Wednesday 7 December 2016

Naked ambition: Immodesty doesn't always have to do with sex

Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

We need to talk about the dress model/actress Emily Ratajkowski wore to the Harper's Bazaar ICONS party this month. It was a black sequinned number, featuring a neckline that plunged all the way to her belly button and illusion side-panels that made it look like she was wearing little more than a pair of dungarees straps over her breasts.

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If you didn't see it, just imagine a mermaid at a bondage party.

Needless to say, the dress provoked all sorts of opinions, but none as vociferous as fashion consultant and Project Runway star Tim Gunn.

He described the dress as "appallingly vulgar" and "repugnant". "Why not just take it all off?" he asked.

Ratajkowski was quick to answer his rhetorical question on Twitter. "Western men in 2016," she began, "want to ban women abroad from voluntarily covering themselves at the beach.

"Then want women to cover up their 'vulgar' bodies at home. Who controls women's bodies in 2016? Why keep trying to dictate what women can wear?"

According to Ratajkowski, Gunn is just another member of a patriarchy that shames women for wanting to look sexy.

However, 'vulgarity' isn't always synonymous with sexuality - and both men and women can be of this opinion.

I found Ratajkowski's dress vulgar, but before we go any further, let me tell you a few of the other things I consider to be vulgar first: Russian oligarchs driving their Batmobiles around Marbella at 5mph; Louis Vuitton monogrammed luggage; nightclubs with red-velvet ropes; balthazars of champagne; gold-plated iPhones and people who name-drop.

In other words, I dislike the shameless flaunting of one's assets - whether it's a pair of gravity-defying breasts in a plunging gown or a black MasterCard left on a restaurant table for just that little bit too long.

Ostentatious displays of wealth, status and boob are, fundamentally, designed to make a person feel 'better-than' - but the people who flaunt it rarely take into account those who naturally feel 'lesser-than' when in their presence.

Self-exaltation doesn't just make other people feel inferior, it makes them feel a little disjointed too.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a woman wearing a dress that is cut to her waist? I have, and it's not easy. You can try all you like to stay on-topic and remember that point you were going to make about the economic impact of Brexit, but your train of thought invariably gets interrupted by the internal monologue of 'don't look down - don't look down - don't look down…'

You do look down, of course. It's impossible not to. And that one stolen glance southwards is enough to make you wonder if Slimming World is open on Sundays.

The woman with the phenomenal breasts and Venusian waistline may be talking about Jeremy Corbyn's policies, but you're elsewhere, wondering how many calories exactly are in the goats' cheese tartlet you just ate and whether you too could pass the pencil test.

Parties and small-talk are hard enough as it is. The last thing you need is a woman whose near-naked magnificence makes you acutely aware of the Spanx you're wearing beneath a six-seasons-old dress.

Julien Macdonald, the designer of Ratajkowski's number, reckons she's delighted with the exposure. "She's going to be a very happy girl," he said. "When you wear a glamorous dress, you don't do it because you want to sit in the corner."

But what about all the people who were left sitting in the corner that night? Is it not a little vulgar to arrive at a party with the sole intention of attracting every gaze and camera bulb in the room? Does anyone else even stand a chance?

It's akin to Sonia O'Sullivan taking part in the parents' race at her child's sports day and shouting, "I don't think you're ready for this jelly!" as she crosses the finishing line.

As far as neo-feminism goes, Ratajkowski's opinions are perfectly on-message: women should be allowed to wear whatever they like, when they like; men have no right to comment on a woman's outfit, and the revealing of one's breasts is, somehow, a symbol of emancipation.

She has spun her outfit choice into a feminist statement, yet it's reductive and narrow-minded to shout 'Oppression!' every time someone's attire is described as immodest. We've forgotten what modesty really means. You can simplify it as the suppression of a woman's sexual side, or you can take a moment to contemplate what it actually means to be provocative.

Sure, you can be sexually provocative, but you can also provoke many more, non-sexual, reactions - among men, women and children - when you wear a dress like Ratajkowski's.

Sometimes, modesty simply means being more considerate.

Irish Independent

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