Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shiloh: Parsing out celebrity fashion


“…Shiloh reportedly selects boys’ clothing from stores and insists on being called ‘John’.”

I decided to buy a magazine at Union Station on Tuesday to help pass time during the 13 hour train ride from Toronto to New York. The Economist caught my eye with an image of pink formal girls’ shoes (http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15606229) containing all the cues of femininity I critique in my art. The cover said ‘GENDERCIDE: What happened to 100 million baby girls?’ Economics prevailed, as I realized I could get a hot chocolate and a less intellectually demanding publication for the same price. I settled on ‘Life & Style Weekly’ but as I waded through my whipped cream, I thought back to the term ‘gendercide’. Parsed linguistically, I knew it literally meant ‘to murder gender’ (as opposed to infanticide, which is what the article is actually about). I later looked up the root ‘cide’ and learned that it can also mean ‘to cut down’. Being a concept, gender cannot be annihilated per se, and if you want to get technical, culturally driven infanticide may reduce the numbers of the female gender, but it actually reinforces the gender dichotomy. And, if the cover of Life & Style is any indication, gender is alive and well–more on that in a moment.

Truthfully, I don’t buy celebrity magazines. They aren’t a guilty pleasure, but I will read them in desperation at a hair salon or over a passenger’s shoulder on a flight if I’ve exhausted my own reading material. I couldn’t resist this issue of Life & Style though, because the cover practically screamed, “Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into A BOY?” As a blogger and artist concerned about gender socialization, I was anxious to read the contents.

Let’s not forget that Shiloh has two parents, so fixating on Angelina Jolie alone is ridiculous. If Shiloh were playing into social norms, would Brad Pitt be singled out as the hero? Let’s also not disregard the existence of agency. Androgyny could be Shiloh’s preference. If the article is to be believed, that seems to be the case, as Shiloh reportedly selects boys’ clothing from stores and insists on being called ‘John’.

The juxtaposition of images on the magazine cover contrasts Shiloh’s apparent comfort with the transition to a tomboy version of herself. We see a happy looking Shiloh with sparkling eyes and clothing deemed “trendy but still feminine” (according to a caption alongside a second printing of the photo in the article, p. 26). Beside it on the cover, we also see a boyish portrait. Poorer in quality, the presumably digital photo has a yellow cast (read: sallow skin) and Shiloh has downcast eyes. Her cropped ‘do confirms a statement from an ‘eyewitness’ that her hair was formerly longer and blonder. Is the implication of this comment that the free-spirited celebrity couple has dyed their three-year-old daughter’s hair? Might we not assume instead that her hair is changing colour naturally in sync with toddlers all over the world?

What disturbs me is not the notion of gender bending, but the prospect of gender norms being imposed on Shiloh against her will. A case in point is a promise allegedly made by her nanny: “If you get your nails done, then I’ll give you a prize later” (p. 28). This anecdote strikes me as representative of the pressures of femininity in general: abide by the code, and you’ll get a prize. And what is the prize? Prince Charming? Have I jinxed myself by not painting my fingernails, even for my own wedding?

The first image of Shiloh in the story shows her wearing a pale pink dress. Although it is a casual dress, the caption says, “Girlie in a Gown” (italics mine, p. 27). The caption goes on to compare her to a princess. In closing, I ask, why is it worse for Shiloh to be dressed as a boy (which she is not) than as a princess (which she also is not)? Fantasy and fashion go hand-in-hand and who is to say if her alignment with boys is more or less appropriate than little girls pretending to be royalty?

The heart of the issue is hinted at in an expression appearing in the subsequent article about Shiloh’s parents. In it, a quotation from Jenny Paul’s book released yesterday, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: The True Story, reads, “Angelina wore the pants at first, but now Brad’s wearing them” (p. 32). Watch out: Shiloh could be a going concern like her mother. She’s wearing pants, and not just in the literal sense.

SOURCES:

-----, "Shiloh's Shocking Transformation", Life & Style, March 15, 2010, pp. 26-29. Print.

-----, "Bombshell Tell-all!", Life & Style, March 15, 2010, pp. 30-33. Print.

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