Awards season is in full flower. It’s a funny season – relatively short, conventionally consistent, with some pretty flashes of colour. It moves between continents and industries, culminating in the Oscars tomorrow.
I’m not particularly enthralled by the whirligig of announcements and trophies. There are some incredible individuals and creators (rightly) celebrated, some fun to be had for the casual keyboard-clicker in peeking into the glitz and glamour and some interest in which films get stamped with industry approval. But, until this year, my only engagement stretched to perhaps flicking through the paper the following day to find out who had won what. I blame the about turn on the move to university. So much daily time spent working on my laptop means more than occasional bouts of scrolling through red carpet galleries, the pretty gowns and best-dressed lists serving as frothy procrastination from essays.
For it seems that, more than ever now in the age of Buzzfeed lists and live-tweets, it is less about achievement or what a particular actress has won (or not won) – but what she has worn. The bulk of coverage of anything like the Golden Globes or the BAFTAs is devoted to those outfits paraded on the red carpet. What label? Is it Dior? Chanel? Valentino? Upholding the establishment or celebrating up-and-coming designers? Who are the new faces of the season? What are the trends, what’s being said about them – and, oh my god, Emma Thompson just took off her heels!
I maintain an ambivalent relationship with ‘Red Carpet Style.’ Part of me enjoys that five-minute interlude of casting an eye over gorgeously crafted dresses: Lupita Nyong’o looking utterly glorious in green, Tilda looking… Actually, why mention anyone else? Let’s leave it with just Lupita for now (perhaps throwing in Léa Seydoux as well). There is, of course, a kind of draw to these representations of fantasy, or at least a ramped-up reality where make-up is artfully done and some really very pretty dresses – and the occasional tuxedo, a la Angeline Jolie - grace the camera’s eye.
Yet at the same time I feel an overwhelming cynicism at the commercialism; the level of chirping banality about manicures and major fashion faux-pas; the issue of similarity and homogeneity, with the (sadly understandable) unwillingness of the majority of attendees to rock the boat with truly visionary or innovative get-ups; the fact that there’s nothing quite like a roster of Hollywood starlets to make most viewers feel much larger than what is deemed beautiful by the industry’s ever-so-slender standards. By extension, there is the unsettling realization - yielded on viewing comparative slideshows of celebrities’ dresses matched to their sample versions on the catwalk - that many dresses weren’t even designed for A listers but for six foot, UK size six, sixteen year olds. Okay, that’s a ramped-up, not-quite-true stereotype – but it’s not far off.
Anyone who doesn’t quite slot into the mould, or at least speaks out against it, is thus latched onto. Enter stage right (or rather, probably photo-bombing someone else’s pose) Jennifer Lawrence. It’s not that Lawrence presents a hugely radical shift away from what is already valorized, but that she calls out bullshit and has the audacity to possess very slightly more in the way of hips-and-thighs than many of her contemporaries.
Yet the difficulty in discussing something like Hollywood’s vaguely unhealthy body image is that it often sets up bitchy oppositions. A while ago, the trend among commentators was to celebrate Lawrence and disparage Anne Hathaway in the same breath. This is just as reductive, as it simply creates a new epitome of how an actress should look and behave: “Girls, Lawrence is cool because she makes mistakes and falls over and eats pizza and drinks shots and is bemused by questions on beauty regimes. God, those actresses who lose weight for roles and choose their words really carefully and present a polished, media-aware persona – aren’t they the worst?”
Because it’s not the individuals who should be criticized for their bodies being too big or too small or not zipped into the right kind of dress. It's the system. It’s the same one that sets up categories of skinny or curvy, ice-queen or kooky, pretty princess or cool girl we all want to go to the pub with. It's the culture that claims we must choose one ideal or the other, rather than acknowledge and commend a range of personalities, approaches and appearances. Perish the thought of a multifarious, multi-talented group of women defined by their individuality rather than a typecast!
You can begin lists: Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Léa Seydoux, Zoe Saldana, Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, Julianne Moore, Naomi Harris, Marion Cotillard, and so many other actresses with their own specific accomplishments. All are women of varying strengths and skills: strong, intelligent, articulate, hardworking.
But it’s not necessarily these qualities that are celebrated on the red carpet – but what they look like. Nothing wrong with that in itself, as appearance is part of identity. Moreover, there's obviously a strong visual aspect to film making (for appearance must be right for the role) and this of course feeds into what is then seen at ceremonies. Yet the problem particularly at these awards, where films are momentarily overshadowed by the fashion choices, is the illustration of the fact that there are still certain female aesthetics validated and valued above others. It's an issue that straddles the worlds of both film and fashion.
There’s nothing wrong with praising or being interested in style choices and the pleasure of dressing well. Yet in future I’d hope that the particular aesthetic of what is considered beautiful on the red carpet might be widened – encompassing more women of colour, more women of different ages, different backgrounds, different body sizes. It's not about saying that beauty isn’t something to be celebrated, but that beauty has multiple possibilities and meanings – inner, outer, unconventional, individual. How about seeing that?
This vintage dress was something of an ode to that Marilyn-esque mode of glamorous dressing, complete with sequins, tight seams and a split up one side. I bought it for £18 at Rokit during the wonderful Brick lane trip that yielded so many treasures. It was given a good soak in the bath and an oddly sewn up hem was unpicked and laid flat to dry. The jewellery is vintage, while the satin shoes were from a charity shop. Using red carpet glitz as inspiration for dressing up can feel quite powerful (and/ or empowering), even if the only carpet is that of green grass and the only flash of light is the late evening sun. An interesting point to make, further to the discussion above about image, is that these photos were taken two days after the Isabella Blow homage below. What I found so fascinating was the way in which I could manipulate the perceived size and shape of my own body through the choice of outfit and the poses struck.