A thing happened this morning, regarding Jessica Biel, and I got feelings.

I don’t like Biel. I think she’s one of the most wooden actresses working today, and she’s skated by on her admittedly-lovely bone structure for pretty much the duration. If you want to criticize her wedding to a total jackass and their total-jackass wedding slideshow debacle, you absolutely should, because that shit was not okay! If you want to criticize her non acting, I will be right there with you – it is her chosen craft, and she is bad at it. Proceed!

I also enjoy armchair-quarterbacking red carpets, because the publicity machine at work behind actors’ careers is often more interesting than their actual careers, and because so many people are involved with styling at the red-carpet level that the outfits are generally interesting to look at (generally), and telltale about what the press machine is like.

What the press machine is like, generally: Yikes.

Jennifer Lawrence, a talented actress both pretty and shapely, recently cashed in her We’re Gonna Talk About This Shit card as regards Hollywood’s feelings about her looks (““In Hollywood, I’m obese”), and her fight against it, pointing out that she doesn’t want girls to skip meals trying to emulate Katniss.

This is far from the only constraint Hollywood puts on actresses; they’re under as much pressure as any other manufactured product. Women’s bodies are public property to begin with. Actresses are objects as much as artists, and their primary job often isn’t to act, but to allure. Red carpets give positive reinforcement for wearing sexy clothes (you get written up for looking great, or for looking tacky, but press is press). And this isn’t the fault of any actress, but of the system and its consequences.

The immobile face of Nicole Kidman is testament to Hollywood’s demand that its stars look young; the dearth of roles for women over 40 sidelines them even if they do manage to hang on to a wrinkle-free dermis (until you can play mothers; movies still need those). Viola Davis cashed in her We’re Gonna Talk About This Shit card regarding roles for women of color in Hollywood on the Oscar circuit. (Hint: Good luck finding any.)

This is important. Young women are under crushing pressure to perform to an impossible ideal in their looks, their manners, their words. Girls who don’t are called tomboys, or shrill, or an number of colorful words – feminine ideals being so entrenched that any deviation necessitates a separate terminology. (Ekaterina Sedia often dissects the uneasy intersections of feminism and style that this leaves behind.)

The stress in Hollywood to conform to these ideals reappears in the pressure that’s put on other young women to conform, creating a vicious cycle of superhuman expectations, and the press machine’s role in this is ever-present. Is this actress too fat? Nope, she dieted now she’s too thin. Too sexy! Wait, now she’s not being sexy; she looks a little old. (Here, every actress trembles; “she looks old” is a death knell.)

The endless canvas of young thin white women that this machine produces, therefore, poses a constant, silent question; if they can look so lithe and pale and lovely and youthful for us, it implies, why the hell can’t you?

Am I using this to lead into a huge expose about how Jessica Biel has chronic hunger and was chained to a Soloflex throughout her career? Nope. That’s something she’ll never be in a position to say. (Jennifer Lawrence is media-darling enough to address it; Viola Davis is in that choice career moment where her words will actually see print. Jessica Biel, hovering between B- and C-list, will, like almost every other actress, grin and bear it.)

And what happened is a small thing. And yet.

Here is a thing Jessica Biel wore to the premiere of Hitchcock:

I know, right? There are about one hundred things you could say about this appearance in this pantsuit. Those new bangs dramatically change the look of her face, and not in a way that you want when your face is your stock in trade. The makeup is actively working against her features; if you want to go big I am with you, but this makeup is so bad it looks like I applied it.

Her pantsuit is not beyond saving, but as presented, it looks like an extremely glittery version of that chenille sweater you had in middle school where it started to fall apart after two wears and ended up just a bare weave with occasional chenille patches, so you looked like an extra from Oliver when you wore it. The top, which is beautifully cut, might look better with plain white pants – raggedy tinsel head to toe is not the best arrangement – but there’s no telling. The shoes look like they were constructed in an emergency from strips of rhinestone doily.

It’s not a great look! There is a lot you can say!

This is what Yahoo! News said:

Font-page headline: “Biel disappoints in a far-from sexy pantsuit.” (Yes, this is front-page news. Don’t know what to tell you.)

Here, a young, pretty, toned, white woman has gotten polished for a red carpet; she has done everything she can. But man, that actress market is really coming to bear, isn’t it? There’s the very personal turn of phrase that Biel has “disappointed,” as if she sent out cards promising “Dress code’s Bikinis and Blahniks, everybody! xoxo” and all the photographers are standing there in board shorts and spike heels feeling silly.

We also get “frumpy.” Given that the red carpet is part of an actor’s job, I understand the expectation that you look good. But the definition of ‘good’ for a red carpet is: Showered, wearing suitable clothes, relatively unwrinkled, with an indication that you understood face- and hair-wise that you were going to be in front of a camera fulfilling the promotional obligations of your contract.

Male actors get to stop there; if they wear dark jeans, a button-down, and a jacket, they are free from 99% of criticism. If they go above and beyond and wear a suit, the crowd goes wild. I’m willing to wager you rarely hear, “Stunning hottie Clive Owen didn’t show enough chest at the premiere of his latest.”

Jessica Biel has upheld her literal and her silent contracts by showing up in a thought-out, fancy outfit with hair and makeup done. If it was so ugly it deserved the front page of Yahoo! for being ugly, then that’s a decision she and her stylists have to handle. Worst-dressed lists happen.

However, she made the front page of Yahoo! for “disappointing” by not wearing something sexy enough. That’s pretty explictly saying that Biel-as-product has malfunctioned, and I’m just going to go ahead and call bullshit on that. Famous or not, on a red carpet or not, young or not, “not sexy” and “disappointing” are not equivalent, and if you think it is, then there are a lot of problems here, and what she’s wearing just isn’t one of them.