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From Desert Fatigues to Prada

War Chic

by LUCINDA MARSHALL

The November issue of the magazine Marie Clare did an outstanding job of in remedying the media’s woeful lack of coverage of the impact of war on fashion. With several hard-hitting articles and a photo spread, MC gives this aspect of war reporting it’s proper due.

The magazine scored a real coup by getting the first print interview ever with Lynndie England since her incarceration for her role in Abu Ghraib. The first paragraph immediately gives us what we want to know,

Lynndie England smells like soap. She rubs her hands constantly, and her cuticles are raw and nearly bleeding. Her hair is pulled back in four tortoiseshell clips, and it’s streaked with premature gray. She is no longer the waiflike girl with a devilish grin who appeared in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. On this warm fall afternoon, England, 23, now 30 pounds heavier, wears short-sleeve Army fatigues and black, waffle-soled boots. Her name is stitched across her chest. Dangling from her waist is a yellow-and-white badge that reads, "Prisoner."

There you have it, what she smells like, the condition of her hair and nails, what she is wearing, her footgear and an allusion to Hester Prynne.

Fortunately, the author had the good sense to abandon the glam objectification genre after the first paragraph and the rest of the piece actually does a fine job of looking at who England is, not what she looks like.

But wait, there’s more, much more. A back page piece about Army Major Tammy Duckworth addresses issues first. But then, suddenly remembering the publication for whom she is writing, the interviewer asks the inevitable, "What are the fashion challenges?" Duckworth answers with a joke about her missing legs being her excuse for wearing larger size pants and that yes of course she is sad that she can’t wear the latest high-wedge heels, but that is nothing "compared to being alive."

The magazine also has an interesting article about women newscasters in the Middle East, talking about a Saudi woman who went public with pictures of herself after she was assaulted by her husband. But when they interview reporter May Chidiak, who lost a leg and an arm in a car bombing in Beirut, we learn that with a cane, she can wear high heels. She can already handle 2 inch heels, her goal is the 4-inchers.

Finally, there is the photo spread that perhaps should have been titled, "Runway: Iraq," in which Marie Claire features the wives of soldiers showing off the latest fashions. Kristi McCoy, wife of a soldier named James, is shown wearing a $2455 Prada dress along with a Catherine Angiel necklace prices at $1340. At least the sidebar says she is wearing this, it is apparently hidden by the baby she is holding who curiously is clad only in a diaper. As Anna Froula, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky who first noticed this curious edition of MC points out, it is truly peculiar to photograph these women in clothes they could not possibly afford on the pay their spouses make in the military.

This sorry objectification of the role of women in the context of militarism does however illustrate the expanding number of visual archetypes that we now have of women in war. Indeed, today’s imagery goes far beyond Rosie the Riveter. The wives and sweethearts left behind, England, Duckworth, Jessica Lynch, as well as Iraqi and Afghani women have now become the feminine archetypes of militarism. As Froula makes clear in her research about England and Lynch, we need to do some serious deconstructing of the images of these women that have been presented to us by the media and the military in order to really see the truth of how women participate in militarism and how that impacts their lives.

LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.