And we defend her.
The mirror selfie in question.
It’s a tale as old as time: Woman posts naked selfie online, selfie incites controversy, tweets are dispatched, a blog is published—this is the way we live now, in a news cycle dominated by celebrity tweets and viral Instagram photos. This is why, when Kim Kardashian posted a naked selfie to Twitter last night, it not only became a Twitter trending topic, but a byline for every pop culture writer in the Western hemisphere. Even Bette Midler felt it necessary to comment, joking that “if Kim wants us to see a part of her we’ve never seen, she’s gonna have to swallow the camera.”
The worst part of this joke is that it’s boring. It says nothing interesting or new. If you read it a certain way, it looks like Midler is shaming Kardashian for showing off her body, which is a regressive thing to do. In a new blog post this morning, Kardashian defended herself against Midler and her other online critics with a lengthier letter to her fans. “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?” she wrote. “It always seems to come back around to my sex tape. Yes, a sex tape that was made 13 years ago. 13 YEARS AGO. Literally that lonnng ago. And people still want to talk about it?!?!”
They do. And they did. Even actress and, ahem, Nylon cover model Chloe Grace Moretz felt the need to comment, with tweets directed to Kardashian: “I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than … just our bodies.”
It’s not an awful sentiment. It’s the context that’s awful. It’s the moralizing tone that’s awful. And Kardashian, in her letter, called it “slut-shaming.”
“It’s 2016,” she wrote. “The body-shaming and slut-shaming—it’s like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality. You be you and let me be me. I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy.”
It is really, really easy to have an opinion on Kim Kardashian. It is as easy getting up in the morning and checking your newsfeed. She permeates contemporary pop culture like a fine mist on a Sunday morning. Try to forget Kim Kardashian: You can’t, because she posted a selfie to the internet yesterday, and now it’s headlining your Facebook timeline. This is why opinions on Kim Kardashian are like plastic bags: There’s too many of them, and they’re ruining the environment.
Still, she is an unstoppable cultural force, and the way we talk about her—as a woman, as an entertainer, as an entrepreneur, as the wife of Kanye West—says a lot about who we are. We can mock her for plenty of things—and she takes that mockery in stride—but mocking her for being naked reflects our own discomfort with women’s sexuality. It reflects a culture that still favors conservative notions of womanhood and propriety. It reflects a culture that rewards “modesty” as a moral value, and penalizes “immodesty” as a character flaw. The thing is, men are never held accountable to the same standards of “modesty” that women are. Zac Efron flashes his chest in every movie he’s cast in. There are no think pieces or essays about his abs, as far as I’m aware.
I’m not a particularly passionate fan of Kim Kardashian. And yet I frequently find myself in the position of defending her. Because I believe in Kim Kardashian’s right to be naked, and I want to live in the kind of world that won’t shame her for exercising that right. I want to live in the kind of world where women can be nude, or cover their hair, or wear tank tops to high school, or do whatever they want with their own bodies, without having to defend themselves against censure. I want to live in the kind of world where I don’t have to write articles about Kim Kardashian’s mirror selfies. But we’re not there yet.