Pigtails & Pink: How Baby Spices’ girly image inspired a fight back against the male gaze

The Spice Girls’ members were branded with just one word each, a word that identified them and defined them.

Together, all five could have embodied an actual whole of the every-girl, yet each individual took one fifth of that whole as their personality; her anger, her innocence, her cheekiness, her dignity and her physicality. These five personality traits, otherwise known as Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sporty, became the theatrical personalities that their fans could related to in their performances. Allegedly their management wanted all the girls to dress as sporty tomboys, wearing tracksuits and sports bras as their uniform. However, it was Melanie Brown, aka Scary Spice, that suggested that each of them took on different identities to attempt to give a fairer reflection of their true self. It was a way of them saying to their audience: ‘you don’t have to match exactly what a singular female pop star looks like, you can relate to one, or two or maybe parts of all of us. We are all different and that’s a strength.’

The Spice Girls were a burst of contradictions as a new group in the nineties pop world. They were marketed for young girls, celebrating their ‘girl power’ revolutionary spirit. They were loud, gobby and here to shake up the rules of being a ‘lady’. However, they were still females in the spotlight and therefore automatically subjected to the media’s male gaze. Every woman that is marketed for mainstream media will face the expectation to exhibit their sexual appeal in someway. Therefore, when Emma Bunton took on the role as the band’s figure of youth, innocence and girlishness, it satisfied the darker fetish for male audiences.

This fetish, usually designed for the male gaze, have been echoed through mainstream culture before. The 1998 video for Britney Spears’ debut hit ‘…Baby One More Time’ featured Spears and her backing dancers in a schoolgirl’s outfit, their white blouses are tied to reveal their midriff and buttoned down for their cleavage whilst they fling their arms and legs around the school corridors. Just like Baby Spice, her hair is fashioned in plaited pigtails with pink fluffy hair ties.

Baby Spice’s own image contained more a complex contradiction of sultry behaviour underneath a virtuous surface. She appeared child-like and sickeningly sweet as she sucked on lollipops, twiddled her pigtails and giggled coyly. All of the other Spices maintained a robust persona. Even her fellow overtly feminine member Posh, aka Victoria Beckham, who had a demur maturity about her. Posh could convince her audience that she was slightly more worldly wise in her chic black shift dresses and serious brown bob. Whereas with Baby, all impressions pointed to the assumptions that she was young, foolish and easily influenced. She appeared without any backbone or independent thought, unsurprisingly proving more popular with the male fans of the Spice Girls.

Bunton joined the band aged nineteen and was the youngest of her bandmates. Like all adolescent girls, she was still grappling with the discovery of her sexuality. There were heavy suggestions of seduction in her movements, her winks and struts. Yet her image that surrounded the term ‘Baby’ puts her on the back foot when it came to her awareness and control of them. Was she really alert to all the middle-aged men gawking and greedily licking their lips as they watched her dance around?

Yet there are clues of a deeper level of feminism waiting to break through in Baby’s image.  She hinted at this tongue-in-cheek use of her girly and playful style. Her image contained so many contrasts: the pinafore dresses were conservative in shape yet made from PVC leather, giving it a harder edge. Instead of pumps or kitten heels, she wore chunky, towering platforms to make her strut that bit more clumpier and commanding. In more recent interviews, grown-up Bunton has insisted her motives were innocent and without irony. Yet with the blurred line between girlishness and sexiness, these feelings are often subconscious. She was displaying her inner roar without even acknowledging it cognitively.

Yet there are clues of a deeper level of feminism waiting to break through in Baby’s image.

Her look became the prophecy for the feminism expressed in the fashion design today. Clothing brands such as Shrimps, Skinny Dip and Lazy Oaf have taken hold of the notion of ‘girlishness’ and exaggerated the dainty, feminine touches, making them overtly kitsch and flamboyant. The connotation of infantilization has been shoved out the way in favour for a new attitude to be attached to girlish attire. They have taken the delicate, polite and ladylike behaviours and made it loud, brash and full of feminist bite and wit. The colour pink itself has turned its stereotype back on itself. Yes, pink is for femininity, but for angry, independent, revolutionary femininity.

What Baby Spice represents to us is that confused time in female adolescence between girlhood and womanhood. Whether knowingly or not, she inspired a control of our feminine image during that time. As her signature style of bubblegum pink and fluffy pompom accessories have evolved into fearless feminist statements in the contemporary fashion world, the girly-girl image is being used for a greater, powerful good.







Words:Sophia Sheppard