Tuesday 16 July 2019

2014 was all about looking at naked stars - with or without their consent

Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence
Kim Kardashian

Edel Coffey

At this time of year, I like to scroll back through the windmills of my mind, categorising the best and worst moments of the last twelve months into neat little piles. This year, however, I kept hitting a road block.

One moment seemed to loom larger than others, a disproportionate shadow that threatened to eclipse everything else, an oil-slicked albatross that was robbing brainspace from all the other trivial pop cultural moments of 2014. I am, of course, talking about Kim Kardashian's most famous attribute.

By now, everybody is familiar with the pictures - Kardashian, covered in baby oil, balancing a champagne glass on her derriere, doing her best Exorcist pose as she strains to look directly at the camera whilst keeping her backside optimally angled for our viewing pleasure.

When Kardashian posted the pictures of her wet-look naked body with the hashtag #BreakTheInternet, it was the perfect melding of the three pillars of post-modern society - celebrity, pornography and voyeurism.

2014 has been an interesting year for the female form. Projects like Vagenda and Everyday Sexism started to gain mainstream traction on Twitter after the success of their campaigns to secure a woman's face on the new UK banknote and remove lads' magazines from the shelves, and both projects published books.

On the other hand, you had Kim Kardashian exposing herself with an idiotic smile and trying to get as many people as possible to see her nude pictures.

The actress Jennifer Lawrence meanwhile, regularly held up as a body role model for young girls because of her preference for looking fit rather than thin, had personal nude pictures stolen from her iCloud account by a hacker. Those pictures, originally intended for Lawrence's then-boyfriend, were published on the internet.

Lawrence was one of many female celebrities who had their privacy violated but her response may just help change how we view women's bodies. She refused to apologise. "I started to write an apology, but I don't have anything to say I'm sorry for," she told Vanity Fair.

However, there were some highlights. The teenager Malala Yousafzai won a Nobel prize and nobody commented on her clothes, her hair or her body shape. Also Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN encouraging millions of men and women to embrace the word feminism.

It's a sad indictment of our culture that having a shiny bottom is considered some sort of achievement. And the idea that Kim Kardashian is taking a stand for curvy women and breaking down old models of beauty is ridiculous and fallacious. Kardashian's curvy body is as unattainable a body type as the six-foot stick-thin pterodactyls that stalk the Paris runways during fashion week.

Tina Fey summed it up well when she wrote in her 2011 memoir Bossypants: "All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes."

Speaking of Beyoncé, the singer was caught out apparently photoshopping her thighs on her Instagram feed in order to look slimmer. That's right. Even Helen-of-Troy-beautiful Beyoncé feels pressure to slim down her already beautiful thighs.

Is it any wonder that when Calvin Klein used the 27-year-old model Myla Dalbesio in its underwear shoot she was referred to as a 'plus-size' model, despite the fact that she is a size 8 to 10, slim for most ordinary women. And let's not forget the kicking Renee Zellweger got when she re-entered the limelight daring to look older and thinner.

As 2014 draws to a close, it's clear we're still as obsessed with women's bodies as we ever were. But at least our awareness seems to be growing.

The pressure to be slim and perfect has not abated but the negative response to this pressure is growing and becoming more vocal with projects and publications like Vagenda and Everyday Sexism achieving practical results.

Okay, so the success of those projects didn't extend to keeping Madonna's clothes on or stopping Kim Kardashian from polishing her butt cheeks to a high gloss. . . but there's always 2015.

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