Stop slut-shaming Kim Kardashian: It's a false sisterhood that insists success has to come at the cost of our sexual freedom

Today it's Kardashian, but tomorrow it will be another woman who’s dared to run afoul of the skin police

Published March 10, 2016 6:55PM (EST)

Kim Kardashian   (Reuters/Kevork Djansezian)
Kim Kardashian (Reuters/Kevork Djansezian)

You might think that the world has seen Kim Kardashian West naked already, on numerous occasions, so what’s one more? Well, we found out this week when on Monday, the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star posted a photo of herself in the buff standing in front of a mirror, with black bars strategically covering her breasts and genitals, with the caption:

From there, Kim’s choice to share her nude selfie quickly became a litmus test for how women are “supposed” to behave on the Internet. Actress Chloë Grace Moretz was quick to have her say:

And, of course, Piers Morgan, who’s recently made a cottage industry of telling women how to dress and act, berating Susan Sarandon for showing too much cleavage and Madonna for being “too old” to be “thrusting her breasts and pelvis about like an ageing hooker in an Amsterdam red-light district window” onstage, had to chime in and insist he knows better than Kim how she should act. Morgan tweeted his own seemingly patented brand of slut-shaming, telling Kardashian West on Twitter it’s time to “put her clothes back on,” which he elaborated on in the Daily Mail.

Pink chimed in with a tweet clearly aimed at Kim, pitting women who use their “work ethic” against those who use their “tits and asses”:

Plenty of celebrities like Ariel Winter were quick to defend Kim’s naked tweet:

Here’s the crux of the problem; if you buy into the Pink/Moretz school of thought, you’re assuming that women can only be goal-setting career women if they bypass their sexuality entirely, or they can be sexpots who give up their right to ever be taken seriously. You’re insisting that those two ways of being are necessarily in opposition. You’re shunting women’s sexuality and desire back behind closed doors. You’re assuming the rest of the world can’t handle a woman who might be both smart and brazen. That’s the same mind-set that leads to women whose photos have been leaked against their will being fired from their jobs.

I get why that mind-set exists—in large part, it’s because women have fought long and hard to be taken seriously and not reduced to our sexuality. But the solution to a legacy of sexism can’t be to turn that around and pin it on other women. This isn’t a case of only out-of-touch men like Piers Morgan telling a woman what’s acceptable, but plenty of women trying to jockey for position in the marketplace of respectability at the expense of other women. By attacking Kardashian, they’re attacking any woman who’s chosen to make her sexuality part of her image, her brand and/or her identity.

It might seem like a kinder, gentler for-your-own-good form of slut shaming, a way of raising women up, but it’s really not. It’s still an insistence that to get ahead in the world, to be taken seriously, to be on a supposed equal playing field with men, we should tamp down our sexuality. That’s an extremely slippery slope that I would hope anyone calling herself a feminist would want to avoid. As Natasha Geiling and Jessica Goldstein wrote at Think Progress, “It’s kind of amazing that we are still not past a general discomfort with a woman being in control of her own body and image, even when that woman is Kim Kardashian West and her body is arguably the pinnacle of what is considered sexy these days.

In a way, it seems like Kim was taunting the world with her image. Her caption was sparse, and not all that different from her usual output—she did, after all, release a book of selfies called “Selfish.” But her body has become a proxy for how we feel about women who are utterly unashamed about flaunting their sexuality—and it doesn’t really matter why they do. If the default reaction is, “Explain your desire to get naked in front of other people,” we already have a dilemma, because the person insisting on an explanation is centering themselves as the arbiter of virtue.

It’s one thing to demand that women not be used to sell products in demeaning, sexist ways, as a new campaign about women in advertising, Women Not Objects, is doing. But it’s quite another to try to shame someone for how they elect to present their own body. You don't have to like or admire Kardashian, or want to pose nude yourself, to recognize that what she does with her image is precisely her choice to make. That doesn’t have to mean we agree with her that in the process she’s “empowering” other women, as she argued on her site, but telling her what to do with her body is just as problematic as telling a woman how to run her body in any other context, be it reproductive rights or school dress codes. It’s insisting that you know what’s best for her and for society, which by definition is taking away her agency. That’s not one step forward, two steps back, but an infinite number of steps backward for feminism.

As "Her" columnist Megan Cassidy wrote after she was called “stupid” by readers for covering the Kardashian nude selfie episode: “I’m not going to police social media and decide that it’s okay for Kate Moss to be naked, but not for Kim Kardashian. Or that one woman can be naked because she has a scar or a colostomy bag, but that the woman beside her is too 'generically beautiful' to share her body.”

In Kim’s case, the fact that she rose to fame on the heels of a sex tape, is utterly unashamed of posing nude and makes money from said images as part of her overall popularity (and app and game) seems most galling of all. Piers Morgan wrote in the Daily Mail, “Kim’s ruthlessly exploited every crevice of her body in a way so spectacularly successful that it’s turned her into a multi-millionaire.” OK, but so what? Whether Kim is simply an exhibitionist or a shrewd businesswoman with an elaborate social media strategy (or both!), it’s her decision. There’s all kinds of ways women are exploited in this world; we don’t need supposed white knights swooping in to save us from “exploiting” ourselves.

If you’re a woman, whether you ever pose nude or not, you’re quickly going to realize that there will be people out there telling you you’re showing too much skin at some point in your life. I see Kim’s decision to bare her body as a way of taking that knowledge and running with it. Yes, today we’re talking about Kim, which, I assume, is what she wanted when she posted that photo, but tomorrow it will be another woman who’s dared to run afoul of the skin police. The reason this story blew up this week isn’t because we had another chance to ogle Kim’s body, but because other people took it upon themselves to shame her for it. I don’t necessarily think Kim Kardashian is a crusader for anyone other than herself, but she doesn’t have to be. Her critics did enough shaming to do lasting damage to any girl or woman who might take to heart the idea that you can only be respected if you keep your clothes on and your sexuality locked up at all times.

But Kim Kardashian doesn’t need me or anyone else to tell you that—she’s telling us herself on her website. As reported by BuzzFeed, Kim wrote:

I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. It’s 2016. 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.”

She’s absolutely right. I don't want to be part of a false sisterhood that insists that success has to come at the cost of our sexual freedom. I don’t want to laud women’s brains at the expense of our bodies. I want Kim—and women of all body shapes and sizes—to feel comfortable in their own skin, whether they’re naked only in their bedroom or on the Internet.

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

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Kim Kardashian Kim Kardashian West Nude Photos Nude Selfies Slut Shaming