Last week, the Internet exploded after Kim Kardashian West posted a (censored) nude selfie taken in a bathroom mirror, captioned “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL.” Kim Kardashian West has of course appeared nude or semi-nude in plenty of platforms before. But I guess something about it being a bathroom selfie, rather than an airbrushed and well-lit magazine photo, sparked such an intense reaction. What followed was a fascinating study in the policing of women’s bodies, with moral-panic-over-female-nudity and slut-shaming abound.
Besides the average run-of-the-mill Twitter outrage, the post sparked some reactions from celebrities that mostly got attention because Kim took the time to respond to them (hilariously). Piers Morgan wrote, “I know the old man’s $50 million in debt, Kim — but this is absurd. Want me to buy you some clothes?” Kim responded: “hey @piersmorgan never offer to buy a married woman clothes. thats on some ashley madison type shit #forresearch.” What was notable was not so much Morgan’s joke but the full length article in the Daily Mail he wrote after apparently taking offense to her response.
The article was called: “You’ve still got a great body Kim, but if you’re really so successful, so secure and so rich why do you still feel the need to pose nude at 35?” Morgan went on to suggest that Kim posted the photo in an act of desperation, for fear of losing the spotlight to her younger sisters — and oh, that Kim had not really posted her snappy insults to her critics herself, but that Kanye had taken control of her Twitter. The not-only-sexist-but-agist article operates under the obviously problematic assumptions that women must be insecure if they display their bodies and seek attention, that women over 30 need to let go of the spotlight because their time is clearly over and that respectability is mutually exclusive with nudity.
When people bash the Kardashians, it almost always feels sexist, because I feel like what they are really bashing is the supposedly awful, self-obsessed, social-media-addicted (female) Millennial culture that everybody loves to hate. So I almost have to admire the way they unashamedly embrace selfies, beauty tricks, vanity and more, because anything that is coded feminine is usually devalued. And I also appreciate how she’s never tried to hide just how much work it takes to look the way she does, posting frequently about all the “behind-the-scenes” elements of Hollywood beauty rather than pretending it is effortless. She popularized contouring by being open about its usefulness in manipulating your facial structure. A few weeks ago on Instagram she posted a picture of herself using her “red carpet cleavage tape trick,” and she has talked about getting laser treatments, chemical peels, botox and lots of other painful-sounding beauty treatments. You can’t say she doesn’t suffer for her art, or for her business. One of my favorite responses in the aftermath of Kim’s post was by Twitter user @TwoScooters, who wrote in response to a common criticism lobbed against Kim: “‘She’s just professionally beautiful.’ Ok but so’s the Mona Lisa, it’s worth millions, which do you think took longer to create? More work?”
People who criticize the Kardashians as being desperate for attention, vapid or stupid also forget that they are, above all, a family of very hard-working entrepreneurs sitting on top of a giant female-run business empire around their brand. Sure, you can take issue with the capitalist system/unearned privilege that allowed them to get to where they are and become millionaires, but they’re really not any different than any other business moguls in that way — they just commodify their bodies in a more direct way than we are accustomed to women doing. But they have the right to do that.
I see no reason why any of the criticisms against Kim need to be gendered in nature or tied to the fact that she is a mother, predicated on antiquated ideas of how “respectable” women should act. While Kim can obviously take care of herself, Twitter harassment and abuse directed toward women is a very real issue. The aforementioned twitter user @Twoscooters, after a bunch of tweets in support of Kim, a few hours later, tweeted: “Today I’ve been called a slut, whore, stupid, bitchy, a feminazi, etc just for saying @KimKardashian is legit. I feel bad for HER mentions.”
No, sexism against Kim Kardashian West is not the most important feminist issue, by a long shot. But feminism is definitely not about policing the choices women make about how to display their own bodies. Especially at a time when revenge porn is a thing, and stealing and leaking nude images of women has such devastating power — Kim herself was a victim of this — maybe Kim Kardashian West taking back the power into her own hands by posting nude photos of herself is a feminist act.
Katie O’Brien is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Midnight Radio runs alternate Mondays this semester.