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"Wardrobe Malfunctions" Are Out of Style

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On Friday, The Huffington Post became one of many media outlets to spread the now-viral photo project titled “Judgments.” The image, created by 18-year-old Capilano University student Rosea Lake, provides a powerful visual commentary on the sexist culture of slut-shaming that judges, scrutinizes, and shames women based on the way they choose to dress. The message of Lake’s project is strong: that women are unfairly and routinely objectified and labelled, often defined harshly as “asking for it,” “slut,” and “whore” merely by the length of their skirts.

As a strongly liberal-leaning media outlet, it’s no surprise that writers at The Huffington Post have been vocal in their support of the statement behind Rosea Lake’s work, proclaiming it “The Most Powerful Photo We’ve Seen All Week.” What constantly surprises me, however, given The Huffington Post’s usually liberal and open-minded approach to journalism, is the publication’s own tendency to perpetuate harmful slut-shaming language and culture through taking part in the ridiculous media phenomenon of publicizing and commenting on the “wardrobe malfunctions” of female celebrities.

 Ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl incident back in 2004, the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” is quick to draw eyes to a page. For some reason, people love to see female celebrities unintentionally exposed—perhaps because it reveals vulnerability and demonstrates a realness that (usually) isn’t planned, directed, or orchestrated by PR. However, all too often the attitude underlying these incidents, perpetuated and reinforced by the media’s representations, goes beyond voyeuristic nosiness and escalates to harmful judgment and misogyny.

The Huffington Post frequently publishes insightful commentaries and impressive columns, but for some reason, under the “Most Popular” column, we are always linked to articles (and vivid imagery) such as “Lady Gaga Suffers Embarrassing Wardrobe Malfunction”, “PHOTOS: Ellie Goulding Has Wardrobe Malfunction in See-Through Dress”, and most recently, “PHOTOS: Eva’ Longoria’s Top Malfunctions At the Golden Globes After Party.”

 In the most recent article, the author scrutinizes Longoria’s appearance with a similar attitude to the ones conveyed through “Judgments.” Describing her dress, the author writes, “It had an open back, a giant keyhole cutout in the front and a thigh-high slit in the front—a bit much, Eva? Yep. Definitely too much.”  Too much of what? Apparently, someone deemed her “too much-ness” newsworthy, therefore seeing no issue in passing on the explicit photos from when she momentarily bent down to untangle her skirt from her heel, accidentally exposing her naked breast.

In this article, the author virtually drew the same lines on Eva Longoria’s body that Rosea Lake drew on her subject in “Judgments.” Open back? Provocative. Keyhole cutout? Slut. Slit up the leg? Whore. All of these combined? She asked for this.

While Eva Longoria and other celebrity women are sure to recover from the humiliation of having their “wardrobe malfunctions” going viral, perpetuating these images and the taboos around women’s bodies has a much more serious consequence. Publishing articles that tell women that their dress was “too much”, refer to wardrobe choices as “deadly sins”, classify a history of wearing revealing clothing as “past offenses” and call a young woman’s style “too risky,” makes The Huffington Post complicit in the slut-shaming culture that causes real harm to women. Although I’m sure no one at The Huffington Post, and the majority of other publications, agrees with the slut-shaming that often takes places after incidents of sexual assault (such as this one in Canada and this one in Texas), their willingness to blame women for the exploitation, judgment, and humiliation they endure after unfortunate accidents spreads a similar malice. Just look at the comments on these “wardrobe malfunction” articles if you need more proof--- on the Longoria article alone, you’ll see vicious comments like “What females do just to get little attention,” “Eva Longoria IS a Malfunction!!! What celebs won’t do for free publicity!” and “She loved it.”

It always surprises me to see any media channel cater to this “lowest common denominator” form of vicious entertainment,  willingly perpetuating destructive rhetoric without any attempt to somehow appear informational. But this sort of reaction to “wardrobe malfunctions” is present all over the media, presumably under the (probably true) assumption that it sells. After all, I didn’t stumble upon The Huffington Post’s images by chance—I found them specifically under “Most Popular.”

Slut-shaming is not only spread through trashy tabloids, conservative pundits, cruel male cops, and sexist judges. It is engrained into many aspects of our everyday lives, unavoidable and sometimes, in the case of The Huffington Post, in places where you don’t necessarily expect it. Rather than spreading an already viral photo and calling it “the most powerful photo” they’ve seen all week, The Huffington Post and other websites, newspapers, and magazines should take a look at their own power and how they use it. It’s time to realize that the constant mockery of women and their bodies does nothing but enhance the toxic culture that encourages women to hate other women, and gives men the idea that they are merely objects.

But rather than fume about what can’t easily be changed, from now on, I’m going to make a point to not click on these “wardrobe malfunction” articles--- and I encourage you to do the same.  We’ll both survive if we don’t find out what color underwear Lindsay Lohan wore out to the club, and hopefully others will catch on that degrading women has long gone out of style.