A few days ago Kim Kardashian posted another naked selfie that got the internet all in a tizzy, as her naked selfies always seem to do. And, to be fair, because such photos become so wildly popular (I read somewhere it had been reshared over 100 million times?) it does seem like a good opportunity for people to start talking about all the various cultural ideas and issues that are encompassed in the whole thing.
And there are a lot of issues, and have been a lot of responses. Famously, Chloe Mortez questioned Kardashian about being a role model and admonished her for ostensibly suggesting to young women that we have nothing more to offer the world than our bodies. And while, in my opinion, Mortez is barking up the right tree in wanting someone as famous as Kim to be known for more than her naked body, the comment is problematic for a few reasons. First, Mortez herself is a model. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with modeling, it seems odd for someone whose career is, at least partially, based on using her body to promote a product, to bash someone else for posting a picture of themself online. But moreso, as Kim herself points out in this post, we as a society kind of need to stop reducing Kim Kardashian to her moments of nudity.
I may not be a Kim fan, and I may not fully understand why she is so popular and how, exactly, she became famous, but I do agree with her that it is insane that her fame is reduced to a sex tape from 13 years ago when she has created an entire empire for herself and her family. And I also agree that how she decides to portray herself, and the things she wants the world to see of her, are absolutely up to her. Maybe I would never post a nude selfie because I don’t really want people who aren’t intimately connected to me to see my body, but if Kim is proud of her body and wants people to see it, who am I to say she shouldn’t show off?
The most important takeaway from this whole situation that I’ve run into, however, comes from a 14 year old girl, Rowan Blanchard, who not only hit the nail on the head where Kim was concerned but also brought up a critically important point about selfies in general that I’d like to explore a bit. Rowan’s argument is twofold: first, in a world where far too many women are the victims of revenge porn and leaked nudes, why do we seem to get more upset when a woman posts a picture of herself? What Kim allows us to see is up to Kim. Wouldn’t we as a society be better served concerning ourselves with the things we are seeing that people don’t actually want us to see? The countless women whose phones have been hacked or whose bitter exes have betrayed their trust to expose their bodies to the world without their consent?
Second, isn’t it important to teach girls “to be accepting of yourself and to use the Selfie to choose how you want to be viewed and to try to gain control of your own image?” She goes on to say that image control is something women have never had, and in a later tweet reminds us that we have always had images of nude women in art and in photography but that, where the selfie is concerned, women are both the subject and the portrayer of the image.
I might be in love with this girl, and I am certainly in awe of how she is able to think deeply about these things and to express her thoughts on such complex subjects so perfectly in small, 140 word tweets. I admit I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Selfie as a thing. While I certainly take more Selfies than I’d like to admit to, the Selfie seemed to me an almost dangerous thing because of how many of my friends I saw using it in a search for external validation. I have friends who post multiple Selfies a day and will sometimes publicly complain when the picture gets no attention, or who will quietly question their own self-worth when there aren’t a ton of likes. This, I think, is the dangerous aspect of the Selfie, but really of social media in general: it plays into the idea that our self-worth is based on external validation. It’s not. That’s all I have to say about that.
And Rowan helped me understand how the Selfie is powerful but also simultaneously undermines this dangerous need for other people to tell us we have worth. Because the Selfie is controlled by its taker. When I take a picture of myself, I am looking at myself, I am choosing to be seen, and I am choosing to let other people see me the way I saw myself. It’s a quiet power, but it is very powerful. We live in a world where humans, particularly female humans, are constantly the subjects of a societal gaze, both literally and metaphorically. There is the unconscious gaze that tells us how we are supposed to present ourselves, that gaze that we self-police, and the very real one that consists of other people looking at us, people believing our bodies are theirs to see, and that they have a right to comment on our bodies and to police them. While my hope is that we can move away from this image obsession as a society, in the meantime I will be viewing the Selfie differently.
However you feel about Kim (and articles like this are making me think very seriously about her and what she means as a cultural symbol), I think there is something really important about the way she has owned not only her body but her ability to project her own image. Her ability to see herself and to show the world her body through her own eyes is key. And I think there really is something to the Selfie that we can learn from her, and from each other, something powerful in knowing that we can capture our own images and choose how the are to be shared. So I say go, take those Selfies. Show us that you love what you see. And keep loving it.