Monday, July 04, 2011

Privilege successfully acknowledged, without excessive YPIS hand-wringing

While I greatly admire Tavi Gevinson's writing, and am most honored to be included with her on Jessica Furseth's latest list of "excellent wordsmith bloggers", there's something that never quite sat right with me about the Tavi phenomenon. Gevinson, child (now, at 15, not-so-child) fashion blogger extraordinaire, was meant to represent an alternative to the mainstream. A self-identified feminist, she was meant to be all about self-expression-through-dress, minus the dreaded beauty standards that usually come with it. So promising! As someone who's pro-self-expression-through-dress, and anti-dividing-time-between-skin-cream-shopping-and-calorie-counts-on-yogurt-containers, I was very much on board.

But given that the current beauty ideal in fashion is 'Nordic preadolescent', however many silly hats and oversized '90s-nostalgia sweaters naturally-blond-and-tiny Tavi piled on, I was always stuck thinking that there was only so much she, however well-meaning, could do with the personal-style format. Photos of someone not only thin, young, and white, but for whom wrinkles, frizz, acne, and hips are not an issue, have a certain edge when it comes to looking like conventional high-fashion photography. As in, what, on Tavi, looks Fashion would, on most anyone else, look ridiculous.

Of course, it's not Gevinson's fault that she looks like... whatever the precise opposite would be of the title character of "Precious" as styled for that movie. And as Fashion Week photos of the blogger with actual fashion models attest, Gevinson's significantly shorter than they are - in keeping with the child-prodigy thing, but something that would certainly limit her participation in the fashion world to that class of interesting-to-look-at-but-could-never-actually-model-clothes. And, if her appearance happens to coincide with runway trends, these tend not to much overlap with middle- or high-school ideals, so her self-deprecation about her looks reads as sincere.

Gevinson herself appears to understand the issues this poses, as evidenced by the post Furseth just linked to, one that's worth reading in full. That this is a new understanding for Gevinson is forgivable, consider that she's, well, 15:

I took this picture a couple months ago, going for some Heathers/Twin Peaks vibes, but started thinking too much about how I look in it and avoided posting it for a while. I wasn't insecure, quite the opposite -- I didn't want to post this photo because I look good in it. And, as someone whose "thing" for so long has been "Challenge beauty standards! Screw convention! Look like a grandmother on ecstasy at Fashion Week!", that somehow felt hypocritical.
As an outside, i.e. non-Tavi, observer, it's tough for me to see a difference in the photo she's referring to and the many that preceded it in the history of her blog/of other Tavi-coverage. She has always looked Fashion, and if she's now OK with conventional attractiveness (some makeup, no glasses, things I wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed them out), she hasn't exactly transformed herself into a Kardashian. But what matters is that she gets a) that there's a relationship, inevitably, between her looks and her message, and b) that acknowledging and trying to understand it is effective. Important to note is what she's not doing - she's not beating herself up, nor is she just kind of saying, yes, I have certain types of privilege, and leaving it at that.

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