CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005
The truth is, when we look good, we feel good. Pull the right outfit out of the closet and the day goes by without a hitch. Birds chirp, you ace your English exam, and the guy you've been noticing seems to notice you right back. Put on something that makes you feel self-conscious and the day can quickly go down the drain.
It's not a matter of luck. Style is an expression of self-confidence. If you aren't comfortable with what you're wearing, you'll be tugging and slouching and sending out signals that you'd rather not be seen. On the other hand, putting on your favorite pair of jeans, or that sweater that makes your eyes just pop, will have you standing straight and smiling large.
Fearless Fashion is similar to many magazines for teenage girls - colourful, shiny and full of promises to help a girl " find her inner super-model!" (quote taken from book's press release). That said, the writing here is better than in most magazines. Bell manages to sound hip without appearing to be trying too hard. The fashion-type quiz, the lesson on how to tie-dye clothing, the care guide for sweaters and leather, the etiquette tutorial (including cell phone etiquette), tips and warnings for piercing and tattooing, and, ever-importantly, the list of hints on how to keep feet smelling sweet are all sure to attract a teen audience. Even the sidebar, "How to Wear Large Earrings", might be helpful for some who, until now, have only had the nerve to wear small ones.
The book is broken into short chapters. The first chapter is a quiz that promises to help you find "...your essential fashion you." Next we get a brief overview of the history of fashion. The next seven chapters each look at a different style - from preppy to punk, and including goth, hipster, skater, flygirl, and boho. The last chapter provides beauty tips including battling acne and perspiration and how to measure right to buy a bra that fits. There is also a short entry about eating disorders interesting in a book where all of the illustrations and most of the photographs are of very, very thin girls.
Each of the "style" chapters includes photographs of current Hollywood stars or recording artists who represent that particular style. Kelly Osbourne is there in all her goth glory, Mary Kate and Ashley are flowing and bohemian, and Missy Elliott blings away in her "Flygirl Flair" gear. These chapters include page-long lists of what one can wear in order to be easily identified as a type. It is interesting to try to imagine a self-respecting punk rock girl who would be caught dead reading a book that suggests that she "Think black, white, red, and pink in any striped or checked combination." Each style chapter also gives background into how that style got started. These pages are easily the best in the book. Alison Bell is able to put what can be hundreds of years of fashion history into a single page.
Unfortunately, the underlying message of this very busy book matches that of its teen mag counterparts that is if you can conform to type and follow the fashion rules, you will be rewarded with chirping birds, good grades, and boyfriends. It is hard not to rant and rail against a book where, once again, girls are told (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) that their accomplishments in life will be based on their appearance.
The only part of this book that comes close to a critical look at why we pay so much attention to (and so much money for) fashion is a short sidebar about advertising that specifically targets teens. It should be noted that this sidebar contains less information than does the one on the appropriate wearing of large earrings. Bell does not really criticize the advertising trend, however. She just suggests that teens visit second-hand stores as well as the stores that are doing the advertising. Having just read Shari Graydon's excellent book, In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You, Fearless Fashion's fawning acceptance of the fashion world comes as a shock to the system. Graydon gives readers the sense of how fashion and beauty have developed over time, but with much more examination into why people have found certain styles and looks attractive at different times throughout history. Graydon, with her consumer advocacy background, also challenges her readers to question the messages disseminated by those in the fashion world. Comparatively, Fearless Fashion is lagging years behind in empowering young women to make decisions that can truly boost their confidence.
Grace Sheppard is a Children's Librarian with the Ottawa Public Library in Ottawa, ON. She can be found breaking fashion rules throughout Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.