If you are looking to perk the eyebrows, ears and interest levels of the people around you, there is almost no better bet than dropping the word “naked” in a conversation. On February 27, The Ethnic Student Center, the Women’s Center and the Social Issues Resource Center have joined forces to create a fashion show called “Undressing the Other: The Naked Truth of Stereotypes.”
Though the 15 “models” in the show won’t be stripping down to bare skin on a literal level, they will be using clothing, and the frame of a fashion show, to strip away the stereotypes held about women of color, and open up questions and dialogue about how these stereotypes have a negative impact on society and sense of community. The nakedness comes from the revealing experience of diving straight into the throngs of these stereotypes in honest, personal ways.
Arlette Maratas, the graduate assistant to the ESC, said, “It’s a fashion show that deconstructs stereotypes. It was created from personal experiences that have affected the performers. We draw from our own personal experiences and embody stereotypes in an exaggerated way; then we deconstruct those stereotypes. When [the show] is done, we have a huge dialogue with the audience. People can ask us questions and talk about the issues that were raised.”
The fashion show is the brainchild of Stephany Hazelrigg, last years ESC grad assistant. This year’s show brings together veteran participants from last year with fresh new faces.
Together, they have created a show burgeoning with the intimate, sensitive experiences that create and define our stereotypes, and ultimately trap us in their socially-affirmed clutches- trap us, that is, if we don’t do anything to recognize and acknowledge that we have stereotypes, and work to understand and change them.
All of the models have an active hand in creating the show, and base the content of their performances off their own personal experiences. Though this process is rewarding and enlightening, it is also difficult. It involves being honest with oneself about the stereotypes that one holds, which can be emotional and upsetting.
“I think the hardest part is actually finding your stereotype,” said Maratas.
“It’s hard because it’s one of those things you bottle up inside and you don’t realize it’s been eating you up for a long time. It’s the kind of thing you don’t want to deal with. The first step is to recognize it, and then to realize that it’s okay to be scared and upset.”
As part of the process of making the show, the performers read the words of Bell Hooks, and talked about the meaning of sisterhood. They used each other as critics, directors and sounding-boards while creating material for the show. “We form a safe space to grow and express ourselves, and force ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone. It’s been an amazing experience,” said Maratas.
The social constructs of race, class, gender and sexuality create an alarmingly fertile environment for the creation and sustenance of popular stereotypes. Among other things, these stereotypes impact the way we view ourselves and each other, the way we interact, form community, and deal with conflict.
Some of the rarely acknowledged stereotypes Maratas said this year’s show will explore are deformity, and cultural stereotypes like the concept of “Indianness.”
“It’s a unique fashion show for many reasons. Its very educational and its very much real; these are real stories. It shows the harsh effects of stereotypes on women, people and community,” she said.
“Through modeling clothing, we’re also modeling stereotypes. The clothing comes from our own closets and we choose whatever we think best represents our stereotype.” Fashion, with its connotations of cutting-edge exposure, seems an appropriate vehicle in which to drive away these most intimate stereotypes. Come ready to dive in, to get down to the naked core of the social constructions and assumptions that define, constrict and interfere with our ability to live in harmony and solidarity with each other.
“Undressing the Other: The Naked Truth of Stereotypes,” will take place on Monday, February 27, from 7-9 pm in the VU Multipurpose Room. The event is free, and all are welcome.