Ethnic WHAT?

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In truth, Gaga’s attractive, slightly off-kilter features – ethnic nose, prominent front teeth – seem almost infinitely mutable: One day she looks like Debbie Harry, the next, Donatella Versace.” Rolling Stone Issue #1080

Ethnic. Tribal. Words used to classify the “Other.”  Not familiar with “Othering”, please read up on it here, here, and over on Racialicious.  This quote from Rolling Stone really struck a nerve and I find it crucial to address as I constantly see people, fashion, and food described as either ethnic or tribal.  Lady Gaga is one of my favorite women right now and I find her incredibly talented and sexy.  So what about this “ethnic nose”?  Rolling Stone apparently thinks this is the most appropriate way to describe a woman who doesn’t meet the Euro-centric facial features criteria.  Obviously they haven’t looked at a map lately, so I’d like to remind them that “ethnic” people make up more than half of the world’s population.  Why is it that we are then called the “other” and exotified?

I live for fashion as you know, but I cringe every time I read lines like this: Teen Vogue’s “…Explore new horizons in layered–on ethnic prints”, or Who What Wear Daily’s “Trend Report: Tribal Punk.”  And who could forget American Apparel’s “Afrika” print?  When I see these words being used I cannot help but think of bell hook’s Eating the Other.  I had an amazing course at UCLA entitled Special Topics in Women’s Studies: Femininities: Queering, Countering, Racializing taught by Stacy Macias in which I read this by the aforementioned author.

“Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.

Currently, the commodification of difference promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies significance of that Other’s history through a process of decontextualization.” bell hooks, Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance

Post-modern cultural studies/feminist theory.  Applicable to fashion?  You bet.  I’d really love to hear from one of my favorite bloggers – Mimi of Thread Bared – and from all of you.  Lets start a discourse.


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12 Responses to “Ethnic WHAT?”

  1. Mimi Says:

    I always appreciate your thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity! I should send you (if you want it!) the reader for my fashion course this fall, if you want it. The Rolling Stone quote is absolutely fascinating, and relevant, first because it does articulate a very specific European aesthetic that has historically, and apparently still, ethnicizes southern and eastern Europeans as Others. Sander Gilman has written about two dozen books, and half address the sorts of moral, political, social, and civilizational measures that are attached to physical or somatic attributes like noses — and noses being some of the most caricatured facial features in histories of racism’s visual cultures (Asian and African noses as wide and flat, Jewish and Arab noses as crooked and hooked).

    Second, it sure tells us a lot about the erasure of difference; its subsequent fetishization when it does appear to us in the form of the “outsider;” and that when and how difference is allowed in what forms and venues, and sometimes as an explanation or an analogy for other kinds of difference. More thoughts later, I need to go find some air conditioning…typing is hard when your fingers are sweltering…

    • Fashion INTEL Says:

      Hello Mimi. First off, I would love a copy of your reader! Can I tell you how much I loved readers at UCLA because they always encompassed such a plethora of diverse and amazing ideas. Should I just email you my address? Let me know because now I am super excited. It is a topic that warrants serious attention so I do appreciate your comments and look forward to hearing from you again.

  2. Natalie Says:

    I see your point and I definitely think that it is down right silly to call Lady Gaga’s, or anyone else’s for that matter, nose “ethnic,” but I do think that there are certain things we have to accept about a globalized culture and one of these is the exchange of cultural identities or identifying features. By that I mean, I’m not so sure there’s anything wrong with using motifs which traditionally belong to non Western or Anglo cultures in Western fashion or any other commercial realm. Of course it feels like a bastardization of what these motifs truly represent, but this applies to any and everything that is touched by consumerism. In a consumerist culture everything is a commodity right down to you and me. Do you not feel cheapened broadcasting your every move on networking sites like facebook, myspace, and twitter? I certainly do and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. The dilemma created by the totalization or globalization of our current culture is the very one your blog points out: how can any group, sub-culture, community, person maintain an individualized identity within the greater whole which is the globalized culture itself? There are certain things we have to accept about a world in which the networks connecting each and every community are endless and in which information can be sent in mere seconds from one side of the globe to the other. We are hyper-exposed and hyper-aware of everything that is going on, everywhere, at every moment. This coupled with the fact that it is human nature to mimic and borrow from one another, not to mention the fact that our very self identities can only be defined by way of the reflection of ourselves found in others, makes it absurd to expect that once distinct cultures will remain totally distinct in a globalized society. I agree with the quote: comsumerism does use “ethnicity” as a way to make products seem more exciting and exotic and I can see how some people might find this degrading. However, I do not necessarily think that it is degrading and I think the real issue is the dreadful feeling that the individual within a totalized society is overcome by: the feeling that everything you thought belonged to you and somehow distinguished you from other people is being taken away or erased. You are no longer an individual human being, but rather a number on a chart, a name in a computer data-base, a statistic. This is a disturbing and frightening feeling and it is one that everyone from every culture is exposed to in present times. Anyway, I guess I’ve gone off on a super rant. That means it was a good blog!! 🙂

    • Fashion INTEL Says:

      Thanks for the comment Natalie, as I always enjoy it when you leave me a response. Long “rants” are always welcomed here. Disagree with you? Yes. When it comes down to it, our conversations on race, gender, political issues, etc. always end with you saying that there’s nothing we can do about society’s problems and that we’re pretty much fucked. I do not subscribe to fatalism. In addition, you are coming from the standpoint of someone who has never dealt with the conflicts of racial identity and I find that pertinent to address.

      P.S. I don’t feel cheapened by broadcasting my every move as there is plenty of myself that is still secret to the world. Actually, I am waiting for my own reality tv show so I can finally let all my deviance out onto 10 million tvs a night. Anyone interested? I wouldn’t have a blog or a facebook page it I wasn’t trying to actually express something relevant and make some connections. I’m not self-conscious about the web and I’m not the type of personality who comprises their staunch character. These are not the kinds of things I don’t lose sleep over.

  3. it's simple Says:

    Rolling Stone meant the kind of nose that looks — stereotypically, at least — Italian or Jewish. In Gaga’s case, Italian.

  4. mauisun Says:

    Do not ghettoize society by putting people into legal categories of gender, race, ethnicity, language, or other such characteristics.
    Preston Manning

  5. JJ Says:

    hey! this is the first time I’ve been to your blog and this post struck me. As a socially aware student, part of a humanities, liberal arts program, and at the same time a fashion obsessed teenager, I wanted to thank you for addressing this topic. I struggle sometimes at my strong interest in what some activists see as superficial, materialistic and I just appreciate the fact that you seem to be another individual with similar interests.

    Regarding the use to “ethnic” and “tribal” to describe those that do not fit into the prescribed standard of beauty (the white standard) , I agree with your opinion. Using these terms makes a race exotic, and type-casting models of color in the fashion industry has always bothered me.

    • Fashion INTEL Says:

      Dear Judy,

      Thanks for reading Fashion Intel! I am always so happy to meet others who share a love for intellectual thought + fashion. I know what you mean when you say that some activists see fashion as superficial as I’ve experienced that myself. What I’ve discovered though is that truly positive people [who want to make a difference] can still appreciate your interest in fashion. It is the downers who will judge you! Forget them. Fashion is an art form and I think more people should approach it as such.

      Also, you are completely on point with your “ethnic” and “tribal” comments. I am curious what you are interested in studying or pursuing in the future. I also recommend you the blog Thread Bared, which I’ve linked on Fashion Intel. Mimi the author is amazing. You’ll love her work!

  6. savedforbest Says:

    I’m still loitering and scanning through. This is a really interesting post. In the UK, we tend to not use ‘ethnic’ unless referring to an ‘ethnic minority’ living in Britain, it’s certainly not used for anyone outside these islands. Lady Gaga has what we would call a ‘Roman nose’ and seeing as the Romans built most of our infrastructure and brought with them most of our food and post-Celt culture, that is considered a fine feature to have. Why her nose is in anyway relevant to her music is another matter entirely.


    • Fashion INTEL Says:

      I really enjoy your comments! I do hope you continue leaving them on Fashion Intel. These insights about the “Roman Nose” are quite interesting and I’m going to see what kind of literature I can find on that. Thanks for sharing from the UK as I love to hear the perspectives from all over the world.

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