Fashion, Feminism, and Christianity: Why My Head Is Always Exploding

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):

  • generosity
  • reserving judgment on other people
  • forgiveness
  • 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?

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7 thoughts on “Fashion, Feminism, and Christianity: Why My Head Is Always Exploding

  1. Great, thoughtful post, Laura! Faith as such doesn’t enter into it for me, but most of the time balancing fashion and feminism is a hard enough task for me. I used to be quite a modest person, but more and more lately I get grumpy that that modesty feels like an external force rather than an internal one–what will other people think if I dress this way, rather than how it makes me feel to dress this way. Then I get mad that feeling ashamed of certain parts of my body has been so ingrained in me, and every other woman, by society, that even when I would fight hard for another woman’s right to wear short-shorts I think, “oh, that’s not for me.” It’s the principal of the thing! And then I just want to dress extra-confrontationally and wait for someone to call me out so that I can call them out on it. Which, generally speaking, is not all that productive as a course of action. So I should just wear what I want and toodle along through life! Oy, identity politics are complicated.

    • Haha, I like that “stages of grief”-style thing you charted out there: self-consciousness, anger, provocation, resignation! Who would have thought getting dressed in this day and age would still be so complicated, even without corsets and what-have-you!

  2. I’ve been lurking for a while but I have to say what a great post this is. Musings like this is why your blog is one of my recent favorites.

    I’m only sorta fashiony but I feel a similar disconnect when it comes to my faith (Christian), my politics (libertarian, roughly), and the fact that I’m very passionate about sustainable living, eating locally, the environment, and other stereotypically “liberal” issues. (How much do I hate that every issue apparently has to be filed under either “liberal” or “conservative”? Can’t we all just care about what’s important? Am I being incredibly naive here?) When I get excited about organic CSAs at church, I find few people who even know what I’m talking about, let alone understand my passion. (Although, fortunately I go to a more accepting, not hyper-conservative church.) But on the other hand, when I was part of a local-eats action group, I found my fellow group members looked down their noses at conservatives. Sigh. In my opinion, being a Christian and being concerned for the environment absolutely naturally go together. I don’t understand why this should be weird.

    • Thank you for commenting! :) The fact that everything apparently needs to be “liberal” or “conservative” bugs me, too, especially when someone asks me about my politics. “Well, fiscally I’m this, except in this or this case, and socially I’m this, except for this and this issue…” It’s far more complicated than just choosing between Option A or B.

      Being near Portland, though, churches and sustainability tend to go hand-in-hand! We live within walking distance of three churches and all of them have community gardens. I have been in groups like you describe, though, where the two sides snark at each other, and it really is counterproductive. It shouldn’t be weird that you care about an issue, and if anyone finds it weird, they should keep their mouths shut!

      PS I looked at your website – your paintings are beautiful!

  3. I know that I’m way late on this post, but I just discovered it and really appreciated it. I love the idea of respect as the uniting concept between fashion, feminism, and Christianity. Each of those three definitely answer “yes!” to the question “should we respect people, both others and ourselves?”, but I wonder if they give varied and contrary responses to the question “HOW should we respect people, both others and ourselves?”

    The perennial Bikini Issue, I guess, is a Thing. Feminism might say that cultivating shame about what you may/may not wear perpetuates harmful gender inequalities, which is disrespectful (or at least unkind) to your peers/society as a whole. Faith might haul out the whole ‘inciting someone to lust isn’t very respectful’ thing. (Ugh, though where does that get us– whipping out tape measure to check hemlines?) Fashion thinks that limiting anyone’s freedom of expression, explicitly or implicitly, is disrespectful. Respecting self (positivity!), respecting social norms (not bein’ a sociopath!), respecting other people (kindness!)… they’re all tangled up for me, and I have a hard time seeing a clear, respectful Right Thing in any situation. I oscillate between being too strident– “I’m going to do what I want, too many rules are bad for self-respect!” and being too much of a doormat– “whoops, better avoid touchy issues in case I offend anyone!” Neither attitude is wholly respectful to anyone, though! Whew.

    You definitely got me thinking. I don’t know if I’m any closer to an answer to How Can A Man (Lady) Live in the World, but still– thank you for the post!

    • Thank you for commenting! I don’t have answers either, hence the post, but it’s an interesting thing to let your brain chew on for a while. How each group would show respect probably varies hugely within each group – I mean, many Muslims view the veil as a tremendous show of respect to women, while many feminists, Christians, and tons of other people think the veil is repressive and disrespectful. I guess you can’t win them all, but you can at least do what you think is right, and rock it. That’s my theory. :)

  4. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Glimpses of Me | Ruby Bastille

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