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The trendy generation

| Tuesday, April 27, 2021

I learned of the term “fast fashion” a little while ago through TikTok: it’s a method of rapidly producing massive amounts of clothing capturing all the latest styles. Fast fashion tosses together cheap, low quality materials speedily so that we can keep our Instagram profiles interesting and our wardrobes trendy, constantly updating them to emulate the “influencers” with whom we’re inundated. Think Shein, Zaful and all those other stores that flood you with ads and offer an endless array of eye-catching fashion pieces at prices that seem too good to be true. Fast fashion has come under fire for having harmful effects on the environment and for its exploitation of workers in developing countries. Nevertheless, it’s all around us. It fills our Instagram feeds, shapes our fashion fantasies and probably even covers our bodies. To be able to constantly evolve your wardrobe with the whims of the fashion world is thrilling — I get it, I’m with you. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve succumbed to the allure of the big-pants-little-shirt combination, puffer jackets and patchy jeans and layering oversized shirts. When we didn’t have much else to do during quarantine, we cleared our closets and revamped our style; we became a trendy generation.  

My concern with fast fashion is not the desire we’ve developed to look stylish and trendy per se. Who wouldn’t want to do that? I’m worried, rather, of the more insidious implications that follow from swarming from one style to the next and, by the time you get there, finding that the world has moved on to another. It’s a mindset of things having only fleeting value. Our newfound obsession with trends appears to be a subtle manifestation of a culture and politics of dispensability. Body types and facial features go in and out of style, while their owners are stuck with the same DNA for life. When we wake up, we can only hope to find that our face shapes, eyebrow arches and proportions will be “in” that day. One decade, it’s a competition for the most pin straight, sleek hair, and everyone is intimately acquainted with their flat irons. The next, textured hair is “in.” Suddenly everyone wants voluminous spirals because they’re exciting. We’re all rushing for mousses and gels that promise us crisp curls and wild waves — but who knows for how long? So, unconventionally appreciated features and appearances get their chance in the spotlight for a little while, but after they’ve had their moment and we get tired of them, we toss them out, deciding they no longer have value. Just like our clothes from Shein. Onto the next trend. 

Even activism and social justice seem to have become a trend nowadays. Most young adults tend to have a general grasp of current political events and social issues — undoubtedly the result of growing up in an era of major political upheaval. From the age of Trump, to a climate crisis, to a racial reckoning, to a pandemic, politics have unsurprisingly commanded our attention. While it’s great that we’re listening to podcasts and reading books to inform ourselves about societal issues, I can’t help but wonder: will political engagement go out like skinny jeans, or is it here to last? Whenever an incident of injustice happens nowadays that captures national attention, a wave of support typically floods in as we rush to read up on new subjects and organize events to highlight different struggles and experiences in America. Through what I initially welcomed as widespread political engagement over the past few years, however, I’ve come to see that any cause can be discarded when it’s no longer politically beneficial or relevant to support, or when a new one takes its place. 

Don’t get me wrong — this is not me, conscientious citizen and noble social justice warrior, lecturing you, inadequate ally. It is precisely because of my own shortcomings to be a good ally and advocate for justice that I have become aware of the facade of what I’ll call “fast politics” and the culture of dispensability at play. We express solidarity with communities facing injustices and vow to learn more about their struggles — and we genuinely mean it at first — but after a while, causes become like the sweaters in the back of our closets: We don’t wear them anymore; they’ve been replaced with the latest styles. Out of sight, out of mind. The problem is that deep-seated social issues don’t simply go away when trends do. This might explain why we see the same injustices infiltrate American society generation after generation, perhaps just in new forms — because of our fleeting commitment to their victims and to rectifying them in the first place. 

The remedy to a culture of dispensability and disposability is a culture of value and commitment. Marginalized communities are not political tools with whom to feign solidarity during an election cycle to secure their votes and save face with the broader country. And victims of systemic issues and violence are not people for whom to post Instagram stories for a few days, only to forget once more recent news comes to dominate the national discourse. We need to show concern and support for black Americans, immigrant communities, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ individuals and ethnic and religious minorities constantly — not just after the latest harm has been caused to their communities. Our styles might change frequently with the trends, but our values must have a firmer foundation. If you want to sport your white tennis skirt, baggy jeans, tiny hoops and retro sunglasses, be my guest. I’ll probably even join you. I don’t blame you for wanting to be trendy. But people, their appearances, struggles and rights and political activism and engagement are not trends — because they should never go out of style.

Eva Analitis is a junior in Lyons Hall majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at [email protected] or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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