Can A Feminist Love Fashion?

On International Women's Day, one editor ponders a contradiction 

In the past few days, Emma Watson’s feminism was called into question because of her decision to pose in a revealing ensemble for a Vanity Fair photo shoot, celebrated when she defended her ability to be more than just her body, and then called into question again when statements she made in 2014 about Beyoncé were applied to the situation.

I can’t remember exactly what piqued my interest in fashion when I was young (if it even was one thing), but I do know what has long been my favorite part about it: the photographs. From glossy editorials in magazines, to the coffee table books put out by photographers, and even the advertising, I’ve been enamored with the images, often more so than the clothes.

But if Emma Watson received criticism for being a feminist and showing off some cleavage, what does one make of a feminist who loves fashion photography—a medium that routinely features young women in states of undress, being objectified in images often taken by men?

There are arguable feminist approaches to fashion photography—one can who abuse their power. One can view images as a celebration of the female form, as they do with art (after all, there is nothing wrong with nudity). And sometimes, it’s ok to enjoy a pretty picture because it’s pretty, without having to ignore aspects of gender inequality.

Is it possible to love fashion—to love the fashion industry—and be a feminist?

The fashion industry is an interesting, dichotomous place for women. On the one hand, it is one of the few industries in which women can actually excel, career-wise. On the other hand, there are still instances of inequality in high-ranking positions, not to mention the fact that, as a whole, the concept of the fashion industry places limitations on beauty and body ideals to society en mass.

So perhaps a reason why it feels right to be a feminist in fashion is because without us, who would call into question all the things that need to be changed? Where would we be without whistleblowers like James Scully, or advocates like The All Woman Project? It feels right to be a feminist in fashion because we love it for what it proposes to be, and we’re idealistic enough to believe it can be changed for the better.

The fashion industry, after all, is filled with dreamers—many of whom also wish for a more equal future, as evidenced by the various political moments that occurred on and off the runway at fashion weeks this month. From Missoni’s pussy hats, to the CFDA’s vocal support of Planned Parenthood, to all those slogan t-shirts, it’s clear that the fashion industry, on principal, stands with women, even if it is still grappling with its own problematic behavior.

Fashion can be feminist—if those working within it continue to call out the myriad of glaring problems, in both general terms, and in specific instances.

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