By Alice Koski
A body is just a body. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’, ‘naughty’ or ‘offensive’ about that. However, when it comes to women’s bodies being shown in the media, these are the kinds of words that get used. Our view of women’s bodies has been so confused and twisted that we hardly know what to think when a woman decides to show herself naked in the media. Is she brave, empowered and confident, or has she just degraded herself?
When the nude photos of Kim Kardashian for Paper Magazine were released late last year, it was all I saw on Twitter for about a week. And although a few people shared positive opinions of the photos, the majority of tweeters and commenters reacted negatively and nastily to Kim’s decision to bare all. Many called her trashy and said that a nude shoot was unsuitable because she’s a mum.
Calling Kim’s photos ‘trashy’ or ‘classless’ just because she’s naked in them shows people’s attitudes towards women’s nudity – a woman who shows her body is immediately judged as having no self-respect or self-worth. It’s also alarming that people think Kim shouldn’t be posing nude just because she’s a now a mum. How Kim wishes to present herself and her body is up to her and no one else – motherhood doesn’t change that. Mothers are scrutinised so much more than fathers in the media and pressured to appear ‘respectable’. Where are the people telling David Beckham to cover up his abs in those underwear ads? He’s got three kids! Oh right… it doesn’t apply to men.
I’m not claiming that these photos of Kim Kardashian are completely unproblematic. It’s just that it’s not her nudity that’s the problem. It’s the fact that she is portrayed in an unrealistic, sexualised way. Naked women are automatically sexualised and Kim hasn’t tried to avoid this – if you haven’t seen the photos, she’s covered in baby oil (which lead to comparisons of her to a glazed donut – insulting and commodifying). Furthermore, the images are digitally manipulated (the magazine editor admitted to this), which is damaging as it presents an unrealistic body type. So whilst I don’t think that Kim Kardashian should be shamed for her decision to pose nude, I don’t think we should look to her as the perfect example of how it should be done.
In a similar vein, Keira Knightly posed topless for Interview magazine’s September 2014 issue. She decided to pose topless only if the images were to remain unmodified, as a way to protest against “the media’s damaging attitude towards body image”. In the interview for the piece, she says “Women’s bodies are a battle ground and photography is partly to blame.” I admire Keira for taking a stand and showing off her body, knowing that she would inevitably be criticised by some. She received some negative opinions and comments of course, but generally the response to the photos was positive. She was clearly in control of how her body was being presented, and she showed it truthfully.
A body is just a body and seeing a bum and some boobs shouldn’t be something to get upset over. Nudity can be powerful, and when done for the right reasons, can be a way to break stereotypes and change people’s unhealthy attitudes towards women’s bodies.