I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of using the “b” word myself, probably not the one you’re thinking of, but you have most likely used them together. I’m talking about the word basic, which these days seems to have more stigma around it than other notorious slang words. With it’s growing popularity, I can’t help but think the word “basic” is degrading towards women and I’d even go as far as to say it’s anti-feminist.
I own a pair of Ugg boots; am I basic enough yet? Am I any less of a well-rounded, semi-contributing member of society based on my footwear choices or have you already written me off into a stereotype? I went to high school with a sea of girls dressed in black North Face jackets, black leggings and (the now famous) Ugg boots. I’ll be the first to admit that as a naive and shallow high schooler, I was not so secretly judging all of them. For some arbitrary reason, I thought that by resisting the unofficial dress code and wearing my bright green pea coat, I was a better person than them. Honestly, the fact that I was judging them solely based on their outfit preference in zero degree weather made me the one lacking depth. Looking back on my 15-year-old self, I probably missed out on getting to know a lot of kind and interesting people, because I categorized them based on their clothing choices.
One day I caved and bought a pair of Ugg Boots; it was winter in New Hampshire, after all. I wore them fearfully, thinking that the very act of wearing them would somehow drastically alter my personality. Would I start craving Frappuccinos? Would I become a basic? In case you were wondering, I didn’t. In fact, nothing changed except the fact that my feet were warmer. If you asked me why I had this strange and illogical fear, my answer would be simple: the media.
The media already tries to simplify women down to two or so easy-to-understand archetypes in almost all narratives and I’d argue that it is causing women to see themselves as such. In male-centric media, women are either the cool girl or the basic. The cool girl is usually the quirky or edgy, one-dimensional character who dismisses the traditionally feminine in favor of more masculine selections. On the other hand, the basic embraces typically feminine things, and as a result, is far too uninteresting to be worth the male protagonist’s time. The cool girl archetype is supposed to be every man’s fantasy, while the basic is the woman who he is encouraged by the media to dismiss.
With the media and society already trying to categorize women and girls into easy-to-process, but very stereotypical archetypes, I find it absurd that now it’s a trend to put other women down in the form of declaring them basic. By calling each other basic, we are just reinforcing the idea that women can fit into distinct categories based solely on their clothing choices or overall buying habits. I’m not saying every feminist should run out and smash the literal patriarchy in the media, but we could at least try not to place these ridiculous characterizations upon the women in our lives. We are being taught that masculine things are better and everything traditionally feminine is too simplistic to be worthwhile. Women are pressured to maintain an always cool persona, then if they do not live up to this standard, they are written off as basic.
Recently, Gap launched a “Dress Normal” clothing campaign, encouraging consumers to keep their clothes simple. Attending an artsy college, I heard and saw lots of outrage over this campaign, slandering it for it’s use if the word “normal” and encouraging people to be boring, or worse, basic.
For me, this campaign was not an attack on individuality or hipster culture, but rather, a message to people (mainly women) that it is okay to dress for simplicity or practicality. Getting dressed every morning doesn’t have to be about crafting an outfit that’s like a piece of art; at least, not if you don’t want it to be. While I’m fan of clothes being a form of expression, they should be a reflection of your personality, not a definition of who you are. Frankly, if your clothes are the most interesting thing about you, I think you are buying into the idea that their products define you and, more importantly, selling yourself short!
It is important to remember that clothes are just products. My favorite ad in this campaign featured the slogan: “A simple jacket for you to complicate.” This can serve as a reminder that your uniqueness comes from within and no piece of clothing or product can make you basic.
If society is heading towards a future that categorizes people’s personalities as interesting or basic based on their clothing choices, I worry for the shallowness that lies ahead. At the end of the day, feminism is all about freedom of choices for both women and men. This includes the choice to embrace the traditionally feminine, masculine, or even both. It’s important that people, particularly young women, stop using the phrase basic to describe each other and the time to start working on this is now. So when you hear a guy or a girl describe someone as so basic, remind them that the only thing basic is to judge someone based upon their Ugg boots and North Face.