At this moment, I am sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to start. Yes, with my computer. Really. Hi, everyone.
Coming in, I was more than a little perturbed at some articles I’d read yesterday that relate to costuming and, really, clothing in general, and as such, is very relevant to what I do. What we wear has always come with come degree of judgement and controversy. Dress in line with current fashions can be seen as following the crowd, while dressing the way one personally likes can be considered wanting to be a “snowflake” if it’s too different. In many ways, there’s no winning. My general belief is if you like it and it fits the occasion, wear it. Bikini at a formal restaurant or the opera? Uh, doesn’t fit the occasion. Bikini or burqini at the beach? Enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell your your body size, body hair, sex, gender, or anything else matters. If it’s for the occasion, then you do you, and be proud of having the strength to be you.
Now, as if there weren’t already some strong indicators to me that Emma, et. al. had a gross misunderstanding of Belle and the movie, I encountered some aggravating gems such as these:
In one, Emma said, “The actress was instrumental in giving the Disney princess a more feminist edge, insisting that certain aspects be changed so she feels more modern. “I was like, ‘The first shot of the movie cannot be Belle walking out of this quiet little town carrying a basket with a white napkin in it. We need to rev things up!’””
In another, the author said, “…Watson to design a feminist version of that iconic yellow ball gown.”
In a third, lead-designer Jacqueline Durran (who ultimately had less say than Emma over the costumes) said, “…a reimagined version of the dress, which ended up challenging because “there are elements in which the yellow dress works against [being a modern, strong Belle] in a sense of being a pretty, princess-y kind of dress.”
While I’m waiting, allow me a moment to address each of those two points (the second and third article quotes relate to each other for one point).
First, the opening scene of the animated movie had Belle walking into that little town with a basket as an instruction to her world. We learned, in one number, that her town is a relatively peaceful one that doesn’t accept her, that she has ambitions and dreams that reach far outside of it, that the town “good guy” is a brute who only cares about appearances, as well as the town’s pathetic reasons for not really liking or accepting her. Belle “walking out of this quiet little town carrying a basket with a white napkin in it” isn’t some pointless little scene. How sad that Emma couldn’t understand that.
Also Belle ISN’T a modern, 21st century woman, and this IS a historically-timed movie that is even dated by the inclusion of the 1720-1722 plague. Making Belle a modern woman and sticking her in a modern ball gown complete with glued-on glitter, LITERALLY, means taking Emma herself and sticking her in a time machine. If you want to play a 21st-century woman, then take roles featuring 21st-century women. Don’t take a role featuring an 18th-century heroine and make her be from the 21st century while insisting that the clothing real, strong, brave, hard-working women wore actually oppressed them. We want to see BELLE, not Emma, and Emma, unfortunately, doesn’t understand that she’s supposed to play the character rather than the character becoming herself.
What she’s really getting at, though, is that a “modern” and “strong” woman can’t possibly take a quiet walk into town. To show how “modern” and “strong” she is, a woman needs to burst onto the scene! And being quiet means being old-fashioned and weak. That’s not a very empowering message to send to anyone.
The animated quiet Belle with a temper that could flash was strong for staying true to herself even when the town didn’t like it. The live-action…Emma…was altered to fit the requirements of other people (i.e. Emma) insist one must be to be strong, and the “rev[ing] things up a bit” hurtfully indicates that there’s something weak about being an introvert. That actually makes the live-action version a weaker one. The live-action one isn’t strong enough to be who the character was written to be in every other version of the story, from the original version in 1740 to the animated version in 1991.
Second, what on earth makes a gown feminist or not feminist? Feminism is about choice.
If a woman freely wants to wear a puffy froufrou thing, she can, and that’s feminism.
If a woman freely wants to wear edgy black and dark, she can, and that’s feminism.
If a woman freely wants to wear hijab, she can, and that’s feminism.
I find it absurd that someone would think that “being a pretty, princess-y kind of dress” works against being modern and strong. I’m not easily offended, and in fact, my sense of humor can go quite dark. But this? This is offensive. A woman can be EXTREMELY strong in EVERY way, and still enjoy dressing in flowyness and frills. Insinuating that these things are weak is actually anti-feminist as it’s dictating to us how we must dress to be seen as strong. Dictating what style of clothing must be worn to be seen as feminist, and dictating what style of clothing needs to be avoided to be seen as feminist, is overtly not feminist by any metric there is. It’s shaming women for making their own choices about their apparel, and this is disempowering.
Ladies and gents and non-binary folks, you can dress just as feminine or masculine or neutral as you like, and still be completely strong. You can be a quiet person, and still be strong. Don’t let anyone tell you, EVER, that you must dress a certain way to be a feminist, or that you have to be an extrovert to be strong. Feminism means, in small part, wearing what makes YOU comfortable, and strength, in large part, is remaining true to who YOU are and having enough left over to stand up for others in any way, big or small, whether your temper flares or you can maintain self control. You being you and helping other get to be themselves, and you wearing what you want and helping others get to wear that they want, is both strong AND feminist.
I really can’t wrap my head around how being explosive makes someone stronger, or this who idea of “a pretty, princess-y kind of dress” is inherently not feminist. That breaks my brain.
This blog post by Marzipan and Minutiae has some fantastic points as well, regarding historical women and examples of advancements and achievements made by women in corsets and huge sleeves and skirts. Their clothing didn’t stop them from being ahead of their time. Their clothing was decoration, not them.
It’s really not the clothing that makes a strong person. It’s the person within the skin. All else is just icing.