from keira knightley to kim kardashian: reclaiming the female body, celebrity style
It’s safe to say that 2014 has been a pretty challenging year for the fairer sex. But, with more and more female celebrities standing up in protest, things have begun to change.
Unless you've been living under a rock, without zero wi-fi and no 4G, or unless your internet really is broken, you've probably seen pictures of Kim Kardashian, butt naked and balancing a glass of champagne on her particularly juicy bottom. You might have also seen pictures of a topless, and totally un-retouched, Keira Knightly doing the rounds online. In fact there's been an awful lot of attention in the media about female celebrities getting their kit off for the sake of female empowerment. But when it comes to posing naked, where is the line between reclaiming the female body and conforming to society's objectification of it?
It's safe to say that 2014 has been a pretty challenging year for the fairer sex. But, with more and more female celebrities standing up in protest, things have begun to change.
Earlier this year, Russian police were called out to over 500 car crashes in Moscow, amid sightings of large billboards of breasts zooming around the motorway, on the side of 30 white vans. A sad day for women and drivers, but a merry one for the tit trolls of Facebook and Instagram, as now they had a real reason to complain about female nipples: when seen in motion they can cause collisions. Sadder still was the day that over 100 celebrities (99.9% of which were women) had their iCloud accounts hacked, and their most intimate selfies leaked, liked, and leered over, all around the world. Although wildly different (the former being a curious case of floating breasts - a public image showing a totally disembodied and heavily objectified rack, not to mention Photoshopped to oblivion - while the latter were private images of public figures, totally exposed and totally unedited) they are both examples of the female body being reduced to an object of the all-seeing and ever-subjugating male gaze. Added to this the growing culture of revenge porn and sexist memes, and the rise of misogynist wankers like Julien Blanc, and it's safe to say that 2014 has been a pretty challenging year for the fairer sex. But, with more and more female celebrities standing up in protest, things have begun to change.
First there was Scout Willis, who whipped off her top and walked down the streets of New York, bare breasts blazing, as part of the worldwide #freethenipple campaign. Then came her sister Tallulah, who stripped to her undies on camera as she discussed the many facets of beauty, and what it's like to live with Body Dysmorphia. Next, Rihanna flashed her nips at the CFDA awards, probably in reaction to having her Instagram account deleted every time her areolas were on show - or what Instagram sinisterly refers to as ''instances of abuse''. Meanwhile Cara D and Miley have also been flying the flag for free nipples, having peppered their own accounts with an array of topless selfies, one involving a road sign and a couple of torches, while another features a pair of strategically placed love heart emojis.
Going one step further in the quest to reclaim the female body, particularly one that's been subjected to years of photographic manipulation (she famously had her boobs enlarged on the poster for King Arthur), British beauty Keira Knightly recently agreed to pose topless for Patrick Demarchelier, on the condition that each image would remain Photoshop free. ''I've had my body manipulated so many different times for so many different reasons,'' The Imitation Game actress mused. ''I think women's bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame,'' she adds, ''you need tremendous skill to be able get a woman's shape and make it look like it does in life, which is always beautiful... our society is so photographic now, it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape." Tall, thin and beautiful, with a body that could rival Barbie's, Keira is hardly adding much in the way of variety. And, furthermore, it's not like she's forgoing Photoshop to reveal some kind of hideous beast beneath, when all's said and done, she's still pretty good looking. However, in an industry where actresses are often cast on the basis of looks instead of talent, Keira's rejection of Hollywood's veneer of perfection should as highly commended as her desire to go topless in the first place.
As the horrific events of the celebrity hacking scandal showed, in our celebrity obsessed culture there exists an unsettling sense of entitlement where celebrities and fans are concerned, where because they are public figures, fans feel as though they are entitled to know everything about their favourite stars, from who they're sexting to what they wear to bed, something the prying lens of the paparazzi and the quick click of an iPhone enables. Which is why the lo-fi selfies of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Bar Rafaeli in particularly saucy positions, were so popular: it was celebrities at their most intimate, and yet, at the same time, most exposed. In contrast, Keira's topless photos are the result of her conscious decision to reveal a part of her body, in exactly the way she sees fit: in this case, un-Photoshopped, straight on, empowered, confrontational. By exercising her right to display her body how and when she wants, she's able to reassert her control over it. What's more, she does it via the very means used to previously objectify her.
A victim of revenge porn herself, Kimmy is no stranger to having intimate footage of herself distributed online against her will. But by choosing to pose naked, she is able to reinforce control over her own image.
Up until this point, female celebrities have been reclaiming their bodies and empowering themselves without a hitch. But then came Jean-Paul Goude's racy pictures of Kim Kardashian for Paper Magazine, which seems to have divided opinion. A victim of revenge porn herself, Kimmy is no stranger to having intimate footage of herself distributed online against her will. But by choosing to pose naked, she is able to reinforce control over her own image. However, there is more to these images than meets the eye. The first shows a hype-sexualised Kardashian, naked and glistening like an Original Glazed doughnut, as she offers up her bottom for all to see, while the second shows her clothed in squid ink PVC, as she balances a glass of champagne on her bottom - a pose that recalls Goude's 1982 photograph of black model Carolina Beaumont, which in turn harks back to images of Saartjie Baartman, a large-bottomed South African woman who was brought over to London in the 19th century and displayed in a colonial freakshow.
While images of a topless Keira were met with numerous hashtags of praise, those of Kim have been met with widespread disdain. But this shouldn't be the case. Sure, these pictures show Kim as a sexual object, and, yeah, they might very well have latent racial connotations, but, when it comes to reclaiming the female body and reasserting a woman's control over her own image, it isn't the way in which they do it that matters, but, rather, the mentality behind it. Women are objectified on a daily basis; it's high time more of them stood up and took back what's theirs.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Jean-Paul Goude
From Paper Magazine