Fashion, Status, and Discourses of Power

Lisel Neumann


Pre-Class Blog Post

February 28, 2011


All of these articles really highlight the idea of performance of ideologies, class, and personal morals and values through clothing. Specifically, these articles look at class mobility as portrayed through clothing. This blog post will attempt to tie this week’s readings together under the idea of how fashion and consumerism regulate power discourses, what is considered “natural” (and perhaps “normal”), and can have a large role in producing and inventing different identities and statuses. Although these articles somewhat reinforce what we discussed last week with the Zoot Suit Riots, and African-American Dandyism, this week’s articles take a new look at consumerism by expanding the definition of fashion to include that which is outside of clothing. Marianne Conroy’s article on discount shopping malls really highlights this idea by discussing how one of the biggest lures of shopping malls is “the possibility […] that consumers might impersonate a class lifestyle beyond their means while maintaining their budgets” (75). This, combined with the fact that many outlet malls are outside of easily-accessible areas and require extra work to get to, reinforces the importance of being able to maintain a lifestyle that allows one to take a day trip to the mall. It was most interesting how she described this as an active process, rather than the kind of distraction pull that shopping normally has (which would be a passive process of consumerism). I kind of relate the pull of the outlet mall to the common notion of “retail therapy”. In this sense, the mall serves as a distraction and gives a sense of upward mobility through affordable designer brands, but also recognizes that this is an active, constantly changing process of consumerism. That is, therapy in itself is an active process that makes us feel better, but also something that one needs to continually put effort towards in order to reap the full benefits. Even terms such as “upward mobility” give a sense of an active, continually changing process of self-definition and discovery through clothing. This is what the outlet mall capitalizes on, and what draws so many consumers. In the same sense, discount shopping requires work (it’s not just a short trip or an hour shopping), and thus an active process, but it is also a distraction from an everyday lifestyle that might not necessarily afford the luxuries of full-priced designer brand items. Because of this, the once unattainable becomes part of the everyday. And isn’t this the ultimate marker of luxury, stability, and economic security? As Conroy acknowledges, “women are charged with the special responsibility of maintaining the virtual reality of middle-class lifestyle through consumption”, the contested “American Dream” to which the outlet mall allows them access (76). Along the same lines, Katherine Zane discusses the need to show upward mobility, but through a different type of consumerism: plastic surgery. In the sense that a major marker of status is how the eyes are shaped, being able to change the shape of eyes might also allow opportunity to change status. As Zane discusses, “facial alteration can mark changes of social status, such as graduation, coming of age, or full-time employment” (269). So this is kind of like actively going to the outlet mall to seek out signifiers that allow for class and status mobility that was previously discussed. Importantly, the article really highlights how “power and status ascriptions both inscribe and prescribe the body as it is inflected by the dynamics of power relations…”, further discussing what we have talked about previously in class as certain fashions being available to certain people (269). Kobena Mercer takes this idea a step further when she discusses the controversy over the “nature” of black hairstyles during times of political and social change. Because these styles came out at a certain time period, they are instead “stylistically cultivated and politically constructed” (108). Similarly, the Asian eye surgeries, although sometimes depicted as a natural (therefore normal?) ideology or event, might also been seen as socially constructed wants.



1)      How does the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” relate to Conroy’s article? And if outlet malls make the once unattainable now accessible in the everyday, does that mean that the push towards more excessive consumerism will constantly grow, and eventually be beyond the means of the economic middle-class? Then what?

2)      Does eyelid surgery relate to other types of plastic surgeries? Which ones and why?

3)      Plastic surgery seems to also be an ultimate form of status and power. How is this manifested in society? Why might it seems this way?


4 thoughts on “Fashion, Status, and Discourses of Power

  1. Prior to reading Kathleen Zane’s essay “Reflections on a Yellow Eye: Asian I(\Eye/)Cons and Cosmetic Surgery”, I did not realize eye surgery to this extent existed. Receiving cosmetic surgery to change the shape of one’s eye relates to any other form of cosmetic surgery one can think of. Breast implants and reductions, liposuction, reshaping of the nose, lip injections, and the list continues. Woman all over the world receive plastic surgeries in an effort to conform to the “conventional” and “standardized” ideal of beauty. Think of Heidi Montag, a minor reality television celebrity, who possessed a natural beauty. She had millions of dollars worth of surgery, receiving ten procedures at one time, all in the effort to conform to what she believed was the “Western” ideal of beauty: Looking like Barbie. Eye surgeries relate to this same concept of conforming. I personally find it difficult to understand the concept of cosmetic surgery in growing, globalizing world. Changing eye shape, and any other body part, to feel beautiful is a strange concept to me.
    Cosmetic surgery, however, is a symbol of power and status. With procedures costing thousands and thousands of dollars, only the wealthy can afford the botox fountain of youth. Cosmetic surgery becomes a state of power because they can afford to change anything they may dislike about their body. Think about the television shows in our present society: Bridal-plasty, Dr. 90210, Real Housewives of a given county or city…the list goes on and on. From reality television shows which actually portray cosmetic surgery, to reality television shows depicting rich, housewives with lip injections, breast implants, liposuction, nose jobs, etc. From here, the idea of cosmetic surgery is manifested.

  2. Outlet malls can create this sense of upward mobility. Those who are not frequently able to access the current trends feel this sense of belonging shopping at outlet stores. Consumerism, I believe, will continue to grow but not at the expense of losing that connection with middle and lower classes. There will always be a distinguished area that will appeal to economically challenged classes. There are malls placed within low socioeconomic communities but may not contain the same type of product as others. The products sold in these stores are affordable and therefore create that continuous bond between consumerism.

    In our society, plastic surgery seems to appeal to those who also desire a sense of belonging. Many people consider plastic surgery as a way to exemplify their youthful appearance. This can create the feeling of power and higher status since plastic surgery is not easily accessible to those who are financially unstable. This idea is reinforced by media. For example, how many artists, celebrities, or singers have had at least some work done to their physical appearance? Our society begins to feel pressured because of this image of perfect beauty. It also reinforces that idea that those who cannot afford plastic surgery remain plain, normal, and “ugly.”

  3. Plastic surgery is slowly becoming a commodity in American culture. It seems like recently women of all cultures are starting to feel like they HAVE to look a certain way to be accepted. Whether it is eyelid surgery, nose jobs, botox, or the newly famous butt injections, women are transforming their looks for various reasons. I do believe that plastic surgery displays a certain status or power because it is expensive and not accessible to everyone. Anything that is put up on a pedestal is automatically given a certain level of importance because it leaves out other people. If only rich people can afford to get botox, for example then that is giving off the impression that only they can look like the ideal beauty and therefore are given certain opportunities that the less fortunate are not. Society pressures people into thinking that their is a “perfect” body and if you don’t have it then you are not on the same playing field as the rest. I feel like society is in fact going back to the Barbie ideal and that the “perfect woman” will never go away. She has to be beautiful at all times, take care of her husband and kids and clean the house, all without breaking a sweat!

  4. I agree with you that outlet malls make for extra work than regular malls. I have been to a few outlet malls and I feel like they are always crowded, more than other shopping malls. I know that the reason that this happens is because they are discounted off regular price. This definitely attracts consumers to want to go and spend on luxurious things that would be full price at other stores. This relates to “Keeping up with the Joneses” because everyone wants to have the luxurious, typical “American” lifestyle. I also think that outlet malls draws a specific crowd to their stores. Lower and middle classes would be the ones who go to outlet malls because even though they might not be able to afford certain things, they feel like they can at the outlet malls and can also keep up with the luxurious lifestyle.
    Plastic surgery is something that does show higher status. You see a lot of celebrities and people on shows who get plastic surgery. I was watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills a few weeks ago and these women go in to get plastic surgery procedures like it’s nothing. This is not what would happen to a “normal” everyday American. Plastic surgery can be expensive and not everyone has the money or status to get it done. I feel that these people on tv and celebrity figures put a lot of pressure on everyone else to want to look a certain way and to reach that social status.

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