Everyone on social media has an opinion on Kim Kardashian’s nude selfie this week. The problem is that critics are getting the conversation all wrong, and mistaking their resentment for something much more insidious: kontempt for Kim. What detractors are railing against isn’t Kim’s brazen flaunting of her body, but the culture of male desire that pervades imagery of women.
For posting the image of herself naked, Kim has been put on blast by celebrities like Chloe Moretz and Pink who have both pitted brains against beauty in a classic “role model” argument. Moretz (who seems to have since deleted her initial Tweet) wrote, “@KimKardashian I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than just our bodies.” Without actually naming Kim specifically (but the Kim shaped shadow being cast by her shade being very, very obvious), Pink took to Twitter to write, “Shout out to all of the women, across the world, using their brains, their strength, their work ethic, their talent, their ‘magic’ that they were born with, that only they possess. It may not ever bring you as much ‘attention’ or bank notes as using your body, your sex, your tits and asses, but women like you don’t need that kind of ‘attention.'”
Pink and Moretz, like other women knee-jerk reacting to Kim’s selfie online, have their hearts, essentially, in the right place. It is right to question the culture of objectification that still controls images of women. It is important to put value in women’s talents, brains, personalities--things other than their bodies. But there’s a fine line between seeking to promote dynamic femininity and totally dragging women who don’t conform to an arbitrary set of modesty rules to achieve this. Targeting Kim specifically and personally (even if Pink only implies it), is reductive, and just because one woman’s empowerment doesn’t look just like yours, it doesn’t mean she’s not entitled to it.
Kim herself seems to understand this better than most. On her site, she wrote an extended essay defending herself. She concludes her arguments by writing, “"The body-shaming and slut-shaming—it's like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality. You be you and let me be me. I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy. #happyinternationalwomensday". So before we take down Kim Kardashian, we should ask ourselves what it really is we’re upset about. We might find that what’s bothering us isn’t a powerful woman embracing her sexuality, but a more toxic culture that exists in tandem with it.
As we move towards a post-objectification society, wherein women are able to take control of the way they perform and display their sexuality, we need to let go of the notion that patriarchy and nudity go hand in hand. Yes, imagery of women is still problematic in the way its hyper sexualized to suit a male spectator, but when a woman takes the camera into her own hands and uses her full autonomy to present herself on her own terms, there’s power in that. Attacking Kim is a misplaced desire to curtail misogynist dominance over depictions of women, but just because one woman’s selfie reminds you of the sexual imagery men have created, it doesn’t negate the fact that this particular image was created by a woman, of herself. Not only is the selfie of Kim and by Kim, is depicts Kim watching herself in the mirror, taking over the passive role of sex object and becoming active spectator too. The selfie depicts Kim doing what women, historically, are told they are not to do: enjoy their own sexuality.
Instead of deriding Kim, we should be turning our attention to the powers that subjugate, rather than liberate female sexuality. We should be railing against the imagery that is created by and for men--for instance, the incessant advertising that has nothing to do with a nude woman and yet features her anyway to sell products like beer and cars to men; the unnamed, personality-less Hollywood damsel; or the faceless women who exist only to grind against male artists in music videos. We should be angry about kind of imagery that suggests women are only available for male pleasure--and can’t, as Kim’s selfie suggests, take pleasure in themselves. We shouldn't be fighting other women for finding empowerment in bodies whose sexualities have been constructed for us by masculine dictates, despite us physically inhabiting them. Kim lost her sexual autonomy when her sex tape was leaked, but she refused to be put down by an oppressive, slut shaming culture. Maybe she’s found empowerment in a different way than you would, but in a world where male desire still rules, a woman’s body displayed on her own terms and without apology is still a valuable tool for wresting some of that power back.