The Bigger Issues Behind Kim's Butt

I honestly never thought I’d write a post about Kim Kardashian and her butt.  But, never say never I suppose, because here I am, writing about it.

Paper Magazine claimed that Kim’s bum might break the Internet yesterday when they posted their latest cover (and then released the entire photo spread) of Ms. Kardashian.  I realize I’m probably contributing to that internet breaking by even writing about this, but I think there are some important things that need to be addressed.  I’ve seen a lot of hatred circulating around the web in the last 24 hours toward Kim, toward her supporters, toward those against the photo, toward anyone who’s willing to take a stance on this photograph really.  And that’s made me decide to sit down and really hash out my own thoughts on the issue.  I’m sitting at home today, feeling all kinds of sick with a cold/flu thingie, and figured I might as well try and be productive from my nest of tissues and blankets.

My first instinct when I saw Kim’s butt was to think, “Okay, another picture of Kim’s ass.  It’s large.  And shiny.”  Then I pretty much forgot about the photo and went about my business.  But as the day went on, people on every social media platform decided they needed to be VERY vocal about their opinions on this photo.  Which is fine, that’s what social media is for.  But the amount of negativity, slut-shaming, and unnecessary nastiness really got to me. 

This is the first photo Paper Mag released, with their claim of how Kim Kardashian was going to "break the internet."

This is the first photo Paper Mag released, with their claim of how Kim Kardashian was going to "break the internet."

I saw a lot of, “Ew, she’s a mother!”  “Slut!”  “What a nasty cum-dumpster.”  (These are all real comments on real websites).  Naya Rivera from Glee expressed her distaste for the photo, commenting on twitter, “…you’re someone’s mother…”

These kinds of comments frustrate me.  First off, what good is it doing you (or anyone) – anonymous Internet commenter – to call Ms. Kardashian a slut, or worse?  That’s not helpful, and it’s absolutely uncalled for.  Okay, her butt is on a magazine cover (and yes, her entirely nude body is pictured inside) – but that does NOT make her a slut or a bitch or any other derogative term society uses to shame women for their sexuality.  I don't know why Kim chose to pose for these pictures (nor why she makes many of her decisions), but it’s not my job to judge her.  I’m not even a Kim Kardashian fan, but I am a supporter of women and female sexuality.  And for everyone decrying Kim for being a mother, please take a moment to step back and mind your own business.  We get into very dangerous territory when we start claiming that mother’s shouldn’t express their sexuality – that’s indicative of a society still very afraid of women’s bodies and their sexual prowess.  I don’t have children, so I can’t speak from experience, but I damn well hope that – when I do – people will respect my decision to do whatever I want with my body.  Posing for Playboy as a mother (or Paper Magazine or whatever) doesn't make you a horrible mother, and I find it highly and horribly offensive that people would suggest otherwise.  You don’t have to take naked photos when you have kids, but please stop shaming people who do – their body, their decisions.

A lot of people on social media have also taken this opportunity to bring up Kim’s sex-tape as proof of her whoreishness.  First off, we all need to get over that.  It happened forever ago.  Second, sex tapes don’t make people whores (just like nude photos don't make people sluts).  Sure, Kim has made decisions that many people may disagree with, but again, that’s her business.  Do you really care that she made a sex tape?  If you do, maybe you should take a moment to consider why you feel so upset about it.  Because, frankly, I can’t see how someone’s filmed sexcapades has impacted your existence all that much.

Whew.  Okay, so let’s talk about the things I do take issue with when it comes to this photo.  First off, I understand the dangers of Photoshop and the unrealistic body presented by this series of photographs.  Whether this is Kim’s real figure or not, I think we can all agree that some level of photo shop magic was used.  Most women do not look like the Kim Kardashian presented by Paper Magazine.  So yes, I agree with the comments on social media that take issue with photo shopping and unrealistic ideas of “beauty” and “sexiness.”  I can also understand being upset about the objectification that is potentially occurring in this photo.  This is where things get tricky…because it’s not okay to use women as props or sexual objects.  And how do we decide whether this image is objectifying a woman or empowering her?  I personally don’t find it very empowering.  There’s nothing challenging or thought-provoking about these images, in fact, there’s a dark and racial history behind them (I’ll get to that in a second).  However, I do feel very strongly about not belittling Kim for baring her bum, regardless of how we feel (maybe she felt empowered by posing for these, who knows?).  Yes, we can find these photos objectifying (or not) but I still refuse to call her a slut or belittle her for being a mother who chose to pose nude.

One very important thing that I do find offensive and potentially harmful about these photos is their racism – specifically in the photo of Kim balancing a champagne glass on her derriere.  Check out this article by Blue Telusma, who addresses photographer Jean-Paul Goude’s inspiration for this image, and explains why this photograph is steeped in age-old racism and misogyny.  Telusma makes some excellent points and brings to light a lot of things I was unaware of when I first saw the photos of Kim.  She mentions Saartjie Baartman, one of two Khoikhoi women in the late 1700's/early 1800's who was presented as a "freak" because of her large backside.  She also highlights how the image of Kim with a champagne glass on her bum is a recreation of Jean-Paul Goude's image of a black woman standing naked in the exact same situation.  This original photograph was published in a book called "Jungle Fever"….and epitomizes the detrimental eroticism of black bodies.  Whether Kim is aware of this history, I don't know.  I refuse to insult her or hate on her for showing off her sexuality and her body, but her decision to recreate this particular picture does disappoint me.  I highly recommend reading all of Telusma's article for a better and more comprehensive understanding of this issue.

This photo of Kim was based on the now iconic photo to the left, also taken by Jean-Paul Goude (in 1976).

This photo of Kim was based on the now iconic photo to the left, also taken by Jean-Paul Goude (in 1976).

There are definitely issues with the latest photos of Kim.  But there are also issues in how we are responding to them.  I totally agree with people who think there may be some objectification going on here – especially given the past of the photographer and the history of these images.  That undoubtedly needs to be addressed.  But slut-shaming the reality star isn’t beneficial to anyone, and it reeks of a misogynic culture intent on policing women’s sexuality.  Instead of focusing on Kim (and her butt and her sex tape), we need to look at the bigger issues here, like the racial history of these images and the objectification of women throughout history.  Stop hating on Kim for being a mom, and start questioning the intent of these photos and the way we view women in the media.

It's complicated, I know.  And I’m honestly not sure whether I’ve made much sense in this post.  I’m still trying to figure it out too!  All I know is that I needed to write about this in the hopes of turning attention where it ought to be.  Not on Kim’s butt, but on bigger issues relating to femininity, race, and womanhood.