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Extra info for Appearance and Identity: Fashioning the Body in Postmodernity
They argue that rather than share in this chauvinistic denigration of traditionally feminine pursuits, their value should be recognized and upheld. However, while these theorists quite validly argue that the pleasures afforded by fashion should not be dismissed tout court as merely deceptive and manipulative of consumer desire, at the same time, as shall be argued here, the greatest concern today lies not in the failure to acknowledge its pleasures, but on the contrary, in the tendency to elevate fashion to the dominant principle in everyday life where the cultivation of one’s physical appearance supplants all other sources of identity formation.
Indeed, their meanings may be so unstable that they can mean one thing and its opposite at one and the same time. As Barnard explains it: “[i]ntertextuality . . determines that the meaning of an object is undecidable, that it is both produced and destroyed by its place in those systems of differences” (1996: 159). A good example of the undecidability of meaning in items of dress is the stiletto heel, which has been seen simultaneously as an object of enslavement and of liberation. As Wright points out (discussed in Barnard 1996, 161–62), on the one hand, it has been seen as oppressive insofar as it impedes movement and produces a posture that accentuates a woman’s breasts and bottom.
Silverman, for instance (1986, 148), argues, contrary to earlier feminist critiques of fashion, that the constant transmutations of female dress, far from being oppressive of women, are potentially more disruptive both of gender and of the symbolic order than is the relatively static nature of male dress, which defines identity as fixed and stable rather than as fluid and mutable. According to Silverman, the fragmentation of female identity into a constantly changing plethora of guises, behind which there is no fixed self, represents a more “genuine” model of subjectivity than that of masculine identity, which continues to be premised on the centrality of the unified ego.