confidence was so rewarding, and definitely restored my faith in the positive nature of fashion and personal style. Ultimately, fashion is just like anything else: an exciting and contradictory combination of good and evil. Love it or hate it, fashion brings people together and makes the world a little more colorful. With that said, stay saucy my friends (and watch this quintessential scene from The Devil Wears Prada)…

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