Floaty, pouty, and softly-focused: The dangerous illusion of society’s dreamy ethereal girl

Now.  If that’s not a blog post title to end all blog post titles, I’ll eat my hat.  And what in the holy hell does it even mean?  I will illuminate, but be warned, I’m about to go all preachy on your ass.  Fair warning, ok?  I’ll be keeping it clean and balanced, but there is a trend that has been bugging me for a long time and it’s finally annoyed me enough to blog about it.  So here we go.

I’m a big fan of fashion and I’m a big fan of style.  I wouldn’t say I’m the most fashion-forward person in the world, nor am I “on trend” all the time, but I would call myself a dedicated observer of fashion.  I have been, right since high school.  And I’m not talking only about reading Vogue and other high fashion magazines (although I did that until recently too).  I like street fashion, mostly.  I love checking out what people are wearing to any given event, and when I go to events I like to plan what I’m going to wear in advance to sort of go with a theme (for want of a better way to phrase it).  It’s just a thing with me.  And sometimes – I’m not going to lie – part of the pleasure of being an observer is to find those “oh honey, no” moments.  But overall?  I just really, really like clothes and I really, really like to get ideas and, well, observe.  And everyone has their own style, trust me.  Even if you don’t think you do, you do.  If asked, I could probably give you a few words about every one of my friends and what their personal style is and what I see.  No one has ever asked, mind you…but if they did, well!  Whatever your style is, it’s personal and it’s yours and that makes it awesome.  Truly, truly awesome. 

Now, having said all that, let’s talk a little bit about trends.  Trends are different, we can all probably agree on that.  Trends are (usually) fleeting: think jelly shoes and rubber bracelets (oh man I am old).  Or think big hair bows or pegging your jeans or any number of things that arrive on the scene, last for a season and then are gone for good.  Or, they may come back and be retro at some point, but that’s a whole other topic.  I sometimes think of trends as bits and pieces you can incorporate into your style – if they fit your style.  And that’s cool beans.  But, what happens when you take a full-on trend and MAKE it your style, even when it doesn’t fit, and even when it could be detrimental?

I’m now going to talk about the trend that bugs me the most currently.  I don’t really know what to call it, but “dreamy ethereal girl” might just sum it up.  If you’re not familiar, think long flowing dresses, floppy hats, oversized sunglasses and vintage bicycles.  Think clusters of pretty girls (almost always white) at gallery openings who are soft spoken and “absolutely love” hip cafes and know all the latest hotspots in all the coolest neighbourhoods.  Think hipsters, I guess.  But dreamy, whimsical hipsters.

I need to point out that I am not against ANY of these things on their own, or even together.  If that is your style then more power to you (galleries are amazing and I would love to own a vintage bike).  But lately it seems many of the local women featured online or in the paper fall into this category.  They are white, they are conventionally pretty, they are young and they gaze wistfully into the middle distance, ever so slightly softly focused.  Much like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope from television and film, this trend does a great deal (in my mind) to eliminate a lot of the impact these women might actually have – because the focus (soft, of course) tends to be on the way they look, not on their accomplishments. 

It’s a fact that the way women are portrayed in articles and advertisements reflects the male gaze.  Not always, but much of the time.  It is also a fact that the male gaze (again, not always) prefers these women to be vulnerable looking and non-threatening.  MPDG (see above) does all of this, and my concern is that the cutesie-wootsie, all soft edges and pretty lighting hipster-type does the same thing.  It’s hard to blame these women of course, maybe they’re seeing the trend and how it’s helping other women get noticed, so why not?  Hell, if I was younger and had a business to promote I would probably don the floaty dress and adopt the slight head tilt and pout in order to capture the attention of the men who decide what matters too!  Actually, though?  No.  I wouldn’t.  Or, if I did, it wouldn’t work because I wouldn’t believe in it enough.  That style is so far removed from my own personal style, were I to attempt that it would cause a tear in the space-time continuum.  Or something. 

All joking aside, I really do see this as quite a step backward for women.  Or, if not backward, a step sideways at the very least.  Maybe women aren’t actually losing ground in the battle to be taken seriously, but we’re certainly not gaining any either.  The message lately is that if you’re wearing a soft pretty dress you’re in the club!  Where does that leave the rest of us, the ones who don’t fit that image?

Remember the 80s when it was all power suits and big shoulders and badass women who took what they wanted?  I do.  And I remember how it threatened the very fabric of society, and there were headlines asking what had happened to women.  As in, “How dare they”.  And I also remember that it didn’t last very long at all.  Thirty years later, where are we?  Sweetly cycling home from the organic farmer’s market with our basket full of fresh flowers is where we are.  See also: Anthropologie magazine.

Harsh?  Perhaps. And also probably oversimplifying too, but I can’t help but think that this is a trend that won’t be going away any time soon.  It’s too perfect.  It fits too well with society’s view of women:  Be artistic, but not in a threatening way; be attractive, but in a conventional way; be creative, but in a way that we think is a worthwhile womanly pursuit; be intelligent, but in a vulnerable, quirky, self-deprecating kind of way.  In other words, be exactly what society has expected from women for the last several centuries.  Society can now breathe a huge sigh of relief!  Women.  Next thing you know, they’ll be wearing PANTS and driving CARS and VOTING!

If you’ve read this far and aren’t ready to harm me in any way, I offer this more concise explanation: Pretty girls in flowing dresses = good.  Society deciding that THIS is the only type of woman with any value = bad.  Don’t hate the pretty hipster girls because they’re beautiful.  Hate the society that made them think that there was no other option for them.

 

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