Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wearing Stigma

Yes, there's actually a board game called Fashion Rules.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Sociological Images post on managing stigma in the weeks since I first read it. I was struck by an anecdote it relates from journalist Brent Staples, a 6’2” black man, on why he started whistling classical tunes when walking down the street at night: “Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.” It provoked an instant sympathy—I sometimes find myself whistling without realizing I’ve started doing so, a habit I picked up from my father (who, like me, looks white), and the thought of using it as a tool of “I’m OK, you’re OK” sent a small stab through me.

But sympathy wasn’t necessarily the idea Lisa Wade was pursuing here; instead, she was writing of how stigma management calls attention to the ways that race, class, and gender are, among other things, performances: “In order to tell stories about ourselves, we strategically combine these things with the meaning we carry on our bodies.” And what sort of body is more loaded with meaning than that of a young woman? It’s impossible to think of the performance of femininity without considering the ways that the performance is an exercise in stigma management. And it's impossible to think of the ways women manage the stigma of their bodies without looking at fashion and beauty.

You’ll rarely see the word stigma in a fashion magazine, to be sure (though it could be a great brand name—“introducing Stigma by John Varvatos”), but so many fashion “rules” are simply sets of guidelines to managing the connotations of womanhood. The shorter the skirt, the lower the heel. The smokier the eyes, the more neutral the mouth. The tighter the pants, the more billowy the shirt. The more colorful the top, the plainer the bottom; the bigger the earrings, the smaller the necklace; the bolder the nail polish, the shorter the nail. I’ve seen all of these “rules” written out in fashion magazines and the like (which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of contradictory “rules” or guidelines on how to best break those rules, but these are generally considered to be within “good taste” instead of being fashion-forward), and what stands out isn't so much the rules themselves as the fact that they're presented without explanation. You're supposed to know inherently why you wouldn't pair a short skirt with high heels, a loud lipstick with a dark eye.

Now, some of these rules make a certain amount of visual sense: If you’re trying to showcase a gorgeous pair of earrings, wearing a bunch of other jewelry will just compete for attention. But other rules make visual sense only because we’ve adopted a collective eye that codes it as “right”—anything else betrays our sense of propriety. A micromini with four-inch heels? Coded as tramp. It doesn’t matter if the visual goal is to lengthen your legs, or if the woman next to you garnering not a single sneer is wearing a skirt just as short with a pair of low-heeled boots. You’ve failed to manage the stigma of womanhood correctly. You haven't made the right choices, the right tradeoff. You haven't found that ever-present marker of "good taste": balance. And while there are all sorts of stigma attached to womanhood, none is so heavily managed and manipulated and contradictory and constantly on the edge of imbalance as sexuality.

Complicating sexual stigma is something that’s closer to the permanence of race or ethnicity than these other fashion dilemmas are. (After all, fashion is a choice. You might be subtly punished for opting out of it altogether—or loudly punished for opting in but doing it wrong—but at least there’s a degree of control there.) If your body type is coded in a particular way, you’ve got a whole other set of stigma to deal with*. As Phoebe Maltz Bovy pointed out during her guest stint here, “[S]tyle and build have a way of getting mixed up, as though a woman chooses to have ‘curves’ on account of preferring to look sexy, or somehow magically scraps them if her preferred look is understated chic.” A woman with small breasts and narrow hips has more freedom to wear low-cut tops in professional situations without raising eyebrows, because there’s less stigma to manage. A woman in an F-cup bra with hourglass curves? Not so much. Witness the case of Debralee Lorenzana, the Citibank employee who was fired for distracting the male employees with her wardrobe—which, on a woman without Lorenzana’s figure, would be utterly unremarkable, and, more to the point, unquestionably work-appropriate. Her failure, as it were, lay not in her clothes but in not “properly” managing the stigma that her figure brought. (And when it came out that she’d had plastic surgery, including breast implants, internet commenters around the world engaged in a collective forehead slap.)

Certainly there are women who consciously break away from the fashion "rules" of stigma management, even if they don't think of it in those terms. I've always had an admiration for those women—whether they're opting out of the performance altogether by not engaging in beauty work, or whether they're turning their persona into a performance art piece of sorts by going over-the-top with femininity. (That is: I sometimes wish I had the guts to be what you might call tacky.) But I'm not one of those women; I do play by the rules. If a skirt fails the "fingertip rule," I pair it strictly with flats—and in fact, the number of those skirts in my wardrobe dropped considerably after I turned 30, not through any conscious decision but through the sort of subtle shift in my own guidelines that makes up the bulk of stigma policing. I know myself well enough to know that I'm not about to start challenging the stigma of femininity by breaking the rules. But I can't help but wonder what would happen if we started thinking of fashion "rules" as neither arbitrary guidelines dreamt up by ladymag editors nor as a way to bring aesthetic harmony to our appearance, but rather as a set of social dictates that carve out a space of "acceptable" womanhood for us. My first thought is that if we started looking at fashion rules in that way, we might be able to better call attention to the stigma of inhabiting a female body between the ages of 12 and 50, and eventually demolish that stigma. But then I wonder if there's a sort of comfortable safety within those rules—if, in fact, the women who go over-the-top are doing so exactly because it's a flouting of the rules, and if self-expression might ebb in importance if we didn't have boundaries to constantly push up against. What would we lose by dropping the fashion guidelines that police the stigma of womanhood? And what would we gain?

* In looking at my blog feed the other day, I noticed that I read a surprisingly large number of blogs written for busty women, given that I’m not one myself. But in this light, it makes sense: Many women with large breasts—particularly those who don’t wish to “minimize” their chests—have had to deal with a level of sexualization that my B-cup sisters and I don’t, or at least not in that particular way. So it only makes sense that bloggers who have had to think about their self-presentation in this way might have a good deal of sociological insight that comes out through their writing—which is exactly what I turn to blogs like Hourglassy and Braless in Brasil for, despite the fashions therein not being right for my frame. Consider this my official cry for small-breasted bloggers to take up the cause! C’mon, ladies, I want your insight and your tips on how to find a wrap dress that doesn’t make me feel like a 9-year-old!


  1. There seems to be some safety by following the rules. For years, because of economical but also self-esteem reasons, I was one of the women who didn't play by the rules, and was shamed at every angle. Some, such as my peers, told me my lack of flattering clothing indicated I didn't care about myself. Others, such as classmates, saw my lack of adherence as a sign of intelligence: If I couldn't follow the basic rules of femininity, how could I be reliable in anything else? More, like my family, saw it as social failure: If you can't follow the rules, no one -- not a husband, not an employer, not friends -- will want you.

    So, at least based on my experiences, playing by the rules signifies to others, on a superficial level, that I am competent, that I am worthy of love and attention, that I care about myself, and that I, ultimately, am trustworthy.

    1. Anonymous, that's so interesting how the responses you got by not following the rules were so all over the map. I wonder if there were circumstances where it might have signaled the opposite? Say, if someone admired "rule-breakers"? Of course, that's something that goes against the grain, so by definition that reaction would be an exception to the rule.

  2. Oh, I agree. I'd love to see most small-busted blogger out there take up the cry and get there version of dealing with this issues in the workplace too. Always good to hear more perspectives!

    I have to that I sat back a bit to think about this after reading your post. Here in Brazil the fashion rules are very different and it is extremely common to see short skirts and high heels (actually, I'd say dressing up with flats is extremely rare here and I break the rules since I can't wear heels due to my knees).

    It actually fascinates me how different the rules are here. For instance, muffin tops on pants are not hidden and I've seen very professional dressed women wearing a pair of pants with a muffin top and tight shirt. In general, there seems to be a more relaxed view of one's body and who has the right to wear certain clothes. Another US rules that I've seen broken here is older women dressing up in trendy younger clothes (with short skirts, heels and all).

    Granted, some of it comes down to income levels and local availability here. Clothes are much more expensive here than in the states and people have less money so you have to make do with the options available. But I honestly don't mind living in a country where the fashion rules aren't as stringent! :)

    1. June, this makes me want to visit Brazil! I think here in the States there's this idea of Brazilians as all being beautiful and toned and that that's why the popular image of Brazilians features the sort of fashion you're talking about--but of course that's only because we're seeing selected, exoticized images. (I remember traveling to Europe in the '90s and being annoyed that Europeans would mention "Baywatch" as being representative of American women.) Interesting that the fashions might be the same but they're on normal-people bodies!

      I should do a breasts post, though honestly because I'm small-busted but not flat-chested, it's like my body has "played by the rules" for me so I don't have tons to say. I've only rarely gotten comments about my breasts from people who don't have any business commenting. I used to use the term "modestly-sized" to describe my B/C-cups until I realized that implied that larger breasts were immodest, which, ugh.

  3. I have always lamented the fact that my "ladies" make dressing professionally incredibly challenging at times. When I started my last job I had just encountered some health issues and for a variety of reasons I put on about 30lbs (mostly in my chest...thank you Grandma!) and one of my managers told me that the CEO thought I dressed "too sexy". I was wearing the same styles that I work in the job previous where I was considered a fashion plate and was constantly complimented on my wardrobe. My boobs got in the way of my ability to express myself and it really pissed me off. It made me mad at myself and the world. I thought it was so unfair that I was criticized for being sexy. Interestingly enough, I was never given any hope of promotion or future at that job. Now I am in a new career, I dress down my femininity more often than not and weight aside (the boobs have returned to their normal size which is still quite robust) and I am on the ladder being cheered towards career growth.

    It is a shame that we have to fear our sexuality and worry that it compromises our career success when all anyone wants is to be able to wear clothes that they like and that express their personality.

    1. Cameo, that is infuriating. Without knowing exactly what you dressed like at that job, I know your general style enough to know that the CEO's comment was about your body, not about your wardrobe, even if he/she didn't see it that way (and who ever does see it that way? of course they're going to assign blame to something you could ostensibly "fix").

      I have never, ever been in any workplace where I've seen a woman exploit her sexuality to do well on the job. (Granted, I work with mostly women, but still.) I think that the myth of the woman who does that is actually exactly what you're pointing out there--a fear of sexuality. (Not to mention that your experience is probably more common--that when women are perceived as being "too sexy" on the job, it hurts their chances of promotion, not helps.) Now more than ever workers are encouraged to bring their "authentic" selves to their jobs, which is generally a good thing, but our authentic selves have plenty of sexuality! Which we can't help, you know? So then being "authentic" and "yourself" becomes something that we need to guard against.

  4. Wearing Stigma is very essential for me as well. I am sure the article will be very essential for me as well. I am sure the content will be very informative to me as well. I mus follow the discussion.

  5. An amazing testimony on a spell caster who brought my husband back to me.. My name is Olivia Phimzile,i live in Kansas,USA,and I'm happily married to a lovely and caring husband ,with two kids.A very big problem occurred in my family seven months ago,between me and my husband .so terrible that he took the case to court for a divorce.he said that he never wanted to stay with me again,and that he didn't love me anymore.So he packed out of the house and made me and my children passed through severe pain. I tried all my possible means to get him back,after much begging,but all to no avail.and he confirmed it that he has made his decision,and he never wanted to see me again. So on one evening,as i was coming back from work,i met an old friend of mine who asked of my husband .So i explained every thing to him,so he told me that the only way i can get my husband back,is to visit a spell caster,because it has really worked for him too.So i never believed in spell,but i had no other choice,than to follow his advice. Then he gave me the email address of the spell caster whom he visited.{}. So the next morning,i sent a mail to the address he gave to me,and the spell caster assured me that i will get my husband back the next day.What an amazing statement!! I never believed,so she spoke with me,and told me everything that i need to do. Then the next morning, So surprisingly, my husband who didn't call me for the past seven {7}months,gave me a call to inform me that he was coming back.So Amazing!! So that was how he came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and he apologized for his mistake,and for the pain he caused me and my children. Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster. So, i will advice you out there to kindly visit the same email,if you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to "bringing your ex back. So thanks to the Dr Tansia for bringing back my husband ,and brought great joy to my family once again. {}, Thanks

  6. I would like to recommend a man that is always ready to help people in need. He is a spell caster you can rely on at any time He is specialized in bringing back your

    ex lover back within 48 hours. His spell shows fast result and his name is Dr.SAVIOR temple Don't hesitate to contact him if you are in trouble or facing any problem

    because this man will help you to get your lover within 48 hours. He has helped many of them including me. I am really thankful for what he had done to make my life

    meaningful again. Contact him via his email address He is the only answer to your problem and make you feel happy in your relationship.make you

    feel like a woman you can call his phone +2348028017156

  7. Obama announced a series of Nike Anthony 10 initiatives to help Iraq fight rebels

    WASHINGTON, June 19 (Reporter Yi Aijun week and the Czech Republic) on the 19th US Women Air Air Force Womens Nike Free 3.0 V2 Heels Max 90 President Barack Obama announced a series of initiatives to help the Iraqi government against the rebels, including the additional 300 military advisers in Iraq, and Iraq set up a joint operations center and so on the day after Obama held consultations with the national security team at the White House said in a speech, extremist groups 'in Iraq and the Levant Troy Islamic State' in Iraq launched an offensive against Iraq, the Middle East region and the interests of the United States constitute a 'threat' to prevent the outbreak of Nike Kobe Shoes civil war in Iraq in line with US national security interests, for taking a series of measures to deal with Obama said the US embassy in Iraq first of all to strengthen the safety of the American government and people; followed by a substantial increase in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources to strengthen understanding of the situation in Iraq; the first The third is to continue to strengthen support for Nike Free 4.0 V2 the Iraqi security forces, the United States will jointly set up with the Iraqi capital Baghdad and in the northern part of the Joint Operations Centre, while the additional 300 military advisers in Iraq, Iraqi security forces on how to provide the greatest degree of training, it is recommended and support an assessment; The fourth is to increase US military resources to the region, the United States will depend on the situation on the 'Iraq and Levant Nike Shox Troy Islamic State' to take 'point and precise military action,' Obama said the US will take diplomatic efforts, Iraq and other leaders of the Air Max 2012 Heels region in supporting Iraq achieve stability. He has asked the US Secretary of State Christopher to the Middle East and Europe this weekend consultations Obama reiterated that the US will Nike Free 5.0 V5 not return to Iraq to participate in combat missions in Iraq to the current crisis can not be resolved by military means. He stressed that he would remain 'close' in consultation with the US Congress as well as in Iraq and leaders of other countries in the region, and to deal with 'Iraq and the Levant Troy Islamic country' like the threat of the 'best and the most effective' way is Iraq as the leading power in the region to establish partnerships. Obama also urged Iraqi leaders to overcome the political dispute Obama said, a reminder of the recent developments in Iraq when the United Sneaker Online States launched the Iraq war caused 'deep wounds.' In addition to nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, but many veterans still with war trauma and lifelong Obama said, to take action in overseas military operations, especially when the center of his concerns is whether this is in line with US national security interests, which but for all Americans should be concerned about 'the most important issue.'

  8. 3 Simple Techniques For Getting Six Nike Cortez Yoth Zoom Terra Kiger Pack Abs

    So many people want a flat stomach, to lose belly fat, and of course to have amazing six pack abs. There is a way to get six pack abs that really is Nike Air Jordan Mens the only way because it's the only way that actually works, and it's not rocket science nor is it hard to do. If you really have the desire for six pack abs, then you can get them using the effective tips were about to show you.

    If you want six pack abs, you have to work out your entire body, especially your core, which includes your back muscles. Your abs will never have the right tone, or strength, if you fail to address your back strength. Always be careful when working out back muscles, and see your doctor if you have issues there. Other good core workouts include pilates, yoga and medicine ball exercises. You will find that your abdomen responds better when you also include Nike Air Yeezy other muscle groups in your workouts.

    As you exercise and watch your diet while trying WMNS Nike Dunk Heels to build six Air Jordan Mens Sandals Shoes pack abs, you may not think that sleeping more will help your efforts, but it can. OK, here's the deal; research has shown that insufficient sleep can aggravate efforts to control weight. It does seem to make intuitive sense because the theory is that your entire body has more energy to run on, and your metabolism runs better when you're well rested. So, when you're awake you should get plenty of activity so you can build those six pack Nike Shox Turbo 13 abs, but you should also be sure to get enough rest!

    There Nike Zoom KD VII 7 is so much variety when it comes to finding a suitable work out routine for creating your six pack abs. How about something cardiovascular? That will work as will weight training.

    Another great way is using a medicine ball. It is also called a stability ball. Medicine balls are great for the abs and really for the entire body. They're quite common now in sports gear stores, and they've been used for decades in traditional gyms. Nike Air Presto Leopard As for using them, they're not hard to figure out; but if Designer Shoes you like there are videos you can buy that will teach you certain exercises. We encourage you to look into using medicine balls as an interesting alternative to the more traditional workout routines, and they will get the job done on your abs. These are solid tips to develop your six pack abs into reality; however you'll need to work at it to make it so. All the little things add up to the result, and if you keep cheating on your program, then your results will reflect that cheating. All those little decisions will have an impact in the end. Nutrition includes eating and drinking correctly to take full advantage of physical fitness of your body and increase your overall health level.

  9. US President Barack Obama met at the White House on the 28th to win the NBA championship last season, the Miami Heat. In his speech, Obama joked: 'Come with me to concentrate fully experience so that they do a good job against Durant and Westbrook preparation' in August 2010, Obama had invited a dozen NBA players to Washington to participate in their own 49-year-old 'birthday' and with all the players demonstrate their skills on the basketball court. He was invited players including current effectiveness Nike Air Max 2013 Femme in Miami, James, Wade and Shane Battier (microblogging). Obama Burberry Sunglasses said: 'I think the facts are clear, and I concentrate fully experience them well against Durant and Westbrook's ready.' Obama also said: 'This is part of the reason they come to the White House that would like to follow I'm the old guy Bihuabihua. ' Obama's relaxed phase humor, Nike Free Run Run 3 Femme Miami's players then seemed a bit stiff. James represented the team gave Obama a signed basketball team. Wade will Obama name a printed jersey Burberry Hobo Bags No. 44 Miami grant him. James said excitedly: '! We are now in the White House, which it is true that we come from Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota, Designer Burberry Outlet Miami, and we are now in the White House Mom, I did it!!!'

    Obama welcomed the arrival of the players, and for each player made his comments. He commented James performance in the Burberry Womens Wear Eastern Conference finals last season's sixth game against the Celtics is one of the greatest playoff performance, said James look 'very frightening.' For the other two 'big', Obama said: 'As the team's heart and soul, Wade did everything to help the team win things, including most of the field to get the team in blocks Bosh had been hurt. plagued, but at the crucial moment back to health, played outstanding performance in the playoffs. 'He described Mike Miller' has been unable to walk fast, 'but still fifth in the finals dropped 7 three-pointers, and ridicule veteran Juwan Howard as 'grandfather.' Obama had a habit of playing basketball Obama had a habit of playing basketball, the development of a big fan of the Bulls six championships in Nike Free Run 3.0 Homme the 1990s Nike Free Run 3.0 Femme on the Bulls century. After the White House, he specifically arranged a simple family basketball court. He has a military base in Washington with relatives and personal assistants to play basketball, but also inadvertent elbow by opponents, causing injuries lips are stitched 12 stitches. By convention, the annual college basketball championship and the Burberry Swimwear Champions League Nike Site Officiel four major professional sports leagues in the United States will accept the meeting with the president at the White House. This is the second time the Miami Heat received by the president, the last time after winning the championship in 2006, then-President George W. Bush. Little new

  10. I think this testimony of mine is worth sharing. My name is Andrey and I live in Canada. I lost my job in a stoke broking firm some years ago. All efforts to get a new one proved abortive and for 3 years I was feeding on my savings and for the past 1 year I have been borrowing to feed. I went to several churches and I was told that they were forces working against my getting a job which I believed but none of them could help me get out. I never believed a psychic can cast a good spell to help me get my job back as I have always been skeptical about them. I saw Dr Etiosa online and I read his article: “how to know a fake spell caster” after which he dropped his email contact DRETIOSA@YAHOO.COM. I contacted him after reading the article and lo and behold, he told me some things to do. I obeyed him with full faith and believed and it took me just 7days to get my old job back with a promotion. Now I am a floor manager in my office, thanks to Dr Etiosa. I know you all have your doubts but I assure you that contacting Dr Etiosa will make you see the difference. He is real friends, he is wonderful. He also does love spells, beauty charms, he can help you get your ex back, he does property charms and many more. I introduced my friends to him and he has proven to be reliable and genuine. His contact is DRETIOSA@YAHOO.COM. I wish you luck.

  11. I am terribly happy to scan this. this can be the type of manual that has to run and not the random info t hat's at the opposite blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best posting.

  12. You are so interesting! I do not think I've read something like that before. So good to discover somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This website is one thing that is required on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

    Bola Tangkas Online

    Info Sbobet