The Beauty and the Beast star, 26, sat down with Reuters to address to controversy, stating that feminism was all about choice.
“It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is,” said the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and pioneer of the #HeForShe campaign. “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my t—s have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”
She continued, “I’m confused. Most people are confused. No, I’m just always just quietly stunned.”
In one shot from the Vanity Fair issue, photographed by acclaimed fashion photographer Tim Walker, Watson posed topless with a white shawl draped over her shoulders, sparking backlash from some critics.
“Emma Watson: ‘Feminism, feminism… gender wage gap… why oh why am I not taken seriously… feminism… oh, and here are my t--s!’ ” wrote one radio host on Twitter.
“We’d been doing so many crazy things on that shoot but it felt incredibly artistic and I’ve been so creatively involved and engaged with Tim and I’m so thrilled about how interesting and beautiful the photographs were,” Watson said of the photo shoot.
The former Harry Potter actress was promoting Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, in which she stars as Belle.
“In the 1991 film, Belle was a real breakthrough among Disney heroines,” director Bill Condon tells PEOPLE. “But obviously a lot has happened in 25 years. We wanted to make sure that she remained a feminist figure and someone who looks to the future.”
Watson and Condon added dimension to Belle, such as giving the book-loving character a passion for helping other women.
“In the original film she’s someone who loves reading, and in this film, she’s equally concerned with teaching other girls how to read,” he says.
And Condon says it’s no accident that many of Belle’s new characteristics reflect Watson’s in real life.
“It’s interesting how when we would think of ideas for Belle, it was like, ‘Wow that’s what is doing in her own life,’ ” he says.