I initially titled this “In Defence of Kim Kardashian” but given that she doesn’t make apologies for herself, I don’t see why I should.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of calling Kim Kardashian horrible things in the past. In my pre-feminist, unenlightened teen years a combination of naïve prudishness and envy made me judgemental, bitter and rather short-sightedly cruel. Thankfully I met people at university who were cleverer than me and took a crowbar to my closed mind, cranking it open and teaching me to look at the world very differently.
Kim Kardashian is pretty much always in the headlines for one reason or another, whether she’s changed her hair, taken her daughter to ballet or simply left the house that day. This week she’s trending because she popped a photo up on instagram of her naked but for two black censor bars over her nips and foof. Surprise, surprise, people have opinions about this. Mostly negative ones. In my lunchroom at work people were laughing about her “attention seeking” and calling her “talentless”. I may have schooled them.
It seems that most people have conveniently forgotten that Kim Kardashian is the victim of some of the most lucrative revenge porn in history. As is almost always the case when men release videos of women committing sex acts (whether the woman consents to these acts or the filming thereof) Kim has been shamed, ridiculed and dismissed as trashy. Wagging fingers cast her as the cautionary tale and say things like “if you’re going to play with fire you’re going to get burned” as if this analogy even fits the situation. Even in cases where the woman didn’t know she was being filmed or was even conscious during the event, it’s always the woman (or in some appalling cases young girls) who bear the brunt of the blame.
The narrative for the aftermath of abuse, and revenge porn is abuse whether it features a celebrity or not, is supposed to follow an unspoken protocol. The woman involved should keep a low profile, and speak only when spoken to. Her family should release statements on her behalf asking for privacy and talking about the shame, the hurt, the trauma of it all. Victims are meant to act as society sees victims: eyes downcast, modestly dressed, quietly broken. Of course, Kim defied this shitty, sexist convention and did the opposite.
Maybe Kim Kardashian wouldn’t have chosen to have been thrown into the spotlight off the back of a badly-lit home movie, but that’s what happened. She didn’t let it shame her into obscurity, she didn’t let it cause her ruin. She built an empire from it. She made a career out of the body that was shared with the world without her permission.
What I really don’t understand is the rampant double standards here. The misery-lit genre makes millions from the abuse of adults and children alike. If Kim had written a book entitled “How Could He Do This?” would we still dismiss her? Maybe not. She would be capitalising on pity and shame, which is just as exploitative, the difference is that she would be leaving the power with her abuser, and for some reason society find that concept a lot easier to swallow than her self-empowerment.
The thing is, even if Kim hadn’t got her initial fame, or notoriety, the way she did, I would still whole-heartedly support her right to get all kinds of naked for photographs if she wants to. She’s an adult. She’s not walking up and down the street forcing strangers to look at her nudes. She’s not sending them to children. The only difference between Kim’s instagram shots and “tasteful art shots” of scantily-clad starlets in magazines is that Kim is taking wholesale ownership of the photographs, and for some reason this makes her less worthy of admiration and acceptance. You only need to look at her, frankly rather measured, response to Chloe Grace Moretz’s attempt to slam her to see that even people who have participated in near-nude photoshoots are keen to invalidate Kim’s self-portraits (doesn’t that sounds better than “selfie”?) Maybe the fact that Chloe’s expression on her next-to-naked magazine cover is sort of sad and reproachful makes it ok?
Speaking of portraits, we as a species have been celebrating naked bodies for centuries. People pay good money to see naked people in all kinds of materials, from paintings and photographs to sculptures as high as houses. You don’t see people tutting at the Venus de Milo and saying, “That girl must have had no self-respect, getting her baps out for someone to carve in marble. She must be some kind of attention-seeking whore.” Even though (and here is the real kicker) art historians say that the majority of women who posed for these statues were literal prostitutes and it’s likely that the woman depicted in the Venus de Milo was as well. Yet the statue has been celebrated for thousands of years, and Kim’s selfies attract ridicule and insults. This is because it’s completely ok for men to commodify and celebrate a woman’s body, without even naming her, but it’s another thing entirely for a woman to celebrate herself.
Empowered and self-confident women are routinely undermined, mocked, and insulted both by individuals and the mainstream media. This is because they are seen as threatening.
While Lady Gaga is lauded for her music about her rape (and rightly so) and people publicly stand by Kesha (again, completely rightfully), Kim is dismissed as trashy because she uses her body as her art form. Beyoncé or Diane Kruger can go to an awards ceremony in a dress comprised of about the same amount of lace as a decorative hanky and be praised for their “brave fashion choices” but if Kim wore the same thing she’d be dragged for it.
Would I want to be Kim Kardashian? No, probably not. But there is a lot to learn from her strength, her attitude and her defiance. In a world where women are “supposed” to wither away from shame after being exploited like Kim was, it’s refreshing and powerful to see someone who rebels against that expectation so wilfully and so publicly.