Female nudity – attention-seeking, empowering or degrading?
Last month, Kim Kardashian uploaded a nude, but censored, selfie to Twitter. Although this was not the first time that she had shared nude visuals of herself with the public, the resulting reaction escalated more than it ever has before. In this article, The Gryphon discusses the on-going debate between nudity being empowering or degrading for women.
Kim Kardashian is not the first woman to willingly share nude images of herself, and she will surely not be the last, but her nude photos do garner more attention than others. Kim is the Kardashian sister who is renowned for her outlandishly curvaceous body, that she takes pride in. Her decision to expose her body is one that divides the public into those that think she is being egotistic and attempting to gain attention, and those that applaud her for being confident in herself. This time around, the nude photo scandal attracted more responses from other celebrities, who were also split between being pro or against the photo. Bette Midler accused Kim of not being conservative enough with her body, implying that Kim’s behaviour did not come as a shock. On the other hand, Demi Lovato posted a photo that emphasised that both nudity and modesty can be empowering. However, the underlying controversy was not the fact that it was Kim Kardashian who posted this photo, but that it was a woman who willingly posted a nude photo of herself online, and whether this should be acceptable or not.
There is an on-going debate over whether female empowerment should take the form of conservativeness or openness. This is not just regarding images that are posted online, but also lifestyle choices. Other criticism stems from the idea that a woman’s sexuality should be kept under wraps. Deviating from this stereotype results in some women being shamed as promiscuous or attention seeking, which are some of the criticisms that Kim also received upon publishing her photo. This reaction is also a result of the stigma towards nudity; nudity is frequently equated with the desire to inappropriately sexualise oneself, and thus, implying a lack of self-respect. In conservative communities, wearing clothing items that show a lot of skin like shorts or tank tops is frowned upon, because nudity is considered taboo and disrespectful. Similarly, although there is more freedom to dress as you like in Western and European countries, nudity is still regarded by some as over-sexualisation.
Part of this ideology comes from the fact that women are already overly sexualised in the media but, in that context, their sexualisation is primarily for the benefit of the male audience. Therefore, when women decide to showcase their bodies on their own, the assumption is that it is still to please men, which leads to the conclusion that nudity is degrading for women because the satisfaction is for someone else. Although the sexualisation of women in magazines and other media texts has become normalised, when individuals take it upon themselves to showcase their own bodies, the same awe and admiration is replaced by revulsion and disdain. The idea is that in order for women to break free from the continuous objectification of their bodies, they should not promote their bodies in a sexualised manner. Actress Chloë Grace Moretz expressed this opinion in response to Kim’s photo, reminding Kim that it is important to not support the idea that all a woman has to offer is her body.
On the other hand, if a woman wants to announce her sexuality and dress provocatively to attract attention, then she should be able to. Likewise, if a woman wants to be modest and dress more conservatively, then that choice should still be open to her. Recently, Kim posted another topless selfie, this time with model and actress, Emily Ratajkowski, which sparked accusations that their association meant that the entire situation was possibly a media stunt. Emily is well known for her provocative role in the music video for ‘Blurred Lines’, but she is also a strong advocate for the fact that women should be able to sexualise themselves when they want to. When apparently feminist celebrities, dress in skimpy outfits, they are accused of tarnishing the movement that they support. On the other hand, being able to show younger women that they can be confident in their sexuality should be celebrated. Nikki Minaj’s song and video, ‘Feeling Myself’, promoted this idea, and yet some people could not look past the way Beyoncé and Nikki sexualised themselves to realise that their sexualisation was a celebration of their own femininity. Therefore, embracing sexuality it should not be seen as wrong but as a part of human nature.
Dictating what a woman can and cannot wear is a step backwards because it denies the freedom that everyone should have in the twenty-first century. Regardless of the implications that dressing a particular way might have, what is important is what the woman aims to achieve from her decision. The ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign is an example of a movement that serves to support this notion; the campaign argues that part of gender equality should involve allowing women to be topless in the same environments that men can be topless in. For a woman to expose any part of her areola is considered a criminal offense in some places, even if it were not the result of a lewd act – a breastfeeding mother, for example. The campaign also fights against social media censorship, because social media sites, like Facebook, will remove images that show a woman’s areola, under the basis that it is ‘graphic content’. Instagram pictures that display a woman’s nipples are removed; however, pictures of topless men are not taken down. These institutionalised discriminatory regulations are because women’s nipples are more sexualised than men’s, and so when exposed they are considered indecent and inappropriate. Campaigns like ‘Free the Nipple’ aim to eradicate this mentality and make it possible for women to be as free with their bodies as men, but not suffer from the same backlash. Overall, the discussion on whether nudity should be encouraged or frowned upon continues to be an unresolved issue.
Image courtesy of The Sun