Is Actress and Feminist Emma Watson a Hypocrite for Going Topless in Vanity Fair?

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Emma Watson

Internet users are debating an image from her latest cover story.

Can you be a feminist and still pose topless?

That issue is up for debate in the aftermath of a cover shoot in Vanity Fair's April issue. Emma Watson, noted feminist and star of Disney's upcoming live-action film Beauty and the Beast, is being labeled a "hypocrite" by some for exposing her breasts.

The photo in question, lensed by British shutterbug Tim Walker and styled by Vanity Fair fashion and style director Jessica Diehl, features Watson in a cape, sheer shirt and lace skirt from Burberry's February collection. It has sparked debate on social media about whether or not the image, which casts Watson as an object of the male gaze or perhaps as a #FreetheNipple crusader, depending on your point of view, runs counter to her role as a women's rights advocate. She's addressed the United Nations on the topic of women's rights, and is a spokeswoman for its HeForShe campaign, which calls on men to promote gender equality.

One Instagram user, @w2hide, commented, "#hypocrite, lost respect for all your work. Complete opposite of what you preach. Don't give men and society what they want. You disappoint me." Others argued otherwise. User @fitnessgurls simply wrote: "People in 2017 still don't get feminism. #LoveThis."


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Radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer posted a tweet criticizing Watson ("Emma Watson: 'Feminism, feminism... gender wage gap... why oh why am I not taken seriously... feminism... oh, and here are my tits!'") that also led many to defend Watson.

"Feminism is about giving women FREE CHOICE. They can cover up or expose their bodies as they want. You've missed the point," Twitter user @EvieA_x responded to Hartley-Brewer. Added @andyturn3r: "you fail dramatically in understanding feminists. As long as it's her choice she gets to wear, do or say whatever she wants."

The user's comment echoes Emily Ratajkowski's defense of her decision to take a naked bathroom selfie with Kim Kardashian. "However sexual our bodies may be, we need to have the freedom as women to choose when & how we express our sexuality," Ratajkowski wrote at the time.

It's worth noting that the photos were in the context of an editorial fashion shoot, rather than, say, the red carpet or a selfie. In other words, it was Diehl's vision, not Watson's. That's not to say she couldn't have chosen not to wear the sheer piece if she felt strongly about it. However, as with most fashion editorials, the clothes are meant to tell a bigger story — in this case, Watson played the part of a Victorian rebel. (The rest of the shoot sees her covered up in a Balenciaga suit and a Dior fencing uniform.)

The controversy raises the question: Should stars worry more about their images in editorial photo spreads, especially when those images could run counter to their personal brand messaging?

Several people have come under fire for appearing in fashion editorials guilty of cultural appropriation. Karlie Kloss recently got into trouble for dressing as a geisha for Vogue's March "Diversity" issue, for example. The images have since been removed from and Kloss has issued an apology. "These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive," she wrote.

Pharrell caused outrage when he wore a native American feather headdress on the cover of Elle UK in 2014. He later apologized for the incident, "I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry." And just this week, some eyebrows were raised when Gigi Hadid, who is half-Palestinian but was born in the U.S., starred on the cover of the first ever issue of Vogue Arabia, rather than an Arab model.

Watson has yet to address the backlash.