When it comes to women and Hollywood, we always blather on about the body -- the stringent measurements for Hollywood beauty, or the faces and bodies sculpted by the surgeon's knife. We watch magazines and advertisements whittle every woman down to skeletal forms, and hear the ever-rampant stories of actresses being chastised for their size. For the most part, we forget the clothes that cover these diet-formed bodies, unless a frock is particularly hideous or ridiculously revealing.
But we live in a world where clothes matter -- so much so that a simple everyday outfit can rip away a woman's sexuality, and a baggy pair of pants can rip away her maturity. Just a week ago, Ellen Page was called asexual, childish, and a little boy for wearing slightly baggy clothes that covered her from head to toe in Christopher Nolan's latest, Inception.
New York Magazine's Vulture published a piece called "The Ellen Page Inception Look: Asexual Chic." After kicking off with a pity-filled "Poor Ellen Page" lead, the piece outlines how her character clashes amongst fellow actors who look "ripped out of a fashion-magazine spread." The actress "has to traipse around in Christopher Nolan's version of graduate-student chic -- ill-fitting corduroys, ratty jackets, and scuffed, oddly pointy motorcycle boots. When Page first shows up as a brilliant architecture student, dressed in baggy pants and, strangely, a neckerchief, she looks not only childish, but of a different movie altogether than Leonardo DiCaprio, who slinks through Inception in GQ-worthy custom three-piece suits."
Page herself is described as "alternative" and "thrift-store," while her character is said to look "like a little boy," like "a cross between a boy scout and the Swedish Chef" with her neckerchief and baggy clothes. Vulture states: "there are better ways to signify that Page is smart and not the female character whom DiCaprio wants to sleep with than sticking her in unattractive, earth-tone duds."
With all of this commentary, one might expect Page's wardrobe to be a mixture of Fred from Scooby Doo and a Pippi Longstocking outfit without the cute, clashing socks and bouncing braids. Perhaps she's wearing a burlap sack, or donning thrift-store homeless chic. Maybe her outfits are so baggy that you could fit a whole Ellen Page into one arm or leg. What you wouldn't expect are the pictures on this page.
Oh no! She's wearing a shirt that's not form-fitting, pants that aren't suctioned to her slight legs, and a puffy scarf jutting from her neck! She's swathed in comfortable layers and almost flat shoes! There are no hot designer fashions, feet-killing stilettos, or overtly sexualized pieces, and because of that, she loses both her gendered identity and her sexuality. She's labeled asexual because she's not showing the curve of her breast or the exact form of her hips, and she's not dressing for the male gaze.
I thought we'd moved on from the days where women had to wear dresses, and men had to wear suits and hats. Perhaps if Page's wardrobe was straight out a men's store -- with a bowler hat, short hair, and head-to-toe masculine clothing -- there would be some basis to link the look to little boys. But as it stands, not one of these outfits are traditionally masculine. They're simply comfortable, slightly ill-fitting, and not perfectly coiffed -- just like many women her age and older who go by their own sense of fashion. I'd love to see any male star get away with wearing Page's wardrobe -- low-heeled shoes, pops of color under blouses, and tank tops over long-sleeved shirts.
Are we all just masochists secretly wanting to punish ourselves? Just think of all the signifiers Hollywood uses to code an actor as ugly or schlumpy. They're given glasses, ponytails, baggy clothing, earth tones, and flat shoes -- all things that we don't negatively categorize in real life. Our reality is what Hollywood considers ugly these days, and we follow along as masochistic moviegoers, eager to deride our very way of life.
And what of sexuality? When will we be advanced enough to see a woman in normal clothes and accept that she might still be a sexual being? We've got a myriad of geek actors who can get the girl, or star in a superhero or action film, yet one woman wears everyday clothing and she's asexual. We can buy that both George Clooney and Seth Rogen have sex, but Page somehow loses her lust once she layers. So much for the parka theory.
There's a lot we can chastise Hollywood for, but sometimes we also have to look at ourselves, and how our commentary can perpetuate the problem.