The annual Academy Awards were bestowed recently, with all the accompanying glitz and glamour. For any black tie event, attendees dress to kill. But this being the Oscars, where the fashion expectations are exceedingly high, what actors wear to the awards ceremony is treated with more importance than the creative work that led them there. (Although I say actor I am referring to the female variety. Male actors aren’t targeted by the fashion police nearly as often.)
Acting might not seem like a hard job, but that’s because good actors make it look natural. It takes talent, skill, and work to be successful at the craft. Great acting is often rather invisible because it seems so real. Good acting is so convincing that you get swept up in the story, and it can feel like you are watching real life. Compare this to bad acting, like you see on your local commercials for plumbers and attorneys. Painful. (I’m not a violent person – really! – but bad local ads make me want to rip the TV out of the wall.)
If it were so easy to give a convincing performance, we’d see a whole lot more of them – even for the local pawn shop.
And yet, on Oscar night, the red carpet talk focuses almost purely on outward appearance – for women. This attitude has become so common in our culture, it’s almost invisible. Substituting outward appearance for substance is easily overlooked – until someone points it out. Then it’s like, “doh!”
This awards season, Amy Poehler and Reese Witherspoon, among others, promoted #askhermore, part of the Representation Project.* Jennifer Siebel Newsom founded The Representation Project to bring awareness to the gender stereotypes that abound in media and popular culture.
Why should we care, really, who designed Cate Blanchett’s gown? Focusing on “who” she’s wearing just prevented you from finding out more about a super-cool person and actor. Yes, fashion designers are highly creative and accomplished. But I don’t think it’s a given that their work should upstage the person wearing it.
We should ask women attending an event pertaining to their profession about their work? Huh? How quaint. How silly to suggest such a thing.
Can you imagine a female cancer researcher being presented with a major award and being asked “tell me about your dress,” instead of “tell me about your life-saving discovery?”
Sadly, this is not so far off the mark. I was listening to a quiz show on National Public Radio (you know, the network for educated people who like to listen to loud guys talking about cars) recently. One of the panelists suggested that Hillary Clinton needed to ditch the matching pantsuits. He went on to describe a pseudo-movie montage where Ms. Clinton would be trying on different outfits while President Bill Clinton gave approval.
Seriously – NPR! What happened there? Even though it was supposed to be a funny bit on a lighthearted program, it still focused on Ms. Clinton’s wardrobe.
We may criticize and make fun of male politicians for lots of things, but it’s rarely about how they dress or how they wear their hair.
The morning after the Academy Awards, the local morning show covered the previous night’s soiree. The news anchors mentioned Patricia Arquette’s call for equal rights for women (read her acceptance speech here.) Then… they featured two different segments devoted to critiquing what the stars wore on the red carpet. The guest commentator mentioned that Patricia Arquette has been criticizing the attention to fashion on the red carpet. And the punchline? The commentator didn’t love Arquette’s red carpet look. Like Patricia Arquette cares.
Clearly. Not. Getting. It.
(You know the part earlier, where I said if you pointed out the sexism on the red carpet people would say, “doh!”? I take it back.)
Of the ten celebrities who received a mention on my local morning airwaves, only one was a guy. Jared Leto, apparently you need a new look. (I’d like to remind you that Jared Leto won an Academy Award for his role as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Coincidence? Hmmmm.)
Still not convinced that the questions asked of women on the red carpet are trivial and odd? Watch this clip from Buzzfeed, where actor Kevin Spacey is asked the same questions typically reserved for women. His reaction is priceless.
We can do better. Not just for stars on the red carpet, but for people everywhere. Of course, we want to look attractive – but keep things in perspective. Your exterior just carries around you. You are interesting. Not your mani/pedi.
I’ll leave you now with the sardonic advice of Kevin Spacey: “Enjoy your Spanx.”
*For more information about The Representation Project, click here.
“Wedding” image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Red Carpet” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net