The problem with calling Natalie Morales’ upskirt photo a ‘wardrobe malfunction’

When a photographer took an upskirt photo of Natalie Morales at the premiere of her latest film, Battle of the Sexes, earlier this month, the press labeled it as a “wardrobe malfunction.” And now the actress is firing back about both offenses.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Morales called out the photographer saying, she was trying to get that “Angie look,” referring to Angelina Jolie’s famous high-slit 2013 Oscar dress, but that it was not an invitation to look at her “bits.”

“Also, JOKES ON YOU, I was wearing skin-colored underwear so you can’t actually see my bits. But if you could? I wouldn’t be embarrassed. But YOU should be. What a disgusting, horrifying job you have.”

On Tuesday, she clapped back again on Twitter, this time at the media’s labeling of the incident as a “wardrobe malfunction” and how she should not be shamed for having a body or being a woman or celebrity.

“This is a problem with how we tear down women and reduce them to a sum of body parts, to be at once sexualized and shamed,” Morales wrote.

Upskirt shots of female celebrities have long been used as a tool of shame, with the paparazzi hoping to catch women in a moment no one was intended to see, but one that’s worth a lot of money if captured on camera. Then it is women who are often held accountable when their bodies are exposed without their consent, while publications and photographers take none or little of the blame.

So when the press labels the photographer’s violation as a “wardrobe malfunction,” they put the onus on Morales and ignore the fact that she was exploited by a man who purposely aimed to obtain a scandalous photo of her that he could then shop around or use as leverage to prevent it from circulating.

This is essentially how revenge porn works. See the hundreds of personal nude photos of actresses that were shared online without consent after their phones were hacked in 2014. Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Tiger Woods, and other celebrities photos were also leaked in August.

In 2016, Emma Watson recounted an experience during a speech for HeForShe, of which she is an ambassador, of how photographers literally laid on the ground to snap shots up her skirt during her 18th birthday bash. The photos were published in English newspapers the next day—because such shots were coveted and supposedly “legal” because she had turned 18.

In 2012, Anne Hathaway eloquently summed up what is wrong with this during an appearance on the Today show after upskirt photos of her were shared online:

“It was obviously an unfortunate incident. It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment, and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants.”

Danielle Ransom

Danielle Ransom

Danielle Ransom is a journalist who has worked as a researcher for CNN, NBC's KXAN-TV, CBS' KEYE-TV.