both a curiosity and a threat – in defense of teenaged fashion bloggers

blogging,thinking — Danielle on July 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm

For young adult fashion bloggers like myself, who have spent the past few years eking out small niches, figuring out the conventions of a new medium without a rule book, and investing time into things that seemed impossible to develop a living out of, watching the meteoric rise of teenagers on the same trail we had to blaze can be unsettling.

It bothers me more though, when I see dismissive and condescending posts about the teenaged fashion bloggers. It is ironic that the same bloggers who held the standard that online was the future and print was the past, are so unprepared for their own inevitable obsolescence. It is a huge mistake to dismiss the younger bloggers – they have a lot to teach us about the future of our chosen medium.

Bright, visually articulate teenagers have significant advantages when it comes to fashion blogging. They have the free time to dedicate themselves to it wholly – and so do their audiences. They don’t have to worry about lame stuff like monetizing their efforts. They had the luck to be born in the first generation of digital natives – so they’ve already passively absorbed the inherent quirks and conventions of internet communication. They’re beautiful and young, so of course fashion adores them. They’re both a curiousity and a threat to the relatively new fashion blogging establishment. Yeah, they’re going to bury us, just as they in turn will be buried by their younger counterparts.

Once, I was a precocious, articulate, creative teenager, trapped in a small town with no way to find anyone who was like-minded. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I discovered fashion blogging, and as soon as I did, I knew that I had been waiting to find this outlet my entire life. When I see teenaged bloggers now, I see the (im)possibility that I missed just by the unfortunate fact of being born a few years too early. Rather than being threatened by them, I find myself identifying with them, and I admit, not without a bit of bittersweet longing.

I was inspired to write this post after discovering the phenomenon that is Bebe Zeva. My initial response to her unflattering New York Times profile was just speechlessness. I couldn’t tell who was having on who, though I could tell that her existence converged on a few themes I find fascinating. I did some more reading, and it was strangely satisfying to be gradually disenchanted with my own initial negative reactions.

Bebe Zeva isn’t the new Tavi Gevinson. Superficially, they share some things in common – intelligence, and significantly, somewhat condescending profiles in the New York Times. Though they both strike fear into the hearts of un-precocious adult journalists and middle-of-the-pack fashion bloggers, they are quite different phenomenon.

Gevinson (who I am a huge fan of) represents the end of an era when it was still possible to start a blog without ulterior motivations. Her guilelessness is un-calculated – her memedom is unintentional, and she is just as ambivalent, as she is ambitious. Zeva contrasts with utter, obsessive dedication – self-manufactured with careful consciousness, artfully contrived. If Zeva is to be compared at all, she is the Lady Gaga of fashion blogging.

Gaga is the only mainstream celebrity Zeva professes admiration for, and the parallels are vivid. Both never dress to the same theme two days in a row, and never dress down. Both adore their fans and have their fair share of detractors. Both adopt titles that evoke destiny (Fated to be Hated and Born This Way), contrasting against their carefully crafted personas. Both seek the holy grail of eternal relevance and love, and express their goals with bravado. Most interesting from a cultural perspective, Zeva and Gaga both represent effort and sincerity. They are trying to be famous, and admit as much. No wonder they inspire such ire, in a culture that reveres so-called ‘effortlessness’.

In Zeva’s case, candour and raw emotion is pure rebellion because she’s taking on the nexus of disingenuous youth culture from the inside out. Don’t be fooled by the vestigial quotation marks in Zeva’s oeuvre, when she says she seeks relevance, she is 100% serious. When she adopted the hipster lifestyle, she did it totally and without reservation or distancing – which is why she isn’t a hipster at all, but something new and more interesting.

Zeva is both a curiousity and a threat to old-fashioned hipsters in denial – because she means exactly what she says. She’s post-ironic, forward-gazing, and self-aware. You may or may not find what she is doing to your taste – but I think she will be successful on her own terms. She is at the vanguard of an emerging attitude.

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    1. Thanks for this.

      It’s a complex issue but I think one of the reasons why there is a backlash against Tavi and Bebe is because everybody retains a slight embarrassment over their recent past. I see this in blog posts by young adults deriding the behavior of teenagers and posts by teens deriding the actions of pre-teens.

      I personally was irked by Tavi early posts (but enjoy reading Bebe from the beginning) possibly because I was much more like Tavi in high school and it was miserable to remember how awkward and limited you were. Or maybe I now enjoy reading about adult disappointments.

      Comment by Rebecca — July 25 2011 @ 2:07 pm
    2. I like what you said about Zeva adopting the hipster lifestyle without reservation, and how that doesn’t make her a hipster at all. Fascinating. I didn’t think of it that way before, but it’s true.

      I am still both disgusted and in admiration of Zeva’s unabashed search for fame and relevance. I think that remains, because, like you say, we are all looking for something so effortless, even if we don’t recognize or acknowledge it. But hard work should be rewarded – and God knows she’s worked for this (whether I think Zeva’s goal is an important or substantial goal is neither here nor there). I think that anyone with that much ambition will go far.

      I also should admit that I may been wrong about her writing and self-awareness, especially after reading the article where she writes about how she started her relationship with Carles of Hipster Runoff. I’m actually quite impressed.

      Comment by Tiff — July 25 2011 @ 6:38 pm
    3. Wow, as always, I love your artwork! Beautiful sketches!

      Comment by sunny — July 25 2011 @ 8:50 pm
    4. I can’t tell whether your slating Zeva by comparing her to Gaga…

      Comment by whattttt — July 26 2011 @ 7:40 pm
    5. i think this may be my favorite “bebe” article so far

      Comment by spencer niemetz — July 26 2011 @ 8:48 pm
    6. Danielle, should we really be comparing this person to Gaga? I think it’s quite a bit of a stretch. Perhaps both of these ladies are unapologetic about wanting fame, but so are the Kardashians, The Hills twats, and Parasite Hilton. What separates these reality “stars” from Gaga is their lack of any discernible talent. Gaga, however, meat-dress or no meat-dress, is an unquestionably talented singer/songwriter.

      Wearing outfits straight out of Forever 21 lookbooks, and writing confused paragraphs does not a talent make. Tavi on the other hand, has a lot more to offer – in terms of creativity, originality, and just intelligence in her writing.

      Sometimes fame-whoring is just that. Young blogger, or not.

      Comment by Nelia - Style Blog — July 27 2011 @ 2:10 pm
    7. Hi Nelia,

      I looked up a few Forever 21 lookbooks to make sure, I would have to say that Bebe’s look is significantly different, and the fact that she uses discount clothes to make her looks, I find impressive:

      I have to admit my initial reaction to Bebe’s writing was confusion too. But as far as a fashion blogger goes, she really does stand apart from the pack, and very deliberately so. Like Tavi, she understands her references, and because of that she’s able to take inspiration without being derivative. I have to disagree with you – Bebe is a very talented personal style blogger.

      As for Gaga’s talent, personally I am not a great fan of her music – I find I tend to get tired of it very quickly. She’s undoubtably talented but I think her real talent is more image-creation (gaga is the most original looking pop star), though again, her style isn’t my steez, personally. Bebe’s style doesn’t really tweak to my own taste either, but I think you’re underestimating her.

      As for the idea of “fame-whoring”, what I am theorizing (not really taking a value stance on at this point) is that the idea that desiring fame is something shameful is becoming old-fashioned. Perhaps that attitude is being discarded, even by the intelligent and talented, is because it is useless. So, that’s the springboard for another post.

      Comment by Danielle — July 27 2011 @ 5:34 pm
    8. I don’t doubt that Bebe will have success and I hate to admit that that idea kills me.
      I read an article on her in which she said that she ‘made a conscious decision to lead a hipster lifestyle’. And then she googled hipster and found cobrasnake. That kind of shit kills me… kills me. But alas, there are many who will lap it up.

      Comment by jentine — August 1 2011 @ 3:45 pm
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