Cross-posted at Jezebel.

I’d love to draw your attention to The Alpha Parent, a blogger who has collected a stunningly large number of toys for infants that socialize girls into preening.

Some of the toys are purses/handbags that include pretend lipsticks, compacts, and related-items.  My Pretty Learning Purse includes a toy lipstick and a mirror; the Gund Sesame Street Abbey Purse Playset includes a compact and powder brush; the Lilliputiens Liz Handbag includes an eye shadow compact complete with three shades and an eye shadow applicator.

In case you were wondering if this is a trend, the Alpha Parent post features TWENTY examples of purses filled with such toys.

It also includes examples of toy make-up bags. Going beyond the inclusion of beauty items in infant toys, these make beauty the sole point of the play.  Here are just two of the NINE pretend make-up bags she collected, the Oskar & Ellen Beauty Box and the Learn and Go Make-Up and Go:

Since we wouldn’t want a baby to miss the point, companies also produce and sell vanities for infants. The Alpha Parent’s post included FOUR; here’s two, the Perfectly Pink Tummy Time Vanity Mirror and the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Magical Musical Mirror:

The Alpha Parent goes on to cover real nail polish made for infants, beauty-themed clothes for little girls, and a common category of dress up: beautician outfits.  I counted a surprising ELEVEN of these:

The latter reverses into a nurse’s uniform.

The Alpha Parent concludes:

Makeup toys prime girls for a lifetime of chasing rigid norms of physical attractiveness through the consumption of cosmetics and fashionable accessories.

They are also generally non-sex-transferable, meaning that parents are often loath to allow their boys to play with girl toys.  Gendered toys, then, increase the rate of toy purchasing, since parents of a boy and a girl have to buy special toys for each.

It’s a win-win for corporate capitalism.  Socialize the girls into beauty commodities by buying these toys now, plan on reaping the benefits with the real thing later.  Brainwash the boys in an entirely different way (the Alpha Parent notes tools and electronics), do the same with them simultaneously.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Amie G. sent along a five minute documentary in which a series of artists and entrepreneurs talk about why the Day of the Dead has become so popular in parts of the United States.

While they don’t discuss issues of cultural appropriation (like at Halloween), they have some interesting things to say about why it is so appealing to a broad audience. A professor of Art History, Ray Hernández Durán, for example, traces it to the growing Latino demographic, the way media has changed, and a history of the U.S. being open to cultural influence.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Today’s post marks the third time that we’ve highlighted a fashion-related appropriation of homelessness.  We saw it on America’s Next Top Model and in a catwalk show for a Vivienne Westwood collection.  This time it’s a fashion editorial in Vogue Germany in which a model poses as a “bag lady.”  Thanks to Ann Marie N. for sending it in.

When homelessness is made into a fashion object, it trivializes the pain and suffering of the homeless, transporting the issue into “something hip adopted by the beautiful people.”   Dressing like a “bag lady” can only be understood as fashionable when it’s a purposeful choice.  As I wrote in a previous post about the topic, “actual homeless people are not and never will be ‘fashionable’ in this sense; they will always simply be homeless.”

Or, as Judith Williamson was quoted saying on Threadbared (a sociology and fashion blog):

It is currently “in” for the young and well-fed to go around in torn rags, but not for tramps to do so. In other words, the appropriation of other people’s dress is fashionable provided it is perfectly clear that you are, in fact, different from whoever would normally wear such clothes.

So, while the appropriation of homelessness in the fashion industry may look like an homage, really it’s just a way to further marginalize and “other” the actual homeless.  It’s a way for fashionable people to demonstrate difference from, not similarity to, actual homeless people.

For the same phenomenon with race and people from post-colonial countries, also see: whiteness in fashion, non-whites as fashion props, black bodies as propsexotification of people and places in fashion, Orthodox Jew-inspired fashion show, and exoticizing India in Vogue UK.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A few years back we featured a series of Playboy drawings from the 1960s and ’70s that trivialized the social movements of the time: feminism, the anti-war movement, native rights, and the civil rights movement.  You should really go take a look; they’re something else.

In any case, Peter from Denmark sent in another example from the same time period.  A 1970s JC Penney ad for pants; “slack power” is a reference to “Black power” and it’s no coincidence that an African American man is modeling.  Notice, too, that it calls the pants “anti-establishment” in the bottom right.

While companies like Komen are getting a lot of critical attention these days for turning cancer awareness into consumption, this strategy has been around a long time.

For examples of appropriation of feminism, see these framing consumption of clothesmake-upjewelry, cigarettesmagazines, and cosmetic procedures as expression of freedoms.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Elizabeth sent in a link to a long and judicious New York Times article about biologically-male, gender-variant children, written by Ruth Padawer.  It’s well done, laying out the struggles even liberal-minded parents go through, including the mixed messages they get from “experts.”  It also briefly addresses the hormonal and genetic research, but acknowledges that the measures of femininity and masculinity used in these studies — and in daily life — are socially constructed.  That is, what is considered masculine or feminine is different across cultures and changes over time.

The picture of three boys at a camp for gender-variant children, waiting for their turn in a fashion show, was particularly interesting (photo by Lindsay Morris). I was struck by not just the emphasis on the dress/skirt, but the nail polish, jewelry, and high heels (on at least two of the children).  Their poses are also striking, for their portrayal of not just femininity, but sexualized femininity. It’s hard to say, but these boys look pretty young to me, and yet their (or their camp counselors?) idea of what it means to be a girl seems very specific to an adult hyperfemininity.  (After all, even most biological girls don’t dress/act this way most of the time and lots of girls explicitly reject femininity; Padawer comments that 77% of women in Generation X say they were tomboys as kids.)

In contrast, girls, when they enact a tomboy role — and now I’m off into speculation-land — don’t seem to go so far into the weeds.  We don’t see girls dressing up like lumberjacks or business men in suits and ties.  They don’t do tomman, they do tomboy.  There’s something more woman about how some of these boys perform femininity.

Some research on tomboys shows that girls who adopt it are sometimes, in part, trying to put off the sexual attention that comes with growing up.  So perhaps tomboyism is a way of rejecting one’s maturing body.  In contrast, perhaps femininity appeals to some boys because we adultify and sexualize young girls; it’s a form of grown up play as well as gender deviance?

Who knows.  The truth is — and the article does a good job of communicating this — we have no idea what’s going on here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel and a reader named L.A. sent along a link to a fashion spread on a Bulgarian magazine’s website.  It’s another example of the glamorization and sexualization of violence against women.  Titled, “Victim of Beauty,” the featured photographs have absolutely nothing to offer, short of showing beautiful women who appear to have been beaten, cut, strangled, and burned.   As I’ve written elsewhere:

As much as I’m bored of seeing women appear to be beaten, sick, or dead in fashion spreads, it also really feels like we must hate them.  Why else?  Why else this constant glorification of their abuse?

I’m going to show one image and throw the rest behind the jump.  They’re very disturbing (e.g., women with slit throats and more). Take a morbid tour, if you like, through more examples of violence against women in fashion:  the fear and suffering of women as a sexual turn on, dead and deadish ladies in fashion (herehere, and here), ads with women looking supremely uncomfortableAsian bondage fantasies, two more examples of the sexy black eye trope, and gulf oil spill themed-examples (here, and here).


Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

My post on the centrality of whiteness in fashion photos — whether magazine photos, catalogs, or ads — inspired several readers to send in other examples related to this trend.

YetAnotherGirl and Julian S. sent in a link to a Jezebel post about the new J.Crew catalog, which presents the two models in J.Crew clothing amid a group of local children, who are used to help signal the exoticism of the location:

Marianne sent in a couple of ads for Naf Naf, a French fashion brand, that show a slight variation, utilizing ethnic/cultural differences within Europe. They show a “luminous, lightning-blond caucasian woman and the dark, anonymous and yet welcoming bohemians,” seemingly meant to evoke popular imagery of the Romani.

And finally, H. pointed out Louis Vuitton’s “Journey” commercial, which she actually saw at an indie movie theater. It provides an interesting counterpoint, as groups other than Caucasians can be included as central characters in the narrative, as long as they are privileged LV consumers, with others presented in the more peripheral setting-the-tone role. As H. explains,

In this ad they include the story line of the (presumably African?) black man who is dressed in an elegant Western-style linen suit, but who is barefoot and rubbing the dust off of an old family photo. An interesting racial counterpoint — and one which suggests a metanarrative which is not only about race but also quite pointedly about class.

Take a look:


Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Yesterday Native Appropriations featured a presentation about Urban Outfitters, cultural appropriation in fashion, and the struggle to get the clothing chain to stop labeling clothing as “Navajo.” The presentation is great both for explaining this particular case — which included the Navajo nation sending a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Urban Outfitters stop using the term Navajo in its marketing — and also because it shows how one particular story spread through social media, which increasingly have the ability to bring mainstream media attention to stories that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.