When Kim Kardashian posts a censored naked photo of herself on her Instagram account it goes viral. Part of that is because she has a cajillion (scientific figure) followers on Instagram, and part of it is because some people are saying she’s an attention whore and the rest are saying what she’s doing is empowering herself and all women.
I’m not a personal fan of Kim Kardashian, or the entire K family, but that’s just because I think society is strangely preoccupied with them for no reason other than they’re gorgeous and dramatic. That said, I dislike when people say someone posting a naked photo of themselves can’t possibly be “liberating” or “empowering” just because they want people to see their naked body.
Liberation is different things to different people.
I don’t know Kim’s motives for posting a naked selfie. It’s fair to assume she knows her audience and is just doing that to get more fame and publicity. It’s unfair to assume she doesn’t (also) feel like posting a naked selfie is an act of self love.
The issue goes deeper than Kim, though. We create these dichotomies with people in everyday life. If you strip we think it means you’ve got unresolved issues from your childhood, low self esteem, and no self respect. Or you’re miserable while you’re doing it because you just want to make a bunch of money to put yourself through college, and you feel empty and hollow while you’re dancing on stage. Guess what? Some people enjoy stripping. Maybe their incentive is the money, but they actually have fun when they’re on stage in nothing but they’re skin! Maybe that IS liberating for them.
When I took burlesque classes, before we were even allowed to start moving our bodies we had to sit down and not just learn about the history of burlesque and the art of seduction, but discuss empowerment and how it relates to burlesque. Some people think burlesque is empowering to women, and some people think it’s not at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean they think it’s UNempowering, but some people get on stage to perform just because it’s fun for them. Taking off your clothes can be something you enjoy without it being a political statement.
Empowerment is different things to different people.
Let’s take body hair for example: Some women shave and wax different parts of their body. Legs, arms, armpits, eyebrows, upper lip, pubic hair, bikini area, etc. Some women choose to remove hair from only specific parts. Some women choose to let their body hair grow naturally.
Now, I think it’s important for us to always question our interpretation of beauty. We’ve been brought up surrounded by the media so we’re taught that X, Y, and Z is beautiful and if you differ from that slight baseline you’re unattractive by definition. It can become impossible for us to separate our definition of beauty from the media’s.
When I have friends who let their leg hair grow out all winter and say they don’t care, I’ll pose the question: “So who are you shaving for?” If you’re only shaving your legs when you go out in public with them exposed or you’re expecting to have sex, it might be worth questioning WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it because someone else tells you that’s what you should do or because you want to? If the answer is because you want to, there is nothing wrong with shaving. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone, it’s just good to think about why we do what we do (and not just with beauty regiments).
Some women who don’t shave their legs feel like they’re making a statement, and by showing their exposed legs they’re demonstrating you can live a happy life without conforming to pre-existing expectations of beauty. Some women who don’t shave their legs just don’t want to and don’t have a further reason. Both of these things are good. Empowerment is different things to different people.
Pushing your views on someone else isn’t the right thing to do. It’s important to strike up intelligent, meaningful conversations like this one. Questioning WHY you do something is different than judging someone blindly for it. If you see someone’s unshaven legs and think they’re a “gross dirty hippie”, you’re judging. If you see someone posting a naked photo online and think they’re a “attention-seeking slut”, you’re judging.
You never know why someone is doing what they’re doing. Being judgmental towards other women IS NOT empowering.
Whether or not you want to shave your legs, pose nude, wear high necklines, perform naked on stage, wear bras, attend feminist rallies, have casual sex, wear sexy clothing, talk about sex, eat vegan, vote, live alone, share your life on social media or whatever doesn’t make you a good or a bad woman or feminist. It doesn’t make you a slut or a prude.
If you Google “things that are empowering to women”, one of the first articles that comes up is entitled “5 Promiscuous Things Women Do That Are Actually Empowering”. That title is bullshit. It’s judging within itself. You’re labeling something as promiscuous and empowering at the same time. Wearing sexy clothing doesn’t make you promiscuous, it also doesn’t mean you feel empowered. Sometimes we do things without thinking, sometimes we do them in a pre-meditated fashion. Sometimes we’re making a statement, sometimes we’re not.
It is up to you to to decide if what you’re doing feels right. If it’s liberating to you, if it’s empowering to you, or if it just feels right to you, then you should do it. You don’t have to answer to anyone about why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it feels good, do it. What you can do is not judge other people for doing what they’re doing.
What do you think about all this? What does empowerment mean to you? Have you ever been told what you’re doing is slutty or prudish? How did it make you feel?