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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As figures of public interest, it is often the case that celebrities use their platform as means of spreading a message, particularly one of a political nature. This message may touch on debates surrounding like ;LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality and gender inequality. With the age of social media making celebrity culture more and more mainstream, it has become commonplace for a celebrity to use their red-carpet fashion as the medium for their message.

While prior to social media, figures like Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn used red-carpet fashion to protest against female beauty standards, it wasn’t until the famous ‘Time’s Up Movement’ where celebrities utilised fashion for a mass-organised statement. This movement highlighted the significance of sexual harassment in the film industry, with the case of Harvey Weinstein being a key driving force. During the 2018 Golden Globe awards many female celebrities, like Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey, wore all-black in recognition of this movement. However, with the increasingly prominent use of celebrity fashion to convey a political message, a critique of it has arisen, with many questioning the effectiveness of certain political statements and whether they are no more than forms of performative activism.

More recently, this idea was on display at the notoriously extravagant Met Gala. Both Cara Delevingne, a British model renowned for her dark bushy eyebrows, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young New York Congresswoman, used their Met Gala outfits to convey certain messages. Both women chose a similar style in their simplistic presentation of text; Cara’s army-style outfit embedded with the words ‘Peg the Patriarchy’, and the AOC’s dress featuring the words ‘Tax the Rich’.  And yet, contrary to Delevingne’s outfit being designed by male-owned and major fashion brand, Dior – AOC’s dress was designed by Aurora James, a Black immigrant woman who focuses on sustainably sourced fashion. .

Many also took issue with Cara’s ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ message. This term was coined by Canadian sex educator Luna Matatas in 2015 and Luna, a queer woman of colour, has since stated that she was given no credit for Cara’s use of the phrase on Instagram – . Though Luna herself identifies as queer, the phrase has caused controversy within the queer community. In wanting to ‘Peg the Patriarchy’, it is potentially implying pegging as an act of overpowering another. And yet, for many queer people, pegging is an experience intended on bringing sexual pleasure. This suggestion of pegging, and thus penetration, as inherently dominating in turn implies receiving to be more feminine and submissive whilst furthering the case of toxic masculinity. Ultimately, while Cara’s intention may have been good-natured, its message appears contradictory, and its true impact is likely little more than performative.

AOC’s dress brought similar media controversy, particularly in the form of many aggravated Republican politicians. Even those of less conservative standing called her out for seeming hypocritical or tone-deaf in wearing a ‘Tax the Rich’ dress to such an event. Although, while tickets for the event are sold for a pricey $35,000, both AOC’s outfit and ticket were donated to her, otherwise that would’ve meant spending just over 1/6 of her annual income on entrance. It is also likely that declining the invite would not have received as much attention, and if she is to attend, as a Congresswoman, it is almost expected of her to politicise her attendance. It is also difficult to dismiss her message as simply performative. It is quite literally her job to raise awareness surrounding political issues. AOC’s dress therefore extends beyond the confines of performative activism as she is actively trying to pursue this issue, as seen with her recent proposals of a top tax rate of 70% on incomes over $10 million.

And so, it can occasionally be effective for a celebrity to use their platform for a political point, when handled correctly. However, if not carried out in the right way, it will simply be perceived as performative or out-of-touch. It is also important to note that whilst it is not a celebrity’s responsibility to politicise their actions, equally, celebrities should not be idolised for displaying their somewhat progressive stances. At the end of a day, there is only so much fashion can do, and a phrase on a dress should in no means be taken as the greatest example of political activism. While a topic of a separate nature and deserving of its own discussion, I’m left wondering whether it would’ve been much more impactful for any of the Met celebrities who claim to be behind the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement to have joined the protest occurring just outside the glamorous event. 

https://www.insider.com/celebrities-fashion-political-style-statement-2020-12

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a37581930/met-gala-attendees-political-statements/

Georgia Fenton

Nottingham '23

Blogger for Her Campus Nottingham. 2nd Year History & Politics Student.
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