Monday, August 23, 2010

On girl culture, style blogging and about fifty mentions of Style Rookie.

I just watched the video recording of a talk that Tavi Gevinson gave at ideaCity, a three-day conference held in Toronto earlier this year. She chose to speak about Sassy magazine and why a publication like that is still needed by teenage girls today. Anyone who regularly reads Tavi's blog Style Rookie will know that Sassy has a special place in her heart. A magazine that was launched in 1998, Sassy broke through the surface gloss of other magazines which encouraged girls first and foremost to make themselves attractive to men- as if this was the most important message young women needed to hear. In her talk, Tavi even cites an issue which advocated going to university to find a husband (forget about learning! That won't make you married. . .)

What I found interesting about Tavi's talk is that she is fighting to claim a space for the kinds of messages that she thinks young girls aren't getting today, and she outlines what 'the new Sassy' would do- 'the most subversive thing that a magazine could do today wouldn't be to feature weird clothes or weird music, it would be being honest and encouraging teen girls to be vocal.'

I wonder if style blogs are already providing this space. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be more spaces where teenage girls are able to exert agency and express their experiences- there absolutely should, to present as many oppositional messages to the dumbed-down, liberated-through-my-aggresively-adult-sexuality message (see: Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff) or the my-world-is-clothes-and-boys message (see: The OC, Gossip Girl) spewed daily at girls by pop culture.

What has been interesting to note as I've been reading lately is the new space that style blogs have staked a claim on in the public sphere. They upturn the notion of earning authority on a subject through long practice and learning at the knee of someone older and more experienced- all it takes to be heard now is an internet connection and a keyboard. Anyone can start a blog, the authority they exert made available to them by the very existence of the world wide web.

Style blogs thumb their nose at the notion of a closed public sphere which silently stipulates that personal lived experience has no place in publics. This explains the derision of personal, journal-style blogs as narcissistic and mundane (ergo unimportant) because personal-content bloggers are supposedly absorbed in their boring little lives to the exclusion of all other concerns. And yet that feminist cry that the personal is political rings through my mind, and the very fact that thousands- even millions- of people the world over regularly read style blogs tells me that something very important indeed is going on online. And the majority of style bloggers are young (aged anywhere between 14-30) and female- they are girls and young women writing about their lives, their opinions, their passions, ideas, thoughts- it's exciting because it is already happening. Without fanfare, without someone from above 'ok'ing it- to co-opt a phrase whose origin I am completely unsure of (and hope, as a wintry-white girl, that I'm not causing offence but-) sisters are doing it for themselves.

As a further example of how this agency is already being practised, check out Tavi's list of the approach to fashion she'd want to see in a new Sassy:

Dot point one: see Style Rookie, White Lightning, Kingdom of Style, The Clothes Horse and Fashion Hayley

Dot point two: see, um, pretty much any style blog around? Independent designers are often more affordable than the bigger established labels and perhaps more compelling to a style-hungry girl than a mass-produced copy of Alexa Chung's latest at Sportsgirl (not that I blame anyone for wanting to emulate Alexa Chung- girl's got some seriously awesome style going on. I'm directing my angst at Sportgirl. My friend Sarah told me last night that they have ripped off my Vivienne Westwood Armour ring- I say 'my' because I have one, not because Sportsgirl have copied me, per se. But, rightly or wrongly, I take it as a personal attack. Yeah, watch your back, Sportsgirl!)

Dot point three: see dot point two.

Dot point four: see Fashion Toast, Studded Hearts, Style Rookie, Zanita

Dot point five: see. . . Style Rookie. . . okay, so Tavi's blog already embodies most of the qualities that she's advocating for. That she is calling for a more widespread reflection of this is interesting because her blog allegedly has a million and a half hits (you read right) a month- already an impressively large readership to be influenced by her alternative approach of fashion and the representation of her opinions on youth, girlhood, style and feminism.

So, to sum: style blogs are a site where we see girls literally creating a space for themselves to speak and to express their lived experience and opinions. This is not the first time girls have done this (see Angela McRobbie's book Feminism and Youth Culture) but it is perhaps the most visible, widespread and publicly accessible manifestation of this that has ever been seen before. And if you think I am being hyperbolic, please come back at me with a counter example (seriously!)

I find this so exciting. Moreover, the ways in which style bloggers share their experiences is not trivial. Fashion is not trivial and neither is someone's passionate interest in it. What makes it appear trivial is the external limitations placed upon girls to be interested in fashion to appeal to boys or to compete with girls. But when girls* own their interest because it brings them pleasure to do so, well, that simply takes the power out of the hands of a patricarchal society that would keep them compliant and quiet and that poses a threat to how things have always been. So style bloggers- keep doing your thing. You're great. It's exciting. And I can't wait to see what happens next.

* I am well aware that there are a number of boy style bloggers too. I'm not trying to exclude them from my discussion of the style blogosphere because they too hold an important place in this sub/counter/whatever-it-is-culture. I haven't really thought through what's going on with them yet, having been more concerned with observing what's happening with women online but I'll flag this right now as something to come back to! And if you want to check out some cool boy style blogs, click on over to BryanBoy or My Clothing Blog to name but two.

Top image from here
The screenshots are of slides from Tavi's ideaCity talk which you can find here.

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