Style: It’s Not a Popularity Contest

A couple weeks ago in my business ethics class, we discussed the ethicality of Abercrombie and Fitch’s decision to not sell clothing in plus sizes, stating that they didn’t want plus-sized people wearing their clothes. One of my classmates commented, “I just can’t live with the idea of a larger girl coming home to her parents crying asking why she can’t wear the clothes her classmates wear.”

The comment got me thinking.

While I completely agree that the implications of A&F’s decisions are upsetting, we can’t necessarily make A&F change their sizing. We can, however, change how we allow our girls to perceive style.

The years of junior high and high school are hard times to be female. I’ve been there. I know. Things can seem so black and white at times. You wear this brand or buy this new gadget, and you’re a cool kid. You don’t, you aren’t. This line of thinking gives young girls two perceived options: conform or be judged. For a girl who isn’t of the body shape to wear tight-fitting AE jeans or graphic tees, the options are to wear clothes that don’t flatter them and they don’t feel confident in, or to wear something different and feel judged.

It shouldn’t have to be like that.

Style is at its core a way for us to express ourselves. By letting girls routinely fall into the double bind of conformity, we are allowing them to believe that their fashion choices should reflect how they are just like everyone else. We are letting them think that sameness is valued, and that there is a “right” way to be yourself. Be yourself, as long as yourself can fit into size zero jeans.

We need to instead teach young girls that style is about confidence, about wearing things that make them feel beautiful, not popular.

Growing up, I was taught that style was about making your body shape work for you. I was taught that there was always a way to fit, to flatter, to accentuate. There was always a way to be the best version of yourself.

Because of that, I didn’t view the “popular kid” brands as some sort of unshakeable standard of high fashion. I viewed them as an option, an option that just didn’t work for me and my body shape. I was (and still am) curvy. I’m just not made to wear tight tees and low-rise jeans. But I never let that stop me from pursuing fashion.

Sure, my clothes didn’t look like everyone else’s. I wore different cuts and fits, and sometimes outlandishly different styles, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see myself as different. I saw myself as Taylor, and Taylor wore what looked good on her. That just happened to be something other than what was popular at the time.

The reactions of my peers were far from the social ostracism that might be expected. I was confident because I felt good about myself, and my peers took notice. While I made some style decisions that today I question (don’t we all do that?) I was never made fun of or excluded. I was myself. And I turned out okay!

I think curvier girls like me (and all girls!) should be taught that it is okay to not follow the crowd, if it means feeling better about yourself. I would rather be a confident me wearing a burlap sack than an awkward me attempting to cram into what everyone else deems “cool.” When style becomes about confidence, conformity becomes irrelevant. Girls are able to dress themselves in a way that makes them look in the mirror and truly love what they see, regardless of their shape.

We can’t always control the media’s messages or protect our daughters, sisters, or friends from them. But we can teach them that the messages are just that – messages. They’re not commandments, rules, or standards. We can remind them, as hard as it can be sometimes, that if popularity means shopping at a certain store, they can opt out. After all, the confidence of a woman speaks volumes more about her than the logo on her tee.

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