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Fashion perpetuates the image of the slender woman being the ideal feminine and can sometimes have significantly detrimental effects. Due to the mass production of clothing, it has become easier for the fashion industry to encourage women to be slender (Macdonald, 1995, p208). Many of the most fashionable garments are not made larger than a woman's Australian size fourteen. This encourages women to diet and exercise in order to lose weight, a trend also encouraged by the many advertisements involving slender women. One disturbing result of society's fascination with being thin has been the rise in eating disorders, including anorexia (Macdonald, 1995, p208). In Australia's November 2004 issue of Cosmopolitan an article was run entitled 'Anorexia for Sale'. This article discussed Mary Kate Olson, a well known actress, and her public struggle with Anorexia Nervosa. Images of Olsen and other famous women who appear to be unhealthily thin, such a Kate Moss, have been used on websites known as 'pro ana' sites, that is, websites supporting anorexia as a 'lifestyle choice' as opposed to an illness (Percival, 2004, p62). Many of these sites have begun to sell 'ana bracelets' and 'ana necklaces' which are a means of identifying other anorexics and which serve as a reminder not to eat. This jewellery has proven quite popular within the anorexic community (Percival, 2004, p62). This is an extreme example of fashion (or in this case accessories) being used to specifically propagate the idea of being thin. On the other hand clothing can also be used to raise awareness of eating disorders and encourage women not to go so far. T shirts with the slogan 'Save Mary Kate' and a drawing of her emaciated figure were released with just this intention (Percival, 2004, p62). Released when Mary Kate began her rehabilitation, the emaciated drawing on the t shirts is far from attractive and draws attention to her bones and the unnaturalness of being so thin. The words 'Save Mary Kate' could be read in one of two ways however, they could refer to the fact that she is need of help, thus constructing her as a victim, or they could be referring to the desirability of her image and a wish that she remain so thin, thus the implication could be 'Save Mary Kate from the rehabilitation clinic'. This second reading is supported by the image itself, in which she is smiling and returning the gaze of the viewer. This subverts the intended message that she is a victim.
In society today there is a clear divide between fashions considered feminine and those considered masculine. However, is this a result of the fashion industry itself, or is the industry merely reflecting the changing attitudes of society as a whole? It is difficult to determine where the line between gender reproduction and gender construction stands in regards to fashion and dress, as it can be read in a number of ways. Fashion has been used in attempts to deconstruct gender stereotypes, as in some cases of cross dressing, but has also been used as a means of reinforcing them via items like the high heeled shoe. Fashion has been a part of western culture for centuries and as fashion has changed so too has its significations. The style of the garments we wear, their fabrics and colours, all carry signifiers of various aspects of our lives. In times past, fashion trends were set by the middle and upper classes, with the result that fashion became a signifier of social standing. For example during the Baroque period of the seventeenth century it was fashionable for both men and woman of the upper classes to wear garments decorated with large amounts of lace and ribbon (Stecker, 1996, p14). This gave men's fashion a highly feminine appearance; however they were quite distinct from the lower classes which did not utilise such decoration. In the present day this class distinction has lessened and a gender distinction has become predominant. This division is established almost as soon as we are born. In western culture it is customary for male babies to wear blue and female babies to wear pink. earning a living) (Lurie, 1992, p214). In the adult world it is acceptable for women to wear blue, however men still rarely wear pink, and those who do are often accused of being effeminate and homosexual (Lurie, 1992, p214). One theory states that one of the first functions of clothing was to attract the opposite sex. By only revealing and highlighting specific parts of the body, much can be left to the imagination and thus sexual desire is increased (Lurie, 1992, p213). This is similar to Freud's assertion that "visual impressions remain the most frequent pathway along which libidinal excitation is aroused" (Freud, 1977, p69). In order to be successful in attracting a member of the opposite sex the garments must therefore serve to distinguish men from women. On a basic level this can be seen in department stores where the women's clothing section is distinct from the men's. However the relationship between fashion and gender is significantly more complicated, with the definition of what gender actually is having a significant effect on how fashion could be seen to impact it.