Monday, March 14, 2016

Illuminations 3.14.16

Taking Back What's Ours: The Female Body in the Media

Earlier this week Kim Kardashian posted a nude selfie. Despite Kim's history of nude photoshoots and the collection of nudes in her book Selfie, this newest picture sent the internet into a flurry and encited comments from various celebrities telling Kim to "cover up" because she's a mother and/or a "role model" and should respect herself. Kim has since reminded the world that she is an adult and sould be able to show off her body if she is so inclined.

This ridiculous series of events is evidence that we as a society do not think that women own their own bodies.

While this isn't (or shouldn't be) news to anyone reading this, it's easy to brush under the rug or forget about. It's also easy to compare the present to the past, to see all of the battles that have been fought and won, and to think that there isn't much more to accomplish.

This week there was a Victoria's Secret Swim Special on CBS. From what I can gather, the special consisted mostly of models frolicking on a beach in bikinis. The special is currently under fire because it did not feature plus size models, which seems especialy unfortunate given that Sports Illustrated put a plus size model on their ocver for the first time. No one, however, is complaining that these women are exposing their bodies.

So why is that celebritites come out of the woodwork to tell Kim to cover up, but celebrate Ashley Graham's Sports Illustrated cover? The answer lies in the medium and in the audience. Kim's selfie was taken by her, posted by her, and in the end, is for her. She posted a picture of her body because she felt confident and wanted to celebrate herself. Ashley Graham's cover exists within the Sports Illustrated canon. The swimsuit edition is and has been a product specifically developed for the Male Gaze. While it has attempted to align with the Body Positivity movement, the magazine, at the end of the day, is for male consumption. While the appearance of a plus-size model is and will be influential in media portrayal of diverse bodies, and while Graham should not be shamed for appearing in a way that caters to the male gaze, the infrastructure of Sports Illustrated cannot be ignored. Ashley Graham's feelings--whether that are grounded in confidence and celebration or insecurity--are irrelevant to the intended audience. The magazine is not for her.

These cases show that a women's nudity is culturally sanctioned when their is a prescribed audience, and when there are other players involved. The Victoria's Secret Special is an interesting example of this--as a women's underwear company, they have the platform to embrace body positivity and exist as a pro-women instituition, but instead their marketing has become all about the sexual aspects. In many ways, they are marketing more to men than to women. The women who walk Victoria's Secret runways are made famous--Giselle Bundchen, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, these are all household names. These women are mothers, they're role models, but no one tells them to "cover up." How is their choice to walk down a runway in lingerie any different from Kim's photo on twitter.  Why is one of those acts morally reprehensible and the other a legitimate career?

The circumstances under which a women chooses to expose her body should not be policed. Women old or young, mothers or models or anything else, should be able to make their own choices about how much clothing they choose to wear or not to wear without being told to "cover up." Women own their own bodies, not the Male Gaze, or lingerie companies, or random Twitter users.

Nudity is just one aspect of a many fronted battle women are currently waging to take ownership of their bodies back from the culture. It may seem relatively petty: who cares if millionaire Kim Kardashian has to fight off some Twitter trolls? (Especially given the Kardashian-Jenner clan's history of slut-shaming other women) But the reaction to Kim's nude selfie is evidence of a much larger issue, and repercussions are far reaching. A woman has a right to own herself.


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