Accepted paper:

Fashioning sexuality through popular dress styles among young Bamileke women in Yaoundé (Cameroon)


Ewa Majczak (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

I explore how seduction is negotiated through popular dressing styles among young Bamileke women in Yaoundé. The normative structures of the urban and rural - the state, the church and the village - mediate these styles aesthetically, revealing changing perceptions of sexuality in public space.

Paper long abstract:

Young Bamileke women in Yaoundé embrace dressing styles seen on fashion websites, lifestyle magazines and music videoclips. The particular aesthetic that emerges across those dressing styles is tightness - these garments are 'sexy' as they reveal shapes and naked parts of the female body. 'Sexy' ways of dressing partake in representations of urban female subjectivity. Yet, the Cameroonian government launched a campaign in 2013 to combat such 'sexy' dressing, deeming it humiliating for a respectable Cameroonian women. Influenced by the campaign but also by church and 'village' aesthetic norms, young women negotiate their dressing style in between what is sexy and what is respectable, that is, ample, body concealing garments. Such garments are associated with rural women. Dress style negotiation has high stakes: it is not only a way of self-expression, but a key avenue in the pursuit of social adulthood bestowed by marriage. Seducing a potential marriage partner involves uncovering certain parts of the body to signal unmarried status. Yet to elicit respect other parts should be covered, which might equally signal married and rural status. Navigating a way in between different representations of seduction becomes a challenging task. The popular dressing styles form part of wider visual bodily practices aimed at seduction called 'nyanga'. Historically these practices were underpinned by logic of concealing. Today, however, the embrace of 'sexy' styles have imparted upon seduction a logic of revealing. In this way they change perceptions and meanings of acceptable seduction and reshape the experience of sexuality in public space.

panel P109
Fashioning sexuality in popular culture