I recently interviewed for a highly competitive internship. My mother called me several times to ask what I was wearing and make suggestions of her own – something slimming but modest, she told me (ugh); conservative makeup, and PLEASE could I wear my hair down? It wouldn’t be wise for me to allow my potential employers to see the lightning bolt tattooed behind my ear. That would be totally unprofessional.
With this experience in mind as I read, I found Miller’s assertion that “recent [Japanese] styles more readily express a displacement of identity onto the body surface” both fascinating and highly applicable to more than just Japanese fashion. Beauty is now equated not only with morality, but also with identity – and these two qualities are totally inextricable from each other when it comes to appearance. How you dress is indicative of who you are, what you like, and where your proclivities may lead you; based on this knowledge, you may be judged as either “good” or “bad” as an employee, as an influence, as a human being. The way you dress can make you an easy target or a difficult hire.
Women and girls who partake of beauty practices that distinguish them from others are doing so to express their unique traits, their individuality, and the things they love about themselves and want to emphasize. In a society that makes very limiting and exacting demands of our personal appearances, this is revolutionary.
Certain influences, however, propagate stereotypes and prejudice regarding certain beauty practices and strip this movement of its power. To the outside viewer – perhaps, to the job interviewer – women who do certain things to themselves are easily pigeonholed. The power that comes from self-expression is replaced with easy judgments. Things like tattoos and piercings, which I would certainly consider a beauty practice, become unprofessional despite their bearers’ qualifications or demeanor, because they are associated with certain subcultures that are perceived unfavorably. This process of stereotyping “transforms the possible insurrectionary potential of some of the new girl subcultures into a uniform group of mindless bad-girl consumers”, rebels who follow trends and buy without thinking.
What if I had shown up to that job interview wearing my hair back? Why would it have mattered? How can we reclaim the individuality of beauty, all the multifaceted ways in which it can be expressed, for ourselves – and use the “displacement of identity onto the body surface” as a way to proudly (and literally) wear our hearts on our sleeves?