The impact of music on female representation
Blondie, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, oh, and “You heard of Aretha Franklin, right? She’s a big lady. But when she starts singing, she blows people’s minds. Everybody wants to party with Aretha!”. Motivating his shy and weight-conscious pupil, Jack Black’s enthusiastic School of Rock character, Dewey, fiercely pays homage to one of Rock’s most legendary singers.
But Dewey’s words of wisdom to his concerned rock student can be translated in many ways. In a world where personal body image is something we all contribute unnecessary amounts of time and energy to, we often forget to measure our worth by the feats of our capabilities.
To me, Black’s goofy and at times, socially naïve character, unexpectedly undermines the role that fashion plays in holding women back. As Tomika (Dewey's student) shows, image alone can be impactful enough to overrule one’s perceived worth in spite of their amazing talents.
Regardless of appearance, race, or gender, the unmatchable talent of the 1960s and 1970s female rockers demolished contemporary social norms with their provoking on-stage personas. Free-falling hair, colourful, and loosely worn dresses, and lyrics that transformed years of social oppression into empowering songs; these women composed the leap from conforming fashion into individualistic expression.
Here's an honourary list of women who combined their talent with music and fashion to create a feminist cause that was more than on looks alone.
Carole King was one of the most successful female songwriters by the end of the 20th century. Being the first woman in popular music to be credited for composing, arranging, and conducting an album, her popularity boomed when in 1973 she released her solo Tapestry album. Stripping down songs such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, her talent became fully recognised since her departure from co-writer husband, Gerry Goffin. Alongside the emergence of the 1968 women’s liberation movement, King became iconic for her solo career and ability to represent the successful independence women could enjoy by means of music.
Meanwhile, King’s fashion was simplistic. Long dresses or jumpers and jeans, she left people to focus solely on her music and not her choice of dress or how her body looked wearing it. King didn’t need any fancy attire to dominate the stage and represent female equality in the music industry, she just needed a pen and some paper.
Tina’s story of hardship and grief, to reinvention and success, is one that is truly inspiring. Spending her childhood picking cotton on her family’s farm in Nutbush, Tennessee, she was exposed to a multitude of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, Ike.
After escaping him and the farm, she created for herself enormous mainstream success by her 40s. Not only was this a rarity for most female stars, but with her debut solo album, Private Dancer, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide, she completely tore through historic racial boundaries.
As Polly Dunbar from Glamour Magazine rightfully draws attention to, Tina’s inspirational legacy wasn’t just confined to music, but "The impact of her brave decision to go public about her abuse can still be felt in the era of #MeToo." Not only this, but Tina's flamboyant persona and outrageously creative on-stage fashions led to influencing later artists such as Beyoncé and Rihanna, who have equally led a generation of progressive equality in the music industry with their empowering lyricism and explosive performances.
When compared with Carole King, Tina’s fashion choices were much more extroverted. What they both shared, however, was that sense of disregard for what people may think. Fashion was important to Tina, but regardless of what she came out wearing, audiences were there for her.
Patti Smith could be found at the core of the New York punk scene in the 1970s. As a lone woman amid a hyper-masculine movement, her unapologetically androgynous look smashed boundaries. The image we all know of Patti Smith was from her debut album, Horses, wearing a white shirt and a jacket slung over her shoulder. From that album alone, she came to symbolise one of rock's greatest Icons.
Smith’s fashion was, to the core, unapologetic. Her involvement in a musical scene that in the 1970s gave little room to women, was unapologetic. Her defiant lyricism: ‘"Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine," in her song, ‘Gloria’, was unapologetic.
Smith demonstrated to the world through her still ongoing career that being unapologetically yourself was the most important tool a person could own. Uncompromised by social norms, her music and fashion showed a generation of women that being an outsider to a predominantly masculine world didn’t mean you couldn’t follow your dreams. It is when you buckle to the expectations of others, that you lose touch with your ambitions.
Make Your Own Kind of Music
Hopefully, these examples of female rock stars who broke so many social boundaries have been an inspiring insight into how music and fashion have played a detrimental role in empowering the feminist movement of the 20th and 21st Century.
What they have shown is that fashion is very important to the way we often express ourselves. while others see it as a sole means to show their monetary worth, others use it to display their individuality. What these women fundamentally showed, however, was that fashion and music can be a tool of empowerment rather than something that has empowerment over you. They didn't care how they looked, they just rocked it!
With this in mind, remember that it's not what you wear that makes you valuable, it's the reason you wear what you do that is important. When you're truly yourself, everyone will want to party with you!