Capitalism has complicated our cultural definition of “glamour”—and in the process, it has corrupted how we see and express ourselves. In the seventh episode of Popaganda’s GLAMOUR season, host Carmen Rios encourages activists to envision a world where glamour is divorced from elitism, excess and exclusion.
Through conversations with journalist Tansy Hoskins, the author of Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion (2014) and Foot Work: What Your Shoes Are Doing To The World (2020); Love the Skin You’re In founder Brie Mathers; and People Tree founder Safia Minney, who’s also the author of Naked Fashion: The Sustainable Fashion Revolution (2011), Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics (2016), and Slave to Fashion (2017)—Carmen examines the ways in which fashion and feminism can take on capitalism together.
Capitalism is what commodifies and objectifies the bodies of women and girls, and encourages them to consume by fostering their insecurities—and fashion, which Hoskins calls capitalism’s “favorite child,” spurs on and benefits from the entire scam. But confronting and rejecting the cultural messages that assign value to our bodies based on wealth and status can be revolutionary acts of reclamation—and help feminists redefine “glamour.
Photo credit: New Internationalist
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CARMEN RIOS: Are you trying to do it all flawlessly and just ending up tired or beating yourself up over little things? Do you have a brilliant idea but fear you might fail? Break away from the cult of perfection with Reshma Saujani by subscribing and listening to the Brave, Not Perfect podcast. Reshma is the incredible founder of Girls Who Code and an international, best-selling author. And each week, she explores ways we can be a little more brave in our everyday lives. Because bravery isn’t about slaying dragons; it’s a habit you form. And she wants to help you build that muscle, so that when it really matters, you’re ready to take on the challenges life throws at you. To fear less, fail more, and live bolder, listen and subscribe to Brave, Not Perfect wherever you’re listening right now.
Welcome back to Bitch Media’s Popaganda podcast. I’m your host, feminist superstar Carmen Rios, and today we’re continuing our GLAMOUR season by envisioning the fabulous world that awaits us in a culture beyond capitalism.
We’ve explored a lot of the problems with our cultural ideas of fashion and beauty
, from the degradation of our planet
and the exploitation of women worldwide
woven into our garments, to the diet culture
that teaches us to make ourselves tiny, throughout this season. This week, I’m challenging some fabulous feminists—and all of you tuning in—to start envisioning something better for all of us. It’s time for us to start figuring out how to make glamour accessible, democratic, and fun for everyone. Because when we do, we can dismantle capitalism in the process.
This episode starts last October, when Kylie Jenner
posted a video on Instagram of her purchase du jour: a brand new Bugatti. I know enough about humblebragging and the Kardashian family to predict that she expected applause after the post was uploaded. But that’s not what her followers left for her in the comments after getting a glimpse at the $3 million car
, which was—by the way—just her latest addition to a collection of cars including two Range Rovers, a Rolls-Royce, a Ferrari, a Porsche, and a Lambo—everyday people purchases.
“How can people justify buying more cars then they possibly need when there are people out there who can’t eat!” one of her fans posted. “Like I get it’s your money and you earn it but HOW do you justify not doing good with it I just don’t get it. They money you spent on this you could of fed a village for a year at LEAST.” “Oh yay!” another one joked. “Another new car! Meanwhile there’s ppl struggling to make ends meet and feed themselves. I’m happy for her but damn when is enough enough?” That was the first time the social media post of any Kardashian family member ever made my heart swell. Because Kylie’s Kings, as she calls them, were right. That so-called self-made billionaire has too much fucking money. And that is most certainly not fabulous, and it’s not something to brag about.. In fact, every single one of us should find it egregious.
[recorded clip plays from Now This; starts with audience applause]
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: This system that we live in, life in capitalism, always ends in billionaires. If you don’t do it, someone else will. It’s who decides to make that choice is kind of just up to circumstance. But this thing that we live in starves people. And so, no one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.
CARMEN: Of course, Jenner isn’t to blame. Our cultural notion of glamour is all kinds of complicated by capitalism. Our current economy has tricked us into thinking that the world is built for a system of haves and have-nots, and that our wealth can and should be used to measure our worth. In fact, status symbols like a Bugatti that cost more than the lifetime earnings of most entire families are the whole point of capitalism! Asserting that we are the haves is what gives us cultural value in this system.
This is bigger than cars. It’s certainly bigger than fashion. It shows up everywhere. For example, capitalism tricks us into hoarding supplies in an emergency at the grocery store because we’ve been conditioned to believe that there simply is no way all of us can have the things we need. And that same belief is what’s leveraged by corporate bigwigs to pit women and people of color against each other at work, where they’re told there isn’t enough room for everyone. It’s also the belief that allows those corporate bigwigs to profit wildly and live extravagantly while the workers that make them rich by producing their products toil and suffer. After all, if there were enough for everyone, how would those men hold on to their power?
We, as women, are bought and sold in the marketplace just like products, and capitalism tricks us into liking it. We’re marketed to
and brainwashed by corporations into thinking we need more, or that we aren’t enough by ourselves without objects designed only for our purchase and our consumption. And capitalism tricks us into seeing that as a way of life and even deriving ideas about ourselves from it.
TANSY HOSKINS: Yeah. Well, I mean, I suppose so, for me, glamour…glamour is about money and power, and it’s about lots and lots of money and power. So, I think typically, when we think about a glamorous image, we are thinking about diamonds and gold and fur and kind of impractically high heels. And so, I think glamour has been warped into being about money and about showing how impractical you can be in regards to your dress. And what you’re basically signifying, you know, if you try and do a sort of stereotypical glamour look is that you don’t labor, you don’t take public transport.
One example I was thinking of was when Melania Trump
went to that Hurricane Harvey site and stepped off the plane in in ridiculous high-heeled shoes. It was kind of sending a very, very clear message, like I am not one, I’m not one of you. You know, stepping off of this jet in those shoes, it’s about showing that you’re not poor, you know, separating yourself from everyone else and just making sure that people know that you’re not poor.
TANSY: And this really comes down to kind of, this is a real old-school sort of conspicuous consumption, which has always just been about showing off. And the way that you do that is like step one, you attach lots of expensive items onto your body, and then step two, you walk around in public, so that everyone could see all the expensive items that are attached to your body. And I think in particular with glamour, there’s a very gendered way that this is done, in that it’s about attaching lots of expensive items onto the women in your life. So, onto your wife or your mistress or your starlet employees or whatever and then parading them around. So, really, I think the roots of glamour are pretty, pretty horrible, you know, extremely capitalist kind of extreme, about separating us out as classes and about turning women into just into objects that can be paraded around. I think that’s the roots of glamour.
CARMEN: But that’s bullshit. Which is why Brie Mathers is teaching girls not to buy into it.
BRIE MATHERS: [Chuckles.] Yeah. Well, I mean definitely we live in a deeply sexist and racist culture. And that misogyny and that racism is broadcast and reinforced through basically every cultural vector that’s available. And it’s the ways in which we internalize it. I mean, it’s internalized obviously by men and women. And it takes intentional reflection and deprogramming to start to break free from its grip. And so, the approach that I take is basically just by giving them examples.
One of my examples is Munroe Bergdorf
who was hired and then promptly fired from L’Oréal UK’s diversity campaign. She was hired to champion diversity—a trans African American model—and the white supremacist events in Charlottesville happened within a few months of her hire. And she spoke out against the origins of racism, and L’Oréal’s response was actually to dump her from the campaign.
Brie is a public speaker fighting back against capitalism’s objectification and commodification of women and girls, and encouraging them to derive their own self-worth from the reserves of their character and not the stuff they own or the clothes they wear. She’s a TEDx speaker, author of Freedom to Blossom,
and the architect of Love the Skin You’re In!, a traveling talk that’s taken her around the world.
BRIE: What I’ve found over and over again is when you present young women with examples of what these corporations are actually doing and show them the way that the bottom line is socioeconomic every time, and the way that they are being groomed to think less and buy more literally from the time that they’re three. Because advertisers are literally going in the bathrooms with 3-year-olds to watch what they do to try and figure out how to best start marketing their products to them. When you start lifting the veils on the way that they are being targeted and that it’s actually not being sexy and happy and healthy that the corporations are after. What they’re really after is their bottom line. When they start to see that together, and when they also see the racism that is part of the agenda, I find that it really sparks something fierce in them. And especially when you’re working with young women, their brains are so malleable and still so plastic. I mean all our brains are plastic, but you know, the brain is still in formation until they’re 25 or 28 years old.
And so, there’s this really wonderful thing that can happen in that process of lying down their belief systems and lying down the values that they want to ascribe to. When they’re presented with the idea that there are choices that they can make that will fortify them and that will advocate for others and that they can be that person who does that for themselves and for others, that can be a really, really attractive prospect for a young woman who’s otherwise kind of drowning in the currents of what she is being taught to value about her body or about femaleness or being female-identified.
So, it’s been really a really powerful journey to, I find in doing that in large numbers with young women all together in the room, from all different backgrounds all together, it’s a really powerful way to open the conversation and help them open their hearts by seeing through the smoke and mirrors of what these corporations are up to.
CARMEN: Safia Minney is also working to clear the smoke and shine a light on those mirrors by setting a new standard for ethical fashion and demanding that it be accessible to all.
Fashion is a metaphor for what is going wrong in the capitalist system. And I think, certainly over this last 18 months, certainly here in the U.K., we’ve had a lot of discussion about that. The Financial Times
have run titles on the front cover saying that capitalism is dead. And I’m sure that’s the case in the U.S. too. So, I think what we’re looking at here is a linear economy that makes no sense, where resources that we’re using equal 1.7 planet’s worth of resources. Well, clearly that’s unsustainable. Where both environmental laws and human rights laws are totally ignored by corporations, and they’re not enforced in our so-called first-world countries. So, you know, we have a dysfunctional capitalist system. Therefore, of course the fashion system is totally dysfunctional as well.
Safia is the founder and former Global CEO of People Tree, a fair trade fashion company, and the author of Naked Fashion, The Sustainable Fashion Revolution, Slow Fashion, Aesthetics Meets Ethics,
and Slave to Fashion.
Safia initiated World Fair Trade Day
in 1999 and more recently launched two initiatives: RealSustainability.org, a website that provides guidance to entrepreneurs on how to live sustainably and work toward a net zero society, and Slave to Fashion, a campaign that exposes the poor treatment of garment workers and the underbelly of human trafficking that fuels the fashion industry.
SAFIA: So, I think what we’re calling for more and more, not just within the fashion industry, but within the business and financial sector actually is a total transformation. Because what we’re seeing is that, the kind of business as usual thinking and business as usual approach won’t actually give us the results that we want. And I think most of us realize or have a sense that we are being duped. I think that we are, you know, at a point now where we know that something is very wrong.
CARMEN: Capitalism might trick us into seeing the world through a scarcity mindset, but the feminist future we all want is based on seeing abundance everywhere. We can have it all if we take it back from the old rich white guys who stole it from us. And we don’t have to see elitism, exclusivity, and excess as markers of glamour if we don’t want to. That’s why it’s time to think bigger than sustainable fashion or ethical fashion or whatever keyword in front of fashion you’re thinking about. In fact, this is bigger than fashion. It’s time for us to consider, instead, that we could build an entirely new definition of glamour and rewrite a social lexicon to reclaim and redefine it for ourselves.
That journey toward something better is extremely political and very personal. In fact, the radical possibility of glamour beyond capitalism is potent in what we wear and what we think when we look at ourselves wearing it.
[recorded clip plays]
INTERVIEWER: The multibillion pound fashion industry is in the capital to showcase the spring-summer 2014 trends at London Fashion Week. But hidden behind the glitz and glamour of the catwalk shows and parties lies a monopoly of multinational corporations controlling everything from public attitudes to fashion to the media covering the industry. A new book aims to lay bare the conspicuous consumption of the fashion elite. [short electronica music break]
With me is Tansy Hoskins, the author of Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion.
CARMEN: Stitched Up laid bare the human cost of fashion and exposed the ways in which our acts of self-expression had been corrupted and appropriated within capitalism to serve profit motives and corporate interests. I was excited to talk to Tansy about just that and figure out how it is that what we wear got so mixed up with serving a capitalist aim, and how we could begin to uncouple glamour from capitalism.
TANSY: I wrote Stitched Up to answer the questions that I had about the world. You know, I felt like I had been subjected to the fashion industry all my life. I’d been really caught up in consuming and consuming as a teenager. I had friends who had eating disorders and things. And so, I wanted to really kind of dig into what kind of impact the visual culture, the fashion industry had on people. And then I’ve always been interested in politics. I’ve always been interested in workers’ rights and the environment. And so, yeah, the fashion industry just seemed something that I wanted to dig into and to use the word “capitalism” in relation to the fashion industry.
CARMEN: Where do fashion and capitalism intersect? What did you learn about those connections?
TANSY: Well, there’s a great quote, which is that, “Fashion is capitalism’s favorite child.” Because it means that with fashion, people never see the autumn of their cloth. And what that means is that we replace things before they get old, replace clothes, not just before they get old, but before they get even near, anywhere near to old age. So, all of the things that we see in capitalism we see really hyped up by the fashion industry. And by that kind of natural, like a, I don’t know, a desire to adorn ourselves and be creative, which really gets warped by the industry. I mean, fashion is completely warped by capitalism. I mean, first of all, we have a Victorian system whereby we have very, very, very rich and powerful individuals and corporations at the top of the industry. And then down at the bottom of the industry, there are millions and millions of some of the poorest people, and in particular, the poorest women in the world in global South factories who are producing clothing. So, it’s really, it’s a really Victorian, really exploitative system.
But then also, I think there’s a hell of a influence of capitalism on what comes out of the factories and what lands in the shops. And I think one of the saddest things about the fashion industry today is that this is not clothing done to the height of design or to the height of creativity. I think the fact of the matter is, is that the overwhelming majority of fashion today is incredibly boring. It’s not exciting, and I mean that from like the High Street right up to the catwalks. So, even in the couture shows, this isn’t the height of our imaginations. This is dresses being sold for a market, and arguably a increasingly conservative market. And then down at the bottom, it’s literally just about churning out rubbish, basically, in order to swell the pockets of the shareholders of these corporations.
The fashion that inspires me most is not within the industry at all. Yeah, it’s on the fringes. I mean, obviously, I live in London, so it’s kind of fringe events where people are a bit freer to express themselves. You know, it’s in the margins that I find a lot more inspiration and potential and where I feel like I get glimpses of how things could be. I mean, I think within industry, like nine times out of 10, there’s just too much. The emphasis is on the market, and it’s on sales. And at the end of the day, the shareholders for these companies are, you know, nine times out of 10, again, rich, white European or American men who aren’t interested in the design. You know, clothing is not about fashion and clothing. Clothing is about profit for them. And that’s not a route, that’s not a good route to creativity.
CARMEN: What’s surprising is also the ways in which even the most “glamorous stuff”—the fancy clothes, the high-end label clothes, the outfits straight out of a department store ad, the crème de la crème of the clothes we think tell people who we are—are mostly cut from the same fucked-up cloth as the rest of it. They’re often made with the same shitty labor practices. They’re usually hurting the planet just as much.
SAFIA: That’s one of the reasons why we’re losing the rainforest at the rate that we are. The horrific fires that we had in Brazil last year were down to some of those issues as well as well [unclear]. And we have issues of exploitation and slavery when it comes to some of the embellishments, of the garments that are in the fashion industry as, sorry, in the luxury fashion industry. So, I think it’s extremely complicated. But I think it’s very exciting also when you realize, and I think more and more people are looking at luxury advertising and realizing just how out of touch it is. So, I think there’s a real sense of quite a right sense of citizens feeling a disgust at just how out of touch fashion companies are, whether they be fast fashion or luxury fashion with the climate emergency that we’re facing.
CARMEN: That’s why Safia set out, with People Tree, to prove that a different fashion economy was possible and redefine what people saw as markers of glamour when they went shopping. Safia added value to her products by infusing her own values into the brand’s production process, making the notion of fashion that doesn’t hurt people or the planet a glamorous proposition in and of itself.
SAFIA: Well, I was really concerned that what we were doing was promoting things that don’t create real health. We were spending money, creativity, talent, huge, huge resources, actually in doing exactly the opposite to create the kind of society, the kind of world that we want to live in. We were producing products that we don’t need, that are highly polluting, really built off the back of slavery and worker exploitation. So, and I kind of realized that when I was 17, 18 working in the advertising industry. And so, I think with People Tree, it was really very much starting as perhaps one of the first generation of ethical consumers realizing that if I wanted to create a new product or have a new service, then I had to go out there and buy the alternatives, however under-resourced and perhaps weak the products were at that time, but I had to support it as a consumer. And eventually that led me to developing the first sustainable and fair-trade supply chains for People Tree. At that time I was based in Japan.
CARMEN: Can you sort of recap some of the really deliberate choices you’ve made and the ways in which you’ve proven that you can have a culture of fashion and beautiful objects and all of these things that we love without also degrading the planet and degrading other people?
SAFIA: I think the first priorities were to put women and the environmental production considerations central to the kinds of suppliers that we would work with in the so-called developing world. So, when we decided, okay, who are we gonna work with? Those are the questions that we would ask. So, to this day, the majority of the products are made with 100 percent natural fibers. And you know, now we realize that microfibers, these 1 to 5 millimeter-long plastic fibers polluting more than 83 percent of the kind of tap water, even in the most pristine environments in the world. So, I think really putting environment central to everything we do and making sure that these were suppliers where women are in the majority of the management teams their voices, their concerns are being heard, the business actually serves and supports them and their development. Those are the two things that were really critical to me.
CARMEN: That’s a radical act in fashion. And the reverberations of actions like it just might challenge capitalism’s favorite child to start behaving better. By refusing to prioritize profit, by refusing to cave in to greed, feminists in fashion are rewriting the rules of the economy.
SAFIA: It is greed. It comes down to that underlying sentiment. And I think how corporations have really built imagery and seductive campaigns and use the kind of psychological warfare actually to push consumers to, well, to push citizens I should say, to push citizens to feel that they’re not enough unless they have this and this and this. So, I really think that that mindset is changing now. I think citizens are demanding an independence. They’re simplifying life. They’re detoxing their closets. They’re thinking, well, if I need something, maybe I’ll buy it secondhand. Or if it’s new, then I’ll buy it sustainably or through fair trade. But I really think there’s a very big move and shift now to resisting fast fashion and a real sense of the true cost of fast fashion.
CARMEN: Definitely. And you know, I love that part of the work that you’re doing is also asserting that ethical fashion shouldn’t be a luxury. That being able to sort of have access to stuff that feels authentic for us to express ourselves, having access to clothing that doesn’t come at that human costs is, in so many ways, still a luxury, right? Like it’s expensive, it’s a niche market, it’s still growing. What do you think it’s gonna take to sort of democratize glamour in that way, to make fashion and beauty that is ethical, that truly reflects our values in a different sort of fashion economy more affordable, more accessible, more inclusive?
SAFIA: Well, I think citizens’ awareness has to be key, and there’s a great responsibility that the media play in that, as there are with fashion commentators. Certainly in the UK for many years, you would have fashion editors saying splurge or spree. Buy this luxury item, but you could buy this knock-off fast fashion item for a tenth of the price. And that has resulted in an incredibly irresponsible manufacture, which impacts people and the planet really badly. But I think the fashion figures are now really having to understand that they have a huge responsibility. My personal belief is that we need rules and regulation. You know, we are calling for transparency. And I think citizens have a part, but we notice here that many corporations now, the financial markets, are requiring for the ESGs. So, you’ll have analysts going into fashion companies and asking what they’re doing in terms of the environment, social, and governance issues. And if they don’t meet the mark, in the future, they won’t guess investment.
But I think we’re here, operating in a very, very complicated a place, at a climate emergency. So, there are many different issues here. We have to slow down the fashion industry. We can’t generate 7, 8 percent of global carbon emissions with a planet that already has locked within it 1.5 degrees increase in temperature over pre-industrialized levels. You know, we cannot go on continuing to produce 120 billion garments a year and look to that becoming 200 billion by 2030. We are just swimming in clothes. So, we have to go back to really, re-looking at the fashion model and saying, okay, if we’re producing new—
And let’s be honest, we have 10 years’ worth of clothing on the planet. We could stop buying tomorrow. The problem is that there are huge proportions of many developing countries like Bangladesh, India, and many other developing countries whose populations rely on decent work to be able to put food on the table. So, we really have to think how can we produce clothing using plentifully-available natural resources, and even cotton will take a huge amount of water to produce. So, how do we switch into organic cotton and responsibly-grown cotton? We must ban synthetics as soon as possible. And how then do we create the value addition so people can earn money from that? And I think that’s where People Tree does such a great job at showing that you can use hand weaving, you can use hand embroidery, different printing techniques that are by hand, so that you’re using a small amount of natural resource to create something beautiful. But you’re generating the largest amount of livelihood from creating one garment. We just need to start thinking about fashion in a totally different way.
CARMEN: In order to make that happen, we need to start thinking about the bodies we adorn with our clothing differently, too. And that’s exactly where Brie comes in, with a powerful economic proposition that takes on the underlying sexism fueling capitalism and demands better for women and girls.
[recorded clip plays, live onstage at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California]
BRIE: What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna get these young women dressed. [many young women onstage squealing, laughing] So, you’re gonna be the one top right. You’re just gonna put your [audience laughing] up to your lips. [Laughter rings out through the auditorium.]
If you look back 10 and 30,000 years ago, there were ancient goddess-worshipping cultures, and women’s bodies were seen as a site of light and life and rejuvenation and illumination. And literally, they thought babies were coming forth from women’s bodies in the same way that the fruit falls forth from the trees! We’re being taught three things about this ideal. We’re being taught that this is what is sexy. We’re being taught that this is what is healthy. We’re being taught that this is the universal standard of beauty to which we should all aspire. And this is Naomi Wolf’s work, The Beauty Myth, that deconstructs this. [recorded clip ends]
BRIE: The journey started with my recovery from an eating disorder when I was in high school. And when I made that recovery journey at 17, I read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Revolution From Within by Gloria Steinem, which were riveting and extremely pivotal for me. And I would just say my journey as a feminist activist was kind of born inside those pages. It just really, really sparked something in me and inspired me to want to get out there and invite self and social inquiry and to question this cultural landscape across which women are writing. And so, I just wanted to fill in this glaring gap that nobody was talking about when I was 16 and suffering. And if there’s a gap that I’ve watched grow basically across 15 years of work with teen and tween girls, that really exists inside the unspoken kind of gritty lines between mass-produced and mass-marketed ideals and girl power and social currency and options.
I’ve just been inspired to help young women find their way to a place of more educated freedom, a place that is more self-chosen and self-honoring rather than sort of blithely adopting a cultural script that has been written in the economic interests of the mostly men who invented it and disproportionately benefit from it. And a script that is designed to subjugate young women’s humanity and commodify their bodies in the name of liberation now.
CARMEN: Love the Skin You’re In! has changed the lives of over 100,000 young women and girls around the world. Brie has gone to New Zealand, Europe, Canada, and the U.S. to talk to teens about body positivity and help them become aware of the ways in which capitalism commodifies their bodies and damages their self-esteem in order to grow profit margins.
BRIE: I think it really comes down to looking at the systems of power. And that is where I know that we met through Riane Eisler’s work. And Love the Skin You’re In! launched our Girls Resiliency Education Fund through the Center for Partnership Studies, and Riane Eisler is a mentor for me. And I just, I love her work in partnership systems. It’s really important that we really take a really close look at the systems of power that are at play here and that there’s a spectrum. The bit that moves between a domination system, which is about top-down authoritarian ranking and control and the sort of subjugation of 50 percent of humanity, namely women and children underneath the other half of humanity, which tends to be male. And that we look at the other end of the spectrum, which is sort of partnership and collaboration, where we see reciprocity, and we see interdependence. And what we see on this partnership end of this system is the valuing of the feminine. And if there’s anything that is fundamentally going to change our world right now, it is to change what we value.
And when we devalue that which is feminine, we wind up with these systems of power that exploit our humanity and exploit human beings. And when we value that which is feminine and we value nurture and we value care and we value connection, and we ascribe to a model of power that is about power with, that is the model that could make my work obsolete, that I live for, you know, and that I aspire to. And that exists as a possibility. And I know that exists as a possibility because when I talk to young women about the way that our internalization of this imagery can wind up driving mean girl culture, I say to them, I’m like, “Who actually wins when we hate on one another? Who actually wins when we compete with one another on the basis of our looks? None of us win when we do that.” The only way through this hot mess, you know, is to move in connections and community. And so, this partnership model that is based in valuing that which is feminine, is what can subvert all of these industries. And it’s a really beautiful prospect because it works for the planet. It works for women and children and men. It works for all of us.
CARMEN: And thus, our million-dollar question! And yes, I’m aware of the irony. How does that divinely feminine economy work? What does glamour beyond capitalism look like? Spoiler Alert: All three of my guests had different images in their minds, but one thing that came to the fore was just how feminist the future is for fashion, for women, and for all the glamorous stuff in-between. For Brie, glamour beyond capitalism means assigning value to the stuff that really matters—to who we are—and redefining glamour as being about the internal stuff that makes us special, instead of the external stuff that capitalism tells us will make us special.
BRIE: You know, I think that what we’re called on to do is to revisit glamour, right? And see all the different definitions that are out there that are possibilities for ourselves. So, according to one definition, it’s like a beauty or a term that is considered sexually attractive, and according to another definition, it’s like an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people seem appealing. And so, it’s really that latter definition that I think presents us with our way out in this conversation. Like, there are lots of people that don’t fulfill this Kardashian ideal of purity and glamour that have glamour, and they have tremendous appeal that we have. We see examples of it all over the place. Michelle Obama is a wonderful example, right, who doesn’t have that capitalist appropriation to her. Back when I was in university, Ani DiFranco was an artist that was punky and sexy, and she was earthy and irreverent. And there was great glamour in that. We flocked to her.
I just went to a Sarah McLaughlin concert. And Sarah McLaughlin founded Lilith Fair
many years ago. She really did wonderful things with that festival and she really wanted to look at a music industry that is owned and produced by men. And really 95 percent of the music industry is owned and produced by men. And she wanted to insist that, you know, women’s brilliance and genius and talent and power could be visible and that that could exist free of all of the pressures and associations that come along with capitalism.
So, it’s really interesting with her story because when she eventually joined an American label years and years into her career, she was immediately, the first thing she was asked to do is to lose 10 pounds. So, that’s a label trying to impose its definition of glamour on a musician for whom glamour is something that is all together different. And so, if we can revision what glamour is and let it keep that idea of an attractive or exciting quality that actually makes people appealing, we can apply it to amazing human beings: Greta Thunberg, Malala, America Ferrera. I mean, they’re really amazing young women out there who are doing amazing things that draw us and that compel us and that inspire us. And so, that would be, that’s really the direction that I like to take.
CARMEN: I’m also curious, in your experience, having done this sort of self-liberation work to get yourself out of this hot mess of economic traps that are built and designed, right, to subjugate women and make us feel like we’re not enough or that we need to be something else in order to be a value, like to be of up worth, what does glamour feel like beyond capitalism? What is the difference in the day-to-day experience for you on this side of this journey?
BRIE: Well, it’s really beautiful, and there’s so much more freedom, you know? And so, for me, I have a relationship with my adornment even, right? So, I don’t spend a lot of time on hair and makeup in the morning, for example. I do still enjoy makeup, and I do still wear it. But it’s just not something that I’m gonna spend an hour on. I mean, my beauty ritual is five minutes [chuckles] rather than like an hour. And so, I think not moving in black and white, but recognizing our worth and recognizing our value and the importance of our voices. Like again, it can come down to how we choose to spend our time. So, I choose to spend time doing things like yoga and dance, and like I said, mindfulness practice or even meditation retreats. And those are things that give me energy and fill me up. And I think that that, as well, can be a real marker for young women.
When you notice that something, when you notice something really gives you energy, that’s often a sign that that’s something that’s good for you and that’s nourishing for you. But if you notice that you feel depleted, for example, you grab your phone and you scroll for an hour, you notice how you feel after that, that’s a sign that that’s just not a really nourishing or you know, maybe then it’s not a very life-affirming thing to be doing. And so, when young woman can make changes in those kinds of daily habits, that can make a really big difference in their experience, you know, their moment-to-moment experience. So, I’ve definitely done a lot to take it back. And also, I have my role models, right? I mentioned Sarah McLaughlin. I just saw a concert that she did, and she was so exquisite. And she was, she has a tremendous command of the entire room, and she has such a command of her own Shakti in that performance. And she was very sexual and very sensual, but not in a spectacular way. I mean, she wasn’t out there twerking on the stage.
She was at her piano and making love to her piano and her microphone as she serenaded us all. And she played like four different guitars, and it was just, it was absolutely an amazing display of what, really to me, felt like real, authentic female power. And it was glamorous and it was attractive and it was appealing…and really quite wonderful. So, I think as well, finding your role models is important. And I think that’s also why Billie Eilish has such an appeal with so many young women is because she’s basically rebuked the system. And she is refusing things that are so common in the music industry. Like, she doesn’t wanna show her body in the same way that most stars choose to. And that’s a really, that makes a really powerful statement. And I think that that is a big, big part of her appeal besides her incredible natural-born talent, which is on full display every time she sings.
But following more young women like that, spending time on, if you’re gonna be on the screen, you’re gonna be on different platforms, YouTube, actually, is a psychologically healthier platform to spend time on because they tend to be engaging, watching videos that have real information and education and someone on them that they can relate to. So, if you wanna be on the screen, watch a string of Billie Eilish interviews and get inspired. There are some really beautiful ways that you can still be participating in what Silicon Valley has to offer, but that are gonna be more empowering.
CARMEN: In Tansy’s mind, glamour beyond capitalism looks, well, pretty damn fashionable.
TANSY: One of the reasons why I continue to be interested in the fashion industry is thinking about what fashion would look like without capitalism, and I guess, yeah, what would glamour look like without capitalism? And I think so, first of all, it’s gonna, it will need a huge equalization across society, so that we take the class element out of fashion and out of glamour by ensuring that everyone has the same access to the same resources. So that it’s not just Melania Trump and Kylie Jenner and those kind of people who get to really explore what glamour looks like, but making it a lot more equal. And then also, I think we just need to just get rid of all the stupid rules within fashion. So, the rules around gender and sexuality, which contain loads of stupid, made up rules like pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and high heels are for women and skirts and dresses are for women. So, I feel like that kind of thing really warps our sense of creativity.
Also I think issues around, a lot of issues around fashion and glamour and design are very racialized as well. I think a lot of the time, glamour is a space where rich, wealthy white people are applauded and accepted for doing certain things, which at the same time Black people, people of color would be, are stigmatized for doing the same thing and exploring their own creativity. So, we need to throw out the rules. We need to throw out the class rules, the gender rules, the sexuality rules, the rules around race. And I think then, you would start to get the kind of explosion of creativity that would really open up design and allow us to recreate what glamour means and allow every individual to decide for themselves what glamour meant.
CARMEN: I feel like you are someone who comes into exploring fashion’s role in capitalism as someone who loves fashion, right? And a lot of the people I’ve talked to for these episodes in this season are people who love fashion or love beauty. And the reason I’m so interested in these subjects is ‘cause I love fashion and style. And I feel like it’s very easy to be like, this is my form of self-expression. This is how I adorn myself and show myself to the world. What do you think happens when fashion really does become, when glamour becomes more democratic and more equalized and accessible to everyone? What do you think the impact of that would be?
TANSY: I just, I mean, I think it would be an incredibly exciting adventure and that we’ve never seen before. I mean, I feel like you get glimpses of human potential when you’ve democratized fashion. You get glimpses of it, I don’t know, like in, I mean in part of the club scene, in LGBT spaces and in a lot of student fashion designers, like that kind of thing. I feel like you get a little glimpse of what we could be doing and what our visual landscape could look like. ‘Cause at the moment, you know, our visual landscape is just incredibly, incredibly restrictive, and yeah, that’s incredibly dangerous. I mean, I want to get to the point where my gay male friends can walk down the street in makeup or in a dress or, you know, my straight male friends. But I say that people can wear whatever they want without being fearful of violence or persecution. And we’re a long way from that at the moment.
CARMEN: And for Safia, it means going back to basics and back into our closets and appreciating how much work went into every damn thing that makes us feel good and feel ourselves. And the future she envisions is almost here.
SAFIA: I think it’s small-scale. I think it’s really looking at value addition, looking at craft, looking at natural fiber. I think there’s a lot to be done with upcycling. We will see the certification bodies, the soil association, fair trade organization, gosh positive luxury, the Corp B movement, you know, we’ll see lots of different initiatives that will become really where fashion designers and citizens who are buying fashion will want to see. You know, a mark of real credibility and authenticity when it comes to the supply chain, but also what that company stands for. We don’t want to buy product that is just lining the pockets of the elite that owns it.
My grandmother was an embroidery designer, and I’ve always had a great passion for textiles and for craft. I think growing up in the ‘80s and buying a lot of clothes, when I was in my late teens and 20s from thrift shops and from vintage shops, you know, that gave me a great deal of pleasure. And I think that that’s really beginning to come back again. People are really valuing finding something that’s truly unique and making it very much their own.
Coming back to your previous point, I mean, I think the whole image-making objectification around women, really looking at that whole kind of, you know, the gender issues around it, there’s been some very, very interesting work that’s been done here by thought leaders like Karen Franklin, for example. And I think this has really helped women to reclaim not just what they decide to buy, but also to complain when imagery actually is offensive, insulting. And I think that’s beginning to really create a shift to a more independent, way of being, and really calling corporations when they do something that is just not acceptable.
CARMEN: All of us can help make these futures possible. Because we can shift cultural ideas about glamour. We can dismantle the inequities capitalism has embedded within our idea of glamour. And we can do all of this just by removing ourselves from the traps this economy has laid for women, girls, and femmes.
BRIE: It’s such an important conversation that you wanna have here. I mean, building resiliency is fundamental. And awareness, of course, is a key ingredient to that resiliency soup that we need to brew. And so, obviously, educating ourselves and waiting is a wonderful way to do that. And a great first step is to read a book like The Beauty Myth, because I think it’s really hard to read a book like The Beauty Myth and still buy in to these beauty industries in the same way. I think that education really, really serves to help set us free. And I think that the freedom that we seek really needs to happen holistically. So, of course, part of my journey, and I’m sure the journey of many of the women that you’ve interviewed in this particular series that you’re doing, part of my journey was definitely therapy. And that was really fundamental to my recovery and to sort of understanding what was motivating certain behavioral patterns that are obviously culturally reinforced, but that also had some personal elements to them that I really needed to look into and overcome.
And one of the things that I discovered along my journey, which was something that I teach even in my talks, even with these large groups of young women is mindfulness practice. And it was kind of a personal thing that I discovered along my journey when I was really suffering and really struggling to break my mind free from the internalized misogyny. I discovered mindfulness practice, and I just started sitting down every day and being still for 30 minutes and just paying attention: noticing my breath, noticing my body, noticing the sensations of my body, opening the hearing, opening the peripheral vision, and seeing self and allowing a body that just be a body. And it’s kind of a radical thing to do. And for me, it was a real necessity.
Because what ended up happening was that over time, those neurological superhighways that’ve formed in the brain, which were essentially superhighways of internalized misogyny, started to lose their momentum. And as they lost their momentum, all of this energy and intelligence became more available for me that I could really become an advocate with for other beings. And so, mindfulness practice is one of the tools that I have front and center in my life that can help us move from body image, right, or self-image, both of which kind of come from a mental place, to embodiment. So, part of this reclamation, in my estimation, is about re-learning what it is to be in the body. This is where we live. This is our home. And are we going to let the corporations occupy our primary bandwidth, or are we gonna reclaim that through our own self-inquiry?
CARMEN: Totally. And when we talk about sort of resisting that commodification and becoming more aware of it, what are some of the, you know, are there deliberate decisions that you make differently in order to sort of resist all of these ways in which the economy tries to objectify and commodify?
BRIE: I mean there are certain basics, right? Like not reading fashion magazines. I don’t consume a lot of media in the form of television. I certainly never buy fashion magazines. I don’t consume, I pretty much don’t consume any television. And so, I’ve definitely made choices around how I spend my time. ‘Cause at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to, is how are we gonna spend our time? And of course, social media’s kind of the elephant in the room right now. [Laughs.] Because it’s the attention economy, and it’s sucking our attention in. And I do spend time on social media. But I do have great concern over what the studies are showing in terms of the impact that social media is having, in particular, on young women. And what is going on with that is there’s a whole lot more depression and anxiety. It’s a real terrific escalation of depression and anxiety that as gone alongside this kind of Internet boom and just the sheer amount of time that they’re spending scrolling their feeds.
And so, one of the things that exists inside the research on these mental health impacts is that the number of times a day that you pick up your phone actually has an impact on your mental health and wellbeing. And so, I suggest to young women, because obviously, they’re not gonna just stop their presence on Tik Tok and Snapchat, but I suggest that they start choosing their time. So, if they wanna do a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour at night, choose that half an hour, and be disciplined about it. And be like, okay, this is my half an hour in the morning. This is my half an hour at night. And then turn it off. And that is more helpful than picking up your phone every five or 10 minutes to see who’s liked your latest posts. And when you think about it, really the brain is laying down all of this neurology. And of course, with likes, you’re getting dopamine hits. And so, if you can really understand that your brains are developing inside of this great social experiment that is social media and recognize that so far, we’re actually discovering that there are many negative impacts that that has. And there are things that we can do that don’t involve necessarily cutting us off from that experience of connectedness that we might be experiencing, but that can let that be a healthier one, that that’s kind of one way to go about it.
And of course, scrolling Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok, it’s not that different than what fashion magazines were, except that there’s just such a greater prolific…pro, I can’t remember the word. There’s so much more imagery that’s at their fingertips over and over again. And the studies are telling us that the reason why screen time for young women tends to hurt their mental health more than young men is by virtue of the apps that they’re consuming. And so, because with Instagram and Snapchat, you see more of a focus on image when they’re scrolling, that that is, obviously the messaging that they’re getting in there is going inside and getting internalized and then having a consequent reaction in their sense of self. And so, definitely, limiting the amount of time that they spend on it and actually choosing blocks that they allocate for that. And then maybe with some other blocks of time, they can really spend some constructive time cultivating in-person connection with one another.
Or one of the things that we do after Love the Skin You’re In! is there’s an 8-week sort of e-book that I leave with the schools. And young women are welcome to start a circle at their school and have any young woman— I have one school, actually in Watsonville, California. We had 50 percent of the girls at the school signed up for the Love the Skin You’re In! club after the talk. And that is a really powerful way to spend time to keep on questioning and to not be numbed by the cultural trance, but to actually sort of like take it on and become a driver in your own experience and how you’re spending your time, and hopefully become a leader and an advocate by continuing to have the conversations in person with one another. That can be another really powerful thing.
CARMEN: And yes, part of that process involves inviting our friends and loved ones to do the same work and think more critically about their own choices. Stitched Up and the work that you’ve done, how has it changed your own notions of glamour, your own behavior as a consumer, sort of your own life in fashion and your relationship to it? What have been the reverberations for you?
TANSY: A major reverberation is that none of my friends wanna talk to me about [chuckles] clothing or about where they bought something or. So that, yeah, that’s a shame ‘cause no one wants to go shopping with me. I think I’m maybe not that fun anymore. I guess when I look at clothing now, it’s just impossible for me not to see the supply chain and the reality behind it. Although yeah, so, I still love clothing and the creativity behind it, but I definitely experience a hell of a lot more discomfort around clothing and footwear than I used to do. But I think that’s kinda necessary. Like that discomfort is, it’s reality. I think we all, we should be uncomfortable about clothing and footwear.
CARMEN: The next time you’re getting all dressed up for a feminist future, have heart: Change is here. Glamorous feminists have laid the groundwork for this kind of radical revisioning. Now it’s just up to us to wear our anti-capitalist positions as proudly as possible and wait for something more fabulous than we could’ve ever imagined to take shape.
TANSY: You know, fashion is purposefully overwhelming. It blankets our culture and our visual world. I think the best thing to do is to find other people who are interested in changing the fashion industry. And you know, the good news is, is that there are lots of groups already set up who are trying to change things. So, I mean, in America you’ve got like United Students Against Sweatshops. You’ve got the Models Alliance. You’ve got Greenpeace. You’ve got lots of solidarity with the global South and with workers’ organizations. So, I think getting together with other people and using your power as a citizen to put pressure on brands and on governments to change things and working in solidarity with people in the global South is the best thing. It’s the most empowering thing I think people can do.
SAFIA: Well, the transition is here. It’s coming. What it needs is more protests, more voice. It needs braver actions from corporate leaders who, just like citizens, are really wanting change. They know that they’re sitting in a dysfunctional system, and they’re eager to change it. So, I see that that change will come very quickly. What I’d like to see for fashion would be that we would be wearing, or if we’re not buying or exchanging clothes or upcycling or repairing our own clothes, if we’re buying something new, we’re buying it made of organic cotton that’s been certified as such, that’s been bought from a farming community that the fashion brand has a long-term relationship with. It’s a rotational crop, so he’s growing or she’s growing green gram and bananas and vegetables between the organic cotton plants. And that is totally possible. Even in a rain-fed area, you can drip irrigate to reduce water consumption. And that’s organic cotton is then going either onto a handloom to be woven into dresses or trousers or into a factory to be made into an organic cotton t-shirt. And those people on the handlings, whether they be artisans or factory workers, they’re earning a living wage, and they have freedom of association. And with a living wage and freedom of association, you have a possibility to create true development for the majority world, for people who are working within the fashion industry.
And of course, there’ll be some localization too. It would be great to have the textile and craft industries come back to areas where they were native. Here in Britain we have a beautiful set of textile skills in Scotland, for example. The coat that I’ve got here draped across the chair is made by Harris Tweed. These are hand-woven by Scottish weavers. So, there are clearly local and indigenous craft skills that will create some beautiful fabrics, and we will begin to treasure the clothing that we have and to pass it down to our children or to give it to friends. We will look off the clothes in the way that we would’ve 40, 50 years ago.
TANSY: I do believe we can transform things. I really do. And I think especially with something like fashion, it is all to play for. Like it would be such that explosion of creativity, you know, if everybody got a chance to be involved in design and creativity, would just be wonderful, I think.
CARMEN: Okay, folks. That’s all for this installment of Popaganda by Bitch Media. This episode was edited by Emily Boghossian and produced and hosted by me—feminist media-maker and movement-builder Carmen Rios—as part of our GLAMOUR season. Our jingle is by Mucks & Owen Wuerker. Today’s guests were Tansy Hoskins, Brie Mathers, and Safia Minney. You can learn more about them and get connected to their work by clicking around in the show notes for this episode on BitchMedia.org.
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Stay tuned for our next episode—the last of the season!—where I’ll explore the power of building glamourous shit that fits our bodies and our ideas of ourselves. Till then, I’ll see you on the internet.
by Mallika Khanna
October 9, 2019
It’s not just the fashion industry that’s suffering the effects of late-stage capitalism’s relentless production demands.