HAS BARBIE WON THE WAR?

By Zoe Coyle

The women, nearly all of them, were dressed for sex. Not for style, glamour, creativity, comfort. Not for humor or dignity, and certainly not to encourage intellectual engagement. I was surrounded by vertical sex dolls.

I was at a lavish cocktail party recently and looked about me with a realization that made my features contort like I’d been flicked between the eyes. The women, nearly all of them, were dressed for sex. Not for style, glamour, creativity, comfort. Not for humor or dignity, and certainly not to encourage intellectual engagement. I was surrounded by vertical sex dolls.

The event was a fundraiser, and the men were all dressed in traditional suits. Why is it in the wild it’s the male birds that wear the beautiful feathers? And once they’ve found a mate they pop them away. Not we humans! My husband laughed at my confusion and said, “I guess this is what the set of a porn shoot would look like.”

The women’s outfits at this party were tight and small, breasts and thighs exposed, gowns slashed at the back and front, flesh was un-naturally browned, lashes Miss Piggy-heavy. Hair was wind-machine tousled, eyebrows frozen with Botox, mouths glistening with so much lip gloss it looked like ejaculate. Ah, maybe that was the point? Feet were shoved into heels you’d have historically expected to see inverted up a stripper pole. No imagination was required, nothing was restrained or alluded to; individuality eradicated, it was a smorgasbord of sex.

I saw one woman’s nipple. Socially that’s a bit confusing. I wondered if I should raise my glass to her Bacchanalian freedom or whisper to her that she may want to check her frock as she was more out than in.

When did this happen? Did I miss the moment? Has Barbie won the war? Is it our choice or have we been hoodwinked? Is this post-feminist landscape when we get to exercise our emancipation by looking like porn stars?

Does our obsession with sex, youth, and desirability blot out other much more meaningful ways of expressing ourselves sartorially? Does it impair our capacity to truly connect with the opposite gender on a level playing field? Where is self value? What kind of role models are we? I want my daughters to grow up to live lives as meaningful contributors, not as sexual ornaments or as jail bait.

Barbie dollSo my core question is, why and how did it come to be that heterosexual women now dress predominantly to ignite sexual desire in men? When did it all become about the male gaze? Are we being churned up in Beyoncé’s wake? She is apparently the embodiment of feminine power, emancipation, and talent. Oh, the deep irony that she displays this by performing strip routines, clad in fishnets and G-strings, in throes of orgasmic ecstasy.

As a feminist I believe everyone has the right to dress however they see fit, and I do think Beyoncé is magnificent, but I wonder if we women are lost. Has the porn industry seeped up though our floorboards and we’re all a little infected? Have those gargoyles the Kardashians poisoned our air with their obscene vanity and vacuity and we’re all slowly being brainwashed?

What is the conversation you want your clothes to ignite? For whom do you dress? How do the men in your life answer these questions?

My own style changes from year to year, sometimes day to day, based on my mood, my budget, and my influences. So what do I hope my clothes say about me? Well, all sorts of things. I can emphatically tell you what I don’t want my clothes to do: I don’t want them to kick up a lust cloud that obscures my capacity to connect or to be taken seriously.

Kristin Scott Thomas recently declared that the way women dress in the UK is “vulgar.” French society responded by nodding its head, the cultural sentiment being that a woman’s sexual power is most interesting when expressed within the implicit, not the potentially trashy exhibitionism of the explicit.

Elizabeth Hurley, did your safety pin dress derail us all?

At that cocktail party, I was wearing a very simple but beautifully cut black dress. It’s Armani, a classic, and it makes me feel romantic and powerful, like I’ve stepped out of a painting. I was hunting about for more Champagne, when a woman caught my eye and said, “Oh, hey, I like your dress, did it belong to your mum?”

I laughed a little too manically and repressed the impulse to ask if her tiny sequined outfit belonged to her daughter or a hyper-sexed circus performer.