Belfast Telegraph

Ciara Kelly: Shulman's clumsy attempt at slut-shaming Christensen was never destined to be a good look

That we should dress to impress others rather than to please ourselves is an entirely ridiculous notion, says Ciara Kelly

Helena Christensen
Helena Christensen

By Ciara Kelly

When I was young, I don't really remember much opprobrium around what I wore. So, in the 1980s, when fashion was cut-off jeans and black tights, or very short skirts with big plastic belts, or in my own case that time I went out in three artfully draped snoods, I don't recall much critiquing of my wardrobe.

I accept that, perhaps, I'm looking back through rose-tinted Wayfarers, but I recall that time as free from the fashion police. Now when I think of what we were wearing, you might ask if that was a good thing, but I suspect the 1980s was a time in history when there was still a certain innocence, when we didn't necessarily recognise what we wore as actually provocative. There was still a great naivete around sex: no one really expected us to have it.

Contrast that with my mother's own generation, when they obsessed over modesty. And the nuns pinned newspaper around the bottom of nine-year-old girls' school skirts if they climbed too high up the calf.

You start to look back on the 1980s with a fondness often forgotten. Especially when you realise that, perhaps, the 1980s was a blip that prior and post that time the fashion and modesty police have been out in force.

Which brings me on to Helena Christensen. The Danish supermodel and photographer was in the news last week when she attended another model, Gigi Hadid's, birthday party. The theme of the party was denim and Christensen, who is 50, wore a sheer, black, lace bustier with a pair of flared denim jeans and, in the words of one person I know, looked banging.

Not everyone was enamoured of Helena's outfit, however, and former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said of the outfit: "Why, at the age of 50, did she decide to pitch up in a tacky, black lace bustier looking like a madam in a one-horse town? She should call time on the Ann Summers look. Something you wore at 30 will never look the same on you 20 years later."

I don't know if Ms Shulman believed what she was saying, or if she was just looking to generate controversy and clicks, but even if she is, I'm biting because there is something in this that needs to be addressed.

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Attractiveness and, indeed, the sexual currency of a person may well be in the eye of the beholder. But when the beholder is bombarded by a media that gives us a blanket narrative that someone isn't attractive because of their age (according to Ms Shulman we may call 70 the new 50 or 50 the new 30, but "the body doesn't lie"), even when the body before us is telling us the patent truth that Helena Christensen is a very, very attractive woman, then there is a problem.

So, you're not supposed to fancy women above what age? 30? 40? What age should we stop fancying men at? Similarly, we are told that people who are overweight are less attractive than those who are thin. So, you can google celebrities who are "fat but still sexy" and there are multiple handy lists available to peruse while summarily dismissing the rich, famous often hot people on them as undesirable.

Being too old, too fat, too short, or not white enough are the kinds of assessments that renders most of the population almost invisible in fashion and media terms and why? Who made up these rules?

And not alone was Shulman dissing Christensen solely about her age; she was also slut-shaming her, suggesting her outfit was too overtly sexual. The idea being, presumably, that, as Ms Shulman doesn't find Helena attractive, then she shouldn't wear anything too racy, as it offends Shulman's eye.

That we should dress to please others instead of as a way of expressing how we feel about ourselves is a sort of ridiculous notion.

You cannot really know what strangers think of you. And chasing the approval of randomers rather than wearing what you yourself like is a pointless way to live.

I'm not saying this to be politically correct. I'm saying what we actually find attractive is often different to what we are being told we should find attractive by a dictatorial and controlling social narrative.

I may actually fancy balding, heavy-set, hairy, middle-aged men, but who caters for my taste in the world of media? You may fancy short, dumpy women, but you will never see them anywhere in magazines.

And, apparently, unless you qualify as attractive in the restrictive fashion sense of the word, then you shouldn't dress in lots of ways. So, nothing too tight, too sexy, too revealing for the old, fat, short, or non-white people out there. Basically, unless you look a certain prescribed way, please make yourself invisible. And recognise that what some bitchy person thinks of you is more important than what you think of yourself.

There is little more attractive than confidence. There is little more attractive than self-worth. If you want to rock a bustier at 50, or indeed at 70, do it. If you want to put your booty in a short skirt, tight leggings, or any other type of clothes, because you feel good in them, then that's the exactly right outfit for you.

None of us should be dictated to about our appearance in this way. These rules are arbitrary and designed to do nothing but make us feel bad.

Christensen's own response to Shulman was exactly right: "Let's continue to elevate and support each other all you beautiful, smart, fun, sexy, hard-working, talented, nurturing women out there #oopssheworeabustieragain".

I don't care if 50 is the new 30, or the new 70, it's still a few years away for me, but I'm already dusting the bustier off.

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