Up until recently, I’d had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Kim Kardashian. On one hand, she’s incredibly narcissistic, vain and attention-seeking. I see her face more times on the internet than I do my own in the mirror. Yet, on the other, she’s stunningly beautiful, successful and ambitious. She’s created an empire out of her looks, using her body and sexuality to its advantage, and making millions in the process.
There is not a part of Kim’s body we haven’t seen, and that in itself is slightly uncomfortable, but also oddly fascinating and empowering. Going topless or nude is “liberating” for her, just like embracing body hair is liberating to other women. Watching her is like reading a friend’s diary: you want to look away, but you just can’t.
Don’t get me wrong – not all women could essentially ‘sell’ their bodies for fame. But at the same time, not all women are content working in offices, staying under the radar or becoming housewives. You may not agree with her lifestyle, but woman to woman, who are we to judge? We’re all unique, after all.
Yes, she is undeniably vain. But she’s also incredibly brave parading herself in a society that still condones women for celebrating and embracing their beauty, their bodies and sexuality. Kim regards herself as a feminist, and I regard her as one, too.
She proves that you can have two kids and still be sexy. Motherhood doesn’t mean you lose your sex appeal, like women were once perceived. She wears the tightest of clothing on a body shape that, arguably, hadn’t been embraced by white culture until the Kardashians came onto our TV screens. Her book, “Selfish” (where she basically published an encyclopedia of selfies taken over the years), sold out its first edition. And so, narcissism aside, I think the love she has for herself can only be applauded, in a world where women so often hate themselves.
Yet, despite the fact we’re in 2016 (!), we still manage to drag women down for showcasing themselves. You only need to read some of the comments on Kim’s photos to see feminism has a long way to go. The words “whore”, “slut” and “bad role model” feature heavily underneath her pictures – comments which, shockingly, often come from fellow women.
It’s interesting to me how, when a magazine like Playboy or GQ publishes photographs of naked women, it’s deemed “sexy”. But when Kim K and Emily Ratajkowski pose topless together in front of a mirror, phone in hand, it’s somehow “offensive”, and goes against fellow women.
Firstly, this opinion suggests a woman taking a topless selfie is degrading, when in actual fact, it’s the opposite: she herself has decided how society will view her body, rather than letting the media dictate how she’s perceived. That, to me, is most certainly liberating.
Secondly, it implies that the publishing industry – a multi-billion dollar industry dominated by old, white males – has complete control over the idealized female image we see daily. If a man decides to put a topless girl in a magazine, that’s ok; if a woman takes a sexy photo of herself, it’s slutty.
So why does society look down on women who take photos of themselves? Why do we fear women who love their bodies? And how do we expect society to move on, when other women attack other women for their lifestyle choices?
Personally, I love looking at other women’s selfies. They say, “I like myself today”. They say, “I’m looking good, and I know it”. And to me, that is beautiful. To me, selfies are a step forward for feminism and womanhood, which has been consistently attacked by the media over the years and who knocked my confidence growing up. Selfies make me feel good, and I like writing nice comments underneath other people’s to boost their confidence.
Taking a selfie puts you in control of your own image, which, for a woman, is a milestone in itself. We live in an exciting time where we’re publishers in our own right – our blogs are the new newspapers, Periscope the new TV channels, our SoundClouds the new record labels – and Instagram selfies are a mere extension of that, where women are finally in control of the image they’re portraying.
What I find most interesting, however, is that rather than waiting for publisher to choose who they print on a magazine cover, women are now capable of publishing those images themselves on their own media platform. We no longer need to gain someone else’s approval to be deemed ‘model worthy’: Instagram allows us all to be models in our own right, and has created role models from women simply being ‘real’. We’re showcasing women for what they are: beautiful creatures whose bodies all need to be celebrated, not just a fair few glamazons who society has deemed aesthetically attractive.
Whether you’re privy to a good FaceTune app or not, selfies have the ability of showing women in their real state. Up until Instagram’s launch, there were millions of real women too scared to take photos of themselves. But now, the ideas surrounding female ‘beauty’ are being widened. Without instagram, I doubt plus-size models would have half the recognition they do. Models like Ashley Graham bring body-positivity to light; models like Winnie Harlow and Melanie Gaydos have brought skin conditions and disabilities to the mainstream, breaking down fashion’s prejudices and boundaries and showcasing different realms of beauty.
And guess what: being a woman is tough. We’re not all blessed with supermodel bodies, flawless skin or big boobs. We all have flaws and insecurities. Valencia filter or not, selfies show society that women are human. Social media breaks down the celebrity platform and puts us all on the same level. But most importantly, they unite us, by showing fellow women that we’re more similar than we originally thought.
Social media also breaks down media-led myths about women’s bodies. It’s ok to not look perfect, because nobody is. Mainstream media has groomed a generation of men into thinking all women are perfectly waxed, perfectly toned, cellulite-free porn stars, who are there for the male gaze or approval. They’re just as confused about the female form as we are.
Some might argue that Kim Kardashian is succumbing to that male ideal, when in actual fact, I think she’s reclaiming it. Cleverest of all, she’s making millions from a word most women have shied away from: slut. Whether or not you’d follow her route to fame, she’s made a successful career by embracing the words that she’s called daily and turning it into an enterprise. If that’s not feminist or empowering, I don’t know what is.
Feminism is about supporting one another. It’s about understanding that women feel sexy, feminine or liberated in different ways, and not judging them for it.
So let’s stop viewing girls as vain when they upload selfies. Let’s view them as confident, self-assured women who are unashamedly flaunting themselves because they feel good. Because hey, let’s be honest: raising another generation of insecure, unconfident and unhappy women is far worse.