Last night, Pretty Little Liars aired its seventh (and possibly final) season premiere, moving on from doing every shady thing under the sun in Rosewood to figuring out who old archvillain A is to figuring out who new archvillain A.D. is to possibly committing first-degree murder. As I was watching this episode, titled "Tick Tock, Bitches" (because the Liars only have 24 hours to save Hanna from getting killed, but also because the viewers are tired of this plot line), I couldn't help but wonder: Why was Hanna in her panties and a tank top the whole time? Why did this episode feel like a creepy Spring Breakers-themed horror porn movie?
Just as female superheroes are routinely forced to fight in heels and sometimes skirts, the Pretty Little Liars can't be in danger without creepy sexual undertones to the scene. They still have perfect hair, manicured nails, and faces full of makeup, because the show conflates being held captive with sexiness—a gross fetishization of female weakness and vulnerability. Of course, there's nothing wrong with dressed-up, glammed-out women (we look great, duh!), but the idea that female characters can't be in peril (or do literally anything) on a movie or television show without being visually appealing to a male gaze creates an unrealistic representation of women. That's especially damaging on a show that's targeted to teenage girls.
This isn't the first time the Liars have been stripped of their clothing in a time of distress for no good reason. In the first episode of season six, Hanna, Spencer, Aria and Emily woke up in the "Dollhouse," Cece Drake's evil basement lair, naked on a mortuary table. Why? Because A wanted their families to think they were dead—but aside from being naked under a sheet, they didn't even look dead (hair still intact, faces unscathed). There have also been multiple episodes where the girls felt the need to disguise themselves as sexy, vintage nurses and candy stripers, even though modern-day nurses and candy stripers don't wear anything like those outfits anymore. And even in some hospital scenes—for instance, when Hanna is rushed to the ER after being hit by a car—a Liar's makeup will remain perfect even while she's unconscious.
In last night's episode, Hanna is trapped in an abandoned wooden farmhouse, scantily clad and screaming for help. Her clothing was ostensibly taken away because A.D. needed to dress the dummy version of Hanna (long story), but STILL.
Then there's the photo that A.D. sent to Hanna's friends. It looks less like a picture of someone traumatized by a kidnapping than a photo shoot for a sexy Halloween-inspired magazine spread. Hanna's hair is perfectly tousled, like she sprayed on Bumble and Bumble sea-salt spray minutes before, her manicure doesn't have a single chip, and there are no signs of distress except for the random bruise on her lip. I don't understand why Hanna couldn't just have a moment to look absolutely insane… She's been stuck in an abandoned house with no food or water for the past four days!
There's also an odd scene where Hanna gets hosed down with either water or gasoline and then electrocuted. It's shot as if through night vision and it looks like a wet T-shirt contest in a haunted house. Everything gets wet except her face, and her hair gets just damp enough to achieve an even beachier wet and wavy style. (Seriously, did Bumble and Bumble sponsor this episode?) And most troublingly, there's a lot of focus on certain body parts. In one scene that actually made my mouth drop wide open, there is at least a 45-second shot of Hanna's cleavage while she's sleeping. The angle is unnecessary and just plain creepy. Later, when she wakes up, the camera is focused on her arched back and butt.
Pretty Little Liars relies so heavily on this damsels-in-distress trope that it was a breathe of fresh air when Hanna, not her sadboy ex-lover Caleb, actually manages to save herself. And for that, I will keep watching. Now that Hanna escaped and hitched a ride with Mary Drake (possibly A.D.), is she at least going to give her some clothes?
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.