Image Screenshot/Google News
The other day I was on Yahoo’s main page and saw a story about Cara Delevingne [ model and actress] who suffered a wardrobe malfunction in a parking lot when she bent over into a car which exposed her backside.
That same day, another story ran called “Kylie Jenner Has A Near Wardrobe Malfunction While Refueling Her SUV!” coupled with a photograph of Kylie holding her jacket together to keep her breasts from being exposed.
If you can imagine it, another story ran that same day called “Reebok UFC Uniforms Led to an Unfortunate Wardrobe Malfunction” which featured an image of fighter Elizabeth Phillips in the middle of a match with a blurred-out spot over her breast.
Notice the trend?
Our culture seems to have a sexist fixation with women’s bodies accidentally being revealed. The framing of this event as a “malfunction” demonstrates our culture’s obsession with sexualizing women’s vulnerability.
For quite some time now, wardrobe malfunctions for celebrity women have remained a constant in our media landscape. From Janet Jackon’s breast accidentally falling out of her shirt during a Super Bowl halftime performance [where Justin Timberlake’s outfit seemed just fine], to Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan,and Paris Hilton accidentally flashing their crotches to the paparazzi, the trend of capturing women’s bodies during inconvenient moments seems to be getting more and more invasive.
The problem isn’t women’s bodies or even women wanting to display their bodies through certain clothing choices. Some women might purposefully wear clothing that is prone to “accidentally” expose their parts since we live in a society that demonizes sexual women who intentionally show their bodies. The problem with “wardrobe malfunctions” is that it’s framed as automatically empowering heterosexual men in a moment where a woman is caught off-guard.
Catching women “off-guard” while their body parts are exposed [oftentimes when they don’t even notice] satisfies our culture’s rapey-voyeuristic-entitled gaze. I am suspicious of a culture that demonizes women as sexual subjects, yet flaunts women’s exposed bodies as sexual objects for the male gaze.
Look at how writers frame “wardrobe malfunctions” in a way to almost titillate the reader. The following headlines are all from July 2015:
(1) “Rihanna Flashes Nipples In Sheer Dress While Clubbing: See Her Braless Wardrobe Malfunction.”
(2) “Nicky Hilton Flashes Underwear: Wardrobe Malfunction On Wedding Day.”
(3) “Nicki Minaj Flashes Thong In See-Through Pants: See Her Wardrobe Malfunction.”
(4) “This Actress Had a Wardrobe Malfunction That Would Make Marilyn Monroe Blush [PHOTOS].”
(5) “Nip Slip! Kendall Jenner Suffers Wardrobe Malfunction During L.A. Outing — 10 Titillating Photos.”
(6) “Model suffers MAJOR wardrobe malfunction as her robe slips and exposes her boob.”
(7) “Rita Ora risks wardrobe malfunction in loose open shirt and hotpants as she jets into Paris.”
(8) “Spanx Snafu! Rebel Wilson Tweets About Wardrobe Malfunction with Undies.”
(9) “Lindsey Vonn Is Smokin’ Hot (and Risking a Wardrobe Malfunction) in Red Dress With a Sky-High Slit at the 2015 ESPY Awards.”
(10) “Phoebe Price Suffers A Definitely Accidentally Wardrobe Malfunction While Wearing a Totally Reasonable In-No-Way Inappropriate Outfit to Walk Her Dog-NSFW.”
(11) “Busty Big Brother star Tully Smyth narrowly avoids a wardrobe malfunction as she takes the plunge in a VERY low cut black dress.”
These reports, with their tongue-in-cheek humor, seek to humiliate women while simulatneously asking readers [read as heterosexual men] to come “view” the humiliation.
Using women’s vulnerability to get men to come survey their bodies is perhaps the most shocking and irresponsible aspect of the headlines above.
What’s unique about “wardrobe malfunctions” today is that they no longer only occur on red carpets or during performances. Paparazzi follow women everywhere in hopes that they will catch women’s body parts without their knowledge when they’re shopping, pumping gas, walking their dogs, or even eating. The media frames these wardrobe malfunctions as a strip-tease for men, rather than simply an embarrassing moment. Women are infantilized in the headlines, made to seem irresponsible as though they don’t know how to dress themselves.
(What’s more, this phenomenon of women’s wardrobe issues suggests that we might need to have a chat with designers who are making shoddy pieces of clothing for women.)
What’s disturbing about the framing of these wardrobe malfunctions is that it suggests that it’s seemingly “hot” and “sexy” to see a woman caught off guard without her consent.
Headlines like the ones above are especially confusing in a culture that supposedly advertises consent. Sexualizing women’s vulnerability is socially irresponsible, especially in a climate where women have to combat street harassment, sexual assault, and rape.