Fashion has a weird thing about lesbians

KATHLEEN LEE JOE
Last updated 11:48 19/03/2014
v mag
V Magazine
LESBIAN CHIC: Fashion mags often turn sexuality into a 'trend'. Here are Rihanna and Kate Moss on the cover of V.

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Want girl-on-girl action featuring extremely hot babes? Treat your eyes to the latest issue of Vogue, Harper's or any other glossy monthly for that matter.

Their pages are filled with supremely attractive models and celebrities - marketed toward females, by females. And yet the idea of women finding these images sexually appealing is treated as something peculiar within the fashion industry.

Consider this context when you look at the term 'girl crush'. The ubiquitous phrase is tossed around with relative abandon, has become interchangeable with 'style icon' and is attached to everyone from Alexa Chung to Jane Birkin and Kate Moss. 

As openly gay fashion writer and blogger Nicolette Mason points out, 'girl crush' denotes an appreciation for the female, while distancing its user from any authentic attraction they may have for her. "The bottom line being that you don't want to be mistaken as actually being interested in that person," she says.

Could 'girl crush', as Fashionista posits, be in fact be the fashion-language equivalent of frat-boy favourite 'no homo'? After all, they're both used as a barrier against homosexual subtext.

As Callie Beusman examines in Jezebel, the logic of 'girl crush' is nothing knew. Fashion has always encouraged women to "consume other women's bodies in assessing their desirability", using sexually charged situations as a means of being 'provocative'. And ultimately, it all comes back to the male gaze. 

Though fashion magazines aren't aimed at heterosexual males, they're still framed with their sexual gratification in mind. You just have to look at this shoot, featuring straight girls Rihanna and Kate Moss ­getting hot, heavy and handsy in V Magazine, or this Purple spread by "Uncle Terry", Terry Richardson, and one thing's apparent: the women aren't looking at each other, rather, their focus is on the camera. Sexuality becomes performative, rather than an expression of something authentic.

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We've seen this kind of reductionism in other areas of fashion media. Think of the fetishising term 'lesbian chic', used in demeaning articles such as Style.com's 'Is lesbian chic here to stay?' 

The thing is, sexuality is not an accessory, and it isn't a hot spring trend to be used to assert the 'edginess' of the editor or photographer. You don't flit in and out of same-sex attraction as you would colour-blocking and double denim. Women don't want to bang each other purely for the pleasure of onlooking dudes.

Like Hollywood, the fashion industry continues to peddle a very narrow definition of lesbianism. As feminist philosopher Susan Bordo says, 'lesbian chic' is only used to describe a certain kind of lesbian acceptable to mainstream culture - "slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way." There are very few high-profile women in the fashion community who identify themselves as gay. And those who are accepted ­- J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, for example - are still in fitting within the tall, white and thin standard of beauty.

As much as the fashion industry likes to obsess over attractive women and capture them in eroticised contexts, it completely fails to explore, engage and take seriously their sexuality. Gay stereotypes remain - and pseudo-acceptance in the form of 'lesbian chic' and the preclusive term 'girl crush' is doing nothing to change that. 

- Daily Life

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