Are Fashion Trends Liberating or Disempowering Women?

We live in a world where fashion means a lot. Since clothing often serves as a way to express ourselves and show our personality without having to say a single word, fashion often serves as a first impression. And, as they say, you only get one shot at a first impression. Clearly, there is no denying the importance of fashion in our lives. 

As of today, many trends are encouraging women and girls to show off more and more skin, while dismissing and looking down upon those who dress differently. How can we call this empowerment when it is clear that many of the current fashion trends are actually disempowering women? 

Current fashion trends for girls include crop tops, short skirts, short dresses, tight fitting clothes with lower necklines, and Berkeley High School (BHS) is no exception. Many girls faithfully follow these trends. This in itself is not the problem. The problem is what these trends say about how girls “should” look.

In many cases, curvy women who have worn short skirts and crop tops are criticized for adhering to fashion trends. There’s a societal rule that women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes if they don’t have “the body to pull it off.”

Along these same lines, Mariam Cisse, a senior at BHS, commented that “these trends only support and benefit a select few people who fit into the aesthetic of people who can ‘pull it off.’ It feels exclusive, and even though I hate to think of it this way, it’s inevitable not to.”

The aesthetic that Cisse talks about is the greater trends that implicitly favors girls who are tall and skinny, rather than celebrating all body types. Essentially, it seems that fashion trends are only trendy for a very particular group of girls.        

When we expose young girls to messages like this, their self esteem suffers. Statistics from the film Miss Representation reveal that 53 percent of girls already feel uncomfortable with their body by age 13, with that number jumping to 78 percent by age 17. The increasingly exclusive fashion trends that dictate social status foster even more body dysmorphia and lowered self esteem for young girls.

Taking it even further, the quest for the “right” type of body — coupled with peer pressure and bullying — can lead to many serious problems such as eating disorders and mental health issues that impact the future of young girls. Many mental health issues can result in a loss of passion to learn and do things that one loves. This can significantly decrease one’s success and quality of life. 

Still, society immediately judges women who don’t stick to the popular fashion standards. On many occasions, people do not respect or listen to women who are not dressed in what they deem as “appropriate.” It appears that if women want their ideas and comments to be heard, they must dress a certain way. There are countless videos and pictures on the internet that focus more on what women wear than what they say or do. This even happens in politics, where words and actions should be infinitely more important than clothes.

If we truly wanted to support positive body image, there would be no “trends,” and everyone would be free to wear what they choose. If that means wearing clothes that reveal skin, then by all means, women should go ahead and wear what they want. As long as women have the power of choice and the right to be treated equally regardless of their outfit or personal style, they are empowered.