Reexamining the ‘Upskirt Decade’ and the Public Ridicule of Female Pop Stars

Author Sarah Ditum’s new book, Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s, delves into the era of public shaming and scrutiny faced by female celebrities.

Twenty years ago, a wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl halftime show caused a global uproar. Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed Janet Jackson’s breast, an incident that became known as Nipplegate. However, the fallout from Nipplegate was just one example of the public ridicule and policing of women in the entertainment industry during the 2000s. In her book, Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s, author Sarah Ditum examines this unique period and its impact on famous women like Janet Jackson and Britney Spears. She explores the culture of tabloid media, the absence of legal protections, and the toxic tone of coverage that framed these women as villains. In a conversation with All Things Considered, Ditum reflects on the era and how society has reckoned with it since.

Upskirt Decade: Ditum refers to the 2000s as the “Upskirt Decade” due to the prevalence of upskirt tabloid photos during this time. She argues that the combination of camera technology, a voracious gossip media, and the absence of legal frameworks allowed for the invasion of privacy and the objectification of women. The upskirt photo became a signature cultural product of the era, representing the lack of boundaries and basic behavioral standards.

The Tone of Coverage: The coverage of female celebrities during the 2000s often framed them as villains seeking fame and attention. Paparazzi would capture intrusive photos, websites would publish them, and the accompanying commentary would blame the women for their own exploitation. The tenor of the coverage suggested that these women were intentionally seeking attention and deserved the public scrutiny they received.

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The Rules of the Internet: The rise of the internet during this period meant that the rules of the online world were being written in real-time. However, by the time Taylor Swift rose to fame, she understood these rules and knew how to navigate them. Swift’s ability to shape her own online presence and control her narrative set her apart from many of the women discussed in Ditum’s book. The power shift in celebrity culture allowed top-tier celebrities to have a direct line to their fans through social media, avoiding unfavorable coverage from traditional media outlets.

Relevance to Current Events: Ditum’s analysis of the 2000s sheds light on ongoing issues in today’s pop culture. While mainstream media has become more sensitive to misogyny, social media platforms still harbor hostility towards women. The trial of Tory Lanez for shooting Megan Thee Stallion exemplified this, with mainstream coverage sympathizing with Megan as a victim while social media reactions were hostile. Revenge porn and nonconsensual sharing of intimate images remain prevalent issues, highlighting the need for further examination and action.

Conclusion: The “Upskirt Decade” was a time of public ridicule and scrutiny for female celebrities, with the media framing them as villains seeking attention. Sarah Ditum’s book, Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s, offers a critical reassessment of this era and its impact on women like Janet Jackson and Britney Spears. While progress has been made since then, current events remind us that there is still work to be done in combating misogyny and protecting the privacy and dignity of women in the public eye.

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