Dress To Digress – The Focus On Female Appearance And Its Regular Overshadowing Of Political Issues

The overshadowing of women's appearance in mass media

“People were quick to criticise McCollum over her polished look and I found the tweets quite funny”
– some eloquent words from Holly Carpenter regarding the recent controversial interview with Michaella McCollum.

A tragic sequel to the giant bun that began this unconventional Bildungsroman of drugs and Peruvian prison, enter: Newly Blondified Gossip Column Bait.

So what exactly do the public seem to find so mesmerising about McCollum’s attire post RTE interview?

Carpenter has her own profound opinion on the subject: “I think if McCollum had gone into the interview looking like she had been through hell and back and put her hands up, it could have been different.”

So what exactly does one expect from a woman who was fortunate enough to learn the trade of hairdressing while incarcerated? Surely RTE could have skimmed over that detail, mussed up the hair and perhaps added a generic facial prison scar straight from the knife of a rival female drug-trafficker?

The regular emphasis on these superficial, appearance-related topics in relation to women in the public eye is certainly no new thing.

Another high-profile criminal case in which a disproportionate amount of emphasis was placed on the appearance of the defendant in question was the Rebekah Brooks phone hacking scandal. Accused of the very unlawful obtainment of information via the hacking of mobile phones during her time as an editor for News of the World, Brooks found herself in a particularly sticky situation. However, instead of the debate rightly focussing on the immorality of surveillance and technology in the twenty-first century, most public comment again revolved around Brooks’s loose crimson mane. It appeared that the public was appalled, offended even, by the way in which Brooks had chosen to style (or more likely not style) her curly red hair.

“Brooks’s hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity. That was look-at-me hair–stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.”- One of the more memorable statements from the time of the case which came from Robin Givhan.

The public’s fascination with Rebekah Brooks’s unapologetic natural hairstyle can be seen as akin to mythological ideas of ‘Redhead as demon’ or the ghoulish Jewish folklore tale of the mutinous Lilith – the red-haired first wife of Adam who was cast from Eden after refusing to lie in the missionary position.

Indeed, the condemnation of females via their appearance is ongoing and relentless. As unjust as it is to analyse the apparel of a convict, or one under suspicion of a crime, it is nothing in comparison to the delegitimisation of the women involved in the recent troubling documentary about the Irish homelessness crisis.

In a bid to raise awareness of the situation and paint a picture of the purgatorial hotel-dwelling homeless in Ireland, the women from the documentary made an appearance on the Late Late show. Again, unsurprisingly, emphasis was completely centred on the make-up and outfit choices of Lyndsey Robinson and Erica Fleming.

“Well she can afford plenty of makeup!” and “I mean, how is that poor girl going to get all that makeup off without at least a strong spirit” were some of the sterling critiques of the women in question. Reminiscent of the response to the McCollum interview, the failure of RTE to dirty Robinson and Fleming’s faces, or deliver them to the public with bindles over their shoulders just wasn’t good enough for a notable section of the Irish public.

It is unending, the lengths this patriarchal society will reach in order to destroy the legitimacy, the politics, the stories and the lives of women, to disregard them as subject and to parade them as spectacle.

The likelihood of a man under similar scrutiny, is laughable.

– Nina Freer


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