“What an embarrassment you are to yourself and your family.”
“She looks more like a hooker than a writer.”
“Porn has entered mainstream culture, this is just an example of that.”
I know what you are thinking. Sorry to disappoint, but the answer is no - I haven’t joined OnlyFans to raise funds for IWD. Nor have I leaked a sex tape, although I’m told on Instagram that my sappy honeymoon content has Pam & Tommy vibes. My actual crime? The reason for these spiteful comments? Wearing a see-through lace dress with visible thong on my wedding day.
Here’s a bit of context because you probably don’t know me from Eve (shout-out to my spiritual sister, the OG naked dresser responsible for the fall of mankind). I got married last Christmas in Paris, to a great guy who has never once asked me, “You’re not going out in that are you?” We snuck our wedding in just before the world closed down for the millionth time. Because this was an indoor winter affair, happening as Omicron was beginning to show its ugly face, older family members and loved ones told us early on that they could not be part of our special day. My consolation prize was to up the ante outfit-wise, knowing there would be fewer sensitive eyebrows raised on the night.
I did not choose the dress, the dress chose me. A Harris Reed lace slip, delicate and timeless. It didn’t look racy when I first saw it in The New Yorker, but things rarely do in editorial shoots. I was not intentionally out to shock, but I could never picture myself as a conventional bride. And our wedding reflected that: I refused to be given away. We didn’t do a first dance, and I had no desire to wear a traditional, virginal gown. My risqué dress supported my stance on the matter. Fashion is, after all, a form of communication and my dress, in all its defiantly sheer, sexy glory, spoke of who I am and what I believe in.
It’s important for me to state at this point that I would never judge anyone who believes in and wants a traditional wedding and wants to wear the full white shebang. It is, quite simply, not my place to decide what any woman should or should not wear. In fact, I deeply resent the way our wardrobes are still being policed by society. We, collectively, should feel furious that women still have to endure this patriarchal nonsense.
What the scathing reaction to my wedding dress indicated was how rife internalised misogyny still is; the idea that women subconsciously project sexist ideas onto other women and even onto themselves. It’s caused by deeply entrenched, abstract ideas about how women should dress and behave — standards created by a patriarchal society. Whether we realise it or not, some of us end up drinking this stuff in to such a level that we project this sexism onto other women. I grew up in France, the land of sartorial judginess, where internalised misogyny is endemic. It’s easier to dress ‘safe’; nothing too short or too sexy to avoid being ostracised by your peers (the women especially). Without sounding dramatic, it’s one of the reasons I moved to London in the first place. I couldn’t stand the way people — from every sex, old and young, strangers and friends — quite literally pointed the finger at women who wore anything quote unquote inappropriate. It involves a gross combo of classism (“it’s not chic”) and gender discrimination (“she asked for it”). The women before us fought hard for our sexual liberation in the '60s and '70s, so why is it that my short skirt still makes you feel uneasy?
“Hideous and tacky.”
“Incredibly vulgar, nothing new about this.”
“She will regret it; she missed out on wearing a dress of grace, beauty, crowned with the innocence and sexiness that only brides can bring to a dress.”
The problem with sexism is that we can’t win. Too covered up? Boring. Too naked? Slut. And my issue with letting people get away with nasty comments like these? Certainly not because I’ve lost sleep over what a few unhappy strangers thought about my wedding dress (please let the record state: I am beyond honoured to have been Harris’ first fluid bride). My concern is the ease with which we spread hate and where that might lead. The defences of this bile are always the same — “I am just using my freedom of speech” and, “You put yourself in the public eye’. Let there be no mistake — this isn’t an issue restricted to fashion alone. It exists every time we criticise a woman for being “too emotional” or “too sensitive”, when we undermine the intellectual value of women’s literature or when we question why a woman didn’t come forward with a sexual assault allegation sooner. Internalised misogyny is at work when we, as women, put up with male behaviour that we shouldn’t have to put up with. Every time a woman says “I’m not like other girls”, she does so because she’s terrified of being seen as weak, incapable or unappealing because of her femininity. Whenever we display a deep aversion to anything feminine — from hating on the colour pink because it’s ‘girly’ or refusing to cook because it was traditionally a female duty — we are falling victim to a patriarchal structure that’s been thrust on us for centuries.
The patriarchy has trained us to feel bad about ourselves, to believe that we are not enough, and to compare ourselves to other women. As author and academic Emilie Pine noted in her book, Notes To Self: “Women are well-rehearsed in the rituals of body self appraisal. We look at the women around us and we compare. Are we alike? Are we superior? Are we inferior? There is a terrible solidarity to this given that almost no woman can avoid it."
The beginning of wisdom is calling something by its proper name; misogyny is not an opinion. So why not try this: next time you feel like sharing something spiteful online or on your girlfriend WhatsApp group, remember you are betraying yourself just as much as the woman you’re tearing down. I know I may sit on the extreme side of the fence when it comes to sartorial freedom, but if I may make a suggestion on the one day that is marked in the calendar to talk about these things - perhaps it’s time that we really considered why we feel the need to criticise other women. We have all absorbed so much misogyny over the course of our lives that sometimes it spills out in ugly ways. What I do with my body, is my choice. Just like what you do with yours, on your wedding day, when you are pregnant, or just out and about, is yours. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
“And I give the wedding two years max.”
On that note, I better get back to my honeymoon. If the haters are right, we only have a year-and-a-half together left, tops. Mind you, I may be married to a feminist, but he did pick Jamaican resort Goldeneye as our honeymoon hotel, and apparently Ian Fleming was a raging misogynist… Wish me luck, I’m about to go tell him about his idol. It is, after all, the right day to do so.