Sydney Sweeney’s boobs have feminists divided: Where does liberation start and objectification end?

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Mar 17, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

On 2 March 2024, actress Sydney Sweeney was awarded one of the entertainment industry’s greatest honours: hosting Saturday Night Live (SNL) and delivering the show’s most iconic line: “We have a great show for you tonight, so stick around, we’ll be right back!”

However, it wasn’t the actress’ performance in several hilarious sketches that grabbed headlines, or even former co-star Glen Powell’s guest appearance as Sweeney’s “fiancé.” Instead, it was the dresses she wore for the opening monologue and the curtain fall, both of which heavily accentuated her cleavage.

They propelled her to the forefront of discourse around the lines between sexualisation and being sexual, as well as the contradictions of modern feminism.

Is Sydney Sweeney a blonde bombshell?

If you are familiar with the Euphoria and Anyone But You star, you are probably also aware of her global status as a certified Gen Z sex symbol. It’s a label she’s found difficult to shake.

 

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A post shared by Sydney Sweeney (@sydney_sweeney)

 

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A post shared by Sydney Sweeney (@sydney_sweeney)

Sweeney’s blonde hair, full lips, and hourglass figure with a generous bosom have made her the latest in a long line of “blonde bombshells,” a concept famously epitomised by Marilyn Monroe and then continued by Jayne Mansfield, Lana Turner, Pamela Anderson, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Upton, Margot Robbie, and now Sweeney.

Blonde bombshells are an old Hollywood tradition. The term is bestowed upon those women who combine traditional femininity, sensuality, magnetism, and sex appeal, all without crossing the line into promiscuity or vulgarity, of course. It is a difficult act to balance, but those who can manage to cement themselves in Hollywood history. These women go on to become action heroines like Barb Wire, Bond girls like Madeleine Swann, one of Charlie’s Angels, or, an SNL host at the very least.

Yet, being a bombshell also comes with relentless sexualisation, objectification and limiting typecasting. Women’s bodies are cultural battlegrounds, as we all know. Thus, the bombshell becomes a site for reflecting on normalised versions of femininity and exposing the liberties and limitations of being a woman in today’s society.

Did Sydney Sweeney kill wokeness?

“Wokeness is dead,” X, formerly Twitter, user Richard Hanania declared, attaching a clip of Sweeney in a little black dress that highlights her generous cleavage to his post.

“Those give me hope,” another user declared, evidently referencing the actress’ boobs.

While many netizens in the comment section expressed their disdain over breasts being politicised like this, those statements shared by multiple right-wingers online express the longstanding conservative belief that “wokeness” and the post #metoo culture of consent are killing romantic spontaneity, the pleasure men derive from admiring the female physique—in Playboy as well as on the streets—and men’s ability to express their appreciation of women’s bodies—“Just take the compliment and smile, hun.”

In 2017, Playboy announced that it was removing nudes from the pages of its erotic magazine and this decision seemed to be reflective of our changing times: sex symbols like Emily Ratajkowski are refusing to offer their bodies up for uncomplicated mainstream consumption. Instead, they are mixing expressions of their sexuality with feminist dialogue around embodiment, sexual agency, and body normalisation. Alongside the end of the easy commodification of women’s bodies, we also witnessed increased inclusivity in the world of beauty and modelling.

Visually, this looked like diverse bodies and ethnicities getting to claim the roles and personas that were traditionally reserved for blonde bombshells, such as love interests, Bond girls, mermaids, and alluring and dangerous femme fatales.

 

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A post shared by British Vogue (@britishvogue)

To many right-wingers, this change signalled that popular culture was pushing their favourite women (blonde ones with big tits) to the brink of extinction.

The discourse under the post by Hanania quickly turned racist, with another commenter declaring that bigger breasts are more appealing on white women than on Black ones. This led to multiple users proceeding to make fun of the colour of Black women’s areolas. 

These discussions reflect the same racist and hypermasculine culture that created the sexualised and racialised standards for what women should look like. Blonde bombshells are heroines of this culture, acting as the highest embodiment of white supremacist, fatphobic, and misogynistic ideals.

Sweeney’s ‘big-titted’ presence on screen represents a rebuke to wokeness for this underbelly of the right-wing internet and her rising popularity signifies a rebellion against the destructive force of political correctness to this crowd.

Yet, the actress’ broad appeal actually proves that the blonde bombshell and our collective desire for her have never left. Right-wingers’ fears are completely unfounded. Sweeney’s popular appearance is not a return to the status quo but proof that it was never fully dismantled.

Nevertheless, this conservative narrative completely co-opts Sweeney’s body into the blonde bombshell trope and tries to remove her from feminist discourse.

Why is everybody acting so weird about Sydney Sweeney?

Fans have previously expressed concerns over what they viewed as the intense over-sexualisation of the actress.

When Sweeney appeared in a Rolling Stones music video for the song ‘Angry’, wearing a leather bralette and tight, figure-hugging shorts while dancing in the backseat of a convertible, fans were quick to call her portrayal sexual objectification.

Sweeney herself did not agree with this sentiment as she revealed in an interview with Glamour: “I felt hot. I picked my own outfit out of racks and racks of clothes. I felt so good in it,” she explained in response to the controversy.

“One of the questions I get is, ‘Are you a feminist?’ I find empowerment through embracing the body that I have. That’s sexy and strong, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I’m in a Rolling Stones video. How cool and iconic is that? I felt so good. All the moves, everything I was doing was all freestyle. I mean, who else gets to roll around on the top of a convertible driving down Sunset Boulevard with police escorts? It’s the cool things in this career that I had no idea I’d get to do.”

A similar conversation was sparked when Sweeney posed for the cover of Variety in outfits and positions that were servicing the male gaze, according to her fanbase.

 “It is not just the ice cream part that is sexual and objectifying her. It’s the whole male-gaze shoot,” one fan noted in reference to a scene where the actress lets melting ice cream drip into her mouth.

Another user complained: “Whose idea was this photoshoot? It’s tacky! Some women objectify themselves in a very sexual way and then complain about being taken seriously.”

Yet, these comments also reveal the same objectification and dehumanisation they are proclaiming to reject. They assert that sex is something projected onto Sweeney rather than something inherent to her, despite her repeated statements affirming her own will and agency in her presentation.

So even in discussions aware of feminist theory, it seems like Sweeney is consistently being patronised and regarded as a fetish object, leading many to pose this important question: why is everybody acting so weird about Sydney Sweeney?

https://twitter.com/SstoZachert/status/1767869809075565037

It is because we have approached the limits of modern, mainstream feminism. Much like abortions and sex work, sexiness is something we still can’t quite agree on.

This explains why the feminist defence of Sweeney’s sexuality and co-optation by the far-right is so weak and inconsistent. The actress’ presentation has moved to the centre of a cultural battle between feminists and their adversaries, as well as different fractions of feminism. The conservative side takes a bit too much voyeuristic pleasure in her consumption and uses her popularity as a symbol of anti-wokeness, whereas liberal feminists seem unsure of where to place her in their movement. Is a blonde bombshell bouncing in the back of a convertible, while showcasing her beauty-standard-adherent body a sign of liberation or a submission to objectification and the status quo? For some, being sexy and confident is an act of body positivity and liberation. For others, every expression of a woman’s sexuality is a product of patriarchal conditioning, reaffirming oppressive structures.

Things are complicated even further when we consider that the body positivity movement was created and spearheaded by queer and plus-sized women of colour, who are now critiquing that it is being co-opted by the very women they were always held up against.

These ongoing debates highlight the challenges faced by women, particularly those of colour, in navigating and expressing their sexuality within patriarchal structures. They also underscore the contradictions inherent in modern feminism regarding sexual agency and female embodiment.

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