I can’t escape looking at Emma Watson and thinking, for a second, how much she evokes Ally Sheedy — usually, and here it’s definitely the case, Ally Sheedy at the end of The Breakfast Club when Molly Ringwald shoves her hair into a headband. But I don’t know what is going on with Emma’s coif here. It’s part Flock of Seagulls, part old-school Kenneth Branagh, with the merest dash of the crackpotty mask in the original ’80s pop-charts video for “Phantom of the Opera” that had sculpted hair. (Also, we need to discuss why the marketing for that show always had a full mask, when the Phantom only wore half, and a which would have been just as evocative on my color-changing coffee mug. I HAVE NOTES, LLOYD-WEBBER.)
It’s actually a very Kristen Stewart-ish photo, to me, in which Emma seems totally underwhelmed and a bit self-conscious, and where you imagine if we saw the rest of the outfit she’d be in Converse. “Can you f*cking believe this?” her face is saying. “‘Not Your Mother’s Princess’? ‘Hurricane Megyn?’ I look like Hurricane Megyn just tossed my wedding.” It’s not great. It’s possible to be edgy and still make Emma Watson look better than this. I know it’s true because her stylists do it fairly often.
The real controversy here was the trippy inside spread of pictures, in which Emma: is hovering over an acrobat who’s holding her up on the soles of his feet; cradling a bust in her lap while all but gnawing on a brass arrow; lying on the ground in fencing kit, looking a bit like that scene in Titanic where Victor Garber goes down with his ship; having what appear to be three hands; waiting for a trippy French-aristocrat-looking dancer to trip and fall into a painting of her (a photo they clearly rotated 90 degrees, to unsettling effect — it would’ve been better if Emma had not been looking down at her own feet); standing in a wire house wearing tents for pants; and, of course, clad in a shirt made of rope that exposes a fair bit of her breasts. That last one drew a lot of loud criticism from people claiming she can’t call herself a feminist if she’s sexualizing herself by flashing cleav. This is wrong-headed. For one thing, it presupposes that Emma agreed to that photo for the express purpose of naughty excitement; the photo itself does not to me appear sexual at all, other than the fact that, yes, she possesses breasts, and yes, we see bits of them. But Emma is participating in an upscale photo spread, not wearing her rope vest while buying Ranch dressing at the local Safeway, nor perching astride a horse in a thong.
But also, conflating feminism with full coverage misses the point, doesn’t it? That expectation, in fact, seems to limit feminism in a way that is itself anti-feminist. What is a feminist, by that measure? Someone in a business suit, a turtleneck, a sweater? No. Cleavage and feminism are not diametrically opposed, nor are they a zero-sum game. As Emma herself said, “They were saying that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs… I really don’t know what my t*ts have to do with it.” She can have a brain and put it to work, and walk the walk and talk the talk, and still dare to have breasts that occasionally come out to play — and yes, if she wants to, sexualize herself. It’s quite feminist indeed to have the courage to stand up to people’s perceptions of you, or to explore a facet you haven’t yet, or to look beyond the walls of the box where you’ve been filed. Let the girl boldly go, rather than telling her that a fractional boob sighting invalidates years of thoughtful advocacy.
And it IS a fractional sighting, buried deep inside a thick magazine. Hermione Granger would roll her eyes so hard that they turned back time.