Perceptions of Sexualization: The Kim K Conundrum
by Kimberly Roe
This article is a continuation of a previous article entitled “Why Can’t Women Love Their Bodies Publicly?: A Kardashian Case Study.”
Kim Kardashian is a notorious icon who incites various emotions, some apathetic, others passionate, within any familiar with popular culture. Last month, in an examination of Kim K’s “nude” selfie that essentially “broke the internet” once more after receiving an almost immediate flood of backlash and equally swift rush of support, the actions and motives of those who disliked Kardashian’s self-released photo were discussed. Many of the recent naysayers, however, seemed to flourish during the rise of Kim K when the sex tape that essentially made her famous was leaked. Though still not supporting Kardashian’s right to have consensual sex, those viewers seemed to enjoy being privy to a private video much more than seeing a less scandalous photo being released purposely. Why is that? This article aims to outline the difference between the consumption of a censored photo she released herself and the consumption of the infamous non-consensually released sex tape that essentially made her famous.
Many can attest to the feeling of adrenaline one often gets when engaging in something “forbidden.” This ranges from something as mild as sneaking a cookie from the jar when mom’s not looking to… Watching a private sex tape that was leaked to the public. The jump from the former to the latter is substantial, and the ethical failings of the two are almost incomparable. Taking one cookie from a jar is not very harmful. Consuming a secret sex tape however, violates the basic privacy of those who did not give consent for it to be viewed. It enables the behavior of those who hack into accounts to take and distribute photos and videos that were not meant to be shared with more than a few. And it encourages the public to make snap judgements about people, often allowing the masses to band together in a hive mind of shaming against the victim.
Some think of releasing sex tapes and nude photos as a way of humanizing celebrities who can often seem larger than life or “too perfect.” But violating their privacy and taking away their right to choose what parts of themselves are broadcast to the media does more to dehumanize celebrities by treating them less as people and more as objects to criticize, laugh at, and rally against.
This kind of behavior also makes it far too easy to feel fine treating those who aren’t celebrities this way. The more a person sees the private media of celebrities being stolen and broadcasted to the public, the easier it will be for them to be okay with -- or, do -- the same to someone else. Someone in their high school or college. Someone in their workplace. Someone in their neighborhood. All of these people become fair game to anyone with the capability.
Even without so many detrimental consequences, consuming media that was not consensually released strips away the sense of security for everyone. If someone can do that to one person, they can do it to anyone else. It takes away everyone’s right to privacy and often makes people feel limited in their ability to do as they please, lest someone exploit them*.
So, if people should be up in arms about Kim K’s sex tape being released, why shouldn’t they be angry about her nude photo? The answer is simple: consent.
Kim Kardashian uploaded that photo to Twitter with the full intention that anyone who wanted to would see it. The photo was not stolen and was not leaked. It was given to the public with the full support and approval of the taker. Kardashian gave the public permission to consume and enjoy (or not) the picture by making it available herself and repeatedly assuring--mainly through defending her right to upload it--that it was quite alright to be a top news item.
Kardashian was attacked for her leaked sex tape, but the attacks she received for her nude selfie were different. Disapproval for her sexual engagements were rampant when the tape was released. When it came to her photo, people seemed more concerned with her unapologetic display -- the fact that she was willingly offering this photo.
It appeared that critics were more hostile about the release and circulation of Kardashian’s selfie than her sex tape, which hints that the general media felt more comfortable with a tape Kardashian did not authorize for release than a picture she released herself. And that is a problem.
*Oftentimes, people will use the victim-blaming argument: “If you don’t want something like that to happen to you, then don’t take those kinds of pictures! Don’t make videos like that!” It is important to note here that everyone has the ability and right to do as they please as long as they are not hurting others or instructing on anyone else’s rights. Someone who wants to take a nude photo (for themselves or even to send to one person) is not hurting anyone. Someone who steals this photo and distributes it is hurting someone and instructing on that someone’s right of privacy.