In 2010, Leandra Medine (now Leandra Medine Cohen) went on a shopping trip with her friend, and she came to a stunning realization: The fashion pieces she idolized, from shoulder pads to acid-washed jeans, were all (to put it frankly) man repellers. Her love of these pieces did not stem from her desire to attract the male gaze. Rather, their appeal stemmed from her tendency toward maximalism — her love of fashion for fashion’s sake.
This fateful experience in a TopShop provided the inspiration for what would be a revolution: Man Repeller, Medine’s immensely popular fashion blog. On this platform, Medine provided a space for women to explore fashion beyond the mainstream. In this place, you no longer had to dress to appeal to men, and your interest in fashion did not minimize the depth of your intellect. Rather, you could gush over a pair of cowboy boots and have an intellectual conversation about the psychology of an eating disorder.
As an aspiring writer, I have always been fascinated by Man Repeller. On this blog, I could find articles ranging from the instant gratification of hair masks to the practical magic of the microwave. The witty, honest, off-kilter style of this blog shaped my writing style for the better, and I not-so-secretly harbored dreams of working for Medine one day. I was even inspired to start my own blog, where I strive for the same balance between social curiosity and practical intellectualism.
However, over the course of the past summer, the Man Repeller kingdom began to crumble. Following the publication of an open letter calling for allyship in the Black Lives Matter Movement, Medine began to receive criticism. Specifically, a former employee named Sabrina wrote, "As a former POC employee that was let go during COVID-19, this 'apology' is a slap in the face and honestly disgraceful . . . I have not been reached out to in any capacity. I hope everyone sees that this is another performative attempt to cover racist actions." Coming under increasing scrutiny, Leandra decided to step down from operations at Man Repeller, signifying the first step toward its downfall.
But the issues at Man Repeller were not just limited to accusations of a lack of diversity. While the idea of deflecting the male gaze was revolutionary in 2010, its power has been diluted over the course of the past decade. With the rise of the #MeToo movement and the push against heteronormativity, the chief motto has become outdated. The Man Repeller team, without Leandra, attempted to respond to this by rebranding the site as Repeller. As it wrote on Instagram, “Being a ‘Man Repeller’ was defined as empowering yourself by deflecting the male gaze when this site began 10 years ago, but today discovering yourself and earning your confidence feels far more multidimensional.”
Without Leandra, and without the brand name that launched it to success, Repeller took a turn for the worse. Angry and saddened fans flooded the comment section, and the blog seemed to lack the spunk it once possessed. This change even inspired Instagram users @andhernameissian and @graceavery_ to start their own page, called @oldmanrepeller, where they continue to post some of their favorite looks and articles. In the few months since it has been formed, @oldmanrepeller has amassed over 31 thousand followers, including Medine and myself.
Last month, after the string of events that led to the death of the “Old Man Repeller,” Medine shut down operations for good. The message was vague yet succinct: “As of Friday, October 23, 2020, Repeller is closed. The site will no longer publish new stories but the archive will remain available to access. Thank you to everyone who has contributed their talent and effort to this brand.” And while the end was predictable, the suddenness of this announcement came as a shock.
If the end of Man Repeller has taught us anything, it is that we are constantly changing as a society, and what was once revolutionary has now folded into the mainstream. Medine’s style is no longer considered avant garde. Rather, it is seen as glorifying specific body types and specific forms of privilege. On top of this, many have criticized the team for trying to cover up structural racism with a name change. It was too little too late, and it didn’t even come close to fixing what was broken. We have entered into a new stage of inclusivity and experimentation, and it is time to open the way for new voices in this movement.
While the “This site is no longer being updated” message at the top of the blog is saddening, old fans still have the opportunity to bathe in the nostalgia of the blog that defined a decade. I find myself stalking @oldmanrepeller from time to time when I need some inspiration. However, it is still important to recognize what led to the spectacle of Man Repeller’s downfall and how these issues can be fixed going forward. Only then can we appreciate the past, while still making room for a more inclusive future.