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You Aren't Stupid Because You Like Fashion

Note: “Make-up”, “hair”, and/or “beauty” can be used interchangeably with “fashion” throughout this piece.

There is a prevalent societal perception that an interest in fashion is accompanied by a lesser intellect. “Dumb blonde”, “bimbo”, “airhead” – we have all heard these phrases (which are exclusively reserved for women) uttered to label women who are perceived in a stereotypical way as being attractive but unintelligent. A zero-sum game has been constructed wherein women cannot be both interested in fashion and intelligent; if she were intelligent, why would she preoccupy herself with the substance-less topic of fashion? This same dichotomy has not faced our male peers who are permitted to be many things simultaneously – tall, dark, handsome, and a savvy self-made entrepreneurial millionaire who has funded a number of philanthropic pursuits. Oh, and did I mention he is also socially adept, funny, and charming? He’s got it all and no one questions any of it. Imagine a woman who has more than a cursory interest in her appearance who is also able to intelligently navigate the world and carry an intellectual and thoughtful conversation. How ludicrous.

It is this very reason that for a long time I avoided explicitly articulating my interest in fashion. I have worked diligently in academia and professionally to position myself as a valuable intellectual resource and I didn’t want to risk compromising that. However, I did not want to participate in perpetuating the notion that one cannot have in interest in fashion and be intelligent – so I openly began discussing my love of fashion (*starts singing Come Clean by Hilary Duff*).

Cue the eyebrow-raised, pouty mouthed, superiority oozing facial expression accompanied by the sarcastically toned invitation to appraise the outfit worn by the person who seemingly suddenly thinks I know nothing outside of what makes an outfit ~werk~. Being interested in fashion (or anything for that matter) does not require one to like or accept EVERYTHING about that topic – nor does it mean a disinterest in everything else. This may come as a shock but, women who are interested in fashion do have the mental bandwidth to also be interested in other matters. The inaccurate perception that an interest in fashion is diametrical to philosophy, science, theology, and you know, other important things of substance, HAS GOT TO END. The assumption that anyone who takes an interest in something so superficial must therefore have no substance themselves ignores the many purposes and utilities of fashion. Perhaps there is more to fashion than its aesthetics. Perhaps I understand its present and historical significance, its utility in creative expression and muted communication of my personal values, priorities, likes, and dislikes, as well as a visible indicator that I am aware of my surroundings and the current and prevailing social climate. Perhaps.

I think of fashion as a hobby, just like any other hobby. However, people who are interested in cars, film, or golf are never perceived as lacking substance or intelligence. So why do we do this with the topic of fashion? It is worth noting that the assumption of unintelligence is attached to areas that tend to be dominated by women. No one tells the season ticket holder that he must have hair for brains for being interested in football. The men who identify as “gamers” aren’t perceived to be dumb as bricks. (Note: I am generalizing the gender divide between careers/hobbies for the purpose of having a constructive discussion).

What is of critical importance to recognize is that a woman’s interest in fashion is not vain or stupid or substance-less – it is in fact a very logical and rational response to the tremendous weight society places on the appearance of women. In a study conducted in 2017 by Pew Research Centre, it was determined that society values physical attractiveness as the most important trait a woman can bring to the table. Traits that were found to contribute to a woman’s overall value less than physical attractiveness include: intelligence, honesty, ambition, work ethic, loyalty, and competency. When society continually pummels women with the indication that physical attractiveness is a woman’s most important asset, it should be unsurprising that a significant number of women take an interest in fashion, beauty, and the like. It’s not dumb, it is survival (at the most basic level) in a world that places a tremendous amount of value on the way women look.

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