On the heels of our general discussion on awards shows, let’s talk about possibly their worst accessory: the red carpet.
Red carpet coverage has become a breeding ground for judgment, where certain media members are given the platform to tear a woman’s outfit apart. And yes, this type of scrutiny seems to completely bypass male celebrities. Let’s face it, there isn’t much to comment on in general when talking about a guy’s suit, since male celebrities’ red carpet styling is usually only given an extra edge via a boutonnière or a tie bar or another subtle detail to his otherwise stoic tuxedo. And if there is an instance of more austere menswear styles, that male will be commended for his “adventurous” streak.
But what about the female celebrities, who virtually face the entire brunt of the criticism for their fashion choices? Though it’s hard to identify a specific point in time where red carpet coverage became this major objectification party, there’s no denying its current state and the hype that goes along with it.
The push for perfection is one element that comes into play. Even in real life, these women are expected to be immaculate from head to toe, and if one hair is out of place or if there isn’t enough makeup or if there’s a slight flaw in the fit of her ensemble, it’s fair game to rip her to shreds. These women are expected to be sexy but not vulgar, elegant but not ostentatious, and glamorous but not too bold. It’s just another reflection of the ideals pushed upon the entertainment industry as a whole, those developed and perpetuated by the white male media in order to keep an element of control. And when it comes to the woman’s ethnic makeup, the female celebrity is still expected to fit into the stereotypical mold that accompanies the color of her skin, regardless of the fact that what she chooses to wear is essentially a sort of extension of her own personal style. But if she doesn’t fit into these rigid categories of how she’s “supposed to” dress, or if an outfit isn’t to the public’s liking, who cares about the woman’s talent (the main reason she’s at the event, after all)?
We could talk about Rihanna’s massive Giambattista Valli haute couture gown she wore to the Grammys earlier this month, which was greeted with a slew of jokes and criticisms for its dramatic appearance. Everyone felt more entitled to tell this woman that she looked ridiculous for her (or her stylist, Mel Ottenberg’s) decision to wear the piece than to comment on her impressive performance just hours later. And if there was commentary on the performance, it was probably more criticism regarding the boxy tuxedo she wore. Is it upsetting to see a woman – especially a woman of color – displaying her own interpretation of femininity or sexuality? True, Rihanna’s fashion sense in relation to femininity and sexuality presents an entirely different discussion, but it’s the media’s comfort with criticizing her fashion choices that’s the real problem.
And of course, it’s not just one female public figure. Virtually every female celebrity is expected to fit into a specific character for the red carpet, determined by her age, race, body type, and other attributes. Why are Tilda Swinton’s Haider Ackermann suits considered so revolutionary? Or to others, why are they allowed to be deemed “bizarre” or even “too masculine?” Why does an actress like Gabourey Sidibe have to wear something long-sleeved or loose-fitting to cover her figure? Yes, when these women became involved in the entertainment industry, they did sign up for a prime spot underneath the media’s magnifying glass. But their entrance to the industry is generally the result of talent, perseverance, and aptitude. Not only does the harsh criticism of the female celebrity’s red carpet appearance undermine her skills by forcing her to fit into specific stereotypes of how she “should” present herself, it negates the work that goes into presenting herself in a way that appeals to Western media codes, while forcing these archetypes on the women who tune into these broadcasts.
We get it, fashion and celebrity have almost completely overlapped these days. But this isn’t the artistry of fashion that’s being discussed or the creativity that often thrusts someone into the public eye. If a female of any race, age, or weight becomes a celebrity, it’s because of hard work and talent, not what she decides to wear for a brisk walk into an awards ceremony.
Let us know what you think about the nature of red carpet coverage. Share some thoughts below!