In my perfect world, my wardrobe would consist of two types of outfits: jeans with a nice t-shirt and dresses. Very Fancy Dresses.
Of course, in my real world, I wear the jeans. Opportunities for Very Fancy Dresses are few and far between. It’s rare that I wear something that swishes with each step. That requires strategy just to sit. That demands extra hands to get in and out of.
So I get a little excited when red carpet time comes around, when I can live vicariously through others' Very Fancy Dresses, I suppose.
But when I turned on coverage of the stars (or, “people,” as they’re otherwise known) parading the red carpet for the Academy Awards, I had no sooner admired one movie star’s gown when something in me changed. As the hosts presented a history of each woman’s fashion “wows,” as well as missteps, it all felt a little, well, mean.
At one point, the camera silently followed Michelle Williams, who offered a trim smile in a beautiful sparkling Chanel gown (as they announced). As I watched her step and pose, step and pose for the cameras, I began to think this wasn’t just a little mean, but wrong.
After all, many of these cameras take pictures for the sole purpose of either ripping her apart or putting her on a pedestal. And not because of Williams’ behavior or character off the screen. And not because of her acting chops on the screen. But because of what she wore. To an awards show.
As if it matters.
Now, I realize to actors it does. I get that these celebrities make excellent livings not only on how well they act, but on how good they look. But tonight, as I watched this show devoted to praising one person’s dress and then mocking another’s after she walked away, I felt like an accomplice to the meanness. So I got up to write this instead.
And now, as I sit here, I’m conflicted. About beauty and about art - two things that the red carpet really represents.
Hollywood tells us that beauty matters above all - it's enough to starve for, enough to hack apart a body for, enough to inject Botox for, enough to create best and worst dressed lists. But as Christians, we know differently. I know differently. And yet, God is the God of beauty - it was his idea! So it does matter. But how important should beauty be to Christians?
And then there’s the art part. If fashion is art - and I say it is - then there is a place for critique. All artists seek approval and admiration, and opening ourselves and our work up for that means we risk the opposite: rejection and harsh words. It’s part of the drill. But don’t the red carpet critiques go too far? Are we forgetting that actual people - with feelings - wear those clothes (not to mention design them)?
So I sit here wondering exactly what a Christian response to the red carpet should be. How do we offer a fair critique - on the art - without being mean or shallow? How do we admire beauty without worshiping it? And ultimately, how do we talk fashion and beauty while bringing glory to the One who dresses the lilies of the field?
(Photo of Michelle Williams courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.)