Sexually Liberated Or Shallow? The Feminist Dilemma Over Sharing Nude Pictures Online

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There is nothing more controversial than a naked woman.

And that is weird considering the naked and nearly naked female form is everywhere.

It’s exploited in film and television. It is used to sell us everything from cheeseburgers to religion. It is pimped out on street corners as well as in the halls of Congress. And sometimes, our bodies are used with no real justification or reason at all.

And yet, let a woman get naked and suddenly the whole world cries foul…

Yeah, I’m talking about Kim Kardashian’s nude picture. Who isn’t?

For the umpteenth time since becoming a wife and mom, Kardashian has tweeted a semi-to-fully nude photo of herself to her million or so followers.

And for the umpteenth time, the general public has reacted in one of two ways: either they welcome her nude picture as a celebration of feminine expression, or, folks get preachy.

Like award-winning actress Bette Midler, who humorously tweeted out:

And taking a more subtle jab was Pink, who also tweeted out:

And this is coming from a woman who once hung upside down wearing a bodysuit with nothing more than strips of fabric no bigger than Kardashian’s black censor bars at the 2010 Grammy Awards.

It would be hard not to notice the hypocrisy in this. Women with long histories of championing feminism and girl power, who have in the past reveled in being revealing – if not nude themselves – are suddenly finger-wagging at another woman for basically doing the same thing.

Such hypocrisy is something the notoriously naked Amber Rose recently pointed out:

http://www.instagram.com/p/BCvJqnDEq7t/

Right on!

However, we can not deny that the male gaze is a thing. Body dysmorphic disorder is a thing. Eating disorders are a thing. Women dying from butt implants is a thing. Skin bleaching is a thing. And the idea that the same woman who has makes tons of money emulating and becoming the beauty standard is now being considered a symbol of empowerment is somewhat laughable – if not opportunistic.

As bell hooks once said about Madonna and her former pseudo-sexually liberated but very boilerplate risque image, “Let’s face it. There is always going to be more money to be had, and more stardom to be had, in patriarchy.”

Honestly, it is hard to say for sure what side of the nudie a conscientious feminist should fall.

But personally, I tend to look at this issue as a matter of power and control.

In short, it not just a matter of what and who we see in the picture but who is sharing the image as well.

It’s a point that I had to learn to appreciate during the recent hoopla over the film Chi-Raq. If you recall, the film was partially inspired by the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which held a sex strike in the hopes of ending the civil war in that country. A lovely gesture indeed.

But as mentioned in a previous essay, the film’s ultimate failure is seeing how Spike Lee – the creator of this image in the film – played up the “sexy” part of their activism while glossing over the more meaningful parts of their rebellion.

For instance, in addition to the sex strike, the women also held a massive sit-in at peace talks in Ghana in which they threatened to strip themselves bare if the warring tribes did not agree to some reconciliation.

As WLMAP co-organizer Leymah Gbowee would tell the Oslo Freedom Forum about the action taken by the women:

So people ask me what is it about a woman stripping naked that makes people run? Or even make the conscience of a group of men who have paid and drugged boys to rape these same women to wake up. The thing is, when you are raped in conflict, when you are stripped naked in conflict, it is against your will. When a group of women, or when a group of people, get to the place where they decided that I am going to give you the last shred of my dignity, that is something to even wake anyone up. Even the most heartless dictators. The peace agreement was signed three weeks after this action.

If we are to believe (that is a disclaimer for all of those who I know have their doubts) Kardashian’s version of events, her rise to stardom wasn’t a matter of free will. But rather, it was a direct result of patriarchal capitalist society – in particular, a porn king and an anonymous thief – that used an intimate moment she had on tape – as well as our obsession with seeing a woman demeaned and stripped bare – to make large sums of money.

Fortunately for Kardashian, she was able to turn what could have been a life-threatening situation into a multi-million dollar brand. There is a lot to be said here about ingenuity but there is also a lot to be said about (White woman) privilege…and I’ll just leave it at that.

Still, there is no denying that Kardashian didn’t have a choice. Her body was going to be used with or without her permission. Her autonomy and agency was stolen away from her. And she was pushed into a corner that left her with little choice but to embrace the image that was thrust upon her.

Without knowing Kardashian personally, I can’t say what her motivations are. But it is clear by a message she allegedly left on her website (which is locked behind a paywall), that she certainly believes there is a deeper meaning to her constant need to get naked in front of the camera.

And as reported by Refinery29, she told her fans:

“I am empowered by my body,” she writes. “I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.”

As crazy as it sounds, we look for empowerment any way we can. And maybe for Kardashian (and other online nude tweeters), sharing her own nudes is a reclamation of what was literally stolen from her when her tape was leaked to the public in the first place.

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