A funny thing happens when female celebrities hit the red carpet: The world tends to forget that they are actual human beings, with feelings and everything.
Such a fate befell comedian Sarah Millican at last year’s BAFTA Awards, when the Internet viciously attacked her red carpet look for being “disastrous” and “nana”-like. At first, the cruel commentary stung. But rather than stew in silence, Millican has decided to call out her haters in a brilliant essay for Radio Times that pinpoints the absurdity of a woman, yet again, being attacked for her appearance at an event meant to celebrate her completely unrelated accomplishments.
“I’m sorry,” Millican writes. “I thought I had been invited to such an illustrious event because I am good at my job.”
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In the essay, Millican repeatedly emphasizes that she is a comedian. As in, she makes jokes for a living — a profession that has nothing to do with what she looks like on the red carpet:
“I’m not a model (I’m a comedian), have never learnt how to pose on a red carpet (I’m a comedian) and I have pretty low self-esteem.”
She also comments on how she found her John Lewis dress:
“Fancy expensive designer shops are out for me as I’m a size 18, sometimes 20, and I therefore do not count as a woman to them.”
While the messages Millican received hurt …
“It was like a pin to my excitable red balloon. Literally thousands of messages from people criticising my appearance. I was fat and ugly as per usual. … I cried. I cried in the car.”
That hurt quickly turned to righteous anger:
“Why does it matter so much what I was wearing? … I felt wonderful in that dress. And surely that’s all that counts.”
Millican’s response is fantastic, and her experience reveals once again how distressingly common it is to judge women first and foremost on their appearance. Cate Blanchett similarly called out the red carpet camera for scanning her up and down at this year’s SAG Awards, asking, “Do you do that to the guys?” And Gabourey Sidibe had to deal with some very nasty tweets about her Golden Globes dress in January, to which she posted the epic reply:
Such endless emphasis on looks implies that women’s bodies are always blank slates for commentary and criticism, and it trivializes their other, more meaningful, accomplishments. As actress Emma Stone flat out told Teen Vogue, when interviewers regularly ask women about their fashion sense and relationships at the expense of talking about their careers (something they don’t do nearly as often to men), it is sexist. Millican, too, points out the inherent sexism of her trolling: “My husband wasn’t asked who he was wearing, which disappointed him. Mainly because he was dying to tell ANYONE he was wearing an Asda tux.”
Comedy in particular is not known for being the most gender equitable industry; female comedians are often held to a higher standard of presentability and expected to be both hilarious and hot in a way that male comics aren’t. This makes Millican’s refusal to put up with this type of treatment all the more satisfying.
The best part of the story? Millican asserts that the offending dress won’t be relegated to the back of her closet, no matter what strangers on the Internet think of it:
“I made a decision the following day that should I ever be invited to attend the Baftas again, I will wear the same dress. To make the point that it doesn’t matter what I wear; that’s not what I’m being judged on.”
Read the full essay at Radio Times.