Fashion and feminism have been at each others’ throats since possibly forever. As bad as their arguments can get, the squabble turns into a big nasty rock-paper-scissors battle royale when you get Christianity involved. (I haven’t read many pieces on where fashion and feminism collide with faith, but this piece from The Fatal Feminist has stuck with me.)
What seems to happen is this: Feminism hates fashion because it thinks fashion is all about materialism and conformity to the patriarchy. Christianity hates fashion because fashion is self-centered and worldly and immodest. Feminism and Christianity hate each other because apparently both parties missed the memo about mutual respect and individual value. Finally, fashion hates both of them because it doesn’t like them telling it what to do.
This is all hugely oversimplified, of course. There are as many variations and definitions of Christianity as there are languages on Earth, and modern feminism seems to have just as many facets. Fashion, too, is an umbrella for everything from haute couture to vintage to thrifting to fair trade.
Trouble is, I ascribe to all three.
Many people will see this as complicated at best, and unacceptable or impossible at worst. I’ve read a few Christian-run fashion blogs that blame feminism for a lot of things – only their definition of “feminist” is one Rush Limbaugh would endorse. And all you need to do is pop over to Reddit to see how much fun it can be to be a Christian on the Internet. Given the human tendency to label, take things personally, and defend one’s own choices against attacks both real and percieved, it’s easy to see why people have a hard time identifying with more than one of these groups, or accepting that other people can do so.
So how can you be all three without compromising on, or outright betraying, the values of each?
While all three of these identities have a huge variety of subgroups and variations, we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t boil them down to some basic traits. Let’s tackle fashion first. When you wear a certain outfit, do your hair a certain way, wear certain accessories or colors, or emulate a certain style, you convey a message. You are telling people who you are, or who you want to be, even if that person is “I’m not someone who cares about style,” even if that person changes on a daily basis. Fashion is key to how we express our identity.
On top of that, I view fashion through the lens of self-image and body positivity, which means I don’t focus so much on trends or designers, but rather on what makes each individual feel good and beautiful and valued. The goal isn’t to be self-centered or vain or conceited - it’s to use style as a tool to build the confidence we all deserve to have as individuals.
So, as a body-image/fashion blogger, I value:
- the emotional and mental confidence gained through self-expression
- positivity and respect towards your own body
- encouraging and discussing style ideas with others
- trying new things – clothes, colors, haircuts, etc.
- exposing racism, sexism, and sizeism in the fashion industry
The many intepretations of Christianity are just as complicated. I have my way of being Christian/following Christ/however you want to phrase it, and that’s been influenced by my family, the churches I’ve attended, and the Christ-following friends I’ve made (along with the “Christians” we’ve all encountered who I absolutely do not want to emulate). In my worldview, Christianity is, or should be, counterculture. Following Christ means doing what is not expected in our society, sometimes the exact opposite. It means being generous instead of selfish – not selfish in the sense of being greedy or wanting a lot of attention, but in not desiring much of anything, period. It means giving to those in need, whether it’s time or money or goods. It means serving instead of being served, which often leads to the idea that Christians are doormats and easy to take advantage of. I don’t see it that way. I see the being a Christian as a call to be a superhero: to give selflessly to those who need it. And that’s kind of awesome! Why should I avoid drawing attention to me and my faith when all it asks is to freakin’ be nice to people for a change?
As a Christian, I value (but am not necessarily good at):
- reserving judgment on other people
- doing kind things
- being open-minded
And then there’s feminism, which, at its core, is about women having the same social, economic, and legal rights as men. This means no double-standards in depictions of relationships (for example, it’s romantic if two guys fight over a girl, but catty and sometimes sexually attractive if two girls are fighting; it’s cute when a woman coerces a man into marrying her, while the opposite would be creepy and borderline illegal). It means no cat-calls, unless a woman gives the okay. It means respect for the person and their talents in the workplace. It means being able to dress however we want without being afraid of harassment or worse, or at the very least not having that harassment blamed on what we’re wearing. It means equal expectations – and the freedom to follow them, or not – regarding marriage, relationships, and parenting.
As a feminist, I value:
- the ability of women to support themselves financially
- freedom of self-expression in fashion
- respect in the workplace
- making my own choices related to my body, sexuality, and health
- eliminating gender-based generalizations (small examples: gendered careers in Nintendo Imagine; Star Wars is for boys)
So, in the big Venn diagram of these three concepts, where is the overlap? Is there any? How can someone be all three of things, let alone two, without exploding?
The trait I see surfacing in all three places is respect: respect for your peers, yourself, your body, others’ beliefs, and others’ choices.
Fashion, in my mind, is a way to express faith and feminism, without the other two placing any limits on it. You know how some holy sites request that women cover their shoulders or wear longer skirts out of respect? Fashion should be okay with that. On the other hand, if a woman wants to wear a short skirt and a tank top the rest of the time, her faith should respect that. You don’t have to dress with extreme modesty out of deference to your faith, unless, of course, you want to. Plenty of Christian blogs have examples of modest, but still stylish, dressing. And that’s great, as long as they don’t look down on others for not following in their footsteps.
Then there’s feminimism. You don’t need to wear a uniform to be a feminist, although, again, you can if you want to. Feminism continues to take a beating from nearly every sector of our lives, and while the movement certainly has its bad eggs, at its core, all it asks is for equal treatment and for men to respect women the same way women respect men. I don’t have to wear the t-shirt to profess my pride in my individuality as a woman, but I also don’t have to sit quietly when someone makes a sexist joke in my presence. I can speak out; I can dress however I wish; and while words may be more powerful, my style and its extension of my character can also be powerful communication.
Finally, there’s faith. Through Christ, you were created as you, for a purpose and to do what only you are in the universe to do. Maybe that was to have lots of babies, maybe it was to be a lawyer. Maybe it was to do both! But feminism and its champions have given us the power to express and follow our destinies however we like – while wearing whatever we want. That may seem like a cheesy conclusion, but with all the stories about women being attacked both here and abroad on the basis of how they’re dressed – or, often, with critical third parties attributing the attacks to dress, ie, to the woman and not her attacker – the ability to choose what to wear is not something I take for granted. I am an individual with talents and rights, and I’m grateful that one of those rights is the ability to express my identity through what I wear.
Where do you fit in? Have you ever had an “identity crisis” where you had to reconcile two or more seemingly incompatible schools of thought?