Have I come over all Mary Whitehouse?

Have I come over all Mary Whitehouse? By Chloe Peacock

23rd June 2015

In April best friends Mayan Toledano and Julia Baylis launched a line of girl’s clothing and accessories. Me and You.

When I read about Me and You in the style press and then looked on the website I found myself both troubled and mesmerized. As someone who professionally and personally knows their way around a brand or two, my initial thought was “there’s something wrong here”. The images created a sense of unease in me. There is a disconnect between what the girls claim their brand is about – empowering females – and what the photos promoting the brand show – woman in sub-Lolita-esque knickers.

I have little problem with the majority of media representations of sex and sexuality, but Me and You looks like a turbo-charged American Apparel campaign or what might occur if Terry Richardson had restrained himself a little. It’s sexy, but in the manner of a grubby middle-aged man’s gaze. I just don’t get it. This iconography couldn’t exist without its recent ancestry in such pop-culture of Richardson et al. So, I was surprised when these super cool looking young women claimed to be exploring feminism and female friendship. I find it naive. But then, I have to confess I know it isn’t aimed at me. I shall not be buying the underwear and uploading a belfie (butt-selfie, yup it’s a thing) to Instagram. The problem I have is lots of young women – the same women who were so upset by the ‘Protein World beach body ready’ campaign – are into this, and in doing so they claim they’re exploring and performing contemporary feminism. OK they’re saying no to a thong, but this isn’t going to address getting more women into tech, fight trafficking, or combat domestic violence.

“Most lingerie is designed to appeal to a man,” Baylis explained in an interview to the Times and on Refinery 29. “For us, that’s not even a consideration. This is underwear you wear totally for you. Maybe no one will see it, or maybe you’ll put it up on Instagram to share with everyone you know.”

That’s as may be, although what about how you’re reinforcing the uncomfortable erotic motifs of Richardson, et al or the teasing highly sexualized formula? Can we discuss your use of ice lollies in the photos?

I do understand that to market underwear it’s prudent to show the garment and preferable to do so on an appealing human bottom. As a contrast to Me and You look at equally hip US brand Naja and their ethos that women shouldn’t have to pay high prices for quality, well-made, well-fitting undies. For me this is a clear and up-front memorandum. Part of Naja’s founder’s mission is to incorporate the employment of single mothers into the production process. A big tick for straight forward feminism, thank you Naja and they manage to produce a look-book that isn’t full of models worryingly inviting you into look in their cliché Sapphic teenage bedroom.

Me and You. is young, saccharine and hip. However what with all those wet T-shirts and little apple catcher briefs littering the look-book, one nervously assumes they’re are the right side of the ASA model age guidelines? Perhaps Me and You is not distasteful to a younger consumer because the highly sexualized imagery and frolicking is produced by women for women. But ask yourself this: if producers of fem-porn went and made content that was the same as the stuff made by men that upset them in the first place but used Instagram filters to give a soft glow, it wouldn’t be described as ‘doing feminism’ would it? No, it would be considered disturbing, unrealistic, and politically more than a little muddled, still yes – in lovely tonal colours.

Furthermore, Me and You is not so different from the ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ sweatshirt/T-Shirt effort to commodify feminism in the UK last year. It’s the same sentiment but with alternative branding to attract a younger consumer, essentially reducing complicated and important ideas to a slogan.

I don’t deny Me and You’s popularity with the fashionable youth. These young women clearly ‘get’ Instagram to an extent that should make marketers sit up. To that I tip my hat, because it’s clever. They’re successful female entrepreneurs who’ve obtained amazing PR in high fashion publications. Regarding all that, they also have my admiration.

Even now I want to like this brand and the women behind it.. Mainly, this is because it feels like a plucky attempt, an antithesis to some of the more wet-blanket branches of youthful feminism. I’m sure Emma Watson is a lovely person and she’s done very many things considering her age. It’s just that when I read the tweet from a ‘new feminist icon’ along the lines of ‘marrying a prince is not a prerequisite for being a princess’, it causes parts of my innards to wither from the triteness.

Have I come over all Mary Whitehouse? Are Me and You to be applauded for their contributions to contemporary feminism? What do you think?

Photo by Petra Collins from Me and You.

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