Moving From Exterior to Interior Body: Fashion as a Method for Embodied Experience
I had the opportunity to write an article about fashion and embodiment for Epicure Cafe. Read the newsletter here or in full text below. And all you DC and Fairfax folk, be sure to check out their live music and art shows!
In today’s culture there is much emphasis on body awareness, but usually as it relates to the external form and not the reflexive experience of self. Industry profits from promoting products which alter physical appearance with the promise that we will become more beautiful, happy, and successful. Richard Shusterman (2008) discusses how the mass mediated world of imagery prevents somatic reflection and introspection into one’s actual bodily feelings. We have learned to judge our bodies based on limited social constructs around external beauty, which in turn guides us away from our inner experience of self. However, I’m interested in the possibility that consciously engaging with fashion can actually become a tool for entering into an embodied experience of self.
By embodied experience I refer to the ways Thomas Csordas discusses the difference of the material body to the conscious experience of embodiment, where, “the body, then, as a biological, material entity and embodiment as an indeterminate methodological field defined by perceptual experience and by mode of presence and engagement in the world” (1999, p. 145). One may tune into this embodied experience to varying degrees.
The idea that clothing, an external layer over the body, can be a method for entering into the inner body, appears contradictory. However, consciously engaging in the dressing of one’s body is a way to proactively play with self representation, and thus empower awareness around one layer of our identity. While our style choices are inevitably influenced by infinite social forces, we still make the choice about how we represent our body to the world, and thus the ways in which we ‘perform’ self (Butler, 1990).
The way I dress for the day impacts the way I choose to show ‘face’ (Goffman, 1955). For me, this morning ritual has becomes a tool for opening into a reflexive experience of self. I ask myself how I feel and how that translates into my physical aesthetic- this decision ignites an inner sensation I carry with me throughout the day and may impact the way I walk, music I listen to, or coffee shop I choose. In this way fashion helps me to consciously engage with my body and the way I relate to my environment.