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Image Source: Getty / Lionel Hahn
Once a day, a friend of mine takes an hour-long mental break from work and walks around her neighborhood, sans headphones. “Must be nice,” I thought as she described this meditative practice, knowing the same would never be awarded to me. Why? Because she is a white woman and I am Black — and the way my curves, and the curves of most POC, look in clothing often leads to unsolicited slander. Such was the case for musician and beauty founder Ciara at the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscars party on March 12.
Black women’s clothing decisions always come with an unfair caveat: great for the wearer but open to public scrutiny.
Ciara arrived at the afterparty — themed “Barely There” — in a shimmering, sheer Peter Dundas gown, exposing her back and tiny black thong. The plunging neckline was adorned with flesh-colored pasties, and she wore velvet elbow-length gloves on her arms. Styled by Rob Zangardi, the look was further accessorized with diamond drop Cartier earrings and black strappy Santoni heels.
When she stepped out on the carpet in her striking ensemble, the internet was split on her choice. Because Ciara is a mother of three, Instagram users debated if it was appropriate attire. “Ciara is a married woman with kids. Sit this one out Ciara,” one person wrote. Some criticized the entrepreneur for embarrassing her husband, Russell Wilson: “The disrespect that women have for their husbands is absurd. Should no woman be dressing like this while in a relationship.” Another expressed total disapproval, saying, “Obviously, Russell is not the head of the household.” Meanwhile, POC like Ola Ojewumi knew exactly why the public viewed the look so negatively when she wrote on Twitter, “There is only a code of conduct for Black women in Hollywood.”
The look is not new. It’s part of a larger trend that’s been around for decades: the naked dress, dedicated to leaving little to the imagination. Dating back to Marilyn Monroe’s infamous birthday presentation to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, celebrities and A-listers have long embraced the skin-baring trend, wearing sheer garments and see-through dresses whenever the option is available. Think: Rose McGowan’s braless and backless moment at the 1998 VMAs, Bella Hadid in sheer at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Show afterparty, Megan Fox’s wet Mugler look at the 2021 VMAs, and Olivia Rodrigo in Vivienne Westwood at the 2023 Grammys. The list goes on.
At every award show, there’s a handful of celebrities freeing the nipple, decked out in ultrasheer dresses and celebrating as many cutouts, high slits, and deep plunges as possible. Like Ciara, at this year’s 95th Academy Awards, Lady Gaga, Charlotte Lawrence, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Hailee Steinfeld, and Sabrina Carpenter all wore revealing gowns, too. Hunter Schafer even decorated her upper body with a white Ann Demeulemeester micro feather. So why was Ciara the only star to be body shamed?
Black women’s clothing decisions always come with an unfair caveat: great for the wearer but open to public scrutiny. We decide to wear formfitting clothes and are compared to video vixens. We make out-of-the-box fashion decisions and are told to dim our light. And in Ciara’s case, revealing, showstopping statements are labeled as risqué or inappropriate. Anything Black women do is political — including fashion. And it’s exhausting.
Selective outrage 😭
You could chalk it up to narrow views on what the heroine mother or sacred marriage should look like, but supermodels and fellow mothers Emily Ratajkowski and Alessandra Ambrosio answered the bare-it-all assignment, too, without their motherhood being questioned. Some people find comfort in creating boxes for others — for example, reinforcing the idea that a mother of three should dress a certain way (hint: conservative and covered up). But for Ciara, the scrutiny wasn’t really about the need to be a role model for her children or for disrespecting her husband.
Really, this viral debate is about who’s allowed to show and feel empowered in their body. Hypersexualized, disrespected, deemed outside of their lane, and all other outcomes prove that Black women are not allowed to own their sexuality, no matter what their body looks like.
Ciara, like all Black women, should be granted the right to dress as she pleases, and without critique. That’s why the artist took to Instagram to promote her forthcoming single “Da Girls” and later to TikTok to troll the haters, proving that despite the media and enemies trying to control her, she will carry on with her life.
Those in support of the Texas native’s decision aren’t even asking for grace on the matter but instead to be placed on the same playing field as their white counterparts. For Black women in the spotlight, the great attention toward their appearance lends itself to vast inspection when it comes to their fashion choices or how much skin they show. Why should Black women have to choose between being a faithful wife and embracing their style of choice? At the end of the day, we simply want equal, judgment-free autonomy over our bodies.