Kathleen Murphy (KM): Describe what you do for us?
Sophie Bergquist (SB): I study this question: “What are the ideal practices involved in the representation of individuals in a fashion publication? By analyzing modern platforms such as Teen Vogue and Man Repeller, I aim to analyze the triumphs and shortcomings of using an intersectional feminist approach to create content.
KM: What is an “intersectional feminist approach”?
SB: I am investigating how changes in the feminist movement have affected how women are represented in fashion magazines. This means that I will be tracing the history of the feminist movement through its Second and Third-Wave conceptions in order to understand our present moment of Intersectional, Post-Wave feminism. In doing so, I hope to better understand how to ideally represent women in a modern day fashion magazine. By using Teen Vogue and Man Repeller as primary sources for textual analysis, I hope to gather content from which I will define how to ideally represent individuals in a publication dedicated to style. As a way to illustrate this, my findings will be used to inform the publication of the next issue of NOW Magazine, which will be dedicated to intentional and just representation and celebration of individual style.
KM: How did you identify your research focus?
SB: I have been publishing NOW Magazine for over four years as a publication that celebrates the uniquely inspired individual and their expression of self through style.
NOW is the guiding force behind all of my research. It is what initially prompted me to pursue a major in Media Studies, and later a thesis on this subject. By doing so, I am hoping to elevate the intentionality of the publication and be able to promote it for an example to others.
In thinking about how I wanted to improve NOW, I felt that becoming reflexive about how my own work projects the biases of mainstream media was important. By challenging myself to do research that is relevant both to NOW and to grappling with what it means to be a woman in our modern media environment, I arrived at my research topic.
KM: Why is it important?
SB: Now more than ever, I am finding it important to challenge inherent biases and think critically about the images we are constantly exposed to. By immersing myself in a school of feminist thought, I hope to approach my work and life with a more thoughtful and critical eye.
KM: What do you want to see happen as a result of your work?
SB: I hope that I am able to create the next issue of NOW in a way that ideally represents how individuals express their uniqueness through personal style. By challenging well-established, mainstream formulations of beauty, style and appeal, I hope to bring a more intentional method of content creation to the realm of fashion journalism and editorial content creation.
KM: What has been the greatest struggle?
SB: I am lucky to have a wonderful support system of advisors here at University of Virginia who are willing to talk me through the challenges and non-linear process of doing good research. While I am still very much immersed in the process itself, it has been challenging to be in a constant state of questioning and uncertainty. Questioning where my own ideas align with those of problematic aspects of the mainstream media. Uncertain whether or not this will ever change. What I’ve been reminded of is that the very questioning of your own inherent biases is part of the process of change, which is comforting.
KM: What have your learned that we should all know?
SB: What you would think would be a sterile and clear-cut process is anything but. There is no way to approach a question without bringing to it our own lived experiences and individual perspectives. From this, I’ve learned that it is absolutely impossible to be wholeheartedly objective in any situation, and that there is nothing wrong with this. From my advisor, Professor Lana Swartz, I have learned that only you can do the research in front of you, and that only you will produce the results you do. It is motivating to think that at the end of this year, I will make an entirely unique contribution to research being done in Media Studies and Feminism.
KM: How do you define fashion now as a result of your studies?
SB: In the publication of 2018’s issue of NOW, I question the definition of fashion by challenging it with that of style. From this, a clarification of the distinction between the two has come to my attention. Through various conversations I’ve had, I’ve come to formulate my (loosely held) definitions of each. Perhaps fashion can be understood as a malleable industry, heavily influenced by commercial needs and socio-economic factors, resulting in the introduction of ephemeral trends. And then there is style; an aesthetic aura that surrounds a person or place, a timeless and steadfast way of visually and creatively communicating to the world who you are at your very core, or at least who you want to be.
KM: Who are your greatest inspirations?
SB: I idolize Grace Coddington for her work as Creative Director at Vogue and the ways that she is able to create entire editorial universes in her photo stories. Similarly, I find inspiration within the digital world of Man Repeller and the way that Leandra Medine has created a community around the publication of visual and textual content that speaks to what it means to be a woman in our modern media environment.
KM: Thank you Sophie for all your work and inspiration!
p.s. – enjoy this short video with Grace Coddington about travel!