The Soapbox: Fashion Policing Can Be Brutal

A note about this piece: The Frisky obviously regularly features our own brand of celebrity fashion policing (The Good, The Bad & The WTF, generally). When Sally, who regularly writes for us, pitched me this topic, I thought she had a valid point, one that many share and that she would argue well. Having her piece appear on The Frisky, I hope, further illustrates that we’re a forum for a variety of opinions, even those that, at times, might seem contrary to each other. Her piece certainly gave me food for thought. — Editor

Go Fug Yourself was the first fashion blog I ever read. Hell, it might’ve been the first blog I ever read period. And it was hilarious, refreshing, a bright spot in my daily grind that prompted illicit giggles at the expense of misguided celebs and their lunatic stylists. When I first launched my own blog — which discusses the intersection of style and body image — I popped GFY right into my blogroll without even thinking about it. Fashion! Funny fashion! Of course I wanted their stuff associated with my stuff! Especially since, at the time, I felt that celebrities had no excuses to dress badly: They had all the money and resources in the world, and were professionally pretty. The occasional experimental high-style gaffe? OK. Slogging around in sweatsuits and expressing outrage at the resultant public scrutiny? Childish and idiotic.

And honestly, I still feel like celebs should be a bit less defensive about paparazzi photos. If you’re a truly private person, you’re simply not going to pursue a career in acting, music, or sports to begin with. And if you DO head down one of those vocational paths and expect to chase your dream without having every garment you wear, morsel you consume, and person you bed scrutinized and criticized, you’re being naive. Celebrities live in the public eye. It’s common knowledge.

Eventually, though, I came to realize that there’s a line; It’s one thing to believe that famous folk should expect to be photographed and analyzed, but wholly another to encourage and support that obsessive documentation and analysis. Go Fug Yourself — and similar blogs like Perez Hilton, along with TV shows like Fashion Police — are harmful little critters. Sure, they take potshots at the rich and famous almost exclusively, which makes them seem like an innocuous source of Schadenfreude. But they create a culture of beauty-, body-, and style-snarking that reaches well beyond the red carpet. Hearing pundits sound off about awful style, unflattering clothing, and inexcusable hairstyles makes non-celebrity women feel like there are “right” and “wrong” ways to look good. It makes regular gals worry and fret about their own choices, and all that haughty superiority can tamp down individual sartorial expression. Hearing bloggers and commentators critique clothing, sneer at style, and laugh at the very people we expect to be paragons of beauty and good taste erodes the general public’s self-confidence and self-esteem. I mean if Blake Lively can’t get it right, how can we?

And, of course, fashion policing is never just about clothes. It dips into weight, grooming, confidence, personal expression, and sexuality. Tearing someone down for wearing an ill-fitting dress or unfortunate makeup is really just a way to say, “You’re coloring outside the lines and that is NOT allowed. Conform, be quiet, and do as you’re told.” Any celebrity — but especially women celebrities — had better strike just the right balance of of sexy, smart, demure, stylish, classy, and fit. Any time they veer from those arbitrary standards, they become targets for scathing criticism. And, once again, this attitude seeps into normal life: Women the world over struggle to feel confident, unique, and whole in the face of all those “rules” about appearance and comportment. If Jen Aniston can’t get it right, how can we?

Finally, witnessing adults engage in this kind of sanctioned appearance bullying encourages kids to follow suit. Why is slut-shaming on the rise? Why do 9-year-old girls insist on real UGGS instead of knockoffs? Why are kindergarteners obsessed with dieting? If Kim Kardashian can’t get it right, how can they?

Celebrity fashion is fascinating. No doubt about it. Famous people get to wear gowns that cost as much as cars, receive truckloads of designer freebies, and hire dedicated hairstylists, manicurists, and fashion consultants to help them look constantly amazing. They seem to live on another plane, floating somewhere above the rest of us. But famous people are still people, and how we view and treat them eventually informs how we view and treat each other. Playing fashion police in the celeb world can have very real, very negative repercussions down here on earth. Give that some thought before you make a nasty crack about Rihanna’s new shoes.

Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.