Review: i-D Magazine “Female Gaze”

Editor Jessica Aimufua reviews the recent issue of i-D Magazine and points out the importance of female diversity

During our trip to New York I headed to my beloved Dimes restaurant for a quick and spontaneous lunch by myself. At the well stocked periodical stack the new issue of i-D magazine fell into my clutches. Prepared to revise my skeptical attitude, I started browsing away. And I was thrilled: by the consistent concept, the all-embracing mentions of protagonists relevant to the topic and the entire content. Back in the office I asked our editor Jessica Aimufua, to look into the topic more closely:

Julia Knolle

When it comes to fashion, film, advertisements and overall pop culture there’s nothing as vital as representation. It is no secret, however, that one-dimensional portrayals of women remain the order of the day. The current issue of i-D magazine shows, that it can also be done differently. The new magazine is not only aesthetically pleasing, but makes the “female gaze” a subject of discussion, while also including the perspective of “non white” bodies.

A sexist depiction of women has shaped our culture for centuries: frequently portraying women as passive, inferior and over-sexualised objects or as sheer allegories. Until this day these ancient perceptions influence the way we look at the world and there is sturdy proof for this tricky gender relation.

Back in 1975, film theorist Laura Mulvey was one of the first scholars to draw attention to misogyny in mainstream culture. In her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema she identified the piercing, objectifying view of patriarchal societies, that oftentimes presents women as mere objects, instead of emancipated individuals.

In the last few decades the debate around Laura Mulvey’s theory has been broadened.

As a counterforce the idea of a female gaze — as a more subtle, specifically feminine way of observing — has been emerging and current 4th wave feminism seems to provide assistance in spreading the vision. However we should keep in mind that concepts like “male gaze” or “female gaze” aren’t necessarily linked with bodies, which is why women can also incorporate the “male gaze”, just like women may subscribe to a sexist worldview.

On behalf of their Pre-Fall issue 2016 i-D took it one step further, by presenting women-centered topics from front to back and exclusively working with women photographers, in order to showcase “the power of the female lens”, as editor-in-chief Holly Shackleton put it. i-D No. 344 includes talents by the likes of Fl, Inez van Lamsweerde and Letty Schmitterlow and emphasises that the female gaze is an artistic force to reckon with. Every editorial takes a unique look at the life and work of women in pop culture.

Adwoa Aboah graces the cover of not one, but three different editorial spreads, and all of them reveal a distinct vision of modern femininity.

Aboah is a British model, actress and activist. The decision to put a black model, who’s politically active on the cover can be read as an important statement, as the discussion around a “female gaze” is not only focused on gender, but decidedly highlights a woman of color. Armed with the face of a freckled angel, bleach blond eyebrows, and several hoop earrings and she looks rather pert than maidenly. For good measure, she winks into the camera, exposing a rhinestone in the shape of the Chanel logo, that graces her left front tooth — talk about a 2000s revival!

 

Kesewa Aboah & Camilla Lowther (Photography: Clare Shilland for i-D Magazine)

Earlier this year, the 24 year old initiated Gurls Talk, an online platform for young women to openly discuss taboo topics such as mental health, body image or sexuality. The website is set to launch later this month. Its key message: be true to yourself.

Fittingly that is just the subtext conveyed throughout the entire magazine. The issue kicks off with i-D staff members naming their very own “phenomenal woman” and continues with a feature on female fashion designers as well as a lesson in cultural appropriation. The list of interviewees reads like a who’s who of up-to-date pop culture and includes icons like Hari Nef, Bell Hooks, Zosia Mamet, as well as Lena Dunham and her mom, feminist artist, Laurie Simmons. The articles cover a wide range of topics including queer friendship, the Black Lives Matter movement or modern motherhood.

 

Gladly the editors do not shy away from grappling with critical subjects, thus the table of contents ends on a high note. Bertie Brandes’s nuanced essay on the topic of online representation as as means of female liberation is one of the true highlight of the issue. Do selfies promote female empowerment or generate plain narcissism which leads to further objectification? Are movements like #freethenipple a serious means of social advocacy or testimony of the overall superficiality of social media? Instead of imposing her personal opinion on us, Brandes manages to leave plenty of room for the reader to form their own thoughts on the matter, at the same time making a case for female agency.

 

The Female Gaze issue conveys the tempting outlook, that we live in an age that increasingly values a more progressive and diverse image of womanhood. Instead of pigeonholing women it proves that there is enough room for all of us: trans women, women of color, lesbians, ”plus size” women, tomboys as well as girly girls — for identity is in fact as multifaceted as our perception of beauty.

This issue of i-D felt like a breakthrough, because it established feminism as a mainstream matter; an everyday topic that concerns each and every one of us in spite of gender, sexuality, class or race. It reminds us once again, that we need an all-embracing sense of sisterhood.

Jessica-AImufua-Contributor-Profil

After spending a gap year in Paris, Jessica Aimufua set her heart on Berlin, starting her art history and cultural studies undergrad in 2012. As a keen observer and critical thinker she developed an urge to express herself inventively at an early age. In both English and German she writes about contemporary culture and modern aesthetics, with a focus on film, fashion and art . At hey woman! she writes, edits and translates.