Are nude selfies an indication of how far women have come or an indicator of how far we still have to go?
On March 7th, Kim Kardashian did something that, at this point, should be completely underwhelming: she posted a nearly nude Instagram selfie. As a celebrity with a popular sex tape and spreads in Playboy and Paper in which she posed fully nude, a censored Instagram selfie should not, it would seem, have been a big deal. And yet… it was.
Not to men, it seems. They probably double tapped that pic and kept scrolling. But women had very mixed reactions.
Actress Chloe Moretz fired the first shot, tweeting to Kim, “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.” Singer Pink then posted on her Twitter feed, “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.’ ” Even actress/singer Bette Midler expressed her disapproval: “Kim Kardashian tweeted a nude selfie today. If Kim wants us to see a part of her we’ve never seen, she’s gonna have to swallow the camera.”
But model Amber Rose fired back, claiming, “…please as a grown woman let another grown woman live as she wishes. That’s our problem! We’re so quick to down each other instead of uplifting!” Actress Bella Thorne agreed with her: “I think every woman should be allowed to make their own choices with their own bodies…” Another actress, Ariel Winter, also tweeted, “I think everyone, men and women, should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies–and not be criticized.”
So which is it? Should Kim be celebrated for her shamelessness or panned for her need for attention? Is Kim helping the feminist movement by posing nude or is she hindering the movement by reducing women to sexual objects? Which side should a proper feminist be on?
A lot of people criticize “feminism” because of its complexity. The March 12th episode of Saturday Night Live captured this air of confusion in a sketch titled, “This is Not A Feminist Song.” The song is about a group of women who tried to write a feminist song but quickly became overwhelmed by the pressure and backed out. The song is hilarious because it’s true.
Feminism is subtle, complicated, and nuanced. This makes it an easy target for critics, both men and women alike, and encourages many women to simply write off the entire concept altogether, as they are unwilling or unable to navigate the muddy waters of the issue. But feminism is also instinctual. It is a gut feeling.
If you follow Kim Kardashian on Twitter, you’re not a feminist. I’m just kidding. If you do follow her and you scrolled past that picture, how did it make you feel? Did you feel so proud at how far women have come? Did you feel excited for the day you post a naked selfie on Instagram? Did you laugh at how brazen she is? If so, then this picture was feminist to you. Anything that makes you feel empowered as a woman, is inherently feminist.
However, if that picture made you roll your eyes (or maybe just the caption did… we know you have plenty to wear Kim) or feel inadequate, then no, it’s not feminist to you. And I have a feeling that the majority of women who saw this picture did not feel better about themselves.
Donald Trump is so popular with so many people partially because they claim he “tells it like it is.” He is the opposite of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and—especially—feminism. But feminism is nothing if not truthful and the truth of Kim’s photo lies in its intentions. Was she intending to encourage more women to feel comfortable in their skin? Was she intending to make people laugh with her pithy little caption? Was she intending to inspire women in any way?
No. No she wasn’t. We all know what she was intending. She wanted to remind both men and women (but especially men) how sexually attractive she has molded her body to be. Some may think she was trying to show off a post-baby body, but Kim herself admitted that the picture was an old one, before she got pregnant with Saint. So, in all likelihood, she was feeling insecure about her actual post-baby body and needed some reassurance that she was, and therefore still can be, sexy. Not beautiful, mind you. Not elegant. Sexy was what she was assuredly going for.
Needing assurance from strangers that you are still sexy despite having a child is the opposite of feminism. So no, this picture is not to be applauded and celebrated as a sign of how far women have come and how comfortable we are in our bodies. We’re more uncomfortable than ever, largely in part because of mental comparisons women have become accustomed to making (Who wore it better?). However, if Kim had been honest about her attentions and admitted to needing some support in a self-critical moment… now that would have been admirable. Feminism is about being genuine and earnest; two things Kim has never been accused of.
So, yes, women need to support other women. And yes, women should be free to do whatever they wish with their bodies. But just because a female did it, doesn’t make it a feminist thing to do.
Illustration by Felicia Chang