• Faith Moore

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Lizzo and “The Naked Dress”

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

It may have been Cardi B’s birthday party, but the headlines from last Monday evening’s soiree were all about Lizzo. The Rumors singer set the internet on fire with a series of Instragram posts revealing what she wore—or rather, didn’t wear—to the event.

What followed was a modern-day Emperor’s New Clothes, with fashion writers at major publications falling all over themselves to praise the singer’s dress. As if the “dress”—which resembled a purple fishing net and was completely see-through—had anything at all to do with it.

Photo source: Backgrid

PopSugar declared the dress “easily the sexiest thing we’ve seen [Lizzo] wear.” Women’s Health called the dress “iconic” and said that Lizzo looked “fitter than ever.” Seventeen praised Lizzo for “serving hella booty” and called her dress “gorgeous.”

“Naked dresses”—yes, there’s actually a term for them—aren’t new. Rihanna wore one back in 2014 and, more recently, Meghan Fox wore one to the VMAs, while Zoë Kravitz wore one to the Met Gala. Other celebrities have worn them, too, over the years.

But let’s get real: it’s not the dress all these people are gushing over. (The dress is essentially one of those mesh bags they sell mandarin oranges out of at the grocery store.) No, it’s not Lizzo’s dress. It’s her body. That’s what we’re all looking at, right? Just like the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale, Lizzo is walking around completely and utterly naked and, somehow, everyone around her is fawning all over her dress.

The “body positivity movement”—which seeks to convince us that overweight is actually healthy—probably has something do with the gushing praise that rained down on Lizzo Monday night. (If we call her “sexy” and “gorgeous” and “fitter than ever” no one can accuse us of “fat shaming.”) But the issue here isn’t really “body positivity.” (I’m sure that Lizzo’s body is sexy to some, and nakedness is titillating regardless of size.) In reality, the problem with “naked dresses” is that they leave the wearer, well, naked. And they allow us all to voyeuristically comment on a woman’s body as if we’re talking about something much more innocuous: her dress.

Imagine if, instead of write-ups on Lizzo’s dress, the same fashion outlets wrote up their thoughts on her body. “Lizzo arrived at the party sporting two large breasts and three to four rolls of belly fat.” We’d be calling the feminism police faster than you could say “#MeToo.” But isn’t that really what we’re all talking about? Lizzo’s body? And anybody else’s body who chooses to wear a “naked dress” in public? The dress itself isn’t really worth discussing.

The whole thing is a con—and a pretty good one too. In the name of feminism, show us your boobs. The Emperor’s not wearing any clothes.

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