Waifs And Wifeys

#Menswear loves girls in menswear, rarely women; certainly never large women displaying any sign of strength. Outside of navy knit ties and Nick Wooster’s short suits, #menswear reserves a particular taste for skinny ingénues turned languidly away from the camera in OCBDs. Often reblogged piecemeal—thigh gap legs in New Balance’s, bony shoulders holding up Bathing Ape—photos of these girls circulate with questions of appropriateness shrugged off.

Shared without any information about the model, bloggers are free to assume she just looks young or maybe has one of those mythically fast metabolisms. Which is always possible, but ignores the problems raised by cultish worship of the youngest ages and narrowest waists. The insecurity this idolatry breeds in women is well documented, but female insecurities are nothing if not a reaction to the externalization of male insecurities. Like boy bands crooning “you look pretty when you cry,” the penchant for slight figures is a reminder that vulnerability absurdly, persistently codes for “feminine,” exclusively to serve as a foil for men, whose competence can emerge relative to the delicacy celebrated in women.

Men who pride themselves on their sophistication keep swooning over body types that blur the line between childlike and child. There are, thankfully, exceptions to the ubiquity of pedowave on menwear blogs. Plenty would rather post well-dressed adults they view as equals. But for every Adrianne Ho, an unidentified gamin bounces from dashboard to dashboard. Between photos of handmade wallets and silk umbrellas, creepshots pass as stylishly demure.

In real life, collarbone shadows do not hint at weakness and eye size is not proportional to innocence.

Reblogging pictures of teens and captioning them “wifey” aligns attractiveness with all the baggage of skinny youth: vulnerability and innocence. In contrast to the child models of the past, these girls aren’t makeup-ed into maturity. The contemporary enthusiasm for the “natural look” soothes male anxieties about the trickery of women’s choices, while pretending to be a preference for the “authentic”. Demanding “not too much makeup” is a lifehack against women presenting themselves to you on their own terms rather than yours. And what figure offers the most iconic imagery of pretty women availing themselves to a man’s whims than the waif, floating doe eyed after the boring protagonist?

Tumblr’s collective crush on heroines like Odile from Bande à part underpins certain menswear bloggers ever-hopeful search for a waify to wife. They mistake small figures for a small personality. In real life, collarbone shadows do not hint at weakness and eye size is not proportional to innocence.

Physically speaking, I identify with these young looking, perpetually thin girls in oversized sweaters and men’s shirts, which makes the aestheticization of female vulnerability so sinister. When attractiveness is codified along a gendered division of power I cannot trust a man only attracted to women who look like they need him.

Ayesha A. Siddiqi is a writer based in the South. You can follow her on Twitter here and read more of her writing here.