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Abstract and Figures

This MRP identifies new patterns of post-feminist disarticulation on Instagram. By challenging how ideas of empowerment are being presented to marginalized groups on this platform, I intend for this critical interrogation of post-feminism within the digital economy to provide a framework for marketers speak more responsibly to young female consumers.
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Christine Gow, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication and Promotion, Central St. Martins,
University of the Arts London, 2003
presented to Ryerson University
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
in the program of
Fashion Studies
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2019
© Christine Gow, 2019
I hereby declare that I am the sole author of this MRP. This is a true copy of the MRP,
including any required final revisions.
I authorize Ryerson University to lend this MRP to other institutions or individuals for
the purpose of scholarly research.
I further authorize Ryerson University to reproduce this MRP by photocopying or by
other means, in total or in part, at the request of other institutions or individuals for the
purpose of scholarly research.
I understand that my MRP may be made electronically available to the public.
Given the recent resurgence of feminist topics within popular media, the purpose
of this MRP is to interrogate the theory of post-feminist disarticulation put forth by
Angela McRobbie in The Aftermath of Feminism in order to understand fashion’s role in
the disarticulation of young women in a contemporary context. By examining how the
post-feminist tropes identified by McRobbie have evolved in the last decade alongside
the rise of app-based social media and neoliberal feminism—more specifically, how
prominent female influencers use fashion and beauty to disseminate post-feminist
rhetoric from within their feeds on Instagram (IG)—this MRP will contribute to the
literature on fashion and post-feminism within the digital economy. With this research, I
intend to shed light on how fashion and beauty influencers are effectively acting as
double agents of the patriarchy by interpellating new generations of young women into
damaging post-feminist discourse.
In McRobbie’s seminal text, she argues that institutional gains made by feminism
in the 1970s and 1980s are, in this century, being undermined by what she describes as a
new form of gender power: a regime that co-opts young women into spearheading their
own process of disarticulation by leading them to believe equality has been achieved
through education, employment, and notional sexual freedom. Disarticulation is defined
by McRobbie as “a force which devalues, or negates, and makes unthinkable the very
basis of coming-together (even if to take part in disputatious encounters), on the
assumption widely promoted that there is no longer any need for such actions” (26).
These ideas are disseminated through popular media sources—at the time of her research,
these included TV, film and fashion magazines—and serve as a substitute for feminism
by subverting ideas of agency and choice with an individualistic discourse centred around
consumer culture, self-management, self-enterprise, and self-transformation. McRobbie
posits that while these concepts appear to offer the possibility of freedom and change in
the status of young women, they are simply new tools for groups seeking to re-establish
unequal gender and power hierarchies (2). These forces, she explains, are part of a
patriarchal system of economic power and domination, despite appearing as progressive
forms of governmentality (2). After McRobbie, within this MRP these forces will be
collectively referred to as ‘the new regime’.
This MRP seeks to test and explore the limitations of McRobbie’s framework by
examining how this process is currently playing out on hyper-visible IG fashion feeds
with a million followers or more. A theoretical interrogation of her existing framework
will be updated and applied to IG in order to analyse how influencers use fashion and
beauty concepts to participate in the disarticulation of other women. While McRobbie’s
research looks at how consumer culture limits our so-called female freedoms by
entrenching women in post-feminist neurotic dependencies, my research will focus on
fashion and beauty’s role in solidifying new post-feminist tropes that serve to stabilize
the traditional hierarchy of gender power.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Kimberly Wahl, my research
supervisor, and Dr. Alison Matthews David, my second reader, for their patient guidance
throughout my studies and their useful critiques of this research work.
I wish to thank my sisters, Sherrill and Michelle Gow, for their invaluable insights
and enthusiastic encouragement throughout this research.
List of Illustrations
1) Instagram post from March 8, 2018 by @ambervscott. Feminist-themed portrait
with roses. Retrieved from
2) Instagram post from December 5, 2018 by @manrepeller. Portrait of Leandra
Medine with hat, barrettes and sunglasses. Retrieved from
3) Instagram post from January 22, 2019 by @manrepeller. Portrait of Sara Jessica
Parker in New York City. Retrieved from
4) Instagram post from January 27, 2019 by @iamcardib. Portrait of Cardi in
elevator. Retrieved from
5) Instagram post from February 16, 2019 by @iamcardib. Video of Cardi on couch
wearing Moschino. Retrieved from
6) Instagram profile pic by @iamcardib. Retrieved from
7) Instagram post from September 17, 2018 by @chrisellelim. Portrait of Chriselle
Lim wearing CL Collection. Retrieved from
8) Instagram post from January 17, 2019 by @chrisellelim. Portrait of Chriselle Lim
holding breast pump outside Chateau Marmont. Retrieved from
9) Instagram post from April 16, 2019 by @hudabeauty. Portrait of Huda Kattan.
Retrieved from
10) Instagram post from February 24, 2019 by @hudabeauty. Portrait of
@laviedunprince. Retrieved from
11) Instagram post from February 12, 2019 by @hudabeauty. Video makeup tutorial
about nose contouring by Huda Kattan.
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Why McRobbie, why now?
Dr. Angela McRobbie, FSA, FBA, is a Professor of Communications at
Goldsmiths, University of London. Her feminist critiques of the fashion industry and
consumerism have positioned her as one of the leading feminist thinkers of our age
within the arena of communication and culture. While much of her early work is fashion-
focussed (British Fashion Design; “Fashion Culture”) more recent research on the subject
of the global fashion industry and new forms of labour in the creative economy (Be
Creative) is highly relevant to the field of fashion studies and re-establish her as an
important voice in this area.
In The Aftermath of Feminism, McRobbie builds upon Stuart Hall’s theory of
articulation to put forward a theory of post-feminist disarticulation. In Hall’s definition,
articulation is where marginalised groups form alliances with other similarly
disenfranchised groups, bonding over common interests to create larger, more resistant
structures (25). According to John Clarke, “(i)n developing his work around the concept
of articulation, Hall always emphasised a double meaning, in which the ideas of ‘to give
voice to’ and ‘to connect’ are always implied and always co-present” (277).
Disarticulation in a post-feminist context, then, prevents women of different ages,
ethnicities, and economic groups from forming a united power base or exchanging
information that could assist in making any significant gains against the new regime.
In what McRobbie describes as a double movement (26), once these women have
been successfully isolated, they must also be led to believe that equality has been
achieved. Isolation is achieved through a new sexual contract, whereby education,
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employment, and the appearance of sexual freedom denies young women the right to
challenge existing gender hierarchies because they should be grateful for these notional
freedoms (82). The commercial domain—within which reside the spheres of fashion,
beauty, body culture, and popular media—is the face of the new regime, tasked with
reinforcing patriarchal norms and authority, and acting as a source of judgement for
young women. “In the language of health and well-being,” says McRobbie, “the global
fashion-beauty complex charges itself with the business of ensuring that appropriate
gender relations are guaranteed” (61).
The overarching themes addressed by McRobbie within The Aftermath of
Feminism appear in some of her earlier research, and her insights into ways that
neoliberal government policies affected women in British cultural industries (“British
Fashion Design”; “Feminism and Youth Culture”) particularly resonate with me. As an
art and fashion student in London from 1998 to 2003—roughly the same time period
examined by McRobbie—I have direct, experiential knowledge of the cultural trends she
described: youth-targeted hype around the New Labour government and a ‘Ladette’
culture that glamorised hedonistic promiscuity, binge drinking, and drug abuse, all
enticingly repackaged with trendy new street fashions—baggy Maharishi parachute
pants, embroidered denim jackets, bucket hats and Nike Air Max 95s were worn as a
unisex uniform as an illusory expression of gender equality—and promoted by Britpop
icons under the nationalistic banner of ‘Cool Britannia’.
The climate of competition between women described by McRobbie—fuelled by
concepts of class, education, and employment, and disseminated through female
magazines, TV and film—were likewise palpable in London from the late 90s onwards,
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although I was completely unaware of the role these played in my individual process of
disarticulation. Instead, I increasingly subscribed to the modalities of popular feminism
and neoliberal culture of the time, with a Sex and the City (HBO, Seasons 1–6, 1998–
2004) inspired focus on fashion consumption, self-governance, and self-transformation.
As an active participant in my own post-feminist process of disarticulation, I felt that
women should be responsible for themselves, refusing assistance from the state or other
organizations. I believed that in a western meritocracy, women possessed the power to
overcome racism and sexism; this notion impacted my work as a fashion marketer, and I
then disseminated the same concepts to other young women. An ever-increasing
dissonance between the promised outcomes of a neoliberal approach (equity in exchange
for hard work and adherence to specific gendered norms) and the realities I faced in the
fashion industry steadily marred my self-esteem and self-worth. Instead of considering
the broader dynamics at play across my education and career, I blamed myself for not
measuring up to (the seemingly numerous) exemplars of successful women in fashion.
Even so, it is important for me to acknowledge that as a slim, White, straight,
cisgendered woman, the negative impact of these dynamics has been necessarily lesser
than that shouldered by racialised, LGBTQ+ or otherwise marginalised individuals living
and working in similar spaces. McRobbie’s framework does not discuss how the post-
feminist process of disarticulation affects non-binary, transgender or other female-
identifying groups; it is unfortunately beyond the scope of this MRP, but given the
prominent role of the fashion and beauty complex in the formation of feminine identities,
this subject merits further research within the feminist academy and fashion studies.
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While McRobbie’s research is British-centric, I conduct my research with an
American lens, as the latter country is playing a pivotal role in what the popular media
has dubbed a new women’s movement. McRobbie’s research coincides with Britain’s
New Labour government, led by Tony Blair from the mid-1990s to early 2000s after 18
consecutive years of Conservative rule. She describes how Labour promoted the idea of a
post-feminist meritocracy within the U.K. by taking advantage of the powerful sway that
pop culture, fashion, and new media holds over young voting demographics. As the
youngest prime minister since 1812, Blair was seen as a hip figurehead capable of
shaking up an out-of-date Parliamentary system. His party’s triumphalism manifested in
popular print magazines like Vanity Fair, with playful commentary like that of the 1997’s
cover story London Swings! Again!. “Say hello to shirt-sleeved, smiling Tony Blair, the
leader of the ascendant Labour Party. The Right Honourable Tony is just 43 years old and
has an outlook to match. ‘The hope that change will bring,’ he says, ‘is outweighing the
fear of change’” (Kamp). Looking back, McRobbie describes how while Blair was Prime
Feminism was put into cold storage as women were expected to be smiling and
compliant ‘Blair babes.’ I recall this time well, when even female students who
were otherwise interested in questions of work, employment, gender and sexuality
nevertheless repudiated feminism, feeling that they could do just as well without
it. It was fashionable to affect a kind of ‘phallic femininity’ by acting like a young
man, with a flask of whisky in the back pocket, happy to hang out in a lap-
dancing club. (“Anti-feminism, then and now”)
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Much like New Labour’s influence on the formation of McRobbie’s tropes,
Barack Obama’s governmental rhetoric directly influenced how these tropes have
evolved or resurfaced in a contemporary context. His presidency marks the beginning of
profound social and technological change in the U.S. and, like Blair, he leveraged
popular media as a primary communication modality and relied heavily on social media
channels1 to reach youthful voters both throughout his campaign and as president—
including announcing his vice presidential pick on Twitter. Given the historical
significance of Obama’s presidency this may, at first glance, seem trivial—until we
consider how smartphones and app-based social media allow for such rapid
dissemination of hyper-targeted content that vulnerable groups such as young women can
be relentlessly exposed to incredibly fine-grained tools of social control.
The Intersection of Fashion, Feminism, Politics and Pop Culture
In the case of both Blair and Obama’s governments, a facade of progressive
governmental discourse concealed neoliberal policy that effectively stymied any real
advancements towards greater gender equality.2 Performative fashion statements for
various causes are increasingly common within the new women’s movement, and
politicians now regularly use online fashion platforms like, and as a communication modality to target young women with post-feminist
ideals disguised as feminism to solicit support for their campaigns. Their use of fashion
platforms to reach female voters indicates that politicians recognise just how deeply
young women are entrenched in consumer culture and choose to capitalise on this; this
1 The way Americans experienced the news changed significantly while Obama was in officeby 2016,
2 From 1997 to 2007 the gender pay gap in Britain only decreased by 3% (House, Eland et al.); between
2010 and 2015 in the U.S., by only 2.7% (“Women's Earnings” 3)
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means that fashion, politics and the particular brand of feminism proffered by this
movement are now inexorably linked. “This is what a feminist looks like,” proclaimed
Obama, referring to himself in an article he penned for Glamour.com3 four months before
the 2016 presidential election. In a final attempt to encourage young voters to support his
party’s female candidate, he explained how “(w)hen you’re the father of two daughters,
you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see
the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the
enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.”
While his message is important, Obama’s use of an online fashion platform to reach
young women validates the fashion and beauty system’s influence over this demographic.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC), the Democratic candidate in the 2016 election,
was famously supported by fashionable celebrities identified by popular media as
feminists, including Lena Dunham, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga (Filipovic; Valenti;
Saddiqui). Amy Chozick credits HRC with igniting a new feminist movement—by
losing. “(A) fervour has swept the country, prompting women’s marches, a record
number of female candidates running for office and an outcry about sexual assault at all
levels of society.” Like Obama, HRC also chose a popular fashion platform to address
young women after losing the election to Donald Trump. As Guest Editor of Teen Vogue,
Volume IV, a self-described “celebration of resistance and resilience”, HRC explained to
the magazine’s youthful readership that “Teen Vogue takes teen girls seriously and
understands that style and substance aren’t mutually exclusive”, describing how she
3 This essay was first published online in August 2018 and appeared in the following month’s print edition
of the magazine.
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“love(s) seeing articles about the search for the perfect makeup remover next to essays
about running for office” (Hillary Rodham Clinton).
According to McRobbie’s theories, it is exactly these types of paradoxical
statements that engage young women in activating their own disarticulation. McRobbie
has since acknowledged that the optimism she shared in Feminism and Youth Culture:
From Jackie to Just 17 (1992) grossly overestimated the potential for a new generation of
politically conscious women taking the helm of women’s magazines to advance feminist
thinking. She writes that the power of global capitalism and advertisers was too strong to
allow for a subversion of consumer culture within the spheres of fashion and beauty, and
that instead an aggressive form of individualism took hold (“The Aftermath” 5). “This
breaking up has accelerated [...] young women are now targeted as having a special role
to play in the dismantling and modernisation process” (“The Aftermath” 24). Some 27
years later, the same issues are playing out across fashion and beauty’s digital footprint,
as evidenced in my exploration of IG fashion influencers.
Has this new women’s movement moved us any closer to ending female
oppression? I argue that while this issue is multi-faceted and complex, it has not. In a
2013 podcast with Nigel Warburton, McRobbie explains that despite an increase in
feminist topics within popular media,
the presence of this fashion-beauty complex comes to be oddly obsessive about
femininity, at a time when it seems as though there has been the chance for
women to actually achieve a greater degree of equality. And what I see this kind
of orchestrated, hyper-femininity doing, is absolutely limiting the possibilities that
young women have to participate in political culture. (“Angela McRobbie on”)
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While the new women’s movement is labelled Fourth Wave feminism by some
(Grady; Williams; Maclaren; Munro; Solomon) and criticized by others as being the
reserve of middle-class Whites (Grady; Williams; Munro), it can loosely be traced back
to 2008 when social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter achieved mass consumer
adoption, and feminist blogs like Jezebel had gained a significant readership of young
women on the web. Jezebel alone had over 10 million monthly page views by 2007
(Grady; Smith). Some assert that if a fourth wave of feminism does indeed exist, it is an
online phenomenon (Solomon).
This could be attributed to a shift in the way popular culture content is produced
and consumed. While McRobbie’s research considered film, television, pop culture and
women’s magazines, web-based blogging platforms were not included within the scope
of her work, despite their prevalence at the time of Aftermath’s publication. This
omission is significant because with the rise of the style blogger,4 initially lauded as a
signal of increasing democratisation in fashion, there was potential for McRobbie’s
unrealised vision of a subverted consumer culture to flourish. Anyone with access to a
computer could use platforms like to create content where standards of
beauty and fashion were not dictated by publishers and advertisers. More importantly,
these style bloggers could reach millions of readers around the world for free.
Free online publishing platforms may have initially offered spaces for
articulation, reinforcing community and bolstering human connection, but their operation
within a neoliberal context ensured a swift evolution into competitive spaces
characterized by commoditization and individualistic discourse. As advertisers came to
4 Notable examples include Susie Lau of Style Bubble, a personal style blog launched in 2007, and 11 year
old Tavi Gevinson of Style Rookie, launched in 2008 (Lewis).
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understand the reach and influence of prominent style bloggers, the most popular
brokered lucrative advertising contracts and became yet another mechanism within the
fashion and beauty advertorial machine. Then, in 2010, the first generation of web-based
content sharing platforms gave way to a much more powerful tool: native applications
that could be accessed 24/7 via any smartphone. Instagram (IG) launched in October of
that year, and within 3 months had some 1.5 million users (Lagorio-Chafkin). A free
photo and video sharing app that can be downloaded onto virtually any mobile device, IG
allows users to share photos, videos, and live content with all or select groups of their
followers, and users can like and comment on these posts. Audio/visual notifications can
be enabled so that users are kept tethered around the clock, and hash tags—a concept
borrowed from Twitter—allows users to easily find thematic posts. A speedy scrolling
functionality means users aren’t redirected to another page to see more content, thus
eliminating loading time. Furthermore, as the user interface was designed primarily for
mobile and not desktop, all content fits neatly on a phone screen, meaning users can
easily access it anywhere.
As of October 2018, 50.4% of IG’s active one billion users are women
( Online personas are constructed through a carefully considered selection
of photos, and studies have found female users consider presenting themselves as
friendly, sociable, attractive and wearing pleasing attire as more important than male
users do. Female users also display more photos compared to male users, so within the
sphere of fashion and beauty IG is the perfect platform for young women to continually
share content with one another (Feltman and Szymanski 312). IG’s guidelines suggest a
minimum user age of 13, but fashion influencers as young as three years old have been
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profiled by the media (Moss). I argue that women are more susceptible to concepts of
self-monitoring and self-regulation within the fashion and beauty complex; why and how
this plays out on IG will be discussed in my literature review.
IG quickly became a massively popular social media platform, second only to
Facebook. Some of the feminist concepts that flourished within the new women’s
movement garnered their own hash tags for use on IG as they went viral—and those that
promote feminism as an identity seem to be most prolific (at the time of my research,
some 5,728,175 posts have been tagged #feminist). Inside and outside of the confines of
IG, feminist ideas are presented to young women through fashion items; images of young
women wearing variations on “feminist” slogan tees were, for a time, seen across IG
feeds worldwide.5 Both #imwithher (a reference to one of HRC’s campaign slogans in
2011) and #iamanastywoman (in response to Trump’s derisive name-calling during the
third presidential debate) became commonplace IG captions and subsequently appeared
on everything from sew-on patches to a plethora of slogan tees. Specific garments and
accessories were paired with hash tags and reimagined as visual forms of protest:
#pantsuitnation riffed off comments made within the popular media about HRC’s
pantsuits, inspiring thousands of young women (including Beyoncé and Lena Dunham) to
post images of themselves in pantsuits on IG in solidarity; hash tags like
#thispussygrabsback accompanied images of women wearing hand-knit pink ‘pussy’
5 A noteworthy example is Dior’s S/S 2017 “We Should All Be Feminists” slogan tee quoting Black
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” viral essay and Ted Talk.
Part of the proceeds from the sales of this restrictively priced fashion product (about $710 USD) went to
Rihanna’s charitable foundation, but in the three months following the tee’s debut within the brand’s IG
feed (on a White actress) this tee shirt appeared 14 more times on White women, compared to only four
times on women of colour and once on a Black man.
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hats6 to protest Trump’s inauguration in the fall of 2016; and #timesup announced a
cohort of famous actresses wearing black gowns at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards in a
show of protest against gender inequality in Hollywood as part of the ‘Time’s Up’7
movement. In all of these examples, images of women using clothing as a visual
challenge to the new regime spread globally via IG.
Leveraging fashion items as emblems of women’s movements is, of course, not a
new concept. Take the suffragettes’ white garments in the early 1900s, for example, or
1970s Second Wave feminist tees that proclaimed ‘The Future is Female’. Reimagined
under the lens of Fourth Wave feminism, both were transformed into paradoxical
feminist statements: HRC wore white pantsuits during her campaign, directly alluding to
suffragettes even as her feminist credentials were frequently called into question;8
reprints of ‘The Future is Female’ tees were worn by celebrities and fashion influencers
with high-heels and red lipstick (Meltzer), demonstrating a lack of awareness of the
Lesbian feminist origins of the shirt’s message and why styling it in such an overtly
feminine way might contradict its intended statement.
6 To protest a leaked tape of Trump captured during a filming for Access Hollywood in 2005, groups of
women knit pink hats with cat-like ears and sold them through online marketplaces such as Etsy. He
explained to host Billy Bush how he forced himself on women: “(a)nd when you’re a star, they let you do
it,” he said. “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything” (Dickinson).
7 According to the movement’s website,“TIME’S UP is an organization that insists on safe, fair and
dignified work for women of all kinds. In the fall of 2017as revelations of widespread abuse and
misbehavior at the hands of powerful men sparked a global reckoninga group of women in entertainment
began to meet. Artists, executives, producers and other leaders came together to talk about what we could
do to prevent abuse and ensure equity for working women. As they grappled with the reality that 80 to 90
percent of leadership in our industry was maleand largely composed of white menwe realized systemic
change was necessary” (
8 McRobbie responded to HRC’s loss by questioning the validity of the argument Clinton was out of touch
with ordinary women voters. She argues this does not explain why so many women willingly voted for a
man “prepared to limit their rights to reproduction and thus impede their very ability to take participate in
the workplace on any kind of equal level with men. This phenomenon is only explicable if we take anti-
feminism more fully into account” (“Anti-feminism, then and now”). Her theorizing of a postfeminist
sexual contract appears in other post-election analyses of HRC’s failed political campaign: young women
can subscribe to the belief they can be anything they want so long as they act as though gender is no longer
a restriction (Rudy).
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These types of actions are problematic because post-feminist visual cues send the
message that one can conform to standards of femininity set by traditional power
structures and still be considered a feminist. In this way, commodity feminism appears to
mitigate potentially disruptive feminist ideals (Caldeira 14), because when a feminist
statement is co-opted by fashion it becomes performative and replaces other, more
concrete forms of action.
This MRP argues that post-feminist disarticulation is being enacted on IG in such
a way that no group of women is exempt; however, all women are not affected
proportionately. White privilege, in the context of McRobbie’s theorizing of a new sexual
contract (“The Aftermath” 9) has contributed to the inaccurate and dangerous notion that
we live in a post-sexist and post-racial society—a damaging concept that perpetuates the
ongoing oppression of different marginalised groups. Working towards similar outcomes
for various groups of women does not necessarily mean there needs to be a total
agreeance, but an idealistic envisioning of feminist articulation would account for all
voices and experiences.
Within post-feminism and popular culture, and particularly within the sphere of
fashion and beauty, McRobbie points to a nostalgia for Whiteness in the early 2000s.
Citing the popularity of burlesque performer and model Dita Von Teese and a spate of
high fashion advertisements that offered “a kind of looking back to periods of time
‘undisturbed’ by the need to take the politics of race and multiculturalism into account”,
she writes that this eliminated “ the need for White to register as ethnic as it is the norm
by which all else are ‘other’ (42). Black and Asian fashion consumers were then (and
continue to be) largely ignored by mainstream fashion and beauty publications, and,
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under New Labour’s assimilation policies, encouraged to abandon multi-cultural
differences and find ways of identifying with the majority. If they made the personal
choice to turn to their own Black or Asian magazines, this suggests that racial boundaries
were being reconsolidated (42). Furthermore, within the pages of Black women’s
magazines, light-skinned women and discouragement of overtly radicalised hairstyles and
clothing led to a resurgence of “colonial-induced racial self-hatred” and “the re-
instatement of familiar racial hierarchies within the field of femininity” (43). More
recently, however, some of these rejected physical characteristics and styles have become
fashionable for both Black and White women. The role this trend plays in the post-
feminist process of disarticulation will be further discussed within my discussion of
contemporary post-feminist tropes.
I argue that the new women’s movement is post-feminist, not feminist, because
young women are being led to believe that feminism is an identity that can be created
with a tee shirt, a hat, a white suit, or a black gown instead of understanding feminism as
a political commitment. bell hooks suggests we avoid using the phrase "I am a
feminist"—which infers feminism can be a personal aspect of identity and self-
definition—and should instead state, “I advocate feminism.” (31). The post-feminist
process of disarticulation relies on there being no clear delineation between feminism and
post-feminism: young women must remain unsure of whether or not sexist, racist, and
classist oppression has ended. McRobbie refers to this tension between post-feminism
and feminism as a double entanglement (“The Aftermath” 26).
Given that the underlying intention of the post-feminist process of disarticulation
is to prevent marginalised groups of women from unifying to form larger power
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structures, my research prioritizes the research of feminist scholars who challenge
patriarchal authority within the academy. Therefore, following Sara Ahmed’s citation
standards, I have made a conscious choice to not reference the work of any White men,
defined by Ahmed as an institution of patriarchal Whiteness (15), as my primary sources
have already reviewed the most significant literature from this group informing this topic
(notably Foucauldian theories of individualization, self-monitoring, and neoliberalism
(Elias & Gill; Gill; Marwick; McRobbie; Rutherford; Scharff). I support Ahmed’s
assertion that “citations can be feminist bricks” and that feminist scholarship must
acknowledge its antecedents with intention in order to challenge conscious and
unconscious assumptions that all important ideas originate with White men (16).
Marginalization in neoliberal climates is notable for its insidiousness and invisibility; by
prioritizing work by underrepresented groups in academia, my intention is to demonstrate
that feminist scholarship offers a solid foundation from which to approach the realm of
fashion studies.
McRobbie identifies four key tropes in The Aftermath of Feminism as being
largely accountable for spearheading the post-feminist process of disarticulation amongst
young women. These tropes are derived from what she describes as the attribution of
post-feminist freedoms to largely First World scenarios; paradoxically, these ‘freedoms’
are devised to induce the undoing of feminism (“Top Girls” 719). She theorizes that
under the guise of post-feminist equality, young women are attributed with capacity.
They are urged to become hyperactive across the three key sites where this newfound
visibility is centred (718): the field of consumer culture, the realm of sexual freedom, and
the fields of education and employment. From within these categories emerge the Post-
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Feminist Masquerade, tied to consumer culture and so pervasive it reappears within the
other tropes; the Phallic Girl, who arises from her notional sexual freedom; and the
Working Girl and the Global Girl, tied to the spaces of education and employment.
Fashion and appearance play a pivotal role in helping these tropes find form, and my
research explores how, in a contemporary context, fashion and IG gives these tropes even
greater voice and traction within the global community and validates them within an
increasingly entrenched neoliberal paradigm.
Literature Review
This MRP draws from the literature of several disciplines to dissect how
distinctive tropes emerging or evolving on IG have activated and encouraged a post-
feminist process of disarticulation. While the same communication and fashion and
consumerist paradigms find embodiment in the individuals who reinforce the four tropes
identified by McRobbie, these tropes now touch more racially diverse groups of women
then they did at the time of her theorizing; this will be addressed within my discussion of
the literature. Furthermore, the ways that post-feminist concepts affect women outside of
the U.S. must also be re-examined now given the phenomenally global reach of IG as
compared to the popular media sources referenced by McRobbie.
McRobbie’s work has been reviewed by numerous scholars in their discussions of
fashion, feminism, and creative labour within the digital economy. While some of these
studies—and other literature that informs my research—are published outside of critical
studies of fashion and beauty and found within feminist media studies, gender studies and
cultural studies, fashion’s role in the formation and dissemination of post-feminist
concepts is a recurring theme across these areas of academia. I argue that this diverse
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literature crosses over boundaries into the realm of fashion studies, a relatively new field
that includes voices from various facets of the academy to provide a richer
contextualization and understanding of the fashion and beauty complex and its role in
contemporary society. Furthermore, given that popular culture and the media play an
important role in the dissemination of information to young women, I also look to articles
published within the popular media to add depth to my analysis with commentary from
sources who are directly affected by the concepts I discuss.
To define feminism, I turn to bell hooks: “Feminism is the struggle to end sexist
oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular
race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men” (23). She also questions
the notion of gender equality:
Since men are not equals in (W)hite su--premacist, capitalist, patriarchal class
structure, which men do women want to be equal to? [...] Implicit in this
simplistic definition [...] is a dismissal of race and class as factors that, in
conjunction with sexism, determine the extent to which an individ-ual will be
discriminated against, exploited, or oppressed. Bourgeois (W)hite women
interested in women's rights issues have been satisfied with simple definitions for
obvious reasons. Rhetorically placing themselves in the same social category as
oppressed women, they are not anxious to call attention to race and class
privilege. (19)
In 2002, Anne Cranny-Francis et al. optimistically argued that the term post-
feminist could better be defined as “post-second-wave-feminist”,
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a challenging of earlier feminist movements which silenced and suppressed
marginalised groups, allowing them to now form alliances and position their own
feminist critique specifically within their own cultural background [...] (to)
explore the nature of both their differences and similarities [...] and work towards
the elimination of the inequities that separate women—racism, homophobia and
classism. (68)
Sarah Ahmed argues that feminism, then, is still necessary because sexist, racist and
classist oppression have not ended, and feminism must be intersectional to be effective
(5). I will later discuss intersectional feminist critiques of McRobbie’s theories, which
denounce some of her tropes for centering the White experience.
Fashion, Beauty and Intersectional Feminism: Situating Black Women within the
Contours of Post-Feminism
Rosalind Gill posits that while McRobbie attempted to think intersectionally,
within her research the female subject centred by post-feminism is, by default, White and
middle class (“The Affective, Cultural and Psychic Life of post-feminism” 613).
According to Gill, the term post-feminist is contested by many academics who argue that
it should be removed from our critical vocabulary as it does not take into account all
female voices and implies that equality has been achieved (611). Gill explains how the
new cultural prominence of feminism lends weight to the argument we should radically
rethink ‘post-feminism’. We are, however, far from being “post-postfeminism” (611); she
argues that post-feminism is increasingly hegemonic due in part to the way it is able to
both operate through, and coexist with, a revitalized feminism (620). I agree that the term
is still highly relevant and look to Gill’s theorizing of post-feminism as a distinctive kind
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of gendered neoliberalism, a sensibility with the “ability to change and mutate in relation
to new ideas” (611).
Within feminist studies, Jess Butler refutes the idea that women of colour are not
included within post-feminist popular culture (48) She cites several reality TV shows
centred around Black Women—within the realm of fashion and beauty, this includes
Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model—that embody and enact post-feminism by
embracing ideas of heteronormative femininity and the excessive consumption of fashion
and beauty products, all while promoting an individualistic discourse centred around
independence, choice, empowerment, and sexual freedom. Within the Black community
these concepts are compounded by the highly sexualized and successful music and
entertainment careers of women like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, making it clear
that the postfeminist “‘girls’ who are going ‘wild’ are not all (W)hite and middle class”
Feminist media scholar Dayna Chatman builds upon Gill’s theorizing that a lack
of intersectional interrogation and the definition of the term as a signifier of the end of
feminism has led to the contestation of the term post-feminism (927); however she cites
both Gill and McRobbie’s research in her discussion of the relevance of the term as both
a discourse and sensibility that includes diverse women within its contours and embodies
the contradictory nature of the female experience now that social equality is presumed to
have been achieved (928).
Chatman explores the contours of a post-feminist gender regime that champions
Black women like Beyoncé in order to extol women as self-governing subjects with the
power to make acceptable choices within their career, marriage, and motherhood; women
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must be empowered, autonomous, self-governing subjects with the ability to multitask
between motherhood and career—and as such are valuable assets within global-capitalist
society that must maintain an active population of producers and consumers (927).
Beyoncé’s expressions of sexual agency and the celebration of her body within the
popular media are valuable to Black women; however, Chatman argues that because the
Black female body is presented as a site of excess within dominant visual culture, the
way she challenges attempts to regulate her body could be interpreted as offering up her
body as commodity fetish: “The former is a feminist project,” explains Chatman, “while
the latter is a post-feminist one” (937). By exhibiting discipline within the sphere of
fashion and beauty, the Black female body plays a key role in transforming and
normalizing post-feminist representations of young Black women.
By leveraging the narrative of Beyoncé’s life to position professional Black
women as ideal citizens and mothers, post-feminist authority reconfigures and normalizes
representations of the Black family. Social capital may restrict the Black woman’s ability
to be recognized as a post-feminist subject (931), however Chatman argues that the media
can interpellate certain Black women into post-feminism (930). She builds on
McRobbie’s theorizing of a new regime of gender power by pointing to how the popular
media celebrates Black women like Beyoncé to show individuals how her choices with
regards to marriage, motherhood, and career demonstrate successful self-governance in
line with a neoliberal rhetoric (928).
Chatman argues that within the pervasive discourse of women “having it all”,
popular media utilises celebrities like Beyoncé to “strategically and ideologically
interpellate women in general, and Black women in particular, into the current post-
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feminist gender regime” (932). Black women are also subject to the same post-feminist
anxiety as White women with regards to finding Mr. Right and having children. This
anxiety is furthered increased by statistics—20 percent of White women in their early
thirties had never been married, versus more than 50 percent of Black women the same
age—and because the popular media tells Black women heterosexual marriage may be
out of reach (932). Black women too, then, can be participants in the Post-Feminist
Masquerade—but the new sexual contract they have entered into is more fraught than
their White counterparts. Chatman argues that when Black women position themselves as
post-feminist subjects, it is problematic because they take a position outside of the Black
feminist political agenda that challenges racist and sexist oppression” (937).
Within feminist media studies, Simedele Dosekun addresses McRobbie’s
theorizing that post-feminist culture and sensibility emerged in the West as a direct
response to Second Wave feminism, but refutes McRobbie’s claim that post-feminist
sensibilities emerging outside of this context are simply a mimicry of western behaviours
(“The Aftermath” 88). Dosekun argues that this sensibility is easily circulated
transnationally by global neoliberal institutions (968) and is not necessarily a reaction
triggered by a historical precedent within the women’s movement.
Dosekun’s research points to a pervasive post-feminist sensibility in Lagos,
Nigeria, despite the fact that the region has not experienced the same ‘waves’ of
feminism as the West: her interview subjects drew on ideas and self-descriptions that
would be as recognizably post-feminist as if their provenance were in any western capital
city. She disagrees with McRobbie’s assertion that in the non-western world, post-
feminism manifests itself as a more subdued and naive copy of the western version: girls
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playing dress up with what little they have, versus the empowered, sexually and
economically liberated women of the West (963).
Dosekun argues that McRobbie’s Global Girl trope does not take into account or
allow for difference between non-western women. She states that “post-feminism is
readily trans nationalized [...] broadcast and sold across borders” (961), available to
women around the globe who possess “the material, discursive and imaginative capital to
access and to buy into it” (966). It is not, she argues, that any woman, anywhere in the
world can “perform a post-feminist identity” at will, but rather that “post-feminism sells
transnationally—from ‘Beyoncé’ to ‘boob jobs’ to ‘Brazilian waxes,’ from Shanghai to
Mexico City to London to Lagos” (966). I agree with Dosekun’s assessment that post-
feminist disarticulation affects non-western women with the same nuanced complexity as
it does western women and this is now visibly playing out in fashion influencer feeds on
IG with the contemporary Global Girl.
Also within feminist media studies, Karen Wilkes addresses McRobbie’s
theorizing of the merging of feminism and neoliberalism and how they play into notions
of agency and choice. Wilkes proffers that “by virtue of their ethnicity”, White women
are the beneficiaries of structural racism and broadly tend to have more economic power
(25). By conforming to narrow, patriarchal standards of beauty, these women can access
greater status and privilege. Dominant paradigms purport to offer a wider range of
representation, but these tend to be deployed strategically and selectively; ethnic
representations that are closest to European standards of beauty most closely resemble
those in power and are therefore more socially valued (10). Post-feminist femininity must
be girlish, non-threatening, and appeals to patriarchal paradigms of beauty (McRobbie
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“The Aftermath”) or, says Wilkes, a White, blonde, blue-eyed thin type of beauty (26).
Wilkes points to how post-feminism privileges an ideal gendered Whiteness and how the
ability to purchase luxury products and have choices within the realms of motherhood
and career is now defined as having it all (30). This is the contemporary version of the
new sexual contract theorized by McRobbie that many young White women make with
this new regime of gender power: a woman may brand herself as feminist so long as she
puts in the time and effort to craft a self that is ‘desirable’ within the traditional
patriarchal paradigm of beauty and consumer culture. This invitation to share power in
exchange for status and worthiness is persuasive and seductive, a tactic that, as I will
explore within my discussion of the contemporary Post-Feminist Masquerade, has proved
to be highly effective.
Within communication and cultural studies, Erica B. Edwards and Jennifer
Esposito argue against post-feminism’s assertion that we live in a post-racial and post-
sexist world. They point to how digital platforms are mediated by the same inequalities
that shape real life:
Social media is a point where the discursive meets the material; where meanings
are articulated and re-articulated and bodies that are physically/materially/actually
oppressed within a sexist/racist society may be interpreted in multiple ways,
including, perhaps, in ways that reimagine the material world. However, we
believe that because the world is neither post racial nor post sexist, there will
always be limits to how Black female bodies are articulated and re-articulated.
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Displays of sexuality have been progressively normalised within contemporary
popular culture—particularly within the spheres of fashion and music—contributing to
the rampant hyper-sexualisation of young women on platforms like IG. Young women
must create and maintain erotic capital; sexual performance and self-objectification are
integral to new paradigms of creative labour within a digital economy. With post-
feminism’s assertion that gender equality has been achieved, post-feminism connects
hyper-femininity with power; women are positioned as neoliberal subjects that must be
hyper-feminine and hyper-sexualised in order to be powerful (342). Edwards and
Esposito concur with McRobbie’s theorizing of a new sexual contract and its allure for
women as “those who display, celebrate, or promote their beauty and sexuality are
praised for using sexual currency in exchange for power” (342). Black girls are perceived
as less innocent and less in need of protection than White girls the same age, and this
‘adultification’ (Salam, 2019; Shapiro, 2017) means that not only are they subject to post-
feminist anxieties from a younger age, but also are at an increased risk of racial violence.
The potential rewards seem to outweigh the dangers for many young Black women, and
from here arises the contemporary version of McRobbie’s Phallic Girl.
The thin, White Eastern European model of the early 2000s is no longer the sole
paradigm of beauty; now, extreme proportions of the Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner
variety are also deemed desirable. Within Fashion and Beauty Studies, Elizabeth
Wissinger explains how bodies, just like the shape and silhouette of garments, go in and
out of fashion. Historically, “the adolescent asexual model of beauty” (143) was an
indicator of class, a way for women to distance themselves from the “pornographic
associations of the hourglass figure” popularised within the theatre and by other working
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class pursuits. She cites the popular media’s claim that we have moved into a post-
fashion moment, where the designer body—sculpted by personal trainers and plastic
surgeons—has replaced designer outfits (143-144). This designer body can only be
achieved through hard work and money, and is indicative of how neoliberal concepts of
self-management and self-transformation are thriving with this new, post-feminist
paradigm of beauty.
Wissinger looks at Internet celebrity Kim Kardashian to define the concept of
‘glamour labour’. Glamour labour is a phenomenon of the digital age (145); this work
requires investing time and effort into the crafting of a body and self that matches the
filtered and manipulated version of one’s online life. This is the new American Dream,
“democratically available to all who are willing to work for it” (145). The ‘wages of
glamour’ are earned by crafting a body and personality that meets prescribed standards of
heteronormative femininity, however this labour is speculative and financial rewards are
not guaranteed. This ‘labour theory of beauty’ leads young women to believe that hard
work democratizes the potential to achieve a standard of beauty that offers social
legitimacy. On platforms like IG, self-management and personal branding bifurcated: no
longer just a fashion marketing strategy, it also became a framework for success. This
framework is sold to the general public as a foolproof path to accumulating social and
material capital, even as it disregards the myriad structural factors contributing to an
individual’s success or failure.
Within fashion and beauty studies, Katherine Appleford examines trends that are
influencing Black women’s perception of beauty and body image, and discusses the
formation of young Black women’s desire for a look that has become known as ‘slim-
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thick’ within popular culture. This trend is embodied by the body type of Kim
Kardashian, and Appleford argues that Kardashian exerts a remarkable influence over
young women’s ideals of attractiveness because she is self-situated as an ‘exotic other’
that crosses over traditional racial boundaries. Her body shape is not the pornographic
hourglass identified by Wissinger; and her slim-thick look is a distinctly post-feminist
and post-racial hybrid of Black and White aesthetics—the “(W)hite aesthetic of thinness”
merged with the Black appreciation of “a fuller shape” resulting in both races idealizing a
petite waist and cosmetically enhancing their derrières (194).9
Appleford posits that this phenomenon is the result of cultural assimilation (194).
This MRP elaborates on this idea, theorizing that by co-opting innate physical
characteristics that were once considered excessively racialised as aspirational, White
women are benefiting the sexual contract they have made with the new regime. This
ability to be able to take on an identity that can be picked up and put down at one’s
leisure both contributes to the continued oppression of racialised women in the U.S. and
plays a significant role in the formation of new post-feminist tropes.
Black journalist Charlie Brinkenhurst-Cuff critiques how “Vogue established in
2014 that big bums were back in fashion, while in 2015 the Guardian asked if big lips
were the new bushy brow. What isn’t often mentioned is how these ‘trends’ are
intimately tied to (B)lack people’s bodies”. She argues that White people don’t go out of
fashion, and that Black women are forced to watch as White women co-opt and
9 This trend is alarming: in 2016,18,489 buttocks augmentations were performed by licensed doctors in the
United States (a 26% increase from 2015) and 2,999 buttocks implants (an 18% increase); illegal medical
clinics offer silicone injections for thighs and buttocks for as little as $800. Multiple women have died in
the U.S. as a result of botched underground procedures (Winston).
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popularize Black physical characteristics. She cedes that while she knows it is antithetical
to her feminist values,
Part of the reason I’ve become more accepting of my own body shape is because
it’s become societally desirable [...] although my (B)lackness is not a fad, and the
(B)lack body comes in many shapes and sizes despite the stereotype of us having
big bums and lips, this is a massive step up from the historic, animalistic portrayal
of us as ‘grotesque’ thanks to our natural shape.” (Brinkenhurst-Cuff)
Furthermore, she wonders, how will she be able to love her body, when these physical
characteristics associated with Blackness are no longer in fashion?
Her experience is in line with McRobbie’s assertion that the fashion and beauty
system has taken the place of traditional modes of patriarchal authority (“Top Girls”
718), and I argue that this type of appropriation is evidence of a widening gap between
different groups of women and an intensification of the process of disarticulation. White
women who participate in the co-opting of physical traits for financial gain fail to
understand whom these types of actions harm and whom they benefit. The increasingly
visible appropriation of Black cultural markers by White and White-coded influencers on
IG embodies and implies a distinctly post-feminist and post-racial idea: equality has been
achieved, and capitalising on these visually specific fashion and beauty traits is a neutral
exchange, not a damaging of appropriation. This will be further explored in my
discussion of the contemporary Phallic Girl.
Neoliberal Feminism and the so-called Fourth Wave
Catherine Rottenberg argues that mainstream liberal feminism is being
disarticulated into neoliberal feminism, and this new brand of feminism proffered by the
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new women's movement fits within this category. The female participants are feminist in
the sense they are cognizant of the ongoing inequalities between men and women, but
remain highly individuated and neoliberal because they choose to ignore the social,
cultural and economic forces that produce this inequality and accept total responsibility
for their own well-being and self-care. The neoliberal feminist subject, says Rottenberg,
“is thus mobilized to convert continued gender inequality from a structural problem into
an individual affair” (“The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism” 420).
The pervasiveness of neoliberal feminist rhetoric validates Rosalind Gill’s claim
that a post-feminist sensibility is now hegemonic (“The Affective, Cultural and Psychic
Life of Postfeminism” 616). This is evidenced by the massive success of self-described
‘feminist manifestos’ like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to
Lead and, more recently, Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for
Success—evidence of the widespread adoption of neoliberal feminist values (“The Rise
of Neoliberal Feminism” 419). In later research, Rottenberg argues that
neoliberalism’s colonization of feminism is simultaneously producing a very clear
distinction between female subjects who are worthy because they are aspirational
and thus convertible and the majority of female subjects, who are deemed
irredeemable due to their insufficient aspirations and responsibilization.”
(“Neoliberal Feminism and the Future” 340)
Young, middle class women are encouraged to prioritize their careers over
children; for some women, this means freezing their eggs so that they can continue to
work unfettered by children until after they have been judged to have achieved an
adequate amount of professional success (“Neoliberal Feminism and the Future” 338).
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Women now operate within a climate of competition that has dramatically intensified
because of how platforms like IG offer a window into the achievements of others.
McRobbie’s new meritocracy (“The Aftermath” 73) has reached the extreme; young
women now see their twenties as a period of unencumbered striving (“Neoliberal
Feminism and the Future” 342).
Much has been written on why young women make ideal neoliberal subjects,
embracing ideas of agency and choice in exchange for taking full responsibility for their
own self-management and self-transformation (Gill and Orgad; Rutherford; Scharff).
While neoliberal policies and economies benefit the less-visible patriarchies, this rhetoric
has contributed to the profoundly individualistic discourse on IG, implemented through
aggressively promoted consumerism and the promotion of the monetisation of every facet
of women’s lives. “A key feature of neoliberalism,” McRobbie explains, “is the
implanting of market cultures across everyday life, the relentless pursuit of welfare
reform, and the encouragement of forms of consumer citizenship which are only
beneficial to those who are already privileged (“The Aftermath” 29).
Feminism, Digital Self-Monitoring and Appearance Studies
Self-objectification and body surveillance have been consistently linked to
increased levels of body shame and appearance anxiety, decreased internal state
awareness and poor mental health amongst young women. Chandra Feltman and Dawn
Szymanski examine the relations between the use of IG, self-objectification and body
surveillance amongst young women by looking at experiences on this platform that could
precede self-objectification and body surveillance. They found that the anticipation of the
male gaze, increased exposure to sexually objectifying media and interpersonal
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experiences of sexual objectification via body evaluation specifically on social media
platforms like IG are linked to more self-objectification and body surveillance (311).
Interestingly—particularly given that the forms of popular media examined by
McRobbie included, television, film and fashion magazines—Feltman and Szymanski
found that prime time TV programmes and fashion magazines considered to be sexually
objectifying were not associated with self-objectification or body surveillance. This
suggests that the requirements of self-directed visual attention related to one’s own
appearance and body while engaging with social media platforms like IG may provoke
increased levels of body surveillance (313). The image sharing component of this
platform encourages the presentation of an idealized self; given the societal pressures
already placed on women to reach unattainable ideals of beauty and appearance they
argue that women may take on an observer’s perspective on their bodies and appearance
and it is therefore likely that links between IG use and self-objectification and body
surveillance is arbitrated by engagement in social comparison (313). In the context of my
research, these findings imply that the patterns of post-feminist disarticulation identified
by McRobbie are amplified and intensified on IG.
Their findings also indicate that feminist beliefs can mitigate IG’s effect on body
surveillance: higher feminist beliefs play a protective role, whereas lower feminist beliefs
play an intensifying role (314). Therefore, women who subscribe to a feminist identity
may be provided with a critical perspective on appearance-related messaging and are less
likely to internalize the ideals presented to them on IG (314). As I stand with bell hooks’
theorizing that women should advocate feminism rather than treating feminism as a
personal identity (31), this could indicate that those women who, in the context of acting
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as fashion and beauty influencers, use fashion to construct a feminist identity on IG are—
whether consciously or unconsciously—primarily doing so in order to present an
idealized version of self, and are therefore not exempt from damaging appearance-related
messaging on this platform.
Take, for example, this carefully constructed IG post from March 8, 2018 (fig. 1) by
@ambervscott, a fashion and beauty micro-influencer10 (at the time of this post, her feed
had 84.4K followers). Her girlish pose and the hyper-feminine styling of her hair, make-
up, and environmental props and in direct contradiction of the message on her tee-shirt,
10 Within the advertorial parameters of IG, marketers typically classify those with less than 100K followers
as ‘micro-influencers’ based on the potential reach of their feed.
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indicating that this was simply another piece of thematic content to her (March 8 is
known as International Women’s Day) devoid of any real political meaning.
Ana Sofia Elias and Rosalind Gill argue that with the advent of beauty apps like
IG,11 young women are now subject to an unprecedented regulatory gaze brought about
by digital self-monitoring and “post-feminist modalities of subjecthood” (59). In-app
filters allow young women to alter the appearance of images so that they more closely
resemble images of ideal or normative femininity; 74 percent of young women ages 18 to
25 said they used filters when taking self-portraits (67). While this type of selfie-filtering
could be seen as a tool for shaping individual identity, Elias and Gill state that “it is
inarguably a self-monitoring practice, complicit in the disciplinary intentions of
neoliberal post-feminism that perpetuate social injustice” (67). As they point out, these
filters assist in the creation of new racialised bodies by allowing skin tones to be
lightened, and also help nostalgic aesthetics to find form in a digital context. The latter
assertion validates McRobbie’s assertion that the Post-Feminist Masquerade relies on a
nostalgic, light-hearted refrain of femininity (“Top Girls” 723). Within the regime of
McRobbie’s theorizing of ‘the perfect’ (“Notes on the Perfect” 74), the filtering
capabilities of IG find form within the cultural filters of post-feminism, and contribute to
the intensification of aesthetic surveillance and labour amongst young women (68).
Fashion and Post-Feminist Tropes, Then and Now
McRobbie’s four tropes arise from her theorizing of the new sexual contract
young women must make in order to participate in the male-coded worlds of work and
pleasure: they will be granted notional freedoms and attributed with a wage-earning
11 IG is considered within this research as a beauty app because a variety of in-app filters allow women to
modify the appearance of their selfies.
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capacity so long as they cede feminism (720). Under the guise of post-feminist equality,
young women are attributed with capacity and urged to become hyper-active across the
three key sites where this newfound visibility is centred (718): the field of consumer
culture; the realm of sexual freedom; and the fields of education and employment. From
within these categories emerge McRobbie’s tropes: the Post-Feminist Masquerade is tied
to consumer culture—and is so pervasive it reappears within the other tropes; the Phallic
Girl arises from her notional sexual freedom, and both the Working Girl and the Global
Girl are tied to the spaces of education and employment. It is my contention that these
tropes and dynamics are heavily co-opted, reinforced and promoted by the fashion
industry to encourage hyperactive participation within consumer culture with the goal of
maintaining traditional gender hierarchies.
While McRobbie discusses these tropes at length in The Aftermath of Feminism,
she references them extensively in other published works (“Post-Feminism and Popular
Culture”; "Top Girls?; “Young women and Consumer Culture”; “Notes on the Perfect”).
For this research I draw upon all these sources in order to dissect the characteristics of
each trope; given the current prevalence and complexity of feminist topics within popular
culture and media I hope to better understand their origins by looking at how McRobbie
reframes or responds to her own theorizing in a variety of contexts.
McRobbie addresses the recent resurgence of feminist topics within the popular
media but identifies “an amplification of control of women, mostly by corporeal means,
so as to ensure the maintenance of existing power relations” as though masculine
hegemony could somehow slow the advancement of feminism (“Notes on the Perfect” 3).
Male dominance is secured and disguised through the fashion and beauty complex with
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the aim of encouraging the self-regulation of young women, and feminist concepts must
now adhere to neoliberal narratives of individualisation and competition. Women are
expected to seek ‘the perfect’, and this is promoted within popular culture through
“relatively manicured and celebrity-driven idea of imperfection or failure” (3). Given
how visible these societal pressures are to young women as they are relentlessly
promoted by the fashion and beauty industries across multiple platforms but particularly
on IG, I argue that post-feminist anxieties within young women are now so heightened
that there is urgency in identifying new patterns of disarticulation on IG.
The Post-Feminist Masquerade
The Post-Feminist Masquerade explicitly aligns with fashion’s presence within
IG, as it functions as the facade that assists women in presenting a curated, illusionary
version of themselves within this digital space. The Post-Feminist Masquerade resides
within the field of consumer culture, where the fashion and beauty system have replaced
traditional channels of patriarchal authority (“Top Girls” 718). This trope is highly visible
across the commercial domain (within McRobbie’s research, this includes TV, film, and
fashion magazines) and serves as an interpellative device; with a familiar—or even
nostalgic, and somewhat ironic—light-hearted refrain of femininity, women are relocated
“back inside the terms of traditional gender hierarchies” (723). The impeccably groomed
young woman in masquerade (“The Aftermath” 8) has been encouraged to dissociate
herself from the now-discredited political identity associated with radical feminists in
order to re-stabilise gender norms and undo any previous feminist gains (“Top Girls”
723). McRobbie cites the work of psychoanalyst Joan Rivière that explores how “women
who wish for masculinity may put on a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and the
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retribution feared from men” (Rivière qtd. in “The Aftermath”, 35); and proposes that the
Post-Feminist Masquerade is a strategy or device for the re-securing of patriarchal law
and masculine hegemony.
The term ‘masquerade’ refers to its own artifice, says McRobbie (“Top Girls”
723), and Post-Feminist Masquerade derives its meaning from those so-called glory days
of White Hollywood glamour and from the conventions of high fashion glossy magazines
like Vogue (“The Aftermath” 71). For the woman in masquerade, expressing hyper-
femininity through fashion by wearing vertiginous stilettos and pencil skirts that hobble
her does not in fact mean entrapment, since it is now done by choice rather than out of
obligation—women who adopt these types of markers in their dress do so with the
intention of expressing that this is a freely chosen look (“Top Girls” 723). This
celebration of exaggerated femininity is put together by young women using their
independently earned wages in order to create a facade that subverts any ideas of
accruing power based on economic capacity (“Top Girls” 725).
McRobbie references Bridget Jones, the British-American romantic comedy film
series character determined to improve herself while she looks for love in a year while
documenting her exploits in a personal diary (Zellweger, Renée, Performer. Bridget
Jones’s Diary, Miramax, 2001). Bridget’s Post-Feminist Masquerade manifests in the
workplace via a “flirty presence” “nervous girlish gestures” and “‘oh silly me’ self-
reprimands” (“Top Girls” 725) and her fashion and beauty choices are symbolic of both
her professional and personal failings. Viewers see her struggle to put on girdle-like
underwear; turn up at a costume party in an ill-fitting Playboy bunny suit; and over apply
her blush in a desperate bid to look attractive.
Gow 35
McRobbie also points to one of the most influential fashion icons of the late 90s
and early 2000s to illustrate how the alluring facade of the masquerade interpellated an
entire generation of grown women via “the little girl demeanour of the figure of Carrie
Bradshaw” (“Notes on the Perfect” 12) in HBO’s popular series Sex and the City (SATC).
“(T)he opening sequence of the show saw her dressed in a kind of ballerina tutu dress,
and playing around like a pre-pubescent girl, almost falling into puddles on the street and
getting splashed by passing traffic” (12). Throughout the series, Carrie performs “an
endless masquerade (glancing in the pocket-mirror, touching up her make-up, catching
sight of herself in shop windows, doing girlish twirls in front of the full size mirror)”
(“Young Women and Consumer Culture” 541). These behaviours are intended to
restabilise gender norms; Carrie’s fragile femininity is reinforced in season four’s “A
Vogue Idea” (Sex and the City, Season 4, Episode 17, HBO, 2002). In this episode,
viewers are introduced to her first editor at Vogue Magazine, a fifty-something, no-
nonsense, power dressing—and therefore, it is insinuated, likely a feminist—named Enid.
We are encouraged to dislike Enid after she tells Carrie her first article is too self-
involved, meandering, and not up to the magazine’s usual standard. Carrie is then
reassigned a male editor who attempts to sexually assault her in the magazine’s fashion
closet, before being unceremoniously placed back with Enid. In a later episode, Enid
laments to Carrie how she cannot find a man and asks for her help in finding one—
reinforcing the idea and post-feminist anxiety that women in powerful positions who do
not conform to traditional standards of femininity with their dress and demeanour will
never be able to find a partner (“Splat”, Sex and the City, Season 6, Episode 18, HBO).
Other post-feminist themes, such as Carrie’s financial incompetence, are highlighted as
Gow 36
directly relating to her fashion consumption—specifically, her enormous collection of
Manolo Blahnik stiletto shoes (“A Woman’s Right to Shoes”, Sex and The City, Season
6, Episode 9, HBO, 2003). While Carrie’s profligate fashion consumption is framed as
simply a charming habit with no real consequences, I argue that by encouraging an entire
generation of women to spend the equivalent of a home down payment on stiletto heels,
then lightly chastising them with the assertion that it is a woman’s right to spend
phenomenal amounts of money on fashion, women are ultimately forced to rely on men
to achieve financial security. As Carrie smokes cigarettes, drinks endless Cosmopolitan
cocktails, sleeps with whomever she chooses and works from home as a newspaper
columnist—a career known as a long-standing bastion of masculinity—these behaviours
could destabilize traditional power structures if left unchecked.
McRobbie posits that the girlish behaviours put forth by young women to
counteract their supposed liberation serve to assuage their own fears that if they position
themselves as equal to men within the labour market, they will no longer appear sexually
desirable (“Top Girls” 725). She explains that
The Post-Feminist Masquerade is a knowing strategy which emphasises its non-
coercive status; it is a highly-styled disguise of womanliness now adopted as a
matter of personal choice. But the theatricality of the masquerade, the silly hat,
the too short skirt, are once again means of emphasising, as they did in classic
Hollywood comedies, female vulnerability, fragility, uncertainty and the little
girl’s ‘desire to be desired.’” (“Top Girls” 725)
The masquerade functions to reassure male power structures by minimizing and
softening any perceived aggression on the part of women as they take on positions of
Gow 37
power (“Top Girls” 726). McRobbie explains that this trope is particularly effective
because the young women participants put forth the appearance that they do not fear male
retribution; in this case, however, dressing for the male gaze has been replaced by
dressing for the fashion and beauty system—meaning if a look is widely admired by
those who work in fashion, the young woman has acquired the validation she needs to
feel desirable (“Top Girls” 725). However, McRobbie describes the masquerade as a
double movement: its voluntaristic structure works to conceal that patriarchy is still in
place, while the requirements of the fashion and beauty system ensure that women are
still fearful subjects, driven by the need for ‘complete perfection’ (“Top Girls” 726). On
IG, this idea has now evolved into a contradictory statement where women are supposed
to appear perfect by being imperfect—evidenced by ‘no makeup selfies’ and hash tags
like #iwokeuplikethis, or the posting of self-deprecating accounts of fashion and beauty
I ask—and will address in my discussion of contemporary post-feminist tropes—
what does it mean when women themselves are using fashion and beauty as a vehicle for
producing and sharing these images of performative female vulnerability and fragility
today on IG? In the following section, I will explore what this looks like within one of the
most prominent fashion influencer feeds on IG today and address how this type of
content serves to interpellate other young women while offering a lucrative source of
income for those women who disseminate it.
McRobbie argues that the “luminosities of femininity” (“The Aftermath” 70), are
unashamedly White, noting that Black and Asian girls have a limited presence within the
Post-Feminist Masquerade and may only be included so long as they comply with the
Gow 38
requirements of the fashion and beauty system (70). That Black and Asian women are
excluded from these concepts could be attributed to the fact that the White women who
dominate feminist discourse lack an understanding of “(W)hite supremacy as a racial
politic, of the psychological impact of class, of their political status within a racist, sexist,
capitalist state (hooks 4). There were no Black girls in SATC until the token addition of
singer/actress Jennifer Hudson as Carrie’s assistant; Bridget Jones’s Diary, too, “evokes
a landscape of Whiteness with barely a gesture towards London as a multi-cultural city”
(71). There are some permitted paths for the Other to relocate themselves within the Post-
Feminist Masquerade—McRobbie points to the intermittent Black celebrity featured as a
style icon on a glossy magazine cover as an example—but the Post-Feminist Masquerade
as defined by McRobbie is primarily a tool that repositions White femininity as
submissive to White masculinity, while securing extant racial divisions by eliminating
ideas of multiculturalism (70). According to McRobbie, young, non-White women are
only permitted to mimic their White, post-feminist counterparts and the White visual
economies of the fashion and beauty system are tantamount to racial violence (71).
Whether or not this divisive pattern has changed in the intervening years will be
addressed with my analysis of the contemporary Post-Feminist Masquerade within the
next section.
Gow 39
The New Post-Feminist Masquerade: Leandra Medine of @ManRepeller
Fig. 2
If the Post-Feminist Masquerade of the early 2000s is exemplified by the girlish
figure of Carrie Bradshaw and the character’s glorification of conspicuous fashion
consumption, the enduring popularity of the themes proffered to young women by SATC
is evidenced on IG with popular feeds like @everyoutfitonsatc (580K followers at the
time of my research), dedicated to dissecting the outfits worn by the four main characters
on the show. Carrie Bradshaw’s final appearance in the second SATC movie in May 2010
coincided with the launch of the blog Man Repeller by Leandra Medine in that same
month, followed shortly by her adjunct IG feed, @manrepeller, with 2.1 million
followers as of April, 2019 (see fig. 2). In 2017, Medine told
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When I launched Man Repeller, what I was doing was essentially just
commenting on fashion trends that I found to be man repellent, and every now
and then I would post a photo of myself in a pair of shoes or trying on a jacket.
They were really low-fi pictures, but those stories always gained so much more
traction than the ones without pictures of me in them. I was like, “Oh, the internet
is voyeuristic. If I just keep posting more pictures of myself, this site will get
bigger.” So I started doing that. I tried to be really self-deprecating and sardonic
about it, because it felt too real and too serious if I wasn’t. After Instagram started
to become popular, and organic virality was happening on that platform, too, I
thought to myself that it was not going to be long before websites or personal
style blogs would become extinct, because all of the intrinsic benefits, or all of the
inspiration that you were able to cull from a website, you could now cull from
your mobile device. (McCall)
I argue that Medine embodies the new Post-Feminist Masquerade, having taken
over the task of stimulating the post-feminist process of disarticulation amongst young
women from the SATC series. Her self-deprecating tone—a deliberate attempt to prevent
her from being taken too seriously—replicates Carrie’s tone in both her fictional column
and her storylines. In Medine’s case, her Post-Feminist Masquerade is dispensed from a
new online platform multiple times per day and is all the more enviable because she is a
real person. Medine’s quirky yet aspirational aesthetic—centred around a wardrobe of
expensive designer clothes and accessories—is reminiscent of Carrie’s, and that both
speak to young women from New York City bolsters Medine’s designation as Carrie’s
Gow 41
Fig. 3
A post on the @manrepeller IG feed dated January 22, 2019 features an image of
Sarah Jessica Parker—the actress who plays Carrie Bradshaw in the SATC franchise—
wearing a contemporary version of the girlish tutu and leotard ensemble from the show’s
main title sequence described by McRobbie as the embodiment of the Post-Feminist
Masquerade (“Notes on the Perfect” 72). This @manrepeller post is accompanied by the
caption: “If you were wondering how Carrie Bradshaw would dress in 2019,
@sarahjessicaparker just served up the answer – and yes, the tutu is back” (see fig. 3).
Given that luxury department store Barneys New York currently collaborates with
@everyoutfitonsatc to recreate contemporary versions of the original looks from the
show for purchase via a link on IG to their web store—and Medine also has an
Gow 42
eponymous shoe line sold exclusively through the same retailer—I argue that this is
evidence the fashion system colludes with the power structures that encourage the
dissemination of the same post-feminist concepts put forth by first by the SATC franchise
and now by @manrepeller. The only difference between Medine and the fictional
characters profiled by McRobbie is that Medine does not appear to smoke, drink, or sleep
with multiple partners; raised in the Orthodox Jewish household, she married at age 23
(Wallace 2014) and had twin girls in March 2018 (@manrepeller).
Eight months after Medine created the Man Repeller blog, The New York Times
published a profile piece:
Since April, Ms. Medine, 21, has been publishing photos of herself wearing these
pieces on her blog, the Man Repeller, as well as shots of similarly challenging
recent runway looks: fashions that, though promoted by designers and adored by
women, most likely confuse — or worse, repulse — the average straight man.
These include turbans, harem pants, jewelry that looks like a torture instrument,
jumpsuits, ponchos, furry garments resembling large unidentified animals,
boyfriend jeans, clogs and formal sweatpants. (Aleksander)
In fashion terms, Medine’s Post-Feminist Masquerade looks exactly the same as the
masquerade of two decades ago: a young woman in masquerade with silly accessories
and garments the average person would consider ridiculous. As with Carrie Bradshaw’s
Post-Feminist Masquerade, this type of theatrical styling serves to emphasise “female
vulnerability, fragility, uncertainty and the little girl’s ‘desire to be desired’” (McRobbie
“Top Girls” 725).
Gow 43
Nine years after its launch, @manrepeller boasts 2.8 million followers and the bio
reads: “The cherry on top! Instant connection for an unconventional network of
spectacular ppl with interesting taste + smart opinions. Mirror selfies welcome” (2019). It
is now run as an online fashion magazine of sorts by the Man Repeller editorial team (the
blog’s masthead currently lists 15 employees excluding Medine), and features advertorial
posts and fashion and lifestyle-oriented content. Instead of a steady stream of ‘outfit of
the day’ posts featuring Medine like the IG feeds of many other high-profile fashion
influencers, the content is varied, but—just as with those pervasive #ootd12 posts—is
designed to drive traffic either directly to her advertisers’ web stores or back to the blog. I
argue that a typical @manrepeller post serves to interpellate young women into post-
feminist neoliberalism: take a post from February 28, 2019 featuring the quote “How did
we get to the point where free time is so full of things we have to do that there is no time
for the things we get to do?”. The accompanying caption tells us
The most-read article on Man Repeller this month comes from contributing writer
@moxiequinn, “The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles,” a treatise on
why we feel the need to take something that gives us pleasure in our private time
and turn it into productivity. Drop your 2 or 3 cents below, and read the full piece
– link in bio. (@manrepeller)
The paradoxical nature of this post is concerning as it acknowledges the neoliberal
pressures of self-management and self-enterprise but comes from a source (Medine) that
turned a hobby into a multi-million dollar fashion empire: “I feel like people can do
whatever they want with their social media following so long as they’re adhering to
12 This commonly used hashtag stands for ‘outfit of the day’ and is typically applied to posts of mirror
selfies that document daily head-to-toe looks.
Gow 44
FTC13 regulations”, she says in defense of her approach (Diamond). With this statement,
she is effectively invalidating her messages of empowerment or ethics she allegedly
subscribes to as a so-called ‘woke’ influencer.
Whether or not a designer look appears to have been created for the male gaze, I
argue against the idea that any garment created from within the fashion system can serve
as a non-performative feminist statement. The Post-Feminist Masquerade resides within
the field of consumer culture, where the fashion and beauty system is merely a substitute
for traditional modes of patriarchal authority (McRobbie “Top Girls” 718). With her
concept of ‘man-repelling’, Medine puts forth the appearance that she does not fear male
retribution for; here, just as with McRobbie’s original theorizing of the Post-Feminist
Masquerade, dressing for the male gaze has been replaced by dressing for the fashion and
beauty system. Furthermore, Medine garnered the admiration of the most elite facets of
the fashion industry so quickly that the validation she needed to feel desirable came
almost immediately, therefore eliminating the need to question the effects of the concepts
she disseminates. In 2015, she told Cosmopolitan magazine that the "currency of my
success is still not measured in dollars. It’s totally measured in respect" (Manning), thus
confirming the power of the fashion and beauty system over both her business and self-
While McRobbie’s Post-Feminist Masquerade was White, out of the multiple
voices behind @manrepeller at least one is Black (production manager Crystal Anderson)
and the visual content on the feed includes posts featuring diverse women. I argue that
13 A letter written by the director of the U.S. Bureau of Consumer Protection to the U.S. Federal Trade
Commission states “what is clear to anyone who browses popular lnstagram profiles, (is that) Instagram has
become a platform for disguised advertising directed towards young consumers” (Rich and Engle).
Gow 45
this is not necessarily indicative of positive progress, rather, it could be an indication that
Black women are now subject to the same post-feminist anxieties as White women.
The voluntaristic structure of Medine’s Post-Feminist Masquerade conceals the
presence of the patriarchy, but the pressures of the fashion and beauty system ensures that
she and her followers are driven by the need for perfection—albeit under the guise of
imperfection. Unlike many of her peers, Medine typically forgoes makeup or
professionally styled hair, and while this purports to be a rejection of public approval I
argue this is simply part of a carefully crafted image devised to sell high-end clothing and
beauty products to other women. As she told the New York Times in 2010, “I’m really
happy that people understand that man-repelling is a good thing [...] I was afraid people
would think I was mocking fashion, and it’s like, ‘No, I swear, I’m wearing feathered
sleeves as I write this!’” (Medine qtd. in Aleksander).
The Phallic Girl
McRobbie’s “sexy adventurous Phallic Girl,” (“The Aftermath” 8) arises from her
theorizing of the new sexual contract:
On the condition that she does not reproduce outside marriage or civil partnership,
or become the single mother of several children, the young woman is now granted
a prominence as a pleasure-seeking subject in possession of a healthy sexual
appetite and identity. (“Top Girls” 732)
The Phallic Girl follows patterns of male behaviour as a post-feminist gesture; she
puts forth an appearance of equality with her male counterparts by demonstrating that
“she can play them at their own game”. She refutes feminism, and because she feels she
has been granted some male privileges sees no reason to challenge patriarchal authority.
Gow 46
While McRobbie points out that while this trope was by no means new at the time of her
research, it had evolved with the self-perception of young women that equality with their
male counterparts had been achieved. She argues that within this illusory form of
equality, unresolved sexual antagonisms within contemporary heterosexuality find new
form (732). Central to McRobbie’s trope is the so-called ‘ladette’ culture that took root in
Britain with pop stars like Geri Halliwell and Mel B. of the Spice Girls. In the 1996 video
for their first number one hit single, “Wannabe” the girl group exemplify Phallic Girl
behaviours by causing a ruckus at the posh St. Pancras Hotel in London as they dash
through the halls and dining room, upending staff and guests while singing the refrain “if
you wannabe my lover”. Their wardrobes within this music video incorporate both
elements of the Post-Feminist Masquerade—Gerry Halliwell, known as Ginger Spice
within the pop group, wore a sequin leotard reminiscent of a circus performer—and the
Phallic Girl is on display with the masculine-inspired track pants, sneakers and crop tops
worn by Mel B. (Sporty Spice) and Mel C. (Scary Spice). Their antics within the hotel
are to be literally interpreted as upending the patriarchy, allowed with the caveat that
proper gender relations are maintained and this is reflected by their dress. Young women
inspired by the genre of messaging put forth by the Spice Girls were “asked to concur
with a definition of sex as a light hearted pleasure, recreational activity, hedonism, sport,
reward, and status” (“The Aftermath” 83).
This “playful female phallicism” is darkened by the possibility of a number of
punishments, contributing to an increase in post-feminist anxiety and fear of male
retribution for not playing by the rules (“Top Girls” 733). The ability to simultaneously
perform masculinity without forgoing the feminine traits that make them appeal to men is
Gow 47
no easy feat (“Top Girls” 732), but this is expedited by both the fashion and beauty
system and the leisure industries; consumer culture plays a key role in interpellation of
young women into this trope by inviting them to “overturn the old sexual double standard
and emulate the assertive and hedonistic styles of sexuality associated with young men”
particularly within the permissive confines of British binge drinking culture (“Top Girls”
The Phallic Girl and her entrenchment within the fashion and beauty system is
perfectly portrayed in luxury British department store Harvey Nichols’s Christmas
commercial in 2011. Various young women are portrayed returning home in the early
hours of the morning wearing revealing dresses and heels—in one case, vertiginous heels
are held in a girl’s hands as she walks barefoot on the street; another is shown eating a
kebab to stave off her hangover—enacting what is commonly known as ‘the walk of
shame’14 within popular culture. In this wildly successful campaign (the YouTube video
quickly went viral) Harvey Nichols claims to have the solution—buy more appropriately
demure, designer attire from us and no one will know what mischief you’ve been up to—
illustrated at the end by a model wearing a sophisticated dress returning home at dawn
with smile (Rawi 2011).
The strap line ‘Avoid the walk of shame this season’ tells young women it’s not a
problem to have a one night stand, so long as you don’t look ‘slutty’ while doing so.
Harvey Nichols’s Marketing Director explained that a “fabulous dress teamed with a
great pair of shoes will atone for a multitude of sins in our eyes; nobody will be looking
at your morning after make-up [...] or lack thereof!” (Rawi 2011).
14 This expression is used to describe a person returning home after spending the night at a sexual partner’s
house, wearing their outfit from the night before.
Gow 48
The Phallic Girl must outwardly exhibit “boldness, confidence, aggression and
even transgression” in that these qualities refute the feminine deference of the Post-
Feminist Masquerade (McRobbie “Top Girls” 732), but this is not to say the Phallic Girl
cannot look feminine; in fact, she must, lest she be labelled either a feminist or a lesbian
(732). Take, for example, how both Sporty and Scary Spice ensure their perfect
physiques are on display despite their masculine-inspired sportswear by pairing baggy
pants and sneakers with miniscule crop tops. As for lesbianism itself, this sexual
preference is repositioned as a fun, sexy, and light-hearted activity for Phallic Girls
“within circumscribed scenarios for male pleasure” (733).
The Phallic Girl’s extreme behaviour—recklessness, aggression, the seeming
disregard for society’s perception of her—may appear fun and glamorous within the
confines of pop culture, but more often than not took a more sinister turn when enacted in
real life:
heavy drinking, swearing, smoking, getting into fights, having casual sex, flashing
her breasts, flashing her breasts in public, getting arrested by the police,
consumption of pornography, enjoyment of lap dancing clubs and so on but
without relinquishing her own desirability to men, indeed for whom such seeming
masculinity enhances her desirability since she shows herself to have a similar
appetite to her male counterparts. (“The Aftermath” 83)
McRobbie’s Phallic Girl is decisively White, and Black women are positioned as
the disadvantaged counterpart to White privileged femininity. McRobbie suggests that
both the figurations of the postfeminist masquerade and the Phallic Girl are indicative of
subtle processes of exclusion and re-colonisation (“The Aftermath” 88). She theorizes
Gow 49
that Afro-Caribbean young women do not participate in Phallic Girl dress or behaviour
because “being drunk and disorderly while dressed like a prostitute is not a risk worth
taking” (87). Expressions of sexual autonomy and enjoyment by young Black women are
only permitted within the subcultures of Black music such as hip hop or within Jamaican
dancehall culture (88). Young (British) Asian women, too, are excluded from
McRobbie’s trope, as the Phallic Girl purports to reject this culture’s assumed
submissiveness—within the racist imagination—to patriarchal and religious authority.
The Phallic Girl is the embodiment of the sexual freedoms granted to young Western
women; yet her active pursuit of sexual gratification remains subject to patriarchal
authority and is in line with the requirements of the apparently liberalised heterosexual
matrix (88) which means her ‘beat them at their own game’ bravado can only ever be
The Phallic Girl is the post-feminist incarnation of the phallic lesbian, a female
trope permitted to operate as licensed phallus-bearers in an imitation of their male
counterparts (83). Under the guise of equality, displays of aggression and unfeminine
behaviour go seemingly without punishment (83). The Phallic Girl found her next
incarnation within Britain’s so-called glamour model, girls who started their career on
Page 3 of tabloids like The Sun and moved on to magazines like Maxim. Those that made
it to the top of this genre leveraged their success in soft porn to launch their own brands
with items like perfume, underwear and other low-priced accessories.
The Phallic Girl’s position is dependent on the logic of the consumer culture, the
withholding of criticism for their male counterparts and their assurance that they are
complicit with the new paradigms of leisure culture where sexuality is re-designated to
Gow 50
the “tabloid language” of male pleasure and satisfaction (“Top Girls” 733). As with the
Post-Feminist Masquerade, these requirements are disguised by the language of personal
choice so that young women spearhead their own process of disarticulation. I ask, and
intend to explore within my analysis of the contemporary incarnation of this trope: in the
age of #metoo, has the Phallic Girl had to adjust her behaviour or dress?
The New Phallic Girl: Cardi B. of @IamCardiB
Fig. 4
As with those high profile Phallic Girls of the 1990s and early 2000s, the
contemporary Phallic Girl often finds fame from within the world of music and
entertainment. The Phallic Girl is only permitted to become a fashion influencer once she
has been judged to have adequately achieved success as a singer, model or entertainer,
and this status is afforded with the caveat she remains at the top of her game. Young
Afro-Caribbean women were excluded from McRobbie’s trope because of the fear of
Gow 51
gendered racial violence against them, and expressions of sexual autonomy and
enjoyment on the part of young Black women were only permitted within Black music
subcultures such as hip hop (87). I argue that the new Phallic Girl has arisen from
precisely this sphere, one that at the time of McRobbie’s theorizing was a subculture but
today is both mainstream and a dominant force within popular culture and fashion.
Dominican-American rapper Cardi B. embodies the qualities and aesthetic of the
Phallic Girl at a level much more extreme than those pop stars like Geri Halliwell
referenced by McRobbie; her emulation of the assertive and hedonistic styles of sexuality
associated with young men are apparent in virtually everything she puts forth in the
popular media. The bio on her IG feed, @iamcardib (43.2 million followers as of April
2019), boasts “IHAVE GRAMMYWINNINGVAGINA” (see fig. 4) and her
lasciviousness is regularly celebrated within the popular media: Rolling Stone magazine
describes how
In the year or so since she’s become hip-hop’s breakout star, Cardi has come to
represent the best of what we value as a country: She’s our irrepressibly cute,
sexy, silly, filthy-mouthed Binderella who bootstrapped her way from the streets
to celebrity [...] she’s an ex-stripper with butt injections who’s after your money;
she’s a possible former member of the Bloods and such a city girl that she never
got a driver’s license and says today that she still carries a knife. (Grigoriadis)
Within the confines of Cardi’s IG, self-commentary on her heavy drinking is
commonplace, she swears unabashedly, and over a ten-day period in October 2018 she
and rapper Nicki Minaj posted multiple videos—which have since been deleted—
taunting each other over an alleged physical altercation between the two in a New York
Gow 52
City nightclub. Many posts show her in skimpy stage costumes or lingerie showing off
highly suggestive dance moves reminiscent of her days as a stripper. On December 23,
2018, she posted a video taken while she lay on a couch, long blue hair fanning out
behind her, heavily made up eyes and lips, a diamond choker and the top of a green
sequin bustier peeking into the frame. Lip syncing the words to a track with aggressively
sexualized lyrics, she waves her 3-inch nails suggestively at the camera. Her caption
reads, “When you drink 2 presidentes [...] I need to leave this country”.
When an iCloud hack caught her husband, the rapper Offset, in a compromising
position with another woman, Cardi defended her decision to forgive him by telling a
magazine “I ain’t no angel” (Gigoriadis), in line with the Phallic Girl’s obligation to
withhold criticism of her male counterparts. While the new sexual contract theorized by
McRobbie dictates the Phallic Girl must not reproduce, this limitation is only imposed on
those non-famous Phallic Girls. Now that Cardi has been judged to have adequately
achieved within music, entertainment and fashion, she was able to have a baby at age 25
without criticism—but it is worth noting that despite growing up in the New York
borough with the highest rate of teen pregnancy (O’Uhuru et al.), she did not have a
child. This indicates that from a young age she too was influenced by the post-feminist,
neoliberal pressures of consumer culture, self-management, self-enterprise, and self-
transformation, and in early agreeance with the terms of McRobbie’s theorizing of a new
sexual contract.
Her IG feed is a celebration of both her sexual appetite and a penchant for
diamonds, 3-inch long nails, and designer clothing. A post from February 16, 2019,
Gow 53
shows Cardi on her knees on a couch, tongue out and thrusting her pelvis back and forth
while dressed in an ensemble by Moschino.
Fig. 5
This clip is accompanied by the caption: “It’s so tight he think he slipped in my butt I
don’t swallow plan B I just swallow the nut [...] #Thotiana Mix with a little bit of
PleaseMe…” (see fig. 5). As a former stripper, Cardi B. is well aware of the power of
clothing—or her lack thereof—and a spate of appearances on fashion and pop culture
magazine covers in from 2018 to 2019 (including the high-fashion tomes Vogue, W
Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar) not only solidifies her status as fashion influencer to a
young female demographic but gives a duplicitous fashion and beauty system permission
to validate the fashion and beauty styles and body types they appropriate. Nigel Lezama
points to certain hip-hop scholars who argue representations and performance of counter
hegemonic female sexuality are in fact an act of empowerment for (B)lack women, but he
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cites oppositional research that “considers commodity exchange for sexual access the
selling of racialized fantasies for a primarily (W)hite, male, and suburban consumer” and
links sexualized images such as those proffered by Cardi on her IG as a glorification of
capitalism that perpetuates racialised marginalisation (8).
Fashion consumption is a recurring theme in her career and on her IG feed: in her
first hit song “Bodak Yellow” she calls Louboutin shoes “red bottoms”; within months
this expression became commonplace in popular culture. Lezama argues that to Cardi,
Louboutin shoes signify both her newfound success and her status outside of habitus
structured consumption (13). When manipulated by female rappers, he says, luxury
commodities differ from their male counterpart’s positioning of the luxury trope in that
they are very personal artifacts experienced without reification. He explains that in this
track, her lyrics are in alignment with the common hip hop practice of linking high and
low culture, thereby transforming the meaning of cultural capital and dominant cultural
habitus in this context (15).
Cardi told the New York Times she received her first pair of Louboutins on her
19th birthday from an admirer at a strip club where she worked, and was stunned at the
$800 price tag—the most she had ever spent on shoes was $300 for a pair of Jeffrey
Campbells (Nikas). However, Lezama posits that
While the black female rapper harnesses the luxury object’s value to express a
certain kind of dominance, she does not insist on its ideological value to shore up
habitus or express aspiration to improve personal status. In her hands and on her
body, luxury provides an aesthetic experience that shields her from patriarchal
and capitalist reification. (17)
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While Lezama believes that Cardi B. does not link the power inferred by status
symbols such as Louboutins to an innate quality or an elite status (14), certain
commentary on her IG feed may indicate that as she continues to receive validation from
the White-coded fashion and beauty system, she is being increasingly seduced by the new
privileges afforded to her by this patriarchal voice of authority. Consider how when Cardi
launched her own sell-out collection with urban fast-fashion e-tailer Fashion Nova in the
fall of 2018, she rapped about it in her song “She Bad” with the lyrics “I could buy
designer, but this Fashion Nova fit.” However, in a video posted on February 17, 2018,
she appears to be reconsidering this stance as she thanks @mandfredthierrymugler of the
French couture house @muglerofficial for dressing her in archived 1995 Mugler Couture
for the 2019 Grammy Awards and @voguemagazine for covering the fittings. The
ensemble lent to her by Mugler is reminiscent of a burlesque costume from the 1950s—
though I argue as a couture look designed for the runway and not the stage it remains
within the realm of high fashion, not costume. A sheer mesh and sequin bodysuit, black
satin mermaid skirt that peels away at the waist to reveal a pink satin lining reminiscent
of a shell, full length pink satin gloves, a multi-strand pearl choker, and strands of pearls
wrapped around a top knot positions this look within the Post-Feminist Masquerade and
marks a shift from Cardi’s Phallic Girl posturing. “It’s a big moment for the fashion
industry,” she tells her followers,
I just wanna say thank for choosing me, for choosing like, Cardi, for me to wear
those pieces that you don’t lend to nobody, and you know a lot of people who are
at home don’t understand how much this means to me because a lot of y’all [...]
too simple, yeah simple, everybody thinking that Gucci, that Prada, Versace is the
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only high end name brands, so you know [...] y’all don’t understand, like for me,
this is a big fashion moment for me [...] I don’t think anything will ever top this.”
In this post, she seeks to distance herself from her urban followers who wear these brands
as a uniform and who aren’t either savvy enough to know who Mugler is or in the
position to purchase couture. This could indicate that as she receives validation from the
patriarchal authority of the fashion and beauty system, she is increasingly dissociating
herself from Black fashion trends or other Black fashion influencers and now attributes
certain luxury commodities with elite status.
On March 3, 2019, she posted an image of her wearing a stage costume consisting
of a pink sparkly bra top and bikini bottoms, a pink cowboy hat and fringed jacket, pink
chaps and cowboy boots with the caption “LET ME HEAR YOU SAY ! Fit by
@bryanhearns I weigh 118 pounds now I need some food and [two eggplant emojis].15
While Cardi famously got silicone injections into her buttocks from an unlicensed
practitioner before she was famous, her weight and shape appears to be changing in order
to conform less with the slim-thick ideal body shape of women in pop culture and more
in line with the White model figure required to wear couture. This indicates that as with
McRobbie’s trope, Cardi’s playful female phallicism is subject to the same fear of
punishment, evidenced by her acknowledgement of the post-feminist anxiety about her
weight and fear of male retribution if she does not play by the rules (“Top Girls” 733). In
this case, however, these are not the rules of her male contemporaries within hip hop
culture, rather the rules of the White fashion and beauty system. As to the question of
15 The eggplant emoji is commonly used within social media to indicate a phallus.
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whether or not the Phallic Girl has had to adjust her dress in the age of #metoo, I argue
that Cardi’s highly sexualised fashion choices and posturing inhabits a space outside of
the concerns of this movement and serves as a protective armour of sorts; if a woman
purports to be the aggressor, then sexual assault and harassment cannot find form within
this narrative. Cardi herself has said “(e)ver since I started using guys, I feel so much
better about myself. I feel so damn powerful” (Nikas).
The ability to simultaneously perform masculinity without forgoing the feminine
traits that make them appeal to men is not easy (“Top Girls” 732), and there is a tension
between the lingerie-heavy ensembles that appear repeatedly throughout Cardi’s feed and
the fashion and beauty styling of her IG profile picture: her outfit, hair and makeup are
reminiscent of a 1960s politician’s wife.
Fig. 6
In this image, she sports a blond, Marilyn Monroe-style bob, boxy pink jacket thrown
over her shoulders, wearing a white ruffled blouse buttoned to the neck and the stiff
handle of what could be an Hermès Birkin bag is apparent on the right hand side of the
image (see fig. 6). Her increasing adoption of more conservative fashion and beauty
stylings indicate the recolonisation of the phallic fashion influencer; I argue that this
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trope could be a stepping-stone to the more respectable subordination of the Post-
Feminist Masquerade. Once Phallic Girls like Cardi have received validation by the
White fashion and beauty system, they must distance themselves from overtly racialised
styling and phallic posturing in order to be granted permission to participate in the
masquerade. McRobbie’s theorizing that the patterns of racialised retrenchment
embedded in spaces of femininity that invite male power and control resurrect norms of
White heterosexuality (88) stills holds strong, however, Black women are no longer
excluded. I argue that they are now invited to participate by the fashion-beauty complex
in order to validate the appropriation of Black coded fashion and beauty.
The Working Girl
The same sexual contract that binds McRobbie’s Phallic Girl and Post-Feminist
Masquerade has also permeated the fields of education and employment. The young
Working Girl embodies the values of New Labour’s meritocracy—having taken
advantage of the equal opportunities available to her (with a particular emphasis on an
individualistic and competitive discourse within education)—she emerges from a diverse
range of social and cultural spaces to be considered a subject worthy of investment (“Top
Girls” 722). Unconstrained by class or ethnicity, young women are now “motivated and
ambitious, they have clear plans about what direction they might hope to follow from a
young age” (“The Aftermath” 77). The government has created direct links between
education and employment that emphasise work experience, employability and enterprise
culture; young women’s occupational status is a key feature in the presentation of self
(“The Aftermath” 77). Furthermore, powerful, attractive working women are now
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ubiquitous within popular culture and media, setting the bar for young women to judge
themselves against within the world of work (“The Aftermath” 78).
The Working Girl is now situated within governmental discourse as much for her
productive as reproductive capacities (“The Aftermath” 59); with this re-designation
complete, so long as she does not challenge existing gender hierarchies she will be
permitted to occupy positions of visibility in the world of work (“The Aftermath” 72).
With government now taking it upon itself to look after the young woman, so that
she is seemingly well-cared for, this is also an economic rationality which
envisages young women as endlessly working on a perfectible self, for whom
there can be no space in the busy course of the working day for a renewed
feminist politics. (“Top Girls” 732)
The young women who figure within this trope are typically middle class, and are
encouraged to celebrate their individual successes and reject their social inferiors (“The
Aftermath” 72). TV makeover shows like What Not to Wear, a British TV show popular
at the time of McRobbie’s research, gives the Working Girl license to disparage low-
income women’s habits and appearance (“The Aftermath” 73). Young women are
discouraged from pursuing traditionally gendered and low-paid jobs such as hairdressing
(“The Aftermath” 59). The Working Girl must also put off motherhood until she has
amassed a significant enough portfolio that she is judged to have adequately achieved
within the professional realm; young, single mothers who require assistance from the
state are judged harshly (“Top Girls” 732).
The idea of ‘the perfect’—touched upon within my summation of McRobbie’s
Post-Feminist Masquerade—is also a highly visible pressure for the Working Girl.
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McRobbie describes ‘the perfect’ as a constantly recurring refrain within contemporary
femininity, citing a tabloid’s account “of the headmistress of a high achieving girls’
school warning about how dangerous it was for girls to embrace the idea that they could
somehow achieve perfection in their lives” (“Notes on the Perfect” 4). I argue that the
notion of perfection is now totally entrenched within contemporary femininity, and this
will be substantiated with my examination of the contemporary Working Girl in IG.
The Working Girl’s quest for perfection does not stop with her education and a
total dedication to her work: “the new temporalities of women’s time mean that they are
called upon to attend to body image and personal skills so that they will remain
presentable in the workplace and employable in the longer term” (“The Aftermath” 73). It
is not surprising that these young women’s high levels of academic performance are often
accompanied by pervasively low self-esteem (“The Aftermath” 73). Again, the Working
Girl must not let her ambition be perceived as too masculine in nature; she must uphold
the Post-Feminist Masquerade as a feminine performance in order to be allowed to
participate in the world of work (“The Aftermath”, 79). McRobbie references the two
competing female figures in the American film Working Girl (1989)— a “middle class,
feminist-influenced executive figure (Katherine) [...] who is eventually eclipsed by her
rival and social inferior in the typing pool (Tess) [...] who studies her closely, and learns
how to dress so that she too embodies complete perfection, but who remains endearingly
feminine and succeeds in work and in love by these means” (“The Aftermath”, 78).
Katherine’s expensive wardrobe does not adequately mask her feminist leanings; she
presents herself as equal to men in her style and her manner, and does not adjust to the
requirements of masculine domination. She neglects to maintain the visible fragility and
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conventional femininity that ensures she remains desirable to men (“The Aftermath” 79).
Despite this reference being 30 years old at the time of my research, while some
advancements have been made I argue that the popular media—and mainstream
society— still expect women to display a visible fragility and conventional femininity
and those that don’t—either within their behaviour or by adopting a style of power
dressing that is considered threatening to men—are branded as lesbian feminists or
worse, straight women who will never find heteronormative love. The new patriarchal
authority of the fashion and beauty system uses this post-feminist anxiety to perpetuate
the ongoing oppression of women.
The New Working Girl: Chriselle Lim of @ChriselleLim
Fig. 7
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In the age of IG, performing glamour labour (Wissinger 145) is a requirement for
achieving commercial success—or more succinctly, how much one can charge to
promote a fashion and beauty product—on this platform. Given that IG had not yet been
developed at the time of her research, McRobbie’s Working Girl was found in more
typical office jobs; in a contemporary context, the category of digital fashion and beauty
influencer has evolved into a highly desirable job for young women and for many,
extremely lucrative—the top influencers in these categories have by now amassed
fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars (Jedrzejczak). While the offline fashion
industry has historically taken full advantage of the governmental rhetoric cited by
McRobbie—with an emphasis on “work experience, internships, employability, and
enterprise culture” (“The Aftermath” 77)—the digital fashion landscape was built off the
back of enterprising bloggers who decided to take their own professional success within
the sphere of fashion and beauty into their own hands.
Stylist and digital influencer Chriselle Lim—described on her website as “one of
the most influential tastemakers on the web”—now boasts 1.1M followers on Instagram
but started her fashion career as a wardrobe stylist before founding a popular YouTube
fashion and beauty tutorial channel. Her personal style blog, The Chriselle Factor, was
created in 2011 “to chronicle her daily musings and personal style” (Lim). A 2017 profile
in describes how
The 32-year-old has a range of industry experience that's contributed to her
success thus far. With a merchandise and marketing degree from the Fashion
Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Lim had plans of
becoming a buyer—until she took math classes in college and realized that wasn't
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quite the path for her [...] She worked as (a stylist’s) assistant while building her
own portfolio, and then earned her "big first job in fashion" as (a) fashion editor.”
In Lim’s own words, her goal is “to encourage, educate, and inspire all women
across the globe through her personal style, runway trends, beauty secrets, and fashion
tips and tricks” (Lim). I argue that what she is actually encouraging is the post-feminist
process of disarticulation amongst her followers by promoting the excessive consumption
of fashion and beauty products as well as unattainable ideas of the perfect. Her IG feed—
which dates to November 14, 2011—serves as a mechanism to drive followers to three
places: first, her blog; then to a feed dedicated to a clothing line she launched in
September 2018 (@chrisellelimcollection) (see fig. 7); and finally to her commercial
studio-for-hire’s feed, @cincstudios. Her posts on both platforms yielded 6.9 million
impressions for global multi-brand fashion e-tailer Revolve in 2017, and her site sends
15,000 to 20,000 clicks per link to beauty products from brands like La Prairie, Caudalie
and Malin + Goetz (Houlis).
As the Founder and Creative Director, Chriselle is featured in almost all of the
content within her IG feed, although her husband and two children make frequent
appearances—between February 7 and February 23, 2019, out of 30 posts only four do
not have Lim in the shot. Like McRobbie’s Working Girl—found “(a)cross the
boundaries of class and ethnicity” (“The Aftermath” 77)—first generation Korean-
American Lim is not the stereotypical White girl of the Post-Feminist Masquerade. Lim
resembles McRobbie’s Working Girl trope in that she is undeniably motivated and
ambitious, but unlike McRobbie’s girl she did not have clear plans about what direction
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she wanted to follow from a young age. She draws parallels between her early ambitions
and her current career, stating that
Because I came from more of a professional background, my outlook was always
as a teacher. I want to teach my followers something versus saying, ‘This is what
I’m wearing.’ When I first started, it was about letting me teach them about how
to do this in fashion, or how to make it in fashion, or how to become a stylist, or
how to get that job you want with the outfit you're wearing [...] Back then, it was
purely out of just for the love it; there was no money in it. It was just because I
wanted to share my knowledge and hopefully impact and help some people out
there. (Houlis)
Lim epitomizes the characteristics of those individuals who are successful within
the realm of glamour labour: she is the ‘CEO of Me’, responsible for her own success, is
adaptable, original, professional, looks the part, in charge of her own destiny, and went
on to become a social media superstar. She puts forth her best self, not only physically
but also emotionally and personally (Wissinger 145).
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Fig. 8
If she does bring up topics that are mentioned as a form of stress, it is generally treated in
a light-hearted manner—see Chriselle Lim holding her breast pump on January 17, 2019
outside Chateau Marmont because she lost the cap (see fig. 8), or posting a side view of
her breastfeeding on October 6, 2018 to show that she cannot zip up the side of the dress
she is advertising—but it always has to be fun, light and studied.
Powerful, attractive working women are now ubiquitous within popular culture
and media, but it is women like Lim that now set the bar for young women to judge
themselves against within the world of work (“The Aftermath”, 78). By using herself as
the subject for her own ‘makeover’ style content she is simply reframing the message
imparted by the makeover TV shows cited by McRobbie—that your look is unacceptable
and you must improve it (“The Aftermath” 124). This post-feminist concept encourages
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young women to become active participants both in the labour market and consumer
culture, as disposable income allows women to shop. Lim’s IG feed is no longer used
solely to impart fashion and beauty “tips and tricks”, but to sell clothing and beauty
products to her followers. If an IG post is about what she is wearing or her beauty
routine, every item or product is tagged with a link to the brand’s feed or web store. The
same governmental rhetoric adopted by the offline fashion industry now permeates the
digital fashion landscape, and influencers like Lim take advantage of young women who
wish to pursue the same career by hiring them as unpaid interns. Her IG feed is now run
in the same manner as the print magazines analysed by McRobbie and serves the same
purpose—to make money from advertisers who wish to reach young women.
Lim may now be a powerful figure within the fashion system, but within her IG
she ensures that she does not threaten hetero-normative gender roles by demonstrating a
visible fragility and conventional femininity through her hair, makeup and wardrobe
choices (the colour pink, floral decorations and a plethora of printed dresses give a soft,
feminine look to her feed). While she keeps her captions light and fun, on her blog she
acknowledges that
I know that sometimes my posts (especially on Instagram) can make motherhood
look a little bit too glam to be real, but honestly in this digital media age, what
you see isn’t the whole truth. Fact of the matter is, I’m still learning how to fine
tune my life as a career woman and my role as a mom.” (“20 Things They Don't
Tell You About Pregnancy”)
As Lim has built a multi-million dollar business off working on a perfectible self,
posts like this indicate she likely has no space in the course of her working day for a
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renewed interest in feminist politics (“Top Girls” 732). As with McRobbie’s Working
Girl, Lim put off motherhood until she amassed a significant enough portfolio to self-
judge adequate achievement within the professional realm (732). However, success came
at a relatively young age for Lim so she was spared the post-feminist anxiety of late
motherhood (she had one child at 30 and a second at 33); in this case it is her followers
who may feel inadequate if they do not achieve similar results in their own personal life.
In September 2018 (the same month her second daughter was born), she launched
her eponymous clothing line, aptly marketed on her IG feed with the hash tag
“#CLWorkingGirl”. To promote the collection on this platform, she posted a look book
video featuring former K-Pop singer and actress Sara Son (@sarasohn) on September 27,
2018 with the caption
@chrisellelimcollection stands for strong, powerful, and confident working
women. Women who are on the go and on the move. Proud to announce to you
our latest campaign for @chrisellelimcollection called “REAL WOMEN WHO
WORK” Spotlighting women who are truly making a difference in their industry
and their community. Meet Sara Sohn aka @mommasohn. She is a full time mom
(yes, full time moms are working moms too! In fact they have the hardest and
most important job!) and also a successful actress on the side. She has two kids
ages 5 and 7. A typical day consists of pick-ups and drop offs, getting dinner
ready for the family and occasional castings in between. She is a true boss lady
because she always puts family first and is the epitome of a strong, modern day
mom. #CLWorkingGirl #chrisellelimcollection. (@chrisellelim)
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This caption is the perfect manifestation of neo-liberal post-feminism at work: the
#CLWorking Girl is portrayed as the woman who simultaneously manages a successful
career, raises a family and still looks chic by wearing a variety of mid-priced garments
designed with this purpose in mind. Notions like this serve to reinforce unattainable ideas
of the perfect and encourage the post-feminist process of disarticulation amongst young
women. Fashion, in this case, offers an illusory access into the neoliberal paradigm of
female achievement in both the domains of professional success and motherhood.
The Global Girl
McRobbie’s Global Girl is described as the pleasing counterpart of the western
Working Girl, found within the rapidly developing factory systems of those countries
relegated to so-called Third World status (“Top Girls” 718). She is at once friendly and
unthreatening, beautiful yet pliable, and emanates good will (“The Aftermath” 59). In
order to ensure that this attribution of capacity and illusory freedom does not upend
traditional gender hierarchies, the Global Girl is forbidden to question hegemonic
masculinity and any associations with feminism must be abandoned (“The Aftermath” 8).
McRobbie’s Global Girl arises from the space of globalization and the increasing
visibility of commercial femininities in the developing world, and her newfound
economic freedom and ability to participate within consumer culture is only permitted so
long as she gives up on the “more social democratic gender-mainstreaming and human
rights based model” of economic freedom (“Top Girls” 718). Labour and the capacity to
work are key features of this trope, as young women are assigned central role in the new
global labour market. So, other than having been granted permission to participate in
consumer culture, what does fashion have to do with McRobbie’s Global Girl? “The
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chains of expropriation”, she says, “of the knowledge and resources on the part of global
corporations [...] intensify the disadvantage and dependency of non-First World women”
(“The Aftermath” 55).
McRobbie’s theorizing could be attributed to an increase in female workers hired
to make garments and accessories for fast fashion brands like H&M, Joe Fresh and Zara
in countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Bangladesh, for
example, these numbers have grown dramatically since the first garment factory opened
in 1976: out of the 3.5 million workers in 4,825 garment factories who produce goods for
export to primarily North America and Europe, 85% are female ( The
garment industry in this country has been a key factor in uplifting large numbers of poor
and vulnerable women, as employment helps prevent early marriage and in turn,
reductions in fertility (; Kanchi Hazi, a
24-year-old with a gap-toothed smile left her home village seven years ago to take
this factory job. She sews pockets on blouses and works as many hours as she can
get. “I like it here,” she said, arms akimbo, with fists on her hips. “I make my own
decisions. I can earn money and help my family.” With overtime, she makes $78
a month and sends half of it home [...] Every few months, she makes the three-
hour bus ride home to visit her family. She gets mixed reactions from villagers.
Some adults praise her, she said, because “I'm the only wage earner in the
family.” Others scold her for taking a job in a factory where men and women
work together [...] But when she steps off the bus, younger village girls dance
around her. “They see me as a role model,” Hazi said. “I can do whatever I want.
I can enjoy myself. I have freedom.” (Weiss)
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Girls like this validate McRobbie’s theorizing of a new sexual contract in the
context of the disadvantaged, Third World factory girl who emanates good will (“The
Aftermath” 59), however it is hard to imagine these girls, who live in a strict Muslim
society and are required to send a large part of their income home to their family, being
able to actively participate in consumer culture—particularly within the sphere of fashion
and beauty.
According to McRobbie, the Global Girl gained visibility in the 1980s and 90s
through advertising images from fashion companies like Benetton, famous for using their
campaigns as a vehicle to address social issues by putting forth imagery that intimates we
live—or should be living—in a post-racial, post-sexist and post-religious society. She
also points to the increase in international editions of fashion and gossip magazines like
ELLE, Marie Claire, Vogue and Grazia as an indication that the Global Girl willingly
seeks to emulate the styles, fashion and, in so far as is culturally permissible, the lifestyle
choices of her western counterpart. Young women in developing countries are therefore
positioned as enthusiastic about partaking in and belonging to a new type of global
femininity (“The Aftermath” 88).
The Global Girl, explains McRobbie, is thoroughly modern, and through her wage
earning capacity is able to indulge her enjoyment of beauty culture and popular culture.
She has none of the sexual bravado of the Phallic Girl, nor has she taken the awkward
mantle of femininity of her post-feminist masquerading counterparts (89). The Global
Girl is both natural and authentic, loves feminine self-adornment, and is at once playfully
seductive and innocent with the suggestion of a youthful sexuality that has yet to be
discovered (“The Aftermath” 89). The promotion of western post-feminist concepts,
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explains McRobbie, “is the underlying (and recolonising) aim of the promotion of Global
Girlhood by the global media, the commercial domain (the fashion-beauty complex) and
through specifically neo-liberal forms of governmentality” (“The Aftermath” 59). Unlike
her American or British counterpart, however, McRobbie says the mobilisation of the
Global Girl is not reliant on governmental discourses because her increased mobility
allows her a sort of transnational status (89). The Global Girl is interpellated by
consumer-led discourse, but she does not threaten the West with “migration and
uncontrolled fertility, instead they stay put and yearn for the fashion and beauty products
associated with Western femininity and sexuality (89).
While I agree with the idea that a Global Girlhood promoted by a global media
can be attributed to the pervasiveness of neoliberalism, I argue that this trope is
problematic and doesn't really find form—then or now—as it conflates women across a
multitude of contexts and flattens different realities. Furthermore, I find it difficult to
imagine those so-called Third World female factory workers spending any of their
income on the international editions of magazines like Grazia or Vogue.
Simidele Dosekun concurs with McRobbie’s theorizing that post-feminist culture
and sensibility emerged in the West as a direct response to Second Wave feminism, but
she refutes the claim post-feminist sensibilities emerging outside of this context are
simply a mimicry of western behaviours.16 She argues that this sensibility is easily
circulated transnationally by global neoliberal institutions and is not necessarily a
reaction triggered by a historical precedent (968).
16 It is noteworthy that in a study of 12 international editions of four top beauty and fashion magazines,
Yan and Bissell found Asian countries were relatively independent in their framing of models and stories
but magazines distributed in Latin America and South Africa were being assimilated into the Western
norms of beauty (194).
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Dosekun’s research points to a pervasive post-feminist sensibility in Lagos,
Nigeria, despite the fact that the region has not experienced the same ‘waves’ of
feminism as the West: her interview subjects draw on ideas and self-descriptions that
would be as recognizably post-feminist as if their provenance were in any western capital
city. She disagrees with McRobbie’s assertion that in the non-western world, post-
feminism manifests itself as a more subdued and naive copy of the western version: girls
playing dress up with what little they have versus the empowered, sexually and
economically liberated women of the West (963).
Dosekun argues that McRobbie’s Global Girl does not take into account or allow
for difference between non-western women. She states that “post-feminism is readily
transnationalized [...] broadcast and sold across borders” (961), available to women
around the globe “who have the material, discursive and imaginative capital to access and
to buy into it” (966). It is not, she argues, that “any feminine subject, anywhere in the
globe can perform a post-feminist identity’ at will, but rather that ‘post-feminism sells
transnationally—from “Beyoncé” to “boob jobs” to “Brazilian waxes,” from Shanghai to
Mexico City to London to Lagos” (966). I concur with Dosekun's assessment that post-
feminist disarticulation affects non-western women with the same nuanced complexity as
it does western women. While further exploration of how this process plays out in a
variety of national contexts is outside the scope of my research, I will, in the next section,
discuss one incarnation of the new Global Girl that appears within the confines of IG, a
trope that takes into account how McRobbie’s identification of the transnational status of
the Global Girl (89) has increased in the intervening years, while strengthening
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Dosekun’s assessment that the Global Girl isn’t simply playing dress up in mimicry of
her western counterpart.
The New Global Girl: Huda Kattan of @HudaBeauty
Fig. 9
On the IG Rich list of 2018—a compilation of the platform’s highest-earners
based on what they are able to charge for a paid post—Brazilian model @camilacoelho is
the only one from outside of the U.K., U.S. and Europe to make the list of the top 10
Global fashion influencers ( The list of the top 10 Global beauty
influencers is even less diverse—bar one European, all of the influencers are American.
Yan and Bissell argue that the dissemination of western media content across societies
and cultures worldwide has led to the globalization of a beauty and appearance ideal; the
new cross-culturally accepted standard of ideal beauty requires a narrow face, small nose,
large eyes, high eyebrows, and high cheekbones. They surmise that these westernized
Gow 74
ideals have eroded the national beauty standards in countries like Japan, Saudi Arabia,
and Brazil, “where the appearance norm is quite different from that of Caucasian women”
(195). However, they warn against the exaggeration of the cultural assimilation of
fashion, as they identified a clear distinction in dress consistent with the boundaries of
Asian and American culture, for example (having spent four years working within the
Indian fashion industry, I can confirm that ethnic dress is still the dominant paradigm
within that country). Yan and Bissell’s research could explain why no non-Eurocentric
IG fashion influencers have as of yet managed to achieve the same critical mass of
followers as those who operate within the sphere of beauty.
I have, therefore, chosen an Emirati/American beauty influencer as the best
representation of the new Global Girl in part because of her Iraqi heritage, but also
because the incredible global reach of her IG feed (see fig. 9). Now-billionaire beauty
mogul Huda Kattan (on IG her primary feed is @Hudabeauty, with 36 million followers
as of April, 2019) exemplifies the transnational status of the Global Girl as outlined by
McRobbie—and for this reason she most accurately represents the contemporary version
of this trope.
Born in Oklahoma, Huda Kattan is the daughter of Iraqi immigrants to the U.S.
and moved to Dubai in 2006 shortly after getting married (Ghanem). As with many IG
fashion and beauty influencers, Kattan found her initial audience on her beauty blog and
YouTube channel in 2010, and she launched the HudaBeauty line in 2013, which now
offers a range of products that includes liquid lipsticks, highlighter palettes, false nails
and eyelashes and a collaboration with Tweezerman (Ghanem). Her IG feed helped her
grow her number of fans exponentially, and by 2017 she was said to be the highest paid
Gow 75
non-celebrity beauty influencer on that channel in 2017 (Ghanem). Kattan’s considerable
global influence within the sphere of beauty could be attributed to her transnational
status—she has ties to the U.S., Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. In terms of her
appearance, she exudes an exotic Otherness: her looks exemplify the cross-culturally
accepted standard of ideal beauty with a narrow face, small nose, large eyes, high
eyebrows, and high cheekbones. That she does not conform to the Eurocentric White,
blond paradigm of beauty serves to increase her international appeal as young women of
diverse ethnicities may be able to see an element of her appearance within their own.
Blogger, turned Business Woman” (@hudabeauty). Her feed is also incredibly diverse;
she frequently uploads videos and content sent to her by her legions of fans that show
themselves using her products, including non-binary or trans members of the LGBTQ+
community from around the world.
17 MUA is an acronym for makeup artist, commonly used within social media.
Gow 76
Fig. 10
Posts include a makeup look by transgender Mexican beauty blogger @laviedunprince
from February 24, 2019 (see fig. 10); a makeup tutorial by British Black male fashion
and beauty blogger @theplasticboy (February 28, 2019); another shows an image of
Lebanese beauty blogger @lepetitbeirut wearing hijab and showing off her range of Huda
Beauty lipstick (March 6, 2019).
Interspersed are images of Huda herself, sometimes with her husband and
daughter; she regularly posts comedic memes that make fun of the excessive hair and
makeup requirements of her day-to-day life, which indicates that she, too, subscribes to
the girlish femininity and self-deprecating tone required of the Post-Feminist
Masquerade. Despite the inclusive nature of her feed, she is undeniably promoting a
Gow 77
universal standard of beauty characterized by an excessive, hyper-feminine aesthetic and
is actively contributing to the phenomenon of cultural assimilation within the sphere of
beauty. One such post shows her followers how to give their nose a more refined
appearance using contour powder.
Fig. 11
The exuberant caption (see fig. 11) reads
Hey Guys! Check out my super easy tutorial on how I keep my nose looking
SNATCHED! Even though I’ve had my nose done I still love the way it looks
when it’s contoured! Let me know what tutorials do you guys want to see next!
Comment below! #fakeanosejob. (@hudabeauty)
Her choice of the adjective ‘snatched’ is interesting as typically this slang now
refers to a woman’s small waist; this indicates that stringent standards of shape are no
longer strictly corporeal. Another meme shows a pair of long, elegant hands reaching out
Gow 78
from PVC Louis Vuitton sleeves and complete with three-inch pink manicure; opposite,
there is an image of the bare plastic, pudgy fingers of a child’s doll. A text overlay reads
“How women feel when they have their nails done, VS. when they don’t” (February 16,
It could be argued that the diverse nature of her feed means she is not, at the very
least, perpetuating the ideal gendered Whiteness of the fashion and beauty system and for
this she should be applauded. However, by encouraging cisgendered women, queer,
transgender and non-binary young people to deeply entrench themselves within consumer
culture and the fashion-beauty complex, perhaps she should be considered all the more
dangerous. I ask, is she still activating post-feminist disarticulation if other marginalised
groups are included within her messaging? While understanding how the post-feminist
concepts put forth on her IG feed affect diverse followers bears further research within
critical fashion studies, I believe it is possible to disarticulate any marginalised group.
Those young women and members of the LGBQT+ community interested in fashion and
beauty in developing countries as discussed by McRobbie no longer need to wait for the
international editions of their favourite glossy magazines to see what is fashionable in the
West; why would they when they can simply open IG and see content they can self-
identify with posted in feeds like Kattan’s? What is certain is that the beauty concepts put
forth by Kattan and her followers are as recognizably post-feminist as if their provenance
were in any western capital city. Kattan’s feed validates Dosekun’s theorizing that post-
feminism does indeed now sell transnationally.
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While Angela McRobbie’s theory of post-feminist disarticulation has been
interrogated by scholars in the realms of feminist media studies, gender studies, and
cultural studies, few have approached her ideas from the context of fashion studies
despite the central role of the fashion-beauty complex in disseminating damaging post-
feminist rhetoric to young women. While two of the examples she uses to illustrate her
four post-feminist tropes—book and film character Bridget Jones, and Sex and the City’s
protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw—have been extensively reviewed and discussed in
literature on post-feminism within popular culture, there are few critiques of how
McRobbie’s tropes have evolved in the years since The Aftermath’s publication. While
my research could also be situated within culture and communication studies because of
the influence I attribute to politics and the new women’s movement on the evolution of
McRobbie’s tropes, the findings of my research validates the role of the fashion and
beauty complex in reinforcing patriarchal authority as well as its part in promoting an
isolating neoliberal feminism. This research therefore seeks to fill a significant gap in
critical fashion studies and insight into the role of feminism in the digital economy.
Given how visible these societal pressures are to young women as they are relentlessly
promoted by the fashion and beauty industries on IG, post-feminist anxieties within
young women are now so heightened that there was an urgency for the identifying new
patterns of disarticulation on this platform. Disarticulation is now being enacted on IG in
such a way that no group of women is exempt; however, all women are not affected
proportionately. White privilege within the context of the new sexual contract has
contributed to the pervasive and dangerous notion that we live in a post-sexist and post-
Gow 80
racial society—and this serves to perpetuate the ongoing oppression of different
marginalised groups and prevent female articulation. McRobbie’s research was criticized
by intersectional feminist scholars who argue that certain Black women can be
interpellated to post-feminism, furthermore, her theorizing of the Global girl trope is
problematic as it conflates women across a multitude of contexts and flattens different
realities. My research aligns with Simedele Dosekun, who theorizes that post-feminism
circulates transnationally, and Dayna Chatman, who posits that Black women are not
exempt from damaging post-feminist discourse.
Three out of McRobbie’s four tropes were easily identifiable amongst the most
prominent fashion influencers on IG today. Leandra Medine of @Manrepeller is the
contemporary Carrie Bradshaw, a young woman who turned the Post-Feminist
Masquerade into a multi-million dollar fashion business largely through her presence on
IG. The entire premise of ‘man-repelling’ hinges on the theatricality of the masquerade as
described by McRobbie: ridiculous high fashion garments and accessories that purport to
deter the male gaze. In this case however, the male gaze as the traditional patriarchal
authority has simply been replaced by the fashion and beauty system. The frivolity of
Medine’s Masquerade serves to mitigate any fears that her influence within this sphere
could destabilise a traditional gender hierarchy.
Medine’s aesthetic was immediately validated by the fashion world when her blog
was profiled by the New York Times; this endorsement confirmed the fashion and beauty
system’s patriarchal authority over her and her young female followers. While her style is
often described as quirky, it still fits within the paradigms of heteronormative femininity
and this has allowed her to achieve commercial success both as a fashion marketer and
Gow 81
product designer. As her IG feed gained traction, she was able to monetize her content
with paid advertorial posts and use @manrepeller as a vehicle to redirect followers to—now ranked 19th on luxury online fashion retailer’s
list of top referrers (Strugatz). While @manrepeller has evolved from #ootd posts
featuring Medine into an editorial-style feed run by Medine’s employees, it still serves to
interpellate young women into neoliberal, post-feminist concepts such as encouraging
young women to seek the potential rewards of glamour labour and promoting the
excessive consumption of fashion products. What makes Medine’s Masquerade different
from McRobbie’s original trope is that while Carrie Bradshaw’s character disarticulated
young women from within a fantasy world on TV and movie screens, Medine’s
(somewhat illusory) accessibility as a real woman makes the dissemination of post-
feminist fashion and lifestyle content incredibly potent—and therefore more damaging to
young women.
Rapper and IG Influencer Cardi B. (@iamcardib) is the contemporary incarnation
of McRobbie’s Phallic Girl; she resembles the high profile women situated within
McRobbie’s original theorizing in that she found fame within the entertainment
industry—first as an exotic dancer, before becoming one of the most influential
performers in rap. Young Afro-Caribbean women like Dominican-American Cardi were
excluded from McRobbie’s trope because of the danger of gendered racial violence
against them; however young women like Cardi are the new flag-bearers of this trope—
with the misguided belief that becoming the sexual aggressor eliminates the potential for
harm. This is a concept she has embraced with enthusiasm, and her IG feed is a
celebration of sexual enjoyment, excessive fashion consumption and heavy drinking.
Gow 82
These behaviours (at least the sexual bravado and excessive drinking) though present in
McRobbie’s theorizing, were more often found within the non-famous Phallic Girl—at
the time of her research, it was still too risky for those young Phallic women in the public
eye to be arrested for fighting or to be repeatedly seen acting drunk and disorderly for
risk of jeopardizing their careers. It is precisely these behaviours—along with the highly
sexualized nature of her persona—that propelled Cardi to stardom as a reality TV star
before she achieved almost instantaneous success as a rapper.
Now that she has been judged to have adequately achieved in this area, she has
been embraced by the fashion and beauty system as an influencer, though I argue this
positioning gives a duplicitous fashion and beauty system permission to validate the
fashion and beauty styles and body types they appropriate—in this case, a ‘slim-thick’
body type achieved through silicone injections in one’s backside. However, I have
identified this trope as a stepping stone to the White, lady-like paradigm of The Post-
Feminist Masquerade, and this is evidenced by Cardi’s publicly distancing herself from
both accessibly priced and high fashion brands popular within urban culture from her IG
feed and aligning herself with White coded brands like Mugler Couture. This transition
requires her to adopt the thin White body shape typical of the Post-Feminist Masquerade
and reject the slim-thick ideal popularized by those exotic Others; Cardi’s weight loss is
documented on IG along with her adoption of a high fashion aesthetic. Given her
incredible influence over a young female demographic, this is the most troubling aspect
of her co-option by the White fashion and beauty system, as when this patriarchal
authority decides racialised bodies are no longer ‘on trend’, those young women who
aren’t able to pick up and put down a body shape as they would a new jacket could suffer
Gow 83
immense damage to their self-esteem and self-worth. This, of course, is the goal of the
post-feminist process of disarticulation: to strengthen the divide between diverse groups
of young women in order to prevent them coming together to enact significant change
against the new regime of gender power.
The Contemporary Working Girl found a new niche within the professional world
in the years following McRobbie’s research: the concept of glamour labour within the
digital sphere allowed this trope to diversify from the traditional office job favoured by
young, middle class, well-educated women in the 90s and early 2000s. Neoliberal strivers
like Korean-American fashion influencer Chriselle Lim found new form with the advent
of style and beauty blogging; her designation of IG, an important channel for her
advertorial fashion and beauty content, allowed her to build a multi-million dollar fashion
empire by diversifying into self-branded products. As with McRobbie’s Working Girl,
new Working Girl Lim is not the stereotypical White girl of the Post-Feminist
Masquerade. Lim exemplifies other characteristics of this trope with her self-described
goal of encouraging, educating, and inspiring all women across the globe with her
personal style and beauty secrets; her rhetoric infers to young women that they are
responsible for their own self-transformation and self-governance in the relentless quest
for ‘the perfect’. Not only does she leverage the most damaging aspects of the fashion-
beauty complex for financial gain, but her portrayal of marriage, motherhood and a high-
powered fashion career sets a restrictively high standard of achievement for her young
female followers.
Within the neoliberal meritocracy, young women like Lim promote the concept
that one’s twenties are a period that must be dedicated to unencumbered striving, which
Gow 84
serves to increase post-feminist anxieties if one has not been able to self-judge as having
adequately achieved by the time they are thirty. Lim has adopted the same governmental
discourse that characterizes the offline fashion industry, with an emphasis on work
experience, portfolio building, and unpaid internships. Her IG feed is subject to the same
rules as the print magazines analysed by McRobbie—Lim must answer to the patriarchal
authority of her fashion and beauty advertisers. Lim’s eponymous clothing line, marketed
under the hash tag #CLWorkingGirl, positions her as one of the worst offenders in this
category. By employing the post-feminist concept of the working woman who can both
have and do it all, she situates herself firmly within the neoliberal paradigm and
stimulates the post-feminist process of disarticulation exactly as described by McRobbie.
McRobbie’s original concept of the Global Girl has been criticised by scholars for
conflating women across a multitude of contexts, and flattening complex and varied
realities. However, my research found only one fashion influencer in the top ten global
rankings from outside the U.S. or Europe; given that Yan and Bissell argue that particular
countries are at risk of cultural assimilation within the sphere of beauty, I turned to IG
beauty influencers to locate the contemporary version of this trope. Emirati/American
Huda Kattan (@Hudabeauty), an Iraqi-American now settled in the United Arab
Emirates, best represents the new Global Girl. One of the first beauty influencers to build
a billion dollar beauty empire, she exemplifies the transnational status of the Global Girl
as outlined by McRobbie but validates Dosekun’s theorizing that a post-feminist
sensibility is both global and hegemonic. Kattan’s appearance exemplifies the trans-
racial, exotic paradigm of beauty popularised by influencers like Kim Kardashian—and
freely admits this look is constructed with plastic surgery and a great deal of contour
Gow 85
powder. With this, she is contributing to the cultural assimilation of a globally-idealized
type of beauty: her success may be attributed to how she leads young women of diverse
ethnicities to either see an element of her appearance within their own or feel that with
money and significant amount of effort, they too can be responsible for their own self-
transformation. Kattan has adopted elements of the Post-Feminist Masquerade within her
own look and the information she disseminates from IG, with the use of comedic memes
and a self-deprecating tone across her captions and videos. While her feed is diverse and
inclusive, she persistently promotes the excessive consumption of beauty products and
neoliberal concepts of glamour labour, self-governance and self-transformation. I
question whether or not broader representation in this context is indicative of a positive
shift or whether it signifies that damaging post-feminist rhetoric has found a powerful
new channel to disarticulate young people from a variety of marginalised groups.
My analysis of the evolution and defining characteristics of McRobbie’s post-
feminist tropes on IG begets the question: can young women participate within the
fashion and beauty system as influencers and still advocate feminism with any real
conviction? The findings of my research indicate that this sphere is entirely post-feminist
in nature, designed to ensnare young women within the gender stabilizing confines of a
heteronormative style of femininity that rejects any of the gains made by radical feminists
since the 1970s. Furthermore, the new women’s movement has done little to reduce
ongoing female oppression, largely because participants are predominantly White, middle
class women18 who have been led to believe that we live in a post-racist society and that a
feminist identity can be constructed through particular items of clothing.
18 Take, for example, the demographics of protesters at the Women’s March in Washington on January 21,
2017 (the day following Trump’s inauguration); respondents of an on-site survey conducted by researchers
Gow 86
Similarly, IG influencers promote fashion and beauty concepts and products by
leveraging post-feminist anxieties just as fashion marketers always have—aging,
motherhood, marriage, excessive body surveillance, a desire for unattainable levels of
perfection—with the goal of selling more to young women. Now that IG is firmly
embedded within the fashion-beauty complex because of influencers like Leandra
Medine, Chriselle Lim, Cardi B. and Huda Kattan, this platform has taken on an almost
sinister dimension with its global reach and hyper-targeting capabilities. IG enables
influencers, brands and marketers to keep young women entrenched in the excessive
consumption of fashion and beauty products with messaging that speaks directly to
diverse groups. I argue that even those influencers like Kattan that take an inclusive
approach with their feed and product promotion have simply reframed post-feminist
rhetoric to suit their desired audience; how post-feminism affects the LGBTQ+
community on this platform bears further examination within critical fashion studies.
Furthermore, the digital fashion sphere—within which IG is the dominant force—is now
replicating the same pervasive gender inequalities found within the offline business of
fashion. Despite the fact that fashion is a feminized industry, men generally hold
positions of power within the most influential fashion and beauty companies; those
women at the top collude with male-dominated executive boards to ensure traditional
gender hierarchies are maintained.19 Just as with the print magazines prevalent at the time
of McRobbie’s research, the power fashion and beauty advertisers now have over IG
influencers means that no significant feminist gains are likely to be made on this
from the University of Maryland “were predominately white and highly educated; only one-quarter of
respondents reported being Asian, black, Latino or multiracial” (Fisher et al. 2017)
19 See “The Glass Runway” by Allyson Stokes.
Gow 87
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Rap and luxury fashion form hip hop’s most unshakable couple. However, female rappers appear to have a more difficult time acquiring and manipulating luxury fashion. When the female rapper demands expensive clothing from her sex partners, is she complicit in her reification as a sexually alienated subject or is she highlighting the value of black women’s labour? In fact, if we look closely at the nexus of luxury fashion, sexuality, and female rappers, there occurs an important transformation of the luxury sign. For rappers like Roxanne Shanté, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B, luxury objects and branded fashion are not symbols of taste or habitus, in the sense Bourdieu (1979) gives them. Instead, these female rappers question the social weight carried by the luxury commodity; they demand consecration, in the truest sense of the word, through the luxury gift; or, conversely, they highlight the luxury commodity’s real use value.
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In this paper we explore how confidence works as a technology of self, exhorting women and girls to act upon themselves, and how it is reconfiguring feminist concerns. Our analysis demonstrates how the confidence cult(ure) has materialised in three different sites: discussions about women in the workplace; texts and practices promoting ‘confident mothering’; and contemporary sex and relationship advice. We show that confidence acts as a disciplinary technology of self which is addressed almost exclusively to women and is articulated in highly standardized terms which disavow any difference between and among women. It is an individualising technology which demands intense labour, places the emphasis upon women self-regulating and locates the source of the ‘problems’ and their ‘solutions’ within a newly upgraded form of confident subjectivity, thus rendering insecurity and lack of confidence abhorrent. We then discuss how the confidence culture is deeply implicated in the new luminosity of feminism, and we argue that it contributes to the remaking of feminism in three central ways: 1) by continuing and promoting elements of postfeminist sensibility, yet through celebration rather than repudiation of feminism; 2) through an inclusive address that expunges difference and the possibility of its critique; and 3) by favouring positive affect and outlawing ‘negative’ ‘political’ feelings. We argue that this move, which calls forth a new kind of a ‘cool’ ‘feminist’ subject, is simultaneously political, psychological and aesthetic.
Much of the literature on post-feminism concerns the “Western” world and variously conceptualizes post-feminism as “Western culture.” This article argues that, as a result, feminist cultural scholars have not sufficiently imagined, theorized, or empirically researched the possibility of post-feminism in non-Western cultural contexts. By briefly reviewing what has been said in the literature about post-feminism and the non-West, and by putting this in dialogue with transnational feminist cultural scholarship, this article makes a case for a transnational analytic and methodological approach to the critical study of post-feminism. It argues that such an approach provides an understanding of post-feminism as a transnationally circulating culture, and thus can better account for the fact that the culture interpellates not only women in the West but also others elsewhere. The article concludes by outlining what it means and could afford feminist cultural scholars to work with a new conceptual view of post-feminism as transnational culture.
This article focuses on the intertextual relationship between women’s glossy fashion magazines and Instagram, questioning how magazines and their representations of femininity are shaped by their co-existence with Instagram. This study is based on a textual analysis of a theoretical sample of three monthly glossy magazines—Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Vogue—collected between April and September 2017. These magazines have partially adopted, and adapted, social media logic, particularly the logic of quantified popularity, emphasising the large number of Instagram followers of the celebrities and Insta-famous users featured in the magazines. Furthermore, magazines have embraced several Instagram conventions, such as the use of hashtags, username handles or emojis, although using them in ways that are divorced from the original technological affordances. These magazines have also adopted seemingly feminist discourses, echoing the popularity of fourth-wave feminism. Yet these discourses co-exist with postfeminist sensibilities that focus on celebrating individual achievements and fashion as empowering, losing the focus on institutionalised inequalities. This paper seeks to understand the complex intertextual relationship between women’s magazines and Instagram, and its oscillation between contradictory, yet co-existing, discourses.
Numerous feminist scholars have argued that women, especially young women, have been constructed as ideal neoliberal subjects. Informed by Foucauldian approaches that extend neoliberalism beyond a set of free market principles to a dynamic that creates new forms of subjectivity, these scholars have demonstrated the elisions between “postfeminism” and neoliberalism in the positioning of young women as consumers, self-helpers, and “empowered” agents par excellence. The psy-disciplines have actively participated in gendering neoliberal subjectivity and I selectively review feminist critiques of this complicity. These critiques problematize discourses of empowerment, agency, and choice, even as they have seeped into feminist psychology itself. I then consider the theoretical resources that are available within and beyond feminist psychology to disrupt and even displace neoliberal forms of subjectivity. Building on insights from psychosocial studies, intersectional and decolonial approaches, and critical history and conjunctural thinking, I brainstorm some alternatives that feminist psychologists could offer.
This book provides an accessible and interdisciplinary introduction to current debates on gender, exploring the major theorists whose work has produced and inspired feminist analysis in women's/gender studies, cultural studies and sociology. By clarifying and explaining the concepts of gender analysis and by demonstrating ways of working with these concepts, the authors involve the readers directly in the reading process and leave them feeling empowered. Accessible introductions to the work of major theorists help to give difficult concepts a context and the theory is related back to practice and to related fields such as class and race analysis throughout.
This article revisits the notion of ‘postfeminism’ 10 years after its formulation in critical terms as a sensibility characterizing cultural life. The article has two broad aims: first to reflect upon postfeminism as a critical term – as part of the lexicon of feminist scholarship – and second to discuss the current features of postfeminism as a sensibility. The first part of the article discusses the extraordinary uptake of the term and considers its continuing relevance in a changed context marked by deeply contradictory trends, including the resurgence of interest in feminism, alongside the spectacular visibility of misogyny, racism, homophobia and nationalism. I document a growing attention to the specificities of postfeminism, including attempts to map its temporal phases, its relevance to place, and intersectional developments of the term. The second part of the article examines the contours of the contemporary postfeminist sensibility. I argue that postfeminism has tightened its hold upon contemporary life and become hegemonic. Compared with a decade ago, it is much more difficult to recognize as a novel and distinctive sensibility, as it instantiates a common sense that operates as a kind of gendered neoliberalism. It has both spread out and intensified across contemporary culture and is becoming increasingly dependent upon a psychological register built around cultivating the ‘right’ kinds of dispositions for surviving in neoliberal society: confidence, resilience and positive mental attitude. Together these affective, cultural and psychic features of postfeminism exert a powerful regulatory force. This article forms part of ‘On the Move’, a special issue marking the twentieth anniversary of the journal. It also heads up a special online dossier on ‘Postfeminism in the European Journal of Cultural Studies’.
This article argues that ‘beauty apps’ are transforming the arena of appearance politics and foregrounds a theoretical architecture for critically understanding them. Informed by a feminist-Foucaultian framework, it argues that beauty apps offer a technology of gender which brings together digital self-monitoring and postfeminist modalities of subjecthood to produce an hitherto unprecedented regulatory gaze upon women, which is marked by the intensification, extensification and psychologization of surveillance. The article is divided into four sections. First, it introduces the literature on digital self-tracking. Second, it sets out our understanding of neoliberalism and postfeminism. Third, it looks at beauty and surveillance, before offering, in the final section, a typology of appearance apps. This is followed by a discussion of the modes of address/authority deployed in these apps – especially what we call ‘surveillant sisterhood’ – and the kinds of entrepreneurial subjectivity they constitute. The article seeks to make a contribution to feminist surveillance studies and argues that much more detailed research is needed to critically examine beauty apps.