Teaching girls a lesson : the fashion model as pedagogue

Dwyer, Angela Ellen (2006) Teaching girls a lesson : the fashion model as pedagogue. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


There appears to be little doubt about the nature of the relationship between the fashion model and the young girl in contemporary Western culture. Dominant literature, emerging from medico-psychological and feminist research, situates the model as a disorderly influence, imbued with the capacity to infect and, hence, distort the healthy minds and bodies of 'suggestible' young girls. Opposing these perspectives is a smaller, more recent body of literature, emerging from post-feminist work that argues that the model-girl relationship is a delightful influence. Thus, the contemporary field of scholarship reveals an increasingly dichotomous way of thinking about fashion model influence: the model influences young girls in ways that are disorderly or delightful, never both.

This thesis argues that to assume that the model-girl encounter is 'neatly' disorderly or delightful is shifty at best. It suggests that, in their rush to judge the fashion model as either pernicious or pleasurable, existing literature fails to account for the precision with which young girls know the fashion model. Using poststructuralist theory, the thesis argues that 'influence' may be more usefully thought of as a discursive effect, which may produce a range of effects for better and worse. Following Foucault (1972), fashion model influence is interrogated as a regime of truth about the model-girl encounter, constituted discursively under specific social, cultural and historical conditions. In so doing, the thesis makes different sense of fashion model influence, and questions influence as an independently-existing 'force' that bears down on vulnerable young girls.

Drawing on a poststructural conceptual architecture, this thesis re-conceptualises the model-girl encounter as a pedagogical relationship focused on the (ideal) female body. It suggests that the fashion model, as an authoritative embodied pedagogue, transmits knowledge about 'ideal' feminine bodily conduct to the young girl, as attentive gazing apprentice. Fashion model influence is re-interrogated as the product of certain forms of disciplinary training (Foucault, 1977a), with young girls learning a discursive knowledge about how to discipline the body in ways that are properly feminine. Such a perspective departs from the notion that fashion model influence is necessarily disorderly or delightful, and makes possible a re-reading of influence in terms of learning outcomes.

A problematic arises conceptualising the fashion model in this way. To consider the model as a 'good' teacher breaches a number of discursive rules for best pedagogical practice in postmodern times: She is not a pedagogue of the mind; she is not student-centred, facilitative, asexual, interpersonally engaged, relational, or authentic. To create a space for thinking differently about the model as a teacher, then, the thesis looks to ancient historical times and places in which female-to-female and body-to-body pedagogies were practised and understood.

The first phase of the research project embedded in this thesis defamiliarises pedagogical work using historical texts from ancient Greece. It examines in particular the erotically embodied pedagogical relationships conducted between older, authoritative elite prostitutes known as hetairae, and their younger female apprentices. The discursive rules governing these pedagogical relationships are examined with a view to diagnosing the model-girl encounter in terms of these rules. These rules are then used to interrogate ethnographic data generated through observation of the model-girl encounter in situ in a modelling course, and through focus group interviews with groups of young girls.

Working through notions of corporeal embodiment, self as art, desire, discipline, stillness, spectacle, the gaze and the conduct of conduct, the study interrogates the model-girl encounter as a contemporary pedagogical encounter. To avoid reaffirming more traditional binaries, the reading of data is ironic, working within and between binaries such as disorder/delight. Three ironic categories of femininity are produced out of the analysis: unnaturally natural, stompy grace and beautifully grotesque. These categories 'speak' the fragmentation, fissure, contradiction, inconsistency and absurdity that permeate the talk of young girls and model-girl pedagogy in the modelling classroom. Thus, the thesis offers up an analysis of the model-girl encounter that refuses the neatness and uni-dimensionality that characterises existing literature.

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ID Code: 16259
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McWilliam, Erica & Meadmore, Daphne
Additional Information: Angela Dwyer has other works published under the name of Angela Draper.
Keywords: Ancient Greece, conduct of conduct, corporeality, discourse, effective history, embodiment, fashion model, Foucault, gaze, hetairai, historiography, ideal femininity, influence, ironic category, pedagogy, performance, poststructuralism, posture, self as art, sexual conduct, spectacle, young girl, Angela Draper, Fashion model, Relationship, Discourse, Teaching
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Law and Justice Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Justice
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Angela Ellen Dwyer
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:59
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:45

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