The socially distanced MTV Video Music Awards will look very different this year, with no red carpet. But truly, no fashion do or don’t that Miley, Gaga, or any other attending superstar might have worn this year could top one of the most scandalous outfits in VMAs history: Rose McGowan’s see-through chainmail dress. 

The author, activist, and former actress tells Yahoo Entertainment that she always hated the paparazzi-crazed red carpet experience. “You have these big men, a hundred of them yelling at the top of their voice trying to get you to look at them, but your body doesn’t understand why it’s being screamed at and aggressed on. … I’m like, ‘I feel like I’m being shot with guns right now,’” she says. But when McGowan attended the 1998 VMAs with her boyfriend at the time, Marilyn Manson, she decided to make a bold red carpet statement anyway. However, most people had no idea about the real, serious statement she was making by showing all that skin.

“It was my first big public appearance after being sexually assaulted,” say McGowan, who has long alleged that Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997. “I just felt like, ‘Oh Hollywood, would you want a body just that you can use and throw away? Then I’ve got one for you!’ It was like at the end of Gladiator when he comes out and he’s like, ‘Are you not entertained?’ And if you look at me, I did it with power. I didn’t do it with my hand on my hip to be sexy. … Most of the women that are dressed like that on the red carpet, it’s a calculated, sexy move to turn people on. Mine was like, ‘I’m gonna f*** with your brain. I’m going to blow your brain up.’ And nobody had done it.”

McGowan says that Manson himself was one of the many people who didn’t understand the intention behind the mind-blowing garment. “[The Weinstein assault] happened before I went out with him. …I didn’t tell him because what happened,” she recalls. “I did tell him later — well, he found out because he would ask my friend, ‘What’s wrong with this girl? She wakes up screaming at night and soaking wet in the bed and the sheets are wet. She does it every night, like two or three times a night.’ I would have terrible nightmares, PTSD stuff. So, we had to talk about it then.”

Manson and McGowan were together for about three years and engaged for two, and while McGowan says he was “nasty, nasty, nasty” to her after their relationship ended (“That’s just male ego bulls*** with access to a microphone;  it was not cool”), they’ve since made amends. And she realizes that her time spent escaping into his rock ‘n’ roll world was “very instrumental in healing for me at that point, because I wanted to be young and free, and I felt so old. I had just been like working, it felt like, for so long and I’ve done like five movies in a row, and then the bad thing happened. And after that, I just wanted to run away with the circus and just feel free and have fun. And also because people are like sending him death threats all the time and all that — it was more about me protecting him. I could focus on him, instead of dealing with my own stuff.”

Looking back, McGowan has mixed feelings about her shocking VMAs fashion moment, through she doesn’t necessarily regret it. “It was kind of hard. I hadn’t really ever dealt with global media shaming. But it prepared me for later on it happening to me a whole bunch. It was also like, ‘Sorry you’re square and I’m not bummer,” she chuckles.

“I’m like, ‘Why did I do that?’ I’ve had to look at that. You know, when you do stuff sometimes on instinct and in a mood, like when a mood overtakes you on, you analyze what it was that brought you to that mood or that choice. So, I’ve certainly had a lot of time to analyze and I’m looking at the timeline. But I completely understand why I did what I did.”

Rose McGowan is making music herself these days, recently releasing the experimental, meditative debut album Planet 9. Below, check out her full Yahoo Entertainment interview about that album, her career, her retreat from Hollywood, and her activism. The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards will take place this Sunday, Aug. 30.

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