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.