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’.
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 Denouncing stereotypes of style and outdated ideals of beauty can empower some, and allows people to embrace their uniqueness and difference.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.