Alternative Femininities: Body, Age and Identity (Dress, Body, Culture)
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Imagine a world where the oppressive, over-feminized images of women from advertising, television, films, and magazines have re-armed themselves with army boots, body modifications, and flamboyant hair. Is this just another fairy tale, and if so, why cant it be a reality? In Alternative Femininities, Samantha Holland unpacks the myth of model womanhood and considers how a particular group of real women define and practise femininity. These women, who see themselves as 'alternative', modify and subvert popular images of femininity. The choices they make in clothing, appearance and body modifications enable them to construct a personal look that is intimately tied to self-identity. Getting the balance right between over-femininity and not being feminine enough is a frequently voiced concern. Holland also addresses head-on the much-neglected issue of how ageing impacts on notions of femininity. What do these women think about fashion, gender and appearance as they grow older and less visible in our media-dominated society? Do they choose to tone down or stay out there, and what motivates their choice? A revealing look at contemporary femininity, Alternative Femininities gives voice to a previously silent group of women who struggle to resist sexist gender stereotypes, yet age with style, individuality and creativity. By looking at how real women negotiate self-image in an increasingly appearance-conscious society, Holland has provided a much-needed corrective to theoretical accounts of gender and femininity lacking in real data.
complexities of bodily signifiers could be used to deconstruct and reconstruct normative femininity’ (1995: 553). Although Gemini sought to challenge ideas about what was appropriate for a woman of her age and position, she admitted that there were some contexts where it was simply impossible. This is one precise example of my participants’ awareness of the ‘rules’ and just how far they can choose to push them: to go too far would be to become social outcasts and therefore unable to make any real
people think I look like an overweight housewife. I think they think I look overweight but not like a housewife. So, although Zeb fulfilled a traditionally feminine role as a housewife, she felt that it was somehow eroded or ignored because her weight and her alternative appearance became the primary issues that people focused on. Lara expressed more dissatisfaction with the way her job limited her freedom to have more tattoos than she did about her body image itself. She said she connected to
their own sense of difference. Claudia expressed disappointment at people’s reactions to her tattoos (Claudia had two full-sleeve and two full-leg tattoos plus tattoos on her hands, back, breasts and feet, so she had the most of any of the participants): I think a lot of it is a lot of people are confused because of the tattoos and piercings and because I’m a female and I do all the make-up and things … when they can see them, a lot of the time they are covered anyway. Just cos it’s too cold to
interview she had spoken of her appearance as a protective layer around 130 02 Alt. Femininities 30/4/04 3:16 pm Page 131 Defying the Crone? herself, something she found helped her cope with being bullied at school, and she felt that she no longer needed to ‘hide’ behind such an extreme appearance: I wear less make-up now than I used to and my clothes aren’t as extreme as they were for like going out in the day. I used to get really dressed up before I’d set foot outside the door and now
Costume and the Female Body, London: Routledge. Schreier, B.A. (1989), ‘Introduction’, in C.B. Kidwell and V. Steele (eds), Men and Women. Dressing the Part, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. Schuyf, J. (1993), ‘ “Trousers with Flies!!” The Clothing and Subculture of Lesbians’, Textile History, 24 (1): 61–73. Sciebinger, L. (ed.) (2000a), Feminism and the Body, Oxford: Oxford University Press. —— (ed.) (2000b), ‘Introduction’, in L. Sciebinger (ed.), Feminism and the Body, Oxford: