Waifs And Wifeys

#Menswear loves girls in menswear, rarely women; certainly never large women displaying any sign of strength. Outside of navy knit ties and Nick Wooster’s short suits, #menswear reserves a particular taste for skinny ingénues turned languidly away from the camera in OCBDs. Often reblogged piecemeal—thigh gap legs in New Balance’s, bony shoulders holding up Bathing Ape—photos of these girls circulate with questions of appropriateness shrugged off.

Shared without any information about the model, bloggers are free to assume she just looks young or maybe has one of those mythically fast metabolisms. Which is always possible, but ignores the problems raised by cultish worship of the youngest ages and narrowest waists. The insecurity this idolatry breeds in women is well documented, but female insecurities are nothing if not a reaction to the externalization of male insecurities. Like boy bands crooning “you look pretty when you cry,” the penchant for slight figures is a reminder that vulnerability absurdly, persistently codes for “feminine,” exclusively to serve as a foil for men, whose competence can emerge relative to the delicacy celebrated in women.

Men who pride themselves on their sophistication keep swooning over body types that blur the line between childlike and child. There are, thankfully, exceptions to the ubiquity of pedowave on menwear blogs. Plenty would rather post well-dressed adults they view as equals. But for every Adrianne Ho, an unidentified gamin bounces from dashboard to dashboard. Between photos of handmade wallets and silk umbrellas, creepshots pass as stylishly demure.

In real life, collarbone shadows do not hint at weakness and eye size is not proportional to innocence.

Reblogging pictures of teens and captioning them “wifey” aligns attractiveness with all the baggage of skinny youth: vulnerability and innocence. In contrast to the child models of the past, these girls aren’t makeup-ed into maturity. The contemporary enthusiasm for the “natural look” soothes male anxieties about the trickery of women’s choices, while pretending to be a preference for the “authentic”. Demanding “not too much makeup” is a lifehack against women presenting themselves to you on their own terms rather than yours. And what figure offers the most iconic imagery of pretty women availing themselves to a man’s whims than the waif, floating doe eyed after the boring protagonist?

Tumblr’s collective crush on heroines like Odile from Bande à part underpins certain menswear bloggers ever-hopeful search for a waify to wife. They mistake small figures for a small personality. In real life, collarbone shadows do not hint at weakness and eye size is not proportional to innocence.

Physically speaking, I identify with these young looking, perpetually thin girls in oversized sweaters and men’s shirts, which makes the aestheticization of female vulnerability so sinister. When attractiveness is codified along a gendered division of power I cannot trust a man only attracted to women who look like they need him.

Ayesha A. Siddiqi is a writer based in the South. You can follow her on Twitter here and read more of her writing here.

  • GG

    thanks for writing this.

    • http://julene.tumblr.com/ Julene

      +1

  • DanteDouglas

    Love this post, great writing and good points. There always is a size/shape-disparity in fashion, but never moreso than when under the mainstream male gaze. It’s a topic that should be discussed, more and in depth.

  • John

    Great post.

  • chauv

    I kinda agree. I would prefer more voluptuous women in these photos as well.

  • Dan

    Did not expect to see an article like this on Four Pins! Great stuff.

  • Collin

    I didn’t take any feminism courses at school, but I still have some comments on this thought provoking article.
    I think you might be projecting this power-over-innocence narrative onto the one about men preferring thin women to larger women, which has been a common theme throughout fashion. Why are supermodels thin and not average or overweight? Because that is what men like and therefore what sells. Same applies to male models.

    I see the use of female models in menswear the same way as female models are used at a car show: to attract attention to the product. In both cases the models have little to do with the product, but are an advertising gimmick.

    Basically it seems like the article is trying to condemn the use of thin, young looking models in fashion to improve gender inequality (which I understand still exists) when the source of the problem is the other gender being poorly educated/informed.

    • joe

      ” Because that is what men like and therefore what sells.”

      Yeah, because all women in porn look about 15, are 6 foot tall and borderline anorexic. Lisa Ann/Katja Kassin/Gianna Michaels much?

      Women (and maybe gay guys) only have them selves to blame for this.

      • GORMAN

        Your answer is blame women? You have the privilege of being a man, and therefore cannot speak on the experience of being a woman in this world. My point is that you are being a bit presumptuous and not acknowledging the gender binary that clearly exists. If you want to become educated you should talk to women about this.

        Something tells me you’re not the kind of person who values listening.

  • joe

    Sorry women who are slim or look younger than they actually are. You’re not “real” women, and any men who find you attractive are creepy perverts who should be ashamed of themselves. Maybe you should go and become a nun, because you’re not welcome around here.

    • k

      wow man.

  • sumeet gill

    I don’t understand why debates about body size always come down to either waify/skinny vs large/voluptuous. What ever happened to, you know, that middle ground of healthy women who are neither skinny nor overweight.

  • Charlotte

    I think you’re being a bit unreasonable here. It’s actually male instinct to prefer more voluptuous types as it correlates to a woman’s health and ability to reproduce. I tend to think this obsession with waifs (I mean any obsession is probably not healthy anyway) is just a current fashion trend and one that is perpetuated heavily by women themselves. Just take a look at pinterest.

    I don’t really see your point here. Men should stop being pedos? Women who are skinny aren’t delicate and frail?

    Also I think your writing style is just a tad pedantic. Not trolling just saying.

    • Jack

      I don’t think she is trying to say much more than that she is opposed to the trend. However I do think the trend is to do with the male instinct to feel like they are needed. More and more women are becoming independent and men still want to feel like they are strong, that they need to protect the women. i don’t mean this in a chauvinist way, it is just natural.

  • man

    as long as there is a woman in front of that camera.

  • Martine

    Well documented? Where are these insecurity causes documented? There is no possible test to see where an insecurity came from that I know about. But if you make this claim, I need to see what studies you are talking about and how they were conducted. Thats a HELL of a claim.
    Since when is it necessary to talk another woman down to feel good about yourself? I know plenty of women that thin. I am that thin. I am not going to say why, or how, suffice to say its not weird or unhealthy, not that I need to justify shit to anyone. You can judge a person’s strength by their size? Thats a neat trick. Not real accurate though, I don’t think. Not sure if you are talking about actual physical strength or character strength. For physical, muscle runs lean. I am hardly weak. For the other; If you don’t know by now that you can’t judge a persons character by their body size, I have nothing to tell you.
    Seeing how I look pretty close to what you seem to think men shouldn’t like, I can only say that I don’t see why personal preference of any manis anyones concern but his, and his partner’s. The girl in the picture is clearly over 16, deemed legal to make her own decisions by our laws. And yes, some people do look young. Am I hurt by this? Yes. But more just unsurprised. Don’t you have a way to make yourself feel strong without a witch hunt on people of any particular appearance? You don’t need thick arms or large tits to be mature. And jealousy is certainly a better marker of immaturity then a gap between the thighs.
    And you say you identify with women that look like that? You don’t “identify” with someone if you think that being attracted to them is wrong. Not unless you hate yourself.