Post Blog Week 12: All In The Family

Our reading from this week focused heavily on the relationship between Asians designers and their immediate and extended family, as well as connections with other Asians in the garment industry. The Beautiful Generation described these relationships to have both positive and negative aspects for the young Asian designers. One designer interviewed, Jennifer, states that “being Asian is like a secret weapon….. “most of the owners and sewers are Asians and they all want you to do well” (77). The book also described some of the negative effects of having these connections, reflecting on how some designers felt as if their families and other relations some times over stepped their bounds and were overly critical of their work. The dynamics of these relationships are especially complicated because while the designers are grateful for the help their connections provide, they feel like they cannot talk back or disrespect  these individuals who they often consider their elders.  This got me thinking about the way family, friends, and culture shapes the way we relate to fashion and style. For example, on the show Say Yes to the Dress, brides to be often bring an entourage of family members and friends to their appointments, which often results with overzealous mothers, mother-in-laws, and sometimes finances playing a huge factor in the Bride’s choice of dress

http://tlc.discovery.com/videos/say-yes-to-the-dress-mom-versus-the-pink-dress.html

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think about the fact that shows like Project Runway document the family life of Asian designers in depth, but don’t focus as much on the family of other designers? What does this say about particular cultures and the representations of those cultures in the media? Is there a tendency to romanticize that which appears foreign or Other?
  2. What do you think about the fact that the book The Beautiful Generation focused heavily on Asian designers who already appeared to have the potential for bright futures and privilege, such as those who were attending prestigious schools like The University of Berkeley, before they changed career paths? As well as the fact that many of these designers had connections in the garment industry or lucky breaks? What does this say about the fashion world, are accesses to privilege and connections necessary to “ make it”?
  3. Discuss how your own family and culture has shaped your own relationship to fashion and style.

Josette Lorig

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15 thoughts on “Post Blog Week 12: All In The Family

  1. I too found it interesting the way that Asian families are portrayed in shows like Project Runway and other reality shows. They are shown as tight knit units that are always helpful and supportive. I wonder if this is because of the tradition of collectivistic communities in Asian countries. They place high importance on family, especially elders and ancestors. I definitely think that other cultures also want to help friends and family to succeed in all their endeavors, but Asian cultures are shown to go above and beyond. I think this might also have to do with the American mentality that it is everyone for themselves and the old cliché “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” To go along with that it is the American tradition every person can succeed if you believe in yourself and work hard enough. Basically as Americans we are raised in an individualistic culture and we find it interesting to see people who live their life in a different manner. Perhaps that is why Asian families are portrayed in Project Runway because Americans find it strange and humans are always interested the “other.” Not coming from an Asian family I cannot say if this is a romanticized view put on for television entertainment. I can say that I feel it is becoming more of the norm that parents (of all races and cultures) help their children more and for a longer time (until the kids are older) than they did in the past. Today it is not uncommon for parents to pay for college and all living expenses until graduation as opposed to the turn of the century when kids were on their own at 16. Overall, I feel Asian families are portrayed as closer and more involved in helping but that in real life it actually depends on the family rather than the race or culture.

  2. I really enjoyed reading The Beautiful Generation. The author made a lot of great points about Asian Americans in the fashion industry and in the media, such as the project runway example. It is very interesting, that not only in the fashion industry are Asians portrayed in this way. Some may have seen the ridiculous video of the girl at UCLA talking about Asians, with one of her comments being, that she hates it when the Asians in her dorm bring their whole family to move them in, which touches on this idea that being Asian is a weapon in the fashion industry because of Asians being a close knit of people in all aspects. In response to your first question, I do see the use of Asian Americans and their stories as romanticizing. And I also see it as a way of turning the struggles of minorities into dramatic stories, which makes for good TV.

  3. In our society, many other minority groups are also seen to be family oriented so it did not surprise me to read about how the media would portray these Asian American designers in this way. Family seems to be a huge part in the contribution to the Asian designer but this does not apply to all. I believe that the media does romanticize the Asian culture to reinforce the idea of the model minority. For example, a mother and father who struggled all their lives to provide for their family so that they may open up opportunities for their children that were never available to them. Asian American designers recognize the importance of working together as a unit. The reality is that although there are boundaries created to separate the designer from the sewer, they are still connected. Family can play a very important role in our lives. Since children, we were clothed by family until we were able to create our own identity with clothing. Our clothing practices have somewhat of a contribution from the family we grew up with or our close friends. Their opinions matter especially for important things in our lives such as picking out the perfect wedding dress.

  4. I believe that the reality show’s focus on the Asian designers family life is due in great part to prevailing beliefs about culture in the East versus the culture in the West. It is often stated that Asian societies ascribe to a collectivist culture whereas societies in the West are more individualistic. When considering this widely held belief, it makes sense that a reality show in the West would focus on the family’s impact on a contestants designs. This, as any stereotype, can be damaging because it does not apply to all people. The Asian contestants worked just as hard as the other contestants despite their families support, and the families of the other contestants may have been just as supportive as the Asian families. It seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of editing on these reality shows in order to convey cultural stereotypes. While the editors intent was most likely not to harm the contestants, the readings for this week have shown that these notions have the potential to be damaging.

  5. After class today, it made me wonder whether shows like Project Runway document the family life of Asian designers or if any designer with a thorough family story is focused on. As Mimi explained to us after she showed us the clip, the Asian woman was not the only one who had a family story being centered. A man (I forget his name now – Santino?) was visited by Tim Gunn and they talked extensively about his difficult upbringing and his unique family dynamics. The fact that the show Project Runway brought to light multiple families made me believe that the show does not only focus on the family life of Asians. I believe that they spotlight any designer that has a unique family history. It does not matter the race of the person, it just matters how interesting or dramatic their family history is. Shows want drama and they will emphasize any race in order to do so.

    To answer your second question, I definitely believe that having connections and privileges is the main way to become established in any industry. I feel like this is a given, understood part of life. Like the old phrase goes, it’s not about what you do, but who you know.

    I like how you brought up the idea of family and culture shaping the relationships we have to fashion. This idea correlates with what I’m working on for my final project. I’m trying to discover how being a part of the lesbian community has an impact on what a woman decides to wear, so that one can be recognized as part of the community and culture. For example, “lesbian trademarks” such as white v-neck shirts, flannel, combat boots, a.k.a. anything that Shane from The L-Word wears are indicators that a woman is possibly gay. I’m exploring the idea that lesbians wear certain clothing so they can be identified as homosexuals by other lesbians. Going along with your idea of family and culture influencing culture, I think this idea demonstrates that this commonly happens.

  6. I do believe that shows like Project Runway tend to romanticize “the other.” These shows tend to focus heavily on the families of Asian-American designers perhaps because that it was is expected. It is the idea of oriental-ism discussed in The Beautiful Generation, that appears in these popular shows. Hardworking parents, self-sacrificing mothers, some sort of life struggle and then amazing break through or success. While family does play a large role in many Asian-American designer’s lives, I do not think it should be the focus every time. It adds to the stereotype that all Asian’s lives are like this. Also, I think it further separates Asian designers from Western or American designers, as though they could not also have the same sort of familial influence and help.

    In response to your second question, a lot of these designers started off with really bright futures, attending very prestigious schools. They all seemed to have strong connections into the fashion industry be it on the production side or the design side. As with any career path, knowing people can often get you places. Whether or not you need to be well connected in order to be successful in the fashion industry is hard to say. Obviously the stories that were highlighted in the Beautiful Generation made it appear as though this were true. And, to some degree it probably is. If you have your family working for you production costs are kept low. There is extra commitment and a better line of communication. This is a huge plus. However, I do believe it is possible to make your way in the fashion industry without these initial connections, it is just made that much harder.

    Lastly, I believe that family, culture, and your social ties all influence how you dress. There are certain articles of clothing that are appropriate in different situations depending on who you are coming into contact with. I really liked the above comment about the lesbian community and dressing to be recognized as one. From my own experience this is very true. I have watched a couple of friends transform in their style of fashion as they became more connected with the community. Sometimes we even have good laughs looking back at old photos at how drastically different the style of dress was. I think it is very interesting how powerful clothing is and in what ways it can be used to identify yourself as part of a particular group.

  7. I think that the fact that Project Runway and other shows focus on Asian American contestants’ family is just another way of showing their connection to the fashion industry. Like we read in the book, many Asian American designers have come from families who were in the garment industry. It is so interesting to me that the shows would only highlight the Asian American family and the other dramatic upbringing. The fact that if an American had a healthy upbringing, they probably wouldn’t feature their family at all is troubling. Like one of the comments above said, shows love telling the story of rags to riches, hence why they would focus more on an unhealthy upbringing. This doesn’t necessarily take into account their focus on Asian American families though.

    In regards to your other question, I think that the book focused on these ivy league individuals partially to show their dedication to fashion. When they tell the story about the designer who dropped out of school to pursue her dreams, it shows their dedication, especially if their family is disapproving.

    The last question is really interesting to me since I feel as if my family influenced my choices of fashion a lot. Even now, my dad reprimands me if I wear shorts or tank tops outside the house. Even when I’m down at school, I rarely wear shorts or tank tops or anything revealing. I think that this example can be shown in other families too. For example, if a mother is really into fashion she will probably encourage her daughters to do so as well, or take them shopping frequently. In contrast, if someone grows up in a family who does not have much of an interest in fashion, it is likely that they will not either.

  8. This is an interesting aspect to focus on the differences in Eastern vs Western cultures and their impact on fashion. I definitely agree and find it quite interesting when watching these fashion related shows and how they tend to closely focus on the Asian designers and share more of an in depth story opposed to the other contestants. For example the episode of Project Runway that we watched in class focused on two seperate Asian women, and each of them had a “story” but yet the White guy was not portrayed in the same light. This is clearly an inaccurate portrayal of all Asians that the media forces us to believe. Yes, in Eastern cultures it is more likely that families are more of a unit while western cultures tend to have more of a independent mentality. However, that is not the case in all situations, unfortunately it is just a stereotype that we have adopted.

  9. I think shows like Project Runway and other have chosen to focus primarily on Asian families because of 1) personal preference and 2) as was stated in the article the romanticism behind foreigner “rags to riches” stories. Also it’s entertaining to see someone who seems like the odds are against them succeed in unlikely circumstances.

    When thinking about Beautiful Generation and who the book chose to focus one, I don’t think that privilege is necessary to “make it” however it’s highly useful. I feel it is extremely more difficult for someone with completely no connections at all to make it vs someone with great connections such as a relative or a good friend. When trying to break into any business it’s all about who you know so I believe that holds true in the fashion industry as well. Knowing the right people would probably get your designs more recognized even if they weren’t as great as someone’s with no connections at all.

    As far as my own fashion influence in relation to my family, I’ve always been taught to shop for comfort as well as style and that a clothing item does not have to be expensive in order to look good, it’s all in the way you pair up your outfit.

  10. I feel like almost every reality show on television tries to romanticize “the other”. It is a stereotype that will never die down and the fact that Project Runway only focused largely on the Asian American woman and her family proved that point. I am pretty sure that the other contestants’ families had major parts in their success as well but the show didn’t even bother to show it. The Asian family was automatically put in the position as helping one another strive in the fashion industry and that is exactly how the show portrayed it. In a Beautiful Generation, there was part of the book that talked about how most families had someone in the fashion industry and how they would all work together to complete a goal. This idea forces people to think that Asians are automatically successful because they grew up around it all. This once again is a stereotype. Not every single Asian designer was raised in a family of seamstresses and sewers but TV will always add some kind of tragedy to any minority. They always need help with an issue, they can never solve it or make it to the next level on their own. I hope this can change within our society at some point.

  11. I really enjoy watching “Say Yes to the Dress” because I find it very entertaining to see the family dynamics at work when it comes to fashion and style. It is interesting to watch the brides and their families get flustered, excited, and even emotional during every episode of this show. Additionally, I can relate to the high involvement of family in one’s fashion choices that is portrayed on the show because I have two younger sisters who have shaped my relationship to fashion and style. All three of us are interested in fashion and we really enjoy shopping, especially with each other. I believe that even though my interest in fashion is independent of my sisters’ interest in fashion, the fact that we share this pursuit substantiates my relationship to fashion and style. Ever since I can remember, my sisters and I have always been passionate about clothing and fashion. I do not believe this is due to our culture as much as it is due to the values of our family. Our family definitely values appearance and fashion and my sisters and I really bond over these mutual values. My sisters definitely contribute to my enthusiasm for fashion because it is something that we have in common and we enjoy discussing fashion and investing time finding inexpensive clothing that fits our personal style.

  12. As discussed in class, I believe the reason that shows such as Project Runway document the family life of Asian designers in depth, but don’t focus as much on the family of other designers is as you discussed linked to a romanticised view of Asian designers and increased viewing figures. With an audience of predominantly American viewers, the show is at the advantage of tugging at heart strings in presenting Asian designers as a demographic at a disadvantage because of their race and that through hard work, dedication and a strong family unit, their passion for designing has overcome all odds and they are finally on track to making it in the industry. This is in part true and false. Most immigrant populations are on the whole at a disadvantage to American nationals, however as generations develop and families make a social and economic standing in the US, their situation improves and the disadvantages they may have experienced over Americans are likely to die out. This was evident in the clip we watched from Project Runway, where a designer visited the home of an Asian designer. The designer was clearly from a close family, with numerous siblings whom she could depend on, as well as supportive parents, not to mention the beautiful house she lived in and clearly reflected the family’s good financial standing. The show concentrated on the tightness of the family as well as the practical help which she received from her mother in sewing her designs. This is the general view the audience receives of Asian families, however ties such as these are never represented in American families (whether or not they may exist) and on shows such as Project Runway American designers are given significantly less airtime as a whole.
    The Beautiful Generation reinforced this romanticism while also concentrating on the reality that many Asian designers do have strong connections to the garment industry, especially surrounding the most basic steps towards designing (accessing fabric, sewing samples etc). Although Asians are represented as being hard-done-by compared with American nationals in breaking it into the industry, it is clear that their practical advantages, as well as an emphasis on family loyalty in the way of financial help, Asian-Americans are actually at a clear advantage. The fashion world is built around connections and any individual looking to break into it with minimal connections or help from family members are at the bottom of the ladder in their likelihood to succeed.
    As the daughter of a father who studied Contour Fashion, I have been very aware of fashion from a very young age. Although my father did not pursue a career in Contour Fashion, he did stay in the garment industry for some time designing, cutting patterns and selling until the industry dried up in our area. As a young girl I remember spending time in my Dad’s factories and helping out with packaging and fabric cutting. This gave me a very back-to-basics view of fashion and an appreciation for well made clothing and how to tell when a garment has not been tailored to a good level. My dad’s strict views on how women should dress have also lead me to appreciate feminine but conservative styles and how to dress for certain occasions and people.

  13. I’m not really surprised that shows like project runway and other reality shows are focusing on Asians and their close knit families. If families are immigrants and come to this country, they want to be successful and came to give their family a better life. I feel that Asians are very close knit and stay together. I feel that that is how they are able to be successful. You can always count on and trust your family so a business can be run with a family. I feel that since so much sacrificing was made to come to a new country and learn new customs so families have to stick together through those times. I also thought the point you made about the family coming to things like wedding dress shopping is important in our society. Our family doesn’t have to be there when we make decisions, but they are usually the first people we turn to for advice and to help with big decisions. I think that people do appreciate what the family has to say and what opinions they have. Clothing is a big part of families and decisions. Since we were little children, our families made the decisions on what we wore and what clothes we had. I still feel that as we grow up families that are close knit might have the same effect as they did before.

  14. I found it very interesting that project runway focused so much of the time in the home on the family. I had never previously noticed this dimension, even after years of watching the show. I feel the media does portray certain cultures in the media in a very stereotypical manner. Thus, whether intentional or not these ideas are constantly conveyed. The show took a lot of time to talk about the finalists sisters and their story of traveling to America (I think), and their mothers hard work raising so many little girls. This did seem rather unusual than how they would portray a White American family. They would probably introduce the family and head straight to the work room. The reading we explored for this week, The Beautiful Generation, talked about this idea as well and the clip in class solidified the idea for me. While reading I thought about how Asians are portrayed and linked to the garment industry, but to see it enacted on Project Runway was interesting.
    When I first saw the family I thought maybe the would have a great deal to do with her inspiration for her line, but that was not the case. My own family has impacted the way I dress myself, just because the financial means they allotted me to express myself through my dress. My mother always referred to me as a fashionista because I spent so much time on my wardrobe and she actually liked to be apart of my stylish growth. If I was to be on project runway that may have been an essential part of my story and very relevant to show but this was not the case with the Asian designer.
    ly and culture has shaped your own relationship to fashion and style.

  15. The media definitely romanticizes the “other” and quite frankly, I’m tired of it. I get it. It’s always the same story. Some poor minority’s life filled with hardships trying to make it modern life. I feel like television takes pity on the foreign figure and tries to get people to relate to them only in this light.
    I liked how the book took a more dynamic view on how familial roles play on the designer’s life. The book showed the downfalls of having family play a role in their work, and the tone wasn’t always “YAY, family!”

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