British actress Emma Watson is facing a backlash on social media after she appeared "topless" in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine.

The 26-year-old posed in an elaborately designed open top, which partially exposes her chest, in the image taken by photographer Tim Walker.

The bold photo prompted some Twitter users to question Watson's brand of feminism, with many accusing her of being 'a hypocrite".

A champion for gender equality Watson helped launch the UN Women HeForShe campaign and has been vocal in decrying inequalities in Hollywood.

In March 2015, she said she was left "raging" after a website threatened to post nude photos of her. The actress said she believed she was targeted for the feminist views she espoused.

Now however, Watson is facing criticism from the public over the Vanity Fair image. One Twitter user wrote: "Feminist: Page 3 girls? Topless? Ban them! Emma Watson topless? Brave and Stunning! #hypocrisy".

Others defended her with one commentator saying "feminism is about giving women free choice".

"I don't always agree with her, but does exposing a body part really contradict feminist points?" observed another.

In the interview with Vanity Fair, Watson opens up about her metamorphosis from child star to leading woman and addresses the issue of privacy, revealing that she refuses to reveal details of her private life in order to be "consistent".

"I can't talk about my boyfriend in an interview and then expect people not to take paparazzi pictures of me walking around outside my home. You can't have it both ways," she said.

"I used to be scared of words like 'feminism,' 'patriarchy,' 'imperialist.' But I'm not anymore," she added.

Watson stars as Belle in the live-action remake of The Beauty And The Beast. Describing her modern interpretation of the character she said: "Belle is absolutely a Disney princess. But she's not a passive character - she's in charge of her own destiny."