By now, practically everyone has read about the criticism Emma Watson has faced for her Vanity Fair photo shoot where she was featured in a see-through bolero jacket. Based on the attention she’s received, I expected her to be fully topless or nearly naked. But in the photos, you don’t see any more cleavage than what some of Hollywood’s elite expose at red carpet events. As someone who couldn’t care less about how much or how little skin anyone shows, I was baffled by how many people immediately criticized her for an outfit most likely chosen for her to wear and how quickly this prompted questions about her feminism.
Watson has been in the limelight since she was only 11, portraying Hermione Granger in the beloved “Harry Potter” franchise. At 26, she’s now one of the most famous women in the world with multiple movies under her belt. UN Women, the United Nation’s entity working for the empowerment of women, made her a Goodwill Ambassador in 2014, and she is the face of their initiative HeForShe, which aims to get men to support feminist issues. In numerous ways, she’s redefined her identity from child star to modern feminist icon and has emerged as one of many Millennial voices championing feminism.
The photos in the fashion spread are quite artistic, with one photo showing her wearing loose white pants and a form-fitting top, posing inside what looks like a metal wire castle on wheels, and another of her in a white ruffled gown standing inside a mirror frame on the ground while a male ballerina in a white, powdered wig jumps into the frame. The feature article discusses how Watson treasures her privacy and independence, and prioritized ensuring her portrayal of Belle in Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t conflict with her feminist ideals.
With so much explored in the article itself and the sheer beauty of the photos, it’s absurd the one photo of Watson partially showing her breasts has become the focal point of discussion. But the obsession surrounding this single photo is just one of many indications that the cultural expectations demanding women fit one archetype haven’t changed. A woman can’t be both intelligent and sexy. She can’t be both fun and serious. She can’t be both a feminist and partially expose her breasts. For far too many people, how they understand and conceive of womanhood is dependent on a woman’s fully fitting into only one of these categories—otherwise she’s something else entirely.
Women are not a homogenous, predictable species that fit into one neat definition; we are diverse and ever-changing. It’s high time we as a culture accept this and stop criticizing women for being what they are: complicated human beings. As Watson herself said, “Feminism is about having a choice. It’s not a stick with which to beat other women. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my [breasts] have to do with it.”