Jane Chelliah is our guest blogger for March. She normally blogs at Ambitious Mamas and tweets @ambitiousmamas.

I need to put something straight at the outset. I have never had an offer from Playboy magazine. The editorial team do not even know that I exist. However, Kim Kardashian who has posed for Playboy was responsible for a jaw-dropping conversation that I had with my daughter.

Kim uploaded a so-called nude (if you count blacked out intimate body parts as nude) picture of herself on the internet. The comments posted by people around the world via various social media outlets veered between two camps. Firstly, she should not be posing in the buff (some mentioned her mother status as a reason); secondly, supporting her for doing what she wants to do. I mentioned this to my daughter who took the second camp’s view. She then proceeded with a hypothetical question about me and Playboy. I balked. She disagreed.

And in a split second, I realised that my brand of feminism was completely out of kilter with hers when it came to the naked female form. How had we reached such different conclusions?

In 2011, when the Playboy empire reopened a club in London I took my daughter to join the feminist protest being held outside. A photo of her in a rabbit onesie made it into the press.

Fast forward five years on and my daughter is of the opinion that Kim chose to post that picture of herself and it is a choice that she has actively made without pressure or coercion. Therefore, it is a feminist action.

Why do I differ from this? There are a couple of reasons. Although much of the feminist movement calls for the right to have choices in life, there are many instances where ‘choice’ is nothing more than an illusion. Not every ‘choice’ is a feminist option. While a woman should be able to feel comfortable in her skin this is a long way off from posing nude.

Also, by championing the choices of women to do things like post naked pictures, the real and difficult choices that many women make are overlooked – such as whether to buy food or turn the heating on for their children or how to keep working to bring the money in while juggling childcare.

In a post for International Women’s Day, Kim wrote

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

There is something flawed about being proud to have your picture splashed across the web because you look great naked. This is not empowerment. If anything it belittles the concept of empowerment because the source for it ought to come from an inner feeling of confidence, not the outer layer of naked skin.

Kim also wrote, “I don’t do drugs, I hardly drink, I’ve never committed a crime — and yet I’m a bad role model for being proud of my body?”

This quote narrows the field of feminist narrative in an artificial manner because it positions her ‘empowered’ selfie against what she sees as the great wrongs of doing drugs, drinking alcohol and being a criminal. These are not the bookends of feminist empowerment.

While I do not believe that women should not pose in the buff just because they are mothers, I believe that posing naked for public consumption is not the way forward for women, mothers or not.

Kim’s actions were defended by young feminist celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Ariel Winter and Abigail Breslin, as well as my 16-year-old daughter. It appears that some of the younger generation of feminists have come to see the concept of choice as having an elastic definition. Feminist thinking has become binary – if you criticise self-posed naked pictures then it amounts to slut shaming. The nuances that exist in between are lost.

Kim sets trends for impressionable young women and, frankly, has some sort of responsibility towards her fans. Presenting that selfie as a personal statement and telling people to leave her alone, as she did, is a false and dishonest argument to make. However, to be clear, I am not slut shaming Kim. I don’t think she need be ashamed. However, I do think that she should not elevate the selfie in question to some level of iconic action or watershed moment.

The photo is by m arta and is used under a creative commons licence. It is a black and white image of a woman taking a photo, with the viewer looking straight on into the camera lens, with the camera hiding the woman’s face.

Comments From You

sarahb // Posted 14 March 2016 at 9:07 pm

Fantastic article. You nail the dilemma well. My son speaks in a similar vein to your daughter with regard to photos of his (male and female) friends on instagram. However, I think you have missed a number key reasons as to why it is a problem when women are encouraged to feel that choosing to put naked pictures of themselves in a public space is assertive and feminist. One: women and girls now see a 24/7 diet of selective, usually sexualised, and often photoshopped, images of the female form which by definition will not look anything like their own ‘real’ body. Young women will get a totally unrealistic view of what they ‘should’ look like, of what is ‘valued’. Another: women who work in a field other than the sex trades and choose to post naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves are encouraging people (and especially men) to value them as a sexual object rather than for their professional talent. Again, young women will get the wrong message. Perhaps you will write more on this issue – it would be interesting to look in more detail at how the views of different generations are so different.

Joanna Whitehead // Posted 16 March 2016 at 7:02 pm

“Although much of the feminist movement calls for the right to have choices in life, there are many instances where ‘choice’ is nothing more than an illusion. Not every ‘choice’ is a feminist option.”

Although Kim spoke of empowerment in her decision to post a nude selfie, there was no mention of feminism. She *did* say, however, that she is “allowed to be sexy”. Amen. This may not be my definition of sexy, but it is not up to me to define that for another woman.

Nope – her body may not be “representative” of the bodies of many women, she may spend her days toning and honing it, but dammit – I will fight for her right to do whatever the hell she wants with it.

One women – or even many – are not responsible for young girls.

I don’t think this view is entirely unique to “some of the younger generation of feminists”. I’m not of that generation – and find this statement somewhat patronising.

“Feminist thinking has become binary – if you criticise self-posed naked pictures then it amounts to slut shaming. The nuances that exist in between are lost.” This is ironic, as this post strikes me as very one-sided and not what I would describe as “nuanced”.

“I do think that she should not elevate the selfie in question to some level of iconic action or watershed moment.” I don’t think she has.

I am cautious and wary of anyone identifying as feminist telling other women that their choices are “an illusion” or that they are mistaken or misguided in what they believe to be empowering, whether I agree with those choices or not.

Holly Combe // Posted 19 March 2016 at 6:38 pm

I agree, Jo. A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her own body. There’s no ‘yes, but’. There’s always a discussion to be had about the constraints that a patriarchal society places on our choices, but it’s important this doesn’t end up becoming yet another way to undermine and look down on (some) women.

Sarahb, you say your son “speaks in a similar vein” about “photos of his (male and female) friends on instagram”. If by this, you mean he doesn’t see a problem with a person deciding to share images of their own body with others, I have to say I agree with him. In fact, I’d go further and say I think it’s really refreshing to hear of a young man speaking supportively about women who share revealing selfies, rather than slut shaming or patronising them as ‘not respecting themselves’ (something that sadly still goes on).

I also take issue with the idea that women who post naked pictures of themselves are responsible for other people’s shitty generalisations about them or somehow giving young women “the wrong message”. Women are not obliged to act as shining examples of womanhood in order to receive fair treatment. We also aren’t duty-bound to teach younger women the apparently right and proper behaviour. Only we get to decide how we represent our own bodies, just as only those young women themselves get to decide how to represent theirs.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds