I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately by the news. There is almost too much going on right now. You’ve got Arizona making a bunch of crazy laws, the Times Square scare, the Gulf oil spill crisis, and (while it isn’t all over television news, it has been making quite a splash in the legal community) the racist email written by a Harvard law student. Is that all? I feel like I’m missing something.
Well, as I was slogging through a bunch of these grim stories on my Google reader, I realized something: Skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news a lot lately! Really, they have! It’s weird. And since it is weird, I began to question myself: What if skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news no more than usual? What if this is just me acting out of a need for “lighter” news in these trying times for our nation? Or, are skinny jeans and leggings really loaded cultural symbols that reflect societal opinions and beliefs?
The story that began all of this came out of Australia. On May 1st, a jury acquitted a 23-year-old man accused of raping a 24-year-old woman because she was wearing skinny jeans. Yes, you read right. Apparently, skinny jeans are the type that cannot be removed without collaboration and teamwork. The jury found it unbelievable that a man would be able to pull these jeans off of this tiny, tiny woman (42 kg, or 92.4 lbs., according to the article) without her help. Over at Feministing, Jos Truitt argued that this decision “smacks of slut shaming and victim blaming.” Truitt continues, “I think focusing on the skinny jeans is meant to suggest that the survivor was dressed provocatively, which in turn is meant to imply she must have wanted it.” I agree with Truitt, and the Italian court that reportedly said, “Jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt,” when upholding a rape conviction in 2008.
Moving on to skinny jeans appearance #2. This story also happens to come from Australia, but involves people from many other places as well. An amazing and, as she would say, fancy girl named Natalie from Australia has a blog in which she writes about art, design, fashion, and advocates for fat acceptance. Natalie posts many pictures of herself on her blog to show readers her outfits and accessories, and she also lists where she bought her things. One such picture of Natalie ended up being posted to a facebook group called, “There’s a weight limit on leggings & skinny jeans.” I felt ill when I heard this existed and even more ill when I saw that it has over 700,000 members (including a facebook friend of mine… who has since been de-friended). Anyway, Natalie wrote an incredible blog post on how she dealt with this situation, and on how she deals with society’s rejection of body type-diversity in general. I wish I were as level-headed and confident as her all of the time.
After reading these two stories, I became very suspicious of skinny jeans. Here we have one piece of clothing that is being used to deride women who wear them in one instance (rape case) and to praise them in the another (facebook group – albeit in a way that simultaneously insults others through exclusion). But, isn’t this bizarre? You, skinny girl, who we, as society, deem worthy to wear these skinny jeans, should feel exalted, loved, and worthy as part of a select group who get to don these denim duds without derision. But, be careful! We also think you are kind of slutty for wanting to wear them in the first place because you are showing everything, and if you ever claim, “rape,” we will know that it just isn’t true because you just had to help him get those crazy jeans off of you!
I really had it with skinny jeans and leggings when I read a recent article in the New York Times called, “On Formspring, an E-Vite to Teenage Insults.” Now, this article deals with another world of issues that, as a law review article author-turned-blogger might say, is beyond the scope of this blog post. The basics are that there is a new website/social media tool called Formspring, which allows you to post a question about yourself and have a bunch of your friends answer it anonymously. Now, why on earth I would ever want to do that, I just don’t know… but 13-year-old-me would probably be all about this, and according to the NYT, many 13-year-olds are all about it.
The NYT spoke to Ariane Barrie-Stern, a freshman at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City, who said, “I think it’s interesting to find out what people really think that they don’t have the guts to say to you. If it’s hurtful, you have to remind yourself that it doesn’t really mean anything.” Except it did mean something to Ariane. She stopped wearing leggings after she received a comment about a certain pair that she had worn.
Where did all of these expectations about “the kind of woman” that wears skinny jeans and leggings come from? Why are they the expectations that they are? Where did skinny jeans and leggings even come from? I can’t help but see skinny jeans and leggings as more wheels in the machine that make women overly self-conscious. They’ve become another part of the daily puzzle when getting dressed to walk the lines between being pretty and attractive, but not slutty or “inviting,” and certainly not “manly.” This is the year 2010, people. It’s about damn time to once and for all shift the focus away from what we, as women, should or should not be wearing, and put it on what we can and will be learning, achieving, and changing.