The Feminist Media Reader #14 - Festival fashion, plus size clothing and being 'beach ready'

by - Friday, May 01, 2015

As someone who has suspected for a very long time that they have a very slight case of seasonal-affectiveness disorder, it's fair to say I bloody love summer. Who doesn't? Warm weather and bright mornings make everything seem better, weekends seem longer and it becomes infinitely easier to make plans, socialise and generally feel 'in the moment' rather than like life if passing you by.

However, this is the feminist media reader, and as usual, something's been niggling at me recently. It seems that every time the sun decides to make an appearance in great Britain, the media seems to take it as a cue to shame us into slimming down, toning up and looking impeccable at all times.

When we think of this season, magazines topic agenda seems to revolve around a very limited notion that we women hibernate our way through winter, shovelling ourselves full of cake like squirrels going undercover and apologising for 'having let ourselves go'. It's a bit of a holiday, in a way - the leg shave just isn't deemed necessary when tights are a permanent fixture in our wardrobe and our natural hair doesn't need to be on show. When the weather hots up, we're forced to turn off our sartorial 'Out Of Office' and abandon our 'break' from regular grooming and gym sessions, simply to fit in with societies demands that confirm to the ludicrous notion of being 'summer ready'. Because, you know, summer is definitely about paleo diets and dropping 2k runs three times a week instead of holiday planning and pissing about with your friends.

The questions that scream down from fashion magazines and online sites are always the same. Ten ways to get a beach butt in seven days. Top tanning techniques. The best workouts to do on the plane so you don't gain what specialists are calling 'airmile inches'. I made have made that last one up, but you know what I mean. All accusatory, all inflammatory and all making the broad assumption that summer equals instant body despair. Heck, just the other day my boyfriend was telling me about a colleague who felt the need to go on a sunbed BEFORE her holiday so she wouldn't arrive looking pale next to everyone else. The pressure has got to us, making us feel inferior for looking the way we do nine other months of the year.

While it could be argued that this pressure affects men too, one area where the blokes are definitely nowhere near as targeted is the tricky subject of festival fashion. It's a concept I've always struggled with, both as a consumer and as someone who works in fashion marketing. On one hand, it's a great way to communicate with people a wardrobe that normally involves floral dresses, crochet and band tees - a capsule phrase if you will. As a consumer, it makes it a lot easier to find clothes I like for cheap on eBay. For lots of people, festival fashion is just a way of exploring other-wordly dressing, the opportunity to wear things that aren't really appropriate in day to day life. I'm talking facial glitter, ornate headbands, tassels everywhere. As long as fashion remains at choice, anything should go. 

Where festival fashion gets problematic, however, is when it is marketed as a uniform, the way Drowned In Sound excellently pointed out earlier this week. Mailing lists that forcefeed you playsuits and heels as the epitome of festival dressing, when in reality they are the natural enemy of portaloos and should be avoided at all costs. Indie purists know well the smugness of seeing 'fake fans' at festivals in their flower crowns and too-short shorts, but the fact of the matter is this - these young girls have been bullied by the high street into believing that this is the only way they can fit in be accepted into the musical fold. Combine this with the fact that most music festival are overtly marketed at men, and you have a very interesting dichotomy indeed.

The situation is even worse if you happen to be plus-sized. Pop singer and 'Loose Women' host Jamelia quite rightly came under serious fire this week for suggesting that plus-size women shouldn't be allowed to buy clothing on the high-street, as they should be made to feel 'embarrassed' about being overweight, while Channel 4's 'Plus Size Wars' explored the backlash of larger bloggers being used in marketing campaigns. While I agree that promoting unhealthiness is a reckless thing to do, Jamelia's suggestion that naturally larger women shouldn't be free to wear what they like and enjoy summer like anyone else is just ridiculous, and quite frankly, anti-feminist. And what really is 'plus' sized anyway? In some shops, my size 12-14 (the british average) is enough to mean that I am a size L, something that doesn't bother me but I'm sure ruins the self esteem of many, especially when it comes to buying swimwear, summer dresses and ironically, cover-ups.

When it comes to being 'summer ready', I do a few things. I'll probably shave my legs, just because it makes suntan lotion application all the easier. I'll probably then go on to wear tights anyway, because let's face it, british summertime really ain't all that. When I go to festivals, I might don the suede shorts I bought from H&M's Coachella collection for £7.99 this morning, but it'll only because they're easy to dance it and won't cause me any trauma in the portaloos. I might take a few selfies in my 'festival uniform', and then end up back at my tent changing into a comfy dress because jumping around in a field is actually pretty sweaty and minging. Put a filter on that.

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