I was blissfully unaware of Bianca Censori until recently, when pictures of her in various sheer, nude bodysuits started trending on social media. An attractive, 28-year-old Australian woman wearing “immodest” clothing? How terrible! How appalling! Quick, take a photo – and make sure you get a nipple shot.
But why all this sudden media attention? Censori – who “married” Kanye West earlier this year, in a non-legally binding ceremony – met the rapper, a good two decades her senior, when she worked as an architect at his Yeezy firm; two months after finalising his divorce from Kim Kardashian, the mother of his two children, the pair announced they had got hitched in a private commitment ceremony.
Car-crash nuptials and plunging bodycon aside, there appears to be an unspoken element in our sudden fascination with Ye’s romantic partner.
Some press reports have made foundationless suggestions that Censori’s public appearances show classic signs of her being a victim of coercive control, and that her wearing outré outfits are part of the abuse.
But if there were really any reason to suspect that, which currently there is not, I’m not convinced the best way to offer support to a woman suspected of being at risk is to criticise her dress sense. Surely, we should be supporting a woman in that situation, not contributing to her humiliation and disempowerment?
While I have no privileged insight into the couple’s relationship, I know what I see in the tabloids. And we all know, from reality TV, that during their six-year marriage, West helped to style his former wife – and that through that partnership, Kardashian expanded her empire and wealth considerably, breaking the internet along the way.
Kardashian went into the relationship with a highly sexualised public image, and left it as an enduring cultural icon – not because of her husband, but because she’s an uncannily smart business woman who commodified our prurient fascination with women’s bodies.
Let’s face it, images of Censori – like similar shots of the Kardashian-Jenners, Katie Price and all those other celebrity women we love to hate – allow readers to be titillated while tutting over their latest barely-there bodycon or boob job.
Some might say that following West’s spectacular fall from grace last year – his vocal support for Donald Trump giving way to antisemitic outbursts on social media and wearing a ‘White Lives Matter’ shirt at Paris Fashion Week – Censori deserves whatever flak she gets for involving herself with him. But women are always being held accountable for men’s bad behaviour.
Isn’t it time we packed in the punishment by proxy? West’s inexcusable behaviour doesn’t make his partner fair game for criticism. I mean, sure, Censori’s taste in men may be questionable, but whatever your thoughts on her partner, Censori should be left alone to wear whatever she wants.
Here’s a startling thought, though: perhaps Censori really likes the clothes she wears? Maybe she gets up in the morning and fancies popping on a sheer bodystocking. And so what if she does? Really, what’s to criticise here?
Okay, it’s jarring that when Ye steps out, he will be head to toe in black, complete with facemask, while Censori prefers little more than a pair of tights. But are we really saying that this gender dynamic is unusual, and deserving of our attention and derision? What does Jay-Z wear while sharing the stage with Beyonce in her trademark barely-there leotards?
And what do we see at awards ceremonies these days? Areolas and butt cracks galore! Censori is posting in outfits the likes of which the Kardashian-Jenners were wearing to the Met Gala years ago. The nude dress has become a red-carpet staple for women – but their male counterparts don’t share the same fashion brief.
Censori and West have spent their summer – a seemingly never-ending Italian holiday – developing a reputation for public indecency. There were reports of lewd conduct aboard a yacht in Venice. Some raised concerns that Censori’s penchant for sheer outfits was disrespectful of the cultural and religious sensibilities of the Catholic countries in which she wore them. Such negative reports offer further opportunity for readers to condemn Censori for trashy behaviour — and to ogle her body.
If Censori is weaponising her outfits as a way to resist, protest or even encourage tabloid and public preoccupation, I say go for it. Critiqueing her fashion choices is no more acceptable for us than it is for her partner. If Censori is using our fixation on women’s bodies to “do a Kim”, whose Skims shapewear business is now worth more than $3 billion (or, even, a “do a Beyonce“, with her Ivy Park athleisure empire...) and scaffold a future clothing line, I say good luck to her.
Our preoccupation with the way she chooses to dress is more about our obsession with policing women’s bodies than it is about her “exhibitionism” or “hunger” for publicity.
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