As the class erupted in heated discussion about the above photo I found myself in a state of panic.
“A woman should be able to do whatever she likes with her body?”
“But she’s a celebrity! How is this empowering for the every day woman?”
“But it’s empowering for her!”
Everything that I thought I believed about feminism and empowerment came crumbling down with one Kardashian selfie and a knot in my stomach.
In the aftermath of the media storm that this picture created, Kim Kardashian penned an essay defending the photo in the plight of empowerment. Kardashian states that:
“I am empowered by my body. 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.”
I have read this before and I must confess that I was 100% YAAS QUEEN‘ing my way through it. I thought good on Kimmy K for using social media and the selfie to empower herself and others.
However my initial thoughts of female solidarity evaporated in the heat of this class discussion. My immediate confusion stemmed from the fact that while I agreed that a woman should be proud of her body and portray it accordingly, is this actually bringing empowerment to women? While the naked female body has historically been powerful political statements and a source of fine art, somehow, the introduction of the selfie had changed this.
Roanna Gonsalves in her article ‘Selfie is not a dirty word’ describes the selfie culture as jamming together “the impulse to be noticed, to exert control over one’s own self presentation, to bear witness, to reframe stereotypes, to celebrate.”
Herein lies my confusion. When a selfie and the culture of which it is situated can do, and does, so many different things, the issue of empowerment is considerably blurred. I feel the most pertinent question is who is being empowered by the selfie?
If we take this back to the mirror selfie of Kimmy K and the afore quoted paragraph, then it seems that if Kim says that she is empowered by posting a nude photograph of herself, then who are we to say this is not empowerment?
This picture, found on The Daily Feminist, provides an interesting argument for this.
John Berger was an English art critic and feminist who in his book Ways of Seeing examined the male gaze. By contrasting post Renaissance paintings of naked women to his present day posters, he was able to show a recurring theme of objectification of the female body by the male gaze. Whilst this was before the time of the selfie, the concept that when the naked female body is presented by the owner of the body’s own self, as opposed to a male, this could be seen as empowering.
However if we turn to the latter part of her empowerment essay and examine the notion that she may empower other girls and women through her selfies is where the complication lies.
While I will acknowledge that these selfies may evoke feelings of empowerment for Ms Kardashian, women still face enormous inequalities due to their gender which is where the empowerment argument falters. As a millionaire and celebrity, Kim Kardashian is in the small percentile of women who have the opportunity to portray themselves like this on their social media platforms.
Feminist commentator Jacqueline Lunn on the other hand believes that Kim’s nude selfies have nothing at all to do with feminism or empowerment but all to do with the marketing of the Kardashian brand.
But empowerment and self branding are another issue that we will have to save for another rainy day…