I adore fashion, particularly red-carpet parades of the rich and famous during awards season. It’s not the most feminist of customs (it’s the kind of idealism that can lead to a distorted self image) but it’s as American as baseball. Celebrity worship is one of our past times, for better or for worse. Seeing our icons float across a crimson sea in works of art, high on excitement is a form of voyeurism that makes me happy. If only it didn’t get so ugly, so quickly.
Fashion chatter—both professional and amateur via social media—has become awfully mean spirited. More often than not, women are the targets and the critics. It makes me wonder if loving the fashion parade is a betrayal of feminism.
It always starts out sweet and complimentary. Red-carpet reporters ask everone, “who are you wearing?,” tell them they look gorgeous and congratulate them. Moments later, the insults begin. Fashion bloggers try to out-snark one another. Newspaper reporters slip in casual insults to make their copy stand out on the wires. And the worst comments come from average anyones. Message boards, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates in the past 48 hours have focused on the “stupid,” “tragic,” “blah,” “slutty” or “boring” of certain women in certain dresses. In my feeds alone, Angelina Jolie was objectified (too hot) and vilified (too skinny). Jennifer Lopez was slut shamed (really too sexy). Meryl Streep and Glenn Close were called old (these folks have been unfollowed, trust). And everyone tried to find a way to insult Melissa McCarthy without calling her fat.
I know we all judge others; it’s a problem that goes beyond celebrity culture. As I watched the Oscars, I wished Jennifer Lopez were more covered up. I worried that Angelina Jolie and Rose Byrne were too thin. And I felt a secret glee when I noticed, just for a second, that damn-near-perfect Gwyneth Paltrow has the teeniest belly—an accessory every woman who’s given birth gets for life. I mean, you had to squint to see it when she turned sideways; and for all I know she had just eaten a big dinner. But that momentary image of not absolute perfection on one of the most beautiful women in the world made me admire her more and wish more women in the spotlight showed off—rather than worked so hard to conceal—their beautiful, unique selves.
And in celebrating Gwyneth, I felt guilty for judging the others. Who am I to assume Angelina isn’t in tip-top health? She has always been thin, plus I know how hard it is to take care of yourself when you have kids, and she has six. Rose could just be in really fantastic shape. And Jennifer’s sense of style is her own, not mine. If she feels confident and sexy in second-skin materials, that’s all that matters.
I think we’re all brainwashed to look for flaws in others, especially in those we expect to have none. And this is the problem with celebrity. These normal humans are held to expectations no one can possibly achieve and so we make tearing them down—for putting on a dress—a hobby. We forget that they’re human too and have feelings. Plus, is it really necessary to add to the barrage of insults already hurled at women in Hollywood? Hell, women in general?
I think we can do better. Fashion is art and fair game for criticism. So dissect an awkward neckline, not the breasts beneath it. Discuss the drape of a certain material, not the “problem hips” on the woman wearing it. Be Michael Kors, not Simon Cowell. And if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, shut up. To judge is as human as it is to err, but you can do so quietly without hurting the feelings of another woman and/or furthering this idea that we all must be as perfect as Gwyneth Paltrow. But let’s learn something from her beauty; she’s not perfect and I think she’s damn proud of it. We all have our teeny bellies. It’s time we celebrated them.