How can one write properly and insightfully on any given topic, and ensure the writing remains relevant to the present socio-political context if one doesn’t themselves engage in extensive reading on the said topic?
The answer is simply that you can’t, or at least not very successfully. As writers, we have to constantly seek inspiration not only from our own minds, but the genius thoughts of others, and so of late, I have been doing a lot of reading on the subjects of Fashion and Feminism and the fine line between art and self-expression.
I’ve been so inspired and moved by the reading material that has landed in my lap, I simply feel it would be selfish of me not to share my findings and what makes them so valuable to me as a writer engaging in these different dialogues.
So here’s a list of just a few literary gems, of all mediums and lengths. Assuming majority of you have wandered on this site because you are equally as passionate about these discourses as I am, I’m confident these reads will inspire you just as much as they have inspired me.
1.) The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant. Simon and Schuster, 2009.
This book is fast becoming my bible for understanding the correlation between fashion and the consciousness, and basically how fashion and the art of dressing and caring about our appearance, lies at the very core of our existence and history. Grant completely shuts down the argument that fashion is a superficial, trivial and frivolous phenomenon. “You can’t have depths without surfaces,” she writes and I’m blown away. I really want her to just jump out from behind the pages so I can physically give her a high five. She uses history to prove that fashion and the desire for outward beauty exist even amidst the horrific gruesome perils of war. Do yourself a favour, and just go read it.
2.) ReFusing Fashion: Rei Kawakubo, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2008.
This catalog is a compilation of articles and essays on Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo from her ReFusing Fashion art exhibition in 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). The exhibition as a whole, as well as the essays on her work, serve the purpose emphasizing fashion as art and its place in the museum space. Although Kawakubo’s work has often been described as ‘anti-fashion’, she uses art to create an extremely political dialogue through her designs. Her work not only screams out against social injustices but inherently emphasizes fashion as a form of identity.
3.) Coco Chanel: The legend and Life by Justine Picardie. HarperCollins, 2010.
Because you can’t claim the title ‘fashionista’ without familiarizing yourself with the legend of Coco Chanel. And there’s a pun on legend because she gave so many varied details and different stories about the events of her early life, one simply doesn’t really know who or what to believe. It’s so easy to romanticize famous icons like Chanel and fail to look past all the glitz and glamour of their success, but to quote Linda Grant once again “You can’t have depths without surfaces”, and piecing the picture of Chanel’s early life together, is one of dark and humble beginnings. What also stood out for me, when reading about her early life is how her upbringing in an abbey, appears to have impacted her style and her designs. Reinforcing the undeniable idea that fashion is intertwined with identity. And of course, her profound quotes scattered throughout the book are always a treat. I’ll leave you with my all-time favourite:
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different,” Coco Channel
4.) This article by Emma Brockes that appeared in The Guardian titled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Can people please stop telling me feminism is hot?’
Adichie is a feminist of note, but what I love most about her is her brutal honesty and defiance. She is a strong formidable woman, and she isn’t interested or concerned about being liked, rather what concerns her is justice, and justice with regards to how women are perceived and expected to be perceived in society.
“It’s not your job to be likable. It’s your job to be yourself. Someone will like you anyway.”
She challenges and questions the idea of feminism as a trend, tackles the problem with selective feminism and deconstructs the notion of woman’s ability to ‘have it all’. Her refreshing, revolutionary, yet definite attitude towards feminism burns through all pretense, and is so raw and real you can’t ignore it. Above all, I love her response to when a student expressed doubt as to whether he could still hold her in the same esteem since she started writing “this whole feminism thing.”
“While I love to be loved, I will not accept your love if it comes with these conditions.”
Her words ring the truth of self-confidence every woman needs and deserves to practice.
5.) Self-Loved by Malibongwe Tyilo. Elle SA, March 2017
This article published in this month’s edition of Elle SA, talks about the journey to self-love. Tyilo says that the art of ‘self-love’ is an accumulation of little ways and efforts we make to care for ourselves. Like moisturizing our skin and taking care of our bodies, not based on what society is dictating to us to follow, but by responding to our individual needs.
“It’s a work-in-progress this self-love thing, and it goes far beyond the body; but every day, with every drop of moisturiser, with every cigarette I don’t smoke, I understand a little bit more that loving oneself is not some intangible idea”
With society constantly down our throats telling us we need to be this size; look this way; act that way; do this; don’t do that, in order to be the best version of ourselves, Self-love is like a constant tug-of-war battle and we always seem to end up lying in the mud. Tyilo explains that self-love isn’t a destination, as opposed to society’s idea of what loving yourself, and body confidence is, instead, it’s an accumulation of little everyday things and activities that we can focus on, like eating right, and caring for our bodies, not for the purpose of ‘looking good in skinny jeans,’ but for ourselves, to make us feel good. Taking the time to focus on what we need to do for us, instead of spending time paging through magazines that tell us what others think we need. Because in essence, love is in a relationship with time. Love=time. The same applies to how we treat ourselves. Do we spend time building ourselves up, or focusing on the negative? Because that is ultimately what will determine whether foster self-love.
Featured image: Jade le Roux