Kim Kardashian has been breaking the Internet since day one. Her first foray into viral media, the 2007 sex tape with then-boyfriend Ray J, has never quite been forgotten, but as of late another media storm has overshadowed it.
Recently, Kardashian tweeted a picture of herself in a bathroom. She was naked. The picture was captioned “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL”.
The uproar was instantaneous. People responded to her tweet with an astounding amount of vitriol; Kardashian was called every sexist, misogynistic and degrading slur under the sun, and some even went as far as to say her tweet reflected poorly on her ability to be a mother. There was some support, to be sure; but the majority of responses to Kardashian’s selfie were, frankly, disgusting.
Here is the interesting thing. Kardashian’s body, among other things, was what allowed her to step into the spotlight and begin her journey to fame — or infamy, take your pick. So why do we, as a society that frequently engages in oversexualization — see: The Great Breastfeeding Debate — not want to see it anymore? Has she become less attractive? Have we become more conservative? Or is it a matter of agency? Of sexism? Of empowerment?
Spoiler alert: the last three.
Oversexualization and objectification are rampant in society today, and the female body is all too frequently commercialized, standardized and policed. Here, we encounter the crux of the problem: The female body and the perception of it — what can be shown, what should be shown, in what situations and at what ages — is controlled by other people. No one, not even a supermodel, is safe from this scrutiny — and the bigger issue is that it comes from everywhere. Everyone feels entitled to criticize, judge and decide that women’s bodies have come up short. In fact, most people do not even think about whether or not they have grounds to criticize a woman for her body; it is just something they do thoughtlessly, because that is what society teaches and encourages. If a woman is not up to par in some way, you should notice — and by all means, you should point it out. Very obviously. Either to her face or over social media.
Protip: Never actually do this. Ever.
Here is why. The constant and hypercritical surveillance women suffer in America means that we are strong-armed — sometimes even forced — into following certain rules. You may expose skin, but not too much, or you will distract someone or be considered a slut. You may cover up if you like, but not too much, or you will be ridiculed for being too prudish. You may be thin, but not too thin. You may be heavier, but God forbid you have any body shape other than an hourglass. You may wear makeup, but not too much, or too little. The list goes on, and on and on, but what it comes down to, in the end, is this: Women are permitted to be what onlookers find to be physically and aesthetically pleasing. Failure to conform could result in anything from mockery to assault — sexual or otherwise.
Does this sound like a serious issue yet? Good. It is.
The issue of agency comes in when we realize that as soon as a woman feels confident or empowered enough to reveal her body independently and of her own volition, in whatever way she sees fit, the public is no longer in control. A woman who wears what she wants and refuses to yield to how society thinks she should dress is a woman who, in this moment, is no longer under the control of society, and that makes us uncomfortable. An overweight woman being proud of her figure? Ridiculous. A woman going barefaced and not feeling beautiful? Unbelievable. As a society, we only want to see what we want to see, and ridicule and undue criticism of women’s figures are perhaps the most effective ways to ensure that.
The fact that women are judged first and foremost by their appearances is nothing new, but the rise of social media has made this judgment both easier and more frequent. Back in the day, you had to wait for a woman to walk by you before you could make fun of her calf-to-ankle ratio; now, with the advent of social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, you can leer at a model’s cleavage while degrading her for the skimpiness of her outfit at the same time! Or, better yet, you can hate on Kardashian for showing off the body that was, and probably still is, a lot of people’s not-so guilty pleasure. Isn’t technology incredible? Misogyny, sexism and body-shaming, now right at your fingertips.
Femi Sobowale is a senior in the College. Pop Politics appears every other Friday.