Today, I looked at two semi-naked bodies of famous women on my phone. Both photos were posted by the women themselves.
One was in lingerie. One was nude.
One made me feel happy. One made me think FFS.
Here are the photos:
Context is important here so let me give you some. The photos of Lena in her undies went out with a piece she wrote for her Lenny newsletter about why she will no longer allow photographers or magazines to digitally alter her image. Having been shocked to see this old photo of herself on a foreign magazine, stretched, carved and digitally altered to the point where she didn’t recognise her own body, she has decided not to allow any shots of her to be retouched from now on.
Oh hello El Pais! I am genuinely honored to be on your cover and so happy you licensed a pic by @ruvenafanador, who always makes me feel gorgeous. BUT this is NOT what my body has ever looked like or will ever look like- the magazine has done more than the average photoshop. So if you’re into what I do, why not be honest with your readers? Much love, Lena. credit to @peguerillo_ for this ???? of a ????Advertisement
The images of herself in undies she posted with her piece about her decision were, obviously, not retouched and showed a very different body to the one on the magazine. Ironically, since they were just her in her undies, the images were defiant and subversive. She was making a point.
Kim’s nude selfie didn’t seem to have a purpose beyond showing the world how much weight she’s lost since having her second child a couple of months ago. It was defiant in another way. It said: “I’m not fat, bitches. I’ve lost weight and I’ve brought sexy BACK.”
Oh where to start.
Lena Dunham often publishes photos of her body and portrays it in varying states of nakedness on her show, Girls.
She has always received the most heinous abuse for doing this, for daring to be comfortable with a body that is routinely described in the most disgusting ways. Many women say seeing Dunham’s body nude or semi-nude or even just in a skirt or bikini is empowering. It makes them feel good. I’m one of them. Dunham’s is one of the only female bodies I see in popular culture that I can remotely recognise from my own mirror and from looking at the other women in my world.
Simply put, Lena Dunham’s body and the bodies of women on shows like Girls and Transparent and Inside Amy Schumer make me feel better about myself.
This is not their job. Just like it’s not the job of Victoria’s Secret models to make me feel better about myself. I know that.
But it’s a happy by-product of women who are brave enough (not Malala brave, I know it’s relative) to display bodies that don’t conform to the claustrophobically narrow beauty standard society sets for women.
And you know why it’s brave when Lena Dunham publishes a photo of herself in her undies or when she shows her saggy boobs or dimply bottom on Girls? Because it’s transgressive.
She’s not model thin. She’s not fitspo ripped. She’s not Hollywood perfect.
Lena Dunham’s body, dressed or undressed, is a bit of a statement. One she cops huge backlash and abuse for making, every single time.
That can’t be fun. And yet she does it anyway. Why? I’d like to think it’s as a gift to other women (that’s certainly a by-product) and a way to show the rest of us we’re not invisible if we don’t conform to size 0 sexy standards. I think it’s also probably because she believes her body doesn’t define her. She’s an award winning actress, writer and producer. She’s not defined by the way she looks.
Which brings me to Kim Kardashian and her latest nude selfie.
Now I’m trying to challenge myself here. I’m trying not to be all eye-rolly and “bloody hell, can you just put your booty AWAY” because that would be easy and that’s certainly my default position when it comes to the social media posing and preening (and photo-scamming shopping) of the Kardashians.
I’m trying to stifle my despair that the most famous women in the world – the Kardashian sisters – have built an empire on their looks supplemented by huge amounts of plastic surgery and eight million selfies. They write books about their faces and bodies, sell products for them, produce apps about them and give make TV shows whose paper thin plots revolve almost entirely around their appearance.
It’s hard to comment on all this without sounding jealous or bitter or, you know, old.
Maybe I’m all of those things. I don’t know. That’s a question for my therapist although my birth certificate will attest to my age, closer to Kris Jenner than her daughters.
So why do I feel like this when I see Lena’s selfies:
and like this when I see Kim’s:
They’re both women showing their bodies in ways that make them feel good.
What’s my PROBLEM? How are they DIFFERENT?
I think it’s because Lena is broadening the spectrum of what’s considered acceptable, attractive and sexy for a woman while Kim is simply reinforcing it.
While Lena’s underwear selfies feel risky and defiant, Kim’s semi-nudity feels braggy and compliant.
Kardashian has spoken many times of the pressure she feels to lose weight after she gives birth and her self-documented journey to get her sexy back seems at times almost frantic.
This is not surprising. Hey, her husband sings about wanting to have sex with Taylor Swift. If you were married to Kanye you might feel frantic too.
Kim and Kanye on the red-carpet at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Post continues after video…
I guess it’s the obsession with objectifying yourself that makes me feel old and cranky. I understand posting photos of what you’re wearing. I do that myself. Clothes can be an expression of creativity and they’re fun. You can copy someone’s clothes. I do all the time.
But your body? That’s just sexual objectification of yourself, isn’t it? ‘Sure it is!’, say millennial women who believe they have every right to sexually objectify themselves. It’s a choice. Why shouldn’t they? Isn’t feminism about choice?
Well, yeah, kind of. But that doesn’t make every choice inherently a feminist choice.
OK, here’s my final point about why I’m irritated: because as the mother of a daughter (hell, as a mother of two sons!) I feel like we’ve been banging on for decades about women being valued for more than looking hot. And yet the culture of hot body selfies directly indexes your worth in likes to your body. The vanity also makes me wince. All those photos taken in the mirror. All those duck faces. All that facetune and photoshop so that what we end up looking at is as alien as the images in magazines.
Maybe I need to lighten up. I do. I’m going to try. Because ultimately, Lena and Kim have every right to look however they want and photograph themselves in whatever state of nudity floats their boat.
And now I’m off to photograph my hot pink cowboy boots and put them on Instagram. See you there.