Fashion and Feminism: Opinions on the Emma Watson Vanity Fair Controversy

Appearing in March’s issue of Vanity Fair, Emma Watson’s ‘topless’ shoot prompted controversy over what it means to be a feminist. It made me question if an individual’s clothing and style choices impact how seriously they are taken?

In one shot, the actress posed in a barely-there Burberry cape, revealing quite a lot of her breasts, and it is this picture which has been criticised. Broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer condemned Watson for her hypocrisy in campaigning against page three while then bearing all in a ‘posh magazine’, while also suggesting that she wouldn’t be taken seriously for the move.

Watson, however, defended herself, stating that she was ‘stunned’ by the controversy, and didn’t see what her ‘tits have to do with it’. Indeed, many have backed the actress up, arguing nudity and fashion have nothing to do with feminism. And yet, in society at the moment, it does seem that way.

“This double standard between genders is evident not only in professional spheres, but in everyday life”

Women across the globe struggle to be taken seriously unless dressed in a certain way. Even our own Prime Minister is fodder for tabloid’s style sections; focusing more on her shoes than her politics. This certainly wasn’t the case for her predecessor David Cameron.

Similarly, professional women are only taken seriously when conforming to the predetermined white male power ideal. Suits, straight and sleek hair, minimal makeup (that is still flattering to a feminine ideal) is encouraged, and leaves very little room for women of colour, gender nonconforming people, and others.

This double standard between genders is evident not only in professional spheres, but in everyday life. Women who choose to wear the hijab, for example, are sometimes demonised and are branded as oppressed, with those expressing such an opinion often having no factual knowledge of the context behind the garment. Surely a woman’s choice of how they present themselves to the world is their business and their business alone. As Watson argued, ‘feminism is…about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality’.


A post shared by Emma Watson (@emmawatson) on

Fashion and style is an incredibly powerful tool which one can use to express oneself and its value most definitely shouldn’t be discounted within feminism. Denouncing stereotypes of style and outdated ideals of beauty can empower some, and allows people to embrace their uniqueness and difference. Others, however, may be empowered by embracing typically gendered style, or what may be branded as ‘conservative’ fashion.

The importance here, though, is not what they are wearing but that what they are wearing is a consequence of them exercising their choice, and how it allows them to express their personal beliefs and message.

Watson’s choice to wear a revealing top is just as valid as her choice to wear a suit on any other day. A person’s style should not impact their validity or respectability. It is not for other people to say what may empower an individual. That choice is yours, and yours alone. Whether a woman chooses to pose for nude photo shoots, or cover herself from head to toe, it does not make either any less feminist nor any less of a role model.

Molly Barratt

Image Credit – Jerry Kiesewetter via Unsplash

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4 Comments on this post.
  • Sean
    27 March 2017 at 14:56
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    This is stupid. Since when has wearing appropriate clothes been strictly a feminist issue? I’m a man who is forced to wear a certain style of clothes for work, and a different style for public, and a different style for swimming, and a different style for privacy… I will be criticized from deviating from any standard that society imposes on me.. But thanks for making this about women. This is exactly the reason why women can’t be taken seriously. Not because of what they wear, but they choose to bash men for something men have problems with also. Pathetic, if you ask me. Asking for my pity because someone was criticized for their dress is beyond absurd. I’m going to walk around naked and then blame you personally for saying it was okay for men, but not for women.

    • Anna
      28 March 2017 at 10:53
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      To rephrase your statement, ‘but thanks for making this about men’. This article is well written, empowering and articulately expressed and in no way is there to ‘bash men’. Clothing and fashion are a form of expression and you have every right to wear what you want and not be condemned for it, just as women are. As an issue this has a different impact upon men as it does to women and perhaps this is why you’ve misconstrued the point of the article. It isn’t saying that there are no societal pressures placed upon men, advocating restrictions on men or blaming them for anything, and neither is it advocating that you run around naked in public. Similarly, it’s not there for your ‘pity’ but to highlight a wider societal issue. The article’s main point about freedom of expression and Emma Watson’s choice to show parts of her breasts in a magazine is a different context to your point about appropriate male attire for work etc., and attacks on women (such as Emma Watson) who embrace their body but are as a result branded anti-feminist is an issue that has a far greater impact on women than men. The article doesn’t erase male issues it just highlights women’s issues, and not being directly about you does not make it ‘stupid’.
      Regards, Anna.

  • Yisrael Hartman
    27 March 2017 at 21:52
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    March 27th, 2017
    In my opinion, Ms. Emma Watson is 100% correct with her personal views and should be accepted for who she is inside and not outside. What her dressing code is: whether to wear a revealing top or any other type of garment is of her own decision and should not be judged against her. She is a brillant, young movie star with many performances behind her and she has shown herself positvely as being an ambassador for the U.N. on gender equality for women all around the world. This double standard between genders is quite obvious and shows in everyday life. What one wears(fashion and style)is a very strong tool which everyone can use to express oneself and its value shouldn’t be received with negative views within feminism. Ms. Watson, in my opinion is a role model for all women like herself and should commended.

  • Molly
    28 March 2017 at 11:20
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    Hi Sean,
    When I wrote this article it was in no way intended to ‘bash men’ – merely to comment on the recent controversy sparked by Emma Watson’s photoshoot. At no point did I mention that these problems do not affect men, nor did I declare that it was okay for men to walk around naked. My point was that women, whether scantily clad, or covered head to toe, face discrimination, and to their detriment. Pointing out that women face discrimination no matter what manner of dress they wear does not rule out that men face a similar issue, however on a much smaller scale. If by focusing this article on the more relevant topic of discrimination faced by gender nonconforming people and women you cannot take the matter seriously, then maybe you should think about why you can only take an issue seriously if it directly involves you.
    I hope this opens your eyes to a new point of view, and that you reassess your definition of feminism – it involves people of all genders, and your argument that men are similarly subjected to dress codes and ideals is inherently feminist.

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