I think it’s time for a feminist rant.
This is going to be a post about my beliefs, viewpoints, and opinions. I am framing this around the reputation of a controversial celebrity only to give it context.
A week ago, Kim Kardashian-West posted some photos on Instagram.
Before we even go any further, yes, I am following her social media. This is something for which I owe no explanation and for which I will not apologize.
Everyone knows how Kim got famous. Everyone knows that despite that incident launching her multi-million-dollar career, she gets smeared for it. Everyone knows the names and the slurs that people use to describe her. Most people have used them themselves. In fact, the comments on these two photographs are overwhelmingly either personally degrading or sexually suggestive. Some are just explicitly disgusting.
I understand that there is a certain relinquishment of privacy that comes with celebrity. I also understand that there is a certain response one must expect when posting any kind of media to the public, probably exponentially so when you are a household name. In this way I must admit that I do not envy Kim’s position. However, I do not believe she is wrong for using that position to her advantage.
She is using these images to promote her book, Selfish, which launched on May 5. There have been negative comments made about this book since its inception, claiming that Kim lives up to the title of the photo collection and labeling her conceited and self-absorbed. This is wrong.
The sexually degrading messages have continued as well. This is also wrong.
The comments about her ability to parent her child, almost-two-year-old North, also abound. This, too, is wrong.
It may have taken an extraordinary breach of privacy and trust to put her name in the spotlight, but Kim Kardashian-West is a businesswoman. Her face and her name are her brand. This is why it is not conceited of her to publish a photobook. Hundreds of other celebrities have done it. It is merely because Kim is “famous for being famous” that this is an issue at all. But Kim worked hard long before she made it big and continues to do so as her brand grows. She has launched everything from clothing boutiques to fragrances, been the advertising face of multiple well-known brands, and launched a successful video game bearing her name, on top of countless other projects. She has had her hands, and her say, in every one of these deals. She may not have entered Hollywood in the way that she expected (because it was certainly not the way she wanted) but she has made the absolute most of it, and I have no doubt that she would have made it onto the American pop culture radar at some point without having been thrust there against her will.
Because Kim is most recognized for her hourglass figure, it makes all the sense in the world that she would show this off in any and every way she can. This is no different than Angelina Jolie cashing in on her cheekbones or Tim Burton on his off-the-wall aesthetic. If a person is the face, or body, or personality, behind their own brand, that’s what gets marketed. That’s what people want.
Furthermore, it is in no way any other individual’s right to tell Kim what to do with her body, any more than it is her right to say what anyone else does with theirs. If she wants to tan, that’s her right. If she wants to get tattoos, piercings, or other body modifications, that’s her right. If she wants to wear makeup, that’s her right. If she doesn’t, that’s her right. If she wants to wear something skin-tight that leaves little to the imagination and post it online or print it in a book for the entire world to see, as long as she isn’t breaking any laws, that is her right. Just because it’s not something you would do does not mean that it is inherently morally reprehensible or makes someone a bad person.
Kim, like any other woman, is so very much more than her body. She has likes and dislikes, aesthetic preferences and tastes, memories, emotions, dreams, and aspirations, just like anyone else. She is a human being made of stardust kept together by empty space and she is on a cosmic spiritual journey just like the rest of us. Choosing to show off her physical body does not make that stardust any less stardust, does not make her journey any less worth taking, and certainly does not mean that she does not respect herself. In fact, it may mean that she respects herself more than others respect themselves, because she does not see our ultimately valueless social norms as a limit to her personal behavior. The body is not a thing to be ashamed of, but a thing to be celebrated, for all its myriad of forms and functions.
(Seriously, have you ever really sat down and thought about your body and all the miraculous things it can do? Have you ever once been amazed by how you look and think and act and exist completely uniquely from the rest of the entire universe? That is something awe-inspiring.)
Nothing that Kim has done, and certainly nothing that has been done to her, make her a bad mother, either. The idea that having a moral or personal objection to a person automatically makes them a bad parent is absolutely absurd, and frankly downright childish. There has never been any speculation about the quality of life Kim, along with her husband and family, can provide for her daughter. Kim obviously has the means to provide for her, as well as the desire and the time to spend with her, and Kim surely will pass along the same lessons that her mother taught her, along with more that she has learned on her own along the way. She is a strong role model not only for her own daughter, but for other girls and women across the globe as well, promoting ambition, drive, and entrepreneurship, as well as a healthy outlook on sexuality and body positivity.
It is important to state that women are, in fact, sexual beings capable of both arousal and desire. Also, a woman does not cease being a sexual being when she becomes a mother, which is an idea promoted by the Madonna-whore complex created by our patriarchal society. No woman falls neatly into either category, because neither category truly exists. Sexuality, like so many other things in not only humans, but nature as a whole, is a spectrum.
There is a generally held belief that women who are “Madonnas,” meaning pure, innocent, virginal, or non-sexualized, are “good girls.” The kinds of girls you take home to Mom. The kinds of girls you would want to be seen in public with. Meanwhile the women who fall into the “whore” category, which by default becomes any woman with any amount of sexual knowledge, ideation, fantasy, or appetite, are “bad girls.” The kinds of girls who will make people whisper about you behind your back. The kinds of girls you don’t want to be seen talking to. Society in general has stigmatized female sexuality. This is because women are seen as sexual objects rather than sexual subjects: to be acted upon rather than being capable of action; passive, rather than aggressive. And because this has been such a widely held belief for so long, it becomes difficult to change this perception, to begin to see women as individuals who not only seek sexual satisfaction, but desire or need it just as much as men do. There is nothing dirty or shameful about wanting a healthy sex life. Sex does plenty of great things for the body, including, according to studies, boosting the immune system, relaxing the muscles, and releasing feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin.
While Kim may not always make the best decisions, it is important to remember that she, too, is a human being, and is therefore mistake-prone. Adding to this pressure to make good choices for herself and her family is the constant expectation the world has to see her perform, and, so it seems in many cases, fail. You do not have to empathize with this pressure, but you must respect it. Everyone has their own hardships to face. Some just do it in the public eye rather than alone.
If nothing else, remember this: “Celebrity” is not a different species from “Everyman,” just a different social class.