This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2020

Why fashion and beauty?

Our September/October editor's letter

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

It’s a wild time to be writing about fashion and beauty, given people on social media have taken to referring to jeans as “hard pants,” while most of us continue to shelter in place in some variation of comfortable clothing (occasionally dressing up from the waist up for Zoom meetings and events).

But fashion and beauty’s place in the world goes far beyond this moment, and their place within social justice runs deep. Many may think of fashion and beauty as surface issues, but there’s so much more to them than that. There’s ethical consumption: who is making the products we purchase and use? How and where are they being made? There’s representation and inclusion: who do we see in the media; who are we told is beautiful? Fashion and beauty intersect with feminism in a multitude of ways; they also intersect with mental health in far more ways than one (I say this as a person who wears big earrings every day in pseudo-quarantine—I swear, it helps a tiny bit). There’s much more than may initially come to mind when these topics come up.

Even in this letter, there’s so much I want to say. I wish there was space to talk about how women and girls, especially, are often introduced to magazines through fashion magazines. How problematic so many of those were growing up. And how much they’ve changed, some very much making positive contributions at this point in time. (I very much admire fashion magazines that are taking more of a political stand these days, and it is not lost on me that we’re taking a political magazine and making it fashion-related!)

I want to talk about the endless expectations there are on our looks. When I was a kid, very much against my mother’s wishes, I entered a beauty pageant. While pageant culture itself could, and does, fill many books and documentaries, I’d be lying if I said that it was an anomaly, even as a child, to feel in competition with others about appearances. When I first immersed myself in activist culture, I thought I needed to stop wearing lipstick and wear all black and a bandanna around my neck. Expectations are everywhere. (It should be noted that I was never crowned Miss Sunburst Canada.)

This year’s culture issue is rich in talented writers. Amanda Scriver talks about how fashion schools could push for inclusivity in the industry. Jenny Heijun Wills pens a gorgeous personal essay about Korean adoption and beauty. Sanchari Sur talks about coming into genderqueerness as a fashion blogger. And we look at the CanLit trend of #booklooks—makeup looks based on book covers—and what’s compelling local writers to put together and share these looks.

For better or worse, our bodies, and our outward appearances, are political. I, myself, no longer long for a title or tiara. I’ve also given up my patched-up hoodies (I miss those patches most—R.I.P. “Only dead fish go with the flow” and “Gender
is a drag”). Whether these are topics you think about every time you get dressed, or very rarely, we hope you’ll find these articles informative and entertaining, whatever you’re wearing (we just hope, for your sake, that it’s not “hard pants”).

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