REVIEW: Femme Fatales: Beauty, Fashion and Femininity Writing

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Image by Bri Lee

‘Queering Beauty’

By Press Room Contributor Chloe Reeson 

Friday – 12pm – 1pm, The Press Book House

Fashion is cool as hell and we all know this by now.  But try writing about beauty, fashion, and self-care and you will often inevitably find your work to be devalued, dismissed as ‘just girly things’. Friday’s roundtable discussion “Femme Fatales: Beauty, Fashion and Femininity Writing” saw four writers and artists (Lisa and Eric from Plaything Magazine, Jonno Revanche, and Vince Ruston) lead a roundtable discussion with NYWF punters that aimed to get to the bottom of this strange resistance to the artfulness and legitimacy of beauty writing.

The discussion began simply by defining the difference between the two terms, ‘femme’ and ‘femininity’. ‘Femininity’, the artists agreed, spoke to a larger cultural understanding of the feminine/masculine polar binary. Femme, on the other hand, connoted queer representation, and this queer coding implied a sense of agency and power. The distance between these similar terms can sometimes be the starting point for the devaluation of ‘feminine’ arts. Jonno identified an evident hierarchy across their various modes of art practice (photography, modelling, writing etc.), with the more apparently ‘feminine’ arts being the most devalued. They said that by identifying their work as ‘femme’ they felt they were toying with the boundaries of, or ‘queering’ the spectrum idea of gender.

The panellists charted an insightful conversation that nicely wove their personal experiences of under-representation and disconnection with the power of writing about beauty. The artists had each, at various times, felt deeply the restorative effects of writing about beauty and self-care.  At one point the panellists actually made light of the fact that the discussion had become them simply recounting their personal experiences of queerness, but it was actually pretty perfect. Queerness can be disorienting and alienating and it was nice in a round table setting to just ruminate for a while on the multitude of ways beauty writing can heal these experiences.

A key idea that emerged was the dichotomy that beauty is an introspective process that also relied on connection to flourish. It allowed people to express their queer individuality but it also connected them to a broader community by developing and sharing a new language for being.  But while this relationship between introspection and community is a source of power for the art of beauty, it also contains its challenges. The artists spoke of the experience of stepping outside of their private spaces, their ‘getting ready’ arenas, and immediately feeling the weight of the general community’s stifling expectations. The beauty community was a space for ‘nuance’ and ‘vagueness’ within a society that pushes for singular and static identity.

While the audience were somewhat hesitant to contribute (which the panellists understood and spoke eloquently to similar feelings of shyness or anxiety about saying the wrong thing, or not speaking the ‘right’ language) the round table was still sort of perfect for this discussion. We all packed ourselves into the Press Room Bookhouse, forming a tight group, some of us on furniture, others on the floor, talking about the immense but gentle power of using self-care and beauty as a way to connect to one another. Eric mentioned the value of sharing beauty tips, a simple exchange that was very also very meaningful. A mass of bodies, chatting about beauty and offering to share advice and lipsticks? It was hard to ignore the feeling that we could have all been just sitting in our friend’s bedroom, sharing tips, sharing care, building a language.