Sorry Victoria Beckham (chief offender), but empowerment is not kitting yourself out in a two grand frock that the wearer can’t even breathe in and which cuts into her armpits. A favourite outfit can lift your mood or smarten you up for a special occasion, but to hear VB preaching to her followers that a dress is ‘empowering’ is disingenuous and patronising, merely thinly-veiled marketingspeak.
Just because FEMINISM IS BACK, I’m not going to buy into a vague glossy-mag cliché about what-women-want and who they’d like to be. VB is all flitting from fashion week-to-launch-to-awards ceremony in her private jet and toe-rotting shoes, living her expensive life on some unimaginable, unbelievable plain and in the meantime we’re all down here in the real world doing what – wishing if only?
Reading celeb tips about how we might ‘empower’ ourselves through shopping in between pages of vacant-eyed, soul-bereft ads makes even more visible the gulf between the experience of coveting consumer goods and the likelihood of ever owning them for the average reader.
I love escapism and fashion fantasy, but that’s not the issue here – it’s the suggestion that we can’t just buy clothes, we can buy into them. When one examines the reasons why one lusts after certain items it can reveal a whole lot more that you’re maybe trying to ignore. A dress/haircut will never change your life and a new bag is not a substitute for some friends who like you or a job that pays you enough to leave you with some money at the end of the month.
Some things which are really empowering: being able to drive; mentoring a younger person; getting out of debt; getting an education; not being afraid. Doing useful things.
Things which are not empowering: Wearing high heels – it just makes you taller, means you can’t walk and sometimes finishes off an outfit nicely; thinking a debt-making frock will change your life; thinking a bag will get you a new job; buying magazines.
VB obviously can’t come out in these fluffy interviews and say ‘buy my extortionately-priced dresses because they’re nice and so exquisitely made and be smug in the knowledge that you have enough disposable cash to afford one’, she needs a story to go with her brand and hers is that these magical dresses have the power to transform their wearers.
Maybe I’m being harsh on VB. She after all is not au fait in the vocab of contemporary feminist theory and is an extremely busy woman, but I still think that we shouldn’t let her or any of the rest of the empowerment-spouting, unwanted-advice bores get away with this kind of lazy language. Such sloppiness is a wider problem in the media discussions around what women want and people with power and influence need to take responsibility for their nonsense-chatter. Turning empowerment into something almost entirely passive shows how blind they are to what women might actually need to hear. VB has always been my favourite Spice, but throwing this word around is as relevant as GIRL POWER was: redundant, reductive and meaningless.
5 ways to tell you’re empowered – list + quiz on page 102
THE FIVE AGES OF WOMAN
0-13 learning / safety / innocence
14-21 boys+girls / exams / music / introspection
22-29 oblivion / mistakes / narcissism / london
30-midthirties self-discovery / wildernesses / yoga /wellbeing / refined taste in wines / the countryside
Co-founder and co-editor of Pamflet. Bookworm, bluestocking, Brown Owl. Loves Garconnes style, reading, writing, ranting and raving. Gin snob.