Why Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair Photoshoot is Not Anti-Feminist

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The recent backlash against Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair photo shoot with Tim Walker has forced Watson to defend her nearly topless photographs for the magazine. More “quietly stunned” than upset about the criticism, Emma responded saying, “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.”

So, why are so many people kicking up a fuss? Watson pins the route of the problem on a fundamental lack of understanding of what feminism actually is. Obviously feminism is not about burning your bra as soon as you ‘convert’, but on the other hand, it’s certainly not about strapping yourself up and showing no skin at all. Writer Andi Zeisler said, “Not everything a feminist does is a feminist act.” So we should not be judging every single thing that a feminist does, but should embrace women’s freedom, without the fear of being judged all the time.

Credit: Tim Walker, Vanity Fair

Once the photos were released on social media, Emma was showered with accusations of being a hypocrite. An image of Watson in a white cut-out shawl and lace skirt is the centre of the controversy. But she defends the photographs, stating that she was “so thrilled about how interesting and beautiful the photographs were,” and that “it felt incredibly artistic.” I heartily agree.

Posing as the “Rebel Belle”, Watson’s Vanity Fair photoshoot aimed to promote her new movie, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which hit the theatres last month (check out The Edge’s review here). But Emma evidently did not simply want to play the princess, but ensured that her portrayal of Belle did not conflict with the ideals of a feminist. Upon seeing the final cut of the film, she brought along her mother and Gloria Steinem – the perfect person to give her stamp of approval (she got it).

Watson’s activism and her role in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ effectively mirrored each other; Belle’s love of books develops the story and ties her to the Beast, whilst Emma’s recent involvement with “Books on the Underground” (an organisation that places books on public transportation) allowed her to share feminist books and develop her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Watson has been praised for her performance as Belle, with whom she likely felt a connection through their love of literature. She even transformed the character, incorporating pockets into her costume (to serve as a tool belt), wearing bloomers and a pair of riding boots, and, most importantly, Belle is now the creator of a “modern washing machine that allows her to sit and read”.

Despite the negative reaction to her Vanity Fair photoshoot, Emma did receive a largely positive response for the film. The magazine described it as the “true coming-of-age story”, and Emma stated, “When I finished the film, it kind of felt like I had made that transition into being a woman on-screen”. The transformation from Hermione to Belle has been effectively signposted with Watson’s latest photoshoot: she is (much like Belle) “in charge of her own destiny”, still wholeheartedly committed to sharing feminism, yet free and liberated to act without fearing judgement.

Check out the full Vanity Fair article and photographs here, and Emma’s defence in the Reuters interview:

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Second year History student at the University of Southampton.

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