F8: Re/Fashioning and Re/Imaging Community: Identities, Performances, and Online Spaces

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Panelists

Katie Manthey, Michigan State University
Seth Davis, Syracuse University

Review

Katie Manthey spoke first. Her talk related to her project, Fa(t)shion Rhetorics, investigating the ways that fat fashion bloggers make meaning. She spoke of fat fashion bloggers running into the issue that it’s hard to find anything to wear that fits, let alone looks good —  this has gotten much easier with the rise of internet shopping, but it remains an issue, especially for people who can not or do not shop online. Because of the difficulty of finding clothing that even fits, many fatter people take longer to reach the point of establishing and showing their identities through clothing, and it might even be assumed that they never (or do not deserve to) do so — something fa(t)shion bloggers challenge in their work.

Manthey also mentioned the pressure to get clothing for a someday that may never come, “when she [or any other fat person]lost some weight” but which is rarely or never worn because fat people generally stay fat. Despite all the pressure (it is really a despite?) weight loss isn’t happening.

After this, Katie moves on to ask about the ways fat fashion does and does not recreate systems of power. Like thin fashion, fat fashion meets with transnational feminist issues around clothing production, in that the clothing is generally produced by women working in poor conditions for little pay. There is also the question of when visibility activism may become advertising, as some successful fat fashion bloggers have corporate sponsors. When corporate sponsorship comes into play, where is the line between women getting compensated for their often devalued labor and further corporate advertising?

Seth Davis spoke second. His talk, “Reads, Tea(se) and Kiki’s: FEARce Literacies in Digital Spaces,” starts with an exploration of Queer Black slang and moves to the study of literacy, and to the idea of literacy itself. The term Fearce comes from a combination of fear and fierce, and Seth’s work builds off Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown’s idea of “The Girls” as an organizing construct. In Seth’s work, “The Girls” refers to Black women, girls, queer people, and trans people, recognizing that there is a good deal of overlap between these groups. He places these groups together because they are often interacting together, and because even when they are apart, they are often doing similar work and having similar conversations.

Seth relies heavily on ethnography, on videos, and on GIFs in his presentation so that people can see what’s going on, see the bodies in motion and read that language as well as hear the words. This makes more of the information, more of what is happening in the conversations he records, intelligible to a greater part of the audience (not to me, as body language is more foreign to me than my actual second language is.)

He then speaks of the ways that FEARce is about both cultural celebration and about survival. VladTV’s move to change the idea of what rappers and thugs are by showing multiple facets of one person’s life and challenge the idea of black manhood as two-dimensional, #BlackTwitter, Gay Greeks, #BrunchWithTheBoys, #BlackGirlsRock, Black Academics speaking on the racism and sexism they face at conferences, #BlackLivesMatter, all of these can be considered fearce, just as voguing and making the body into the language can, just as the use of Prince gifs and memes can.

FEARce looks at the intersections of Black and Queer and cultural and digital literacies, honors Black Genius, looks at the body beyond the page, changes ideas of what literacy even is. Black Genius, of course, is already there, already acting and doing — the thing to do now is to get out of the way and let them do it.

Q & A, and Later Thoughts

Many of the questions focused on the question of navigating the academy and scholarly discourse while doing research that we can not distance ourselves from, and on the vulnerability related to doing such work. Both presenters (and I) do work in the academy related to communities that we also participate in as members. Seth notes that there are certain things we just know because of our relationships to our communities, and that citing formal academic work may not be relevant or proper for that kind of knowledge. I agree with him, and note that some Autistic scholars including myself handle this question by heavily citing back to the blogs and public forums where the community discussions happen. Katie notes that she and Seth (as well as a third presenter who did not make it to the presentation) all come out of cultural rhetorics programs and that distancing oneself falsely from a community you are part of in order to research it doesn’t work.

Similar to this unlearning of the need for artificial distance, Seth notes a need to unlearn the devaluing of marginalized knowledges, particularly those of his own community. Just because no one has talked about an issue the way you talk about it doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you’re talking about, and it is important to unlearn the attitudes we are taught about bloggers, particularly the queer and black bloggers of his community.

Another note was that of vulnerability, exposing ourselves when we refuse to distance ourselves from the communities we are exploring and therefore also exposing. Katie says to take that vulnerability and know the world is going to reading you regardless, based on ableism and sight and capitalism. What they’re assuming when they read these things is based in their own prejudice. You’re taking the moment to say you’re vulnerable, owning it, and telling your story because they’re going to judge anyways.

Finally, there is a question of ethics. Because we are researching and speaking related to communities that we are a part of, Seth noted that we have our personal and community ethics in addition to professional ethics to consider. There is a need to let the communities own projects breathe, and there is a realization that repackaging extant projects for academic consumption does a disservice to the community. Instead, our work should support and give space to the projects which already exists. Katie adds to the idea of giving back by tying it to the idea of open access for community members, not just for the academic community but also for the communities she is studying.

Katie Manthey, Seth Davis, and I all do work related to our own communities, navigating academia while insisting upon maintaining our identities as members of the margninalized communities we come from. In doing so, we all challenge the notion of objectivity, both in questioning whether anyone is truly objective (no) and whether or not we should be aiming for that as an ideal (I suspect also no.)

 

About Author(s)

Alyssa Hillary is an Autistic activist, scholar, writer, and artist. Sie studies/d Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics, and Mandarin Chinese at the University of Rhode Island, and works in the field of Disability Studies, focusing on neurodiversity related issues. Sier research interests include different approaches to technology, design, and disability.

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