Alison Mau: Would you wear this duct tape 'dress' out on the red carpet?
OPINION: I generally try to avoid clickbait headlines, but in an idle moment this week I followed the link down the rabbit hole.
Would you wear this on a night out? The question hovered above pictures of the "The Black Tape Project", a Miami "designer's" idea of fashion as art. In practice, it was a group of hired models descending on clubs and bars wearing small strips of electrical tape and nothing else. No more nor less revealing than a Rihanna outfit at the annual Barbados carnival, the outfits have little real shock value in 2017.
Instead I found myself thinking, how exhausting! Imagine the hours it would take to stick every little shape on securely. And how would you dance in it, or heaven forbid, get your business done in the ladies' room?
I'm assuming the models simply had to pose for the snaps before someone called for a robe. The pose was the standard red carpet contortion: hand on an exaggeratedly cocked hip, try not to fall as you wobble on a single spiked heel. Have you ever tried to stand like that? It's nigh impossible to hold for longer than the blink of an iPhone. You couldn't hold that pose and a conversation, in fact if some mischievous soul came and poked you with their pinkie, you'd legitimately fall right on your face.
The things we do. It's been a decade since I last trod the red carpet for fun (insider tip: it's not fun. Unless you're Helen Mirren or a Kardashian, it's just weird) but I do regularly work at black tie functions, and the epic prep process is the same. Here's mine:
Night before. Lay out the dress (the one you won't fall out of. No-one at the classy awards night wants a Janet Jackson moment.) Choose appropriate "shapewear." If you don't know what "shapewear" is be grateful, and I'll leave you gently there in your blissful ignorance.
Exfoliate. Apply fake tan. Avoid family members who might brush against the wet paint. Check script and practice tricky name pronunciations. Sleep.
Day of. Decide whether to soak sheets ruined by fake tan, or just burn them. Put on makeup (lots more than usual), spend half an hour and a tube of glue sticking on false eyelashes, unstick eyelids so that you can see, spend another half hour packing errant body parts into the shapewear, put on dress and heels.
You could dispense with the dress I suppose, as the tape-wearing models have, but the makeup is a given. Last count I could find, 38 per cent of Kiwi women wear it every day. Some never do of course, but almost every woman has some kind of relationship with it. Love. Hate. Utter dependence.
When I was young it was definitely the latter. I came of age in the New Romantic 1980s, when hair gel ruled and makeup trends were truly dreadful. It was full pancake base and winged eyeshadow just for a walk to the dairy.
In the world of television it's a both a tyrant and a crutch. Telly presenters (female) have to sit immobile for an hour while gentle, talented professionals poke long sticks at their eyes. Meanwhile, the other (male) presenters are in the newsroom, luxuriating in an extra hour of actual prep. This is the thing I miss least about being a TV presenter.
And yet I still wear makeup every day. Much, much, less than I used to, but some. There are plenty of women I know who look amazing without it, but who wear it for a self confidence boost.
A colleague in her twenties was prompted to give it up this week; no makeup at all, on camera or off for five days. It was a male co-worker's suggestion; he wondered whether all the women in the newsroom would give it a go. The reaction was swift and savage. Are you insane? This is television. But the one brave soul, who admittedly doesn't wear a lot, has lovely skin and the courage of Braveheart, said yes, she'd give it a go.
Of course, this was the week she had to appear on camera with the cast of The Bachelor, the one group of collectively stunning young women who are groomed and glossed by an army of professionals every time they step out.
She found it confronting. Away from the cameras she was more comfortable, but was happy to get to the end of week and reach for the mascara wand again.
Most of us feel more professional, more ready for the world with at least a little on. My young colleague is a feminist, as am I, and most of the women I know.
Does our choice to wear make-up contradict that, I wondered?
Fortunately by this weekend, I had an bona fide expert to ask. Culture critic and rockstar author of the "Bad Feminist" essays, Roxanne Gay, is in town for the Auckland Writer's Festival. No-one's better at acknowledging the complexities of life (while fighting for equality) than Roxanne.
It's entirely consistent with being a feminist, she told me, as long as we think about the reasons we wear it; that we're trying to meet a beauty standard that's entirely unreal. What's not okay is to see a woman as worthless if she's not beautiful or doesn't wear makeup.
"But at the same time it's okay to love a good lipstick. Who doesn't?"
* Ali Mau is the host of RadioLIVE Drive, 3-6pm weekdays
- Sunday Star Times