Rachel Lloyd on Policing Fashion and Derogating Subjugated Women

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Her essay is available here. An excerpt:

Fashion Police has a recurring segment called “Starlet or Streetwalker,” which is exactly what it sounds like. The panel, made up of George Kotsiopoulos, Kelly Osbourne and Giuliana Rancic, are shown pictures of women with their faces covered. Based on the outfit, the panel then has to vote if the woman in the photo is a starlet or a streetwalker. If the woman turns out to be a celebrity, her face is shown, if its a woman in the sex industry, her face remains blacked out. The panel, the studio audience and I’m sure the viewers watching at home laugh at these women and their ‘tacky, trashy clothing.’ The first time I saw the segment, it took me a minute to realize that the women whose faces were covered up were actually real women in the sex industry. I then watched with growing discomfort as I realized that these women, poor women, desperate women, drug-addicted women, women under the control of a pimp, women who are victims of violence and exploitation, were being used to highlight wealthy celebrities’ poor fashion choices. Haha.

As their faces are covered, it’s unlikely that E! asked these women for consent to use their pictures. It’s also highly unlikely that anyone from E! did a background check to find out if all the pictures they’re using for comedy fodder are even of age. It’s unlikely, aside from any legal issues, that they care.

Years ago, one of the girls from GEMS was unwittingly filmed for a cable documentary about the sex industry. Although she was just in the background her face, and her naked breasts, were clearly visible. When the show aired, strange men began walking up to her in the street telling her they recognized her, asking her to show them her breasts, asking her for sex. She was 15 at the time of shooting, had been a trafficking victim since the age of 12 and was under the control of a violent pimp who would later try to pay someone to have her murdered and leave her body in the dumpster. While her story may seem shocking, its all too commonplace in the world of ‘streetwalkers.’

I’m not comfortable with everything Lloyd says in her essay, but I respect her tremendously for speaking out on this issue, especially given a pervasive social climate in which a site like this is touted as feminist.

–Ann Bartow

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