Last Thursday, September 22, notorious fashion industry scourge Vitalii Sediuk walked up behind model Gigi Hadid as she was leaving a fashion show in Milan, grabbed her from behind and lifted her off the ground. With impressive timing and solid execution, Hadid, who started taking boxing classes a couple of years ago, was able to free her left arm from his grasp and deliver a hard elbow to her attacker’s face. After following up with a verbal attack, she asked got into her car and asked her security team to go after him. It’s been a topic of trashy tabloid tittering, outrage, think pieces, and Hadid-penned defenses ever since.
There are a few reasons for the enduring popularity of the elbow heard ‘round the fashion world (and yes, over a week of attention does count as enduring for a hot take cycle):
First of all, it is intriguing.
With all due respect to Milla Jovovich’s film career and New York’s boxing classes for models trend, there’s still something a bit surprising about seeing a model, whose job is assumed to be largely decorative, engage in something as badass (in the parlance of our time) as elbowing an assailant in the face. The very act alone is enough is bound to spawn viral levels of coverage.
And this coverage did turn into a teachable moment of sorts, which extended its life in the news. Unable to resist the twin tawdry pleasures of overblown “scandal” and cheesy turns of phrases, the British tabloids jumped on the story with gleefully awful headlines like “Not Model Behaviour: Gigi Hadid aggressively lashes out and ELBOWS fan in the FACE after he tries to pick her up.”
This left Hadid in the unenviable position of having to defend her right to defend herself, and led to some frustrating but obviously still necessary discussions about how randomly assaulting famous woman—even when you declare that your stunts are really just lofty statements about our culture—is the work of predators, not performance artists. And how other people aren’t yours to touch and grab at will. “I’m a HUMAN BEING – and had EVERY RIGHT to defend myself. How dare that idiot thinks he has the right to man-handle a complete stranger,” Hadid tweeted in the days following the attack.
In a piece published in Lenny Letter last week, Hadid expanded on that idea: “Honestly, I felt I was in danger, and I had every right to react the way I did. If anything, I want girls to see the video and know that they have the right to fight back, too, if put in a similar situation. Practicing self-defense is important so that when you're in the moment, reacting from muscle memory comes more naturally to you than freezing up. Confidence in your own ability to defend yourself comes with educating yourself about it, and is a massive advantage when in an unsafe situation.”
It’s interesting to note that she uses the word “advantage” in this context, though, and hints at what really might be driving the continued fascination with the Hadid Elbow: there’s actually a perverse aspirational quality to all of this.
Not in the attack itself. To be very clear about this, there is nothing glamorous or admirable about a woman being touched, grabbed, or manhandled against her will. That’s assault, and no one aspires to be on the receiving end of that. But the ability to fight back and the circumstances under which she did are not without their appeal to people for whom self-defense in martial arts is far more than a cursory set of lessons taken to earn those first stripes on a white belt.
Hadid herself briefly touches upon the concept at the end of her Lenny Letter essay. “I know people are put in much worse situations every day and don't have the cameras around that provoke social-media support,” she admits. “I just want to use what happened to me to show that it's everyone's right, and it can be empowering, to be able to defend yourself.”
When a woman walking home alone at night at being attacked is one of the most common horror stories that you’re told since childhood, a woman walking to her car in broad daylight, surrounded by security and sympathetic people starts to look enviable by comparison.
And, when the very efficacy of the self-defense moves that you’ve armed yourself with over years of practice, fear, and anticipation are far from guaranteed to protect you in the heat of the moment in the real world—not to mention, as blogger Kitsutoshi point out in the brilliant post “Martial Arts delusion and how it hurts women,” rarely geared toward most of the actual threats that a woman will actually face in her life—there’s something intoxicating about an example like this.
An asshole felt entitled to a woman, for whatever reason, and grabbed her. She fought back and elbowed him in the face. He let go. She was safe. It might not be fodder for blockbuster action sequences or MMA highlight reals, but it’s the stuff of many of our most basic dreams.
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