The latest trend for female news anchors is to ditch the sleeves.
And not everyone is liking it.
Slate writes that the female newscaster of today does sexy in a very specific way. It is sleeveless sexy, an age-defying, loose-skin-defying means of telling the world that she worked out this morning and every morning, long before she went to hair and makeup and started broadcasting the nation’s news, long before viewers even considered waking up.
The sleeveless sheath dress, now ubiquitous on cable and local news, and especially beloved by morning news programs, is as much a uniform for TV newswomen as androgyny was in the mid-’90s, when boxy blazers and short hair reigned. Only seven years ago, when Katie Couric took over theCBS Evening News, critics worried whether she might be scandalizing the nation by showing too much leg. Now, legs are the least of it. They’ve been joined by bare arms and dresses so form-fitting that Couric has said many of her colleagueslook like they’re going “clubbing.” The seriousness of the news (OK, seriousness sometimes) has been completely decoupled from the seriousness of the attire of the women presenting it. Only in this precise sartorial moment could Melissa Harris-Perry, the eggheady Tulane professor who has her own show on MSNBC, tackle the angsty politics of black hair in a fitted, halter-neck dress suited to a night out in the meatpacking district.
The sleeveless look is especially jarring this time of year. On Fox News, which has long pushed the sex appeal of its female talent further than other networks, it is typical to see a suited man next to a woman outfitted for lunch on some sunny Roman piazza, as if the colleagues are dressed not only for widely disparate occasions but for different climates as well. On Today, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb are typically sleeveless, sitting before windows that showcase people bundled up against the Manhattan cold. They also love to get loaded, on-air, well before the lunch hour. They are TV women, after all, observing rules neither of time nor of space.
There’s a reason why the women of TV news have embraced sleevelessness while treading carefully in matters like cleavage (sexy weather reporters aside). Bare arms read as a kind of smart-sexy, a look that women in positions of authority can pull off. Michelle Obama is responsible for this, as are socialites of the Manhattan cocktail circuit, for whom bare arms long ago became a currency of wealth and fitness. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Chris Jansing are fans of the look, as is CBS’s Gayle King, and CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. Fit arms are about control, a state of poised strength you work at—so much so that supermarket magazines have accused Madonna and Angelina Jolie of pushing their exercise regimes too far, featuring their ropy, veiny biceps right next to close-ups of some other unfortunate’s cellulite. But if cellulite and cleavage can read as sloppy, toned arms are the very opposite; they’re all about intention and control. Which is why newswomen get to show them off. They are appropriate for early risers and Ivy League overachievers—the sexiness of success rather than vulnerability.
And yet. It’s telling that we now expect sexy at all from our TV newswomen. We haven’t always. Beauty, sure. When Diane Sawyer appeared in the ’80s in an off-the-shoulder evening dress on the cover of Vanity Fair, the decision caused such a stir that she was moved to remind a reporter that “there were no tassels involved.” But if you look back at images of newswomen from the ’80s and ’90s, they were notable for what they didn’t show. When MSNBC launched in 1996, Couric covered everything but her face, wearing a turtleneck under her beige blazer for the virgin broadcast. And women who’ve been on the air for decades tend not to go bare, either because they think it inappropriate to do so at their age or because they were schooled at a time when TV reporters didn’t do such things. In either case, clothing confers dignity. You can’t imagine Christiane Amanpour leveraging her erotic capital on the air.