British comedienne Sarah Millican was invited to the BAFTA awards. Being a moderately-paid comedienne and not gushing money that would garner her a Vera Wang dress, she wore a department store dress and some black shoes to the black tie affair. Unsurprisingly, she was soundly thrashed online, prompting reactions all over, most of which defended her and saying people shouldn’t be mean, people suck, and so on.
As is usually the case, in the rush to defend someone from a public beating, we miss the point, and by “we” I mean “the internet populace.”
Many people are arguing that people have no right to criticize her for her clothing. I don’t usually see this sort of anger directed at awards show fashion critics, so this caught me particularly off-guard. I’m sure Millican is a nice enough person and I think people are being overly kind when they say she didn’t deserve to be criticized. Her dress didn’t look great on her and was not really appropriate for a black-tie affair. It simply wasn’t. The brunt of the criticism I saw of her wasn’t of her size (we’ll get to that in a bit), it was her choice of dress.
That, whether people like it or not, is a perfectly valid criticism. If you don’t agree with it, tough. Really.
Secondly, there may very well have been criticism of her weight (what I saw of that was minimal) and let’s be honest; that’s nothing new either. Contrary to the touchy feely feel good crap we surround ourselves with on a daily basis, people who talk about the entertainment industry (particularly fans) are generally crappy to overweight people. Sarah Millican is not the first, nor will she be the last. Verbal beatings about size are nothing new. They’re not appropriate. They’re also not going away.
I know this personally because I deal with it every day. As a guy who’s 6’1 and around 350 lbs., I have to deal with “food guilt” all the time. If I’m eating something that’s not healthy I’m ashamed of it. If I’m eating something healthy, I feel like people are mocking me as if to say “why bother, fattie?” That’s just the way it is. I don’t like it. I also know I’m not changing it, so I just choose to ignore it even when it’s really hard to do so. If you’re in the entertainment industry and you think that it’s going to be any different because you’re famous and funny, you’re either naïve or insane. Maybe even a combination of both.
That’s not to say this is acceptable behavior, but it is reality, and if you choose to put yourself in front of the general public, you’re putting yourself in front of the non-judgmental people and the judgmental people and sometimes the judgmental ones are going to be the only ones you hear from in their shittiness.
To give you an example, on a recent post where I wrote about how the Anti-Sexual-Assault PSA’s were a missed opportunity, I got the following message:
“Anon hate is all you have going on your life. Just keep masturbating in your moms basement and whining about how women deserve to be raped. You are fucking disgusting and look like shit, it wouldn’t be that terrible if you were a decent person.”
Not one word of what I wrote on that article warranted that response and yet there it was staring me in the face. Unfortunately, I don’t have a TV show or a huge audience that I can point it out to and have everyone rush to my defense. Instead, I just do what normal people do: suck it up and ignore it. I don’t break down crying about avalanches of hate mail (I’ve had my share of it having done this site for 12 years). I’ve gotten death threats, which I consider a bit worse than someone calling me fat or criticizing my clothes. I let it go. I don’t cry about it. I don’t complain. I certainly don’t judge all of society by it, that’s for sure.
But what got me most was the insinuation that Millican was being trashed because she was a woman. This kind of rationalizing logic always happens in stories like this and of course there’s nothing different in this case. The logic is that her criticism is unfair because men aren’t examined by fashion critics the same way women are and it’s unfair to women.
But the people being unfair to women aren’t men, they’re women. The biggest fashion critics and the people who are most vicious to women are other women. That’s an ugly, but true statement. The people who watch awards show? Primarily women. The people who talk about what x was wearing or who y had her dress made by? Women. And the reason? At these events, in a sea of black tuxedoes, only women look different! And no one asks men who designed their generic black tux because, to be honest, no one freakin’ cares! “Who designed your black jacket, black pants, and bow tie?” Yeah. Sure.
Now before you get all pissed off and start sending me more hate mail, you need to understand my position here. People who sent Sarah hateful comments are trolls and pieces of garbage and should be ashamed of themselves for their bad behavior. I’m not, in any way, saying what they did was acceptable by saying it was expected or typical, but we can’t deny the realities of the world simply because we don’t like them.
But as much as I think comments about Sarah’s weight (which honestly, even the most brutal critics I’ve seen on articles about the whole story have not made) cross a line and are unfair, the comments about her choice of apparel are not only valid, but honestly, I think they’re fine. They weren’t saying “Fattie shouldn’t wear that dress,” they’re saying “That dress is not appropriate for a black-tie affair.” Newsflash: it’s not, and I don’t see how that’s unfair to her at all.
The people rushing to defend Millican are treating all criticism as invalid. She herself did the same when she proclaimed that were she to be invited to the BAFTA’s again she would wear the same dress as a statement that she was there for her talents, not her choice of apparel. Well, Ms. Millican, as much as I think you don’t deserve people beating you up over a dress, if you’re going to stand there and dare people to be shitty to you, don’t get upset when they take you up on it.
We have to accept, sometimes, that criticism is going to happen. It’s important to understand that we don’t have to silence critics, we have to just learn how to roll with the criticism. That’s a true display of one’s character. It’s the same thing I believe when it comes to kids, which I wrote about last week. You don’t teach them that they’re not weird, you teach them it doesn’t matter if you are.
Sarah Millican is a lovely woman and from what I gather she’s quite funny. That doesn’t mean she picked out an appropriate dress for an entertainment awards show. You can hold both beliefs simultaneously and neither one invalidates the other.
Photo via RadioTimes