Kim Kardashian was out in the nip again. That’s hardly newsworthy, though the internet predictably went nuts. Here’s the image. Rest assured that it was censored to avoid the rath of Instagram’s posting guidelines, not for quaint old things like modesty. Though it’s not like we haven’t seen every inch of Kim’s naked self before. Not to mention that 50% of the population live in female bodies, and the other 50% have seen it all before. (Possible exception of gay men, though I’d wager that most have also seen a naked lady at least once.)
And yet, Kim had the audacity to share her nakedness with us (again) and on international women’s day, no less, a day when we’re all supposed to be earnestly hoping for the women’s rights.
I’ve never seen The Kardashians. I don’t say that snobbishly; I haven’t had a TV for 10+ years. I spent one hungover, lazy day in the early 00s watching reality TV and found it shouty and dull. (It also left me with a mild emotional hangover of not-enough-ness that made me want to steer clear in future.) I get my Kardashian knowledge from Call Your Girlfriend which treats it with a kind of playful reverence that feels just right.
I’m hardly a fan, but the reflexive dismissal of the Kardashian universe as anti-feminist and vapid bothers me. The presumption that entertainment enjoyed almost exclusively by women is stupid and corrosive to society bothers me.
Kim K has become a lightening rod for the usual things we don’t like to see women be:
- shamelessly naked and/or sexual (nakedness does not always mean sexual, but don’t let that get in the way of a good internet controversy)
- rich, powerful and traditionally beautiful all at the same time
- “famous for being famous” (Nonsense – like it or not, she has built a vast and influential brand.)
- attention seeking, overly confident, an over-sharer.
- obsessed with money, status, appearances.
- As always, our collective reaction says more about us than it does about her.
On one level, the hoopla is a classic case of slut shaming, another way to police women’s bodies. Further proof that female sexuality is threatening and dangerous and therefore that it must be kept private, tempered with heavy doses of shame. Sure female sexuality isn’t even a real thing unless provoked by a lusty, virile man!
Kim is idolised by a generation who grew up on bad internet porn and cheesy romantic comedies, each of which presents a very warped view of love, sex and romance. The sexualisation of women and especially girls has very real psychological consequences. It’s harmful for men too – who get the shock of their lives when they realise that women IRL do not look the same as women online. (Eds note: poor little lambs!)
She is not an unproblematic role model. Her “empowerment” schtick is a bridge too far. (Power over empowerment, please). But of course, the women who admire her can do so critically. Complicated women make better role models than uncomplicated ones. Her romantic missteps, her quasi functional family, her sex tape, her brand is about striving for aspirational amidst the imperfection. It’s about access, not scarcity. The selfie is her primary medium. (And selfies can be art!)
There are countless mind numbingly forms of entertainment enjoyed (predominantly) by the menfolk which are subject to no such sneering: sports, video games, that crazy wrestling thing where everyone gets all puffed up and brawl like animals. These are pointless things too, but they are rarely sneered at. And if they are, it is the ACTIVITY that is critiqued, not the men who enjoy it.
It’s the reflexiveness of the Kardashian dislike that bothers me, the veracity that she represents a fundamental erosion of decency. The K clan have become a punchline for all that’s wrong with the world, a criticism that extends to the women (& it’s mostly women) who enjoy the K brand of content and culture. Women who, owing to their K fandom, are deemed to be unserious.
Kim exploits the patriarchal system that rewards a very narrow ideal of female beauty. She manages her brand astutely and has become a cultural powerhouse. She (perhaps more than anyone else) sets and shapes the internet feminism agenda. Women have been exploiting their sexuality for as long as men have been falling for it. (aka forever; hey there Adam and Eve). Kim has business savvy & internet smarts (the new book smart). She navigated from sex tape to the cover of Vogue – that takes a certain level of brand prowess. I’ll defend her right to parade her naked ass all over the internet if she so chooses. I won’t be paying attention, but millions of others will be.