What’s on the Inside

Ethics of Global Fashion

Emma is a Law & International Relations student, and aspiring diplomat with a passion for journalism. This Semester she will be challenging the everyday choices we make, and the origins of the very clothes on our backs, as she explores a range of ethical concerns relating to global fashion.

i hate my thights

I was seven and heading to my grandma’s birthday lunch. I had picked out my clothes: a long-sleeve top – grubby, cotton, purple, and stained with breakfast and mud – cargo pants that were the colour of moss, and runners. My mum came in and told me that I had to change. I did not take well. I was comfortable, and that grubby, plain, faded purple, long-sleeve top was my favorite. Why? I have no idea. And yes, “I did not take well to that” is code for the fact that I had a mini-tantrum. At its height, I remember turning to my mum and saying, “Why? Why does it matter what I wear?! IT’S WHAT’S ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS, NOT WHAT’S ON THE OUTSIDE!”

It’s funny really. That is what society teaches you as a kid, that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”. Oh how this message changes.

Currently, the whole world is talking about the Olympics, so I want to break down and analyze part of the conversation. According to an analysis by The Rep Project, Olympic sports commentators comment on the physical appearance of female athletes twice as often as they do about men. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, Gabby Douglas, a Gold medal gymnast, was internationally criticized for the way she had ‘done her hair’ (a simple ponytail) for the competition. Sexism followed a few days later when the then-Mayor of London called female volleyball players “semi-naked women… glistening like wet otters”. In last year’s Australian Open, tennis star Eugenie Boulchard (ranked 7th in the world) was in a post-win interview where, instead of focusing on her brilliant 57-minute lightning defeat of her opponent, she was instead asked to show off her outfit and “twirl” for the crowd. In short, women are asked to perform both visually, and through skill and determination.

I like fashion. A lot of women do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But by no means is it the most important thing to me. It’s not even close. Yet the media makes out that a woman’s primary focus should be ensuring that she puts on a visually pleasing performance. Society, therefore, is suggesting that the hard work and success of women is less important than their physical appearance. This stance is degrading, undermining, and it lowers a woman’s sense of self-worth.

Discrimination against women starts at an early age.

A couple of weeks ago, The Gap released a new line of children’s clothing. The boys’ T-shirts had a picture of Albert Einstein on them, marketed as “the little scholar – your future starts here”. The girls’ equivalent, however, encouraged girls to be “social butterflies” and “the talk of the playground”. Academia, it seems, was not to play a role in their lives.

This kind of sexism targeted at children is not new. In 2013, Disney released a new line of children’s Avengers merchandise. There were two types of T-shirts: on the boys’ shirt was a picture of Iron Man and the words “BE A HERO”, while the girls’ shirt read “I NEED A HERO”. The year before, Disney released Mickey Mouse and Mini Mouse T-shirts – while one read “THE BOSS, MISCHIEVOUS, ADVENTUROUS, GENUINE, LEADER”, the other read “HOT, CUTE, SWEET, PRETTY”.

These labels teach children that boys should be “leaders” and girls should be “hot”.

My case and point is that in 2013, a New York University campus store was found selling baby jumpsuits – the blue one for boys reading “I’M SUPER” and the purple one for girls reading “I HATE MY THIGHS”. So, not only are we teaching boys that they are more “super’, but we are encouraging girls to hate their bodies.

These types of clothes are not sold at obscure, unheard-of stores. They are found in major chain stores across the world, like Target and Big W. In feeding young girls this message, we undermine their feelings of self-worth, their belief that they can make an impact on humanity, and the fact that they deserve to be treated as equals to men.

This then translates into adulthood, through sport and the arts. Australia is always so keen to watch the “WAGs” at the Brownlow, where women are interviewed about their dresses, their make-up and their husband’s profession. The world is always so keen to watch The Oscars, and observe the stars parade up and down the red carpet. Always excited to watch the cameras scan the women’s bodies from the top to bottom, and to learn about the designers of the dresses.

We’re always so keen… or are we?

Are we keen or does society tell us that we should be keen? Wouldn’t it actually be good to also hear about how the stars (and sports stars) got to where they are? About the adversaries they faced and how they overcame them? Wouldn’t it be good to hear about their professions, why they love what they do, why what they do is special, and how they feel they can contribute to the world, both through their profession, and as individuals?

#askhermore is a campaign currently being run on social media, pressuring reporters to ask women of all professions at major world events about more than just their appearance. We have created a society, so we can therefore change it.

As Hillary Clinton said, in breaking down gender inequality we “clear the way for everyone”. I hope that they are listening in Rio. I demand we #askhermore. Will you?