Despite the title, these aren’t exactly advertisements, so much as photo spreads in magazines. however, I’m pretty sure they are selling something too.
There have been a spate of glossy photos published in magazines lately that (on the face of it) seem to be challenging existing norms, or at least shocking us all into a conversation. But, delving deeper we might find that they are still cogs in a well oiled market driven machine that’s predicated on the objectification of women’s bodies.
the most obvious place to begin would be with Kim Kardashian’s notorious ‘breaking the internet‘ photo, but i refuse to give her space on my blog so won’t be posting this photo here. However, feel free to follow the link and then come back as I would like to draw some parallels with her father’s recent cover on Vanity Fair.
Both photos seem like brave departures from established norms. The shock factor of Kim’s nudity is compounded by the sleek oiled look and emphasis the photo places on her generous backside. some hailed the photo as a feminist statement flouting conventional ideals of beauty and celebrating female power. however, as Naomi Wolf wrote many moons ago in ‘The Beauty Myth’ – power which derives from the gaze of another, is no power at all. I agree with Feminist Current who claim that women are sick of their bodies being used as ‘a disposable object for enterprise’. Much like paid commercials, Kim’s body is used (with her consent) to bolster a consumerist market, selling an unattainable, photo-shopped and cosmetically enhanced spectacle of female sexuality that almost boarders on the absurd.
Caitlyn Jenner seems to have made a similar choice in sharing her semi-nude body on the front pages of an important publication, creating a global collective intake of breath. so far reactions have been overwhelmingly positive and this photo is being haled as a breakthrough for transgender rights. however, as Laverne Cox wrote on her Tumblr, no one person can ever represent all trans people. I would also add, that so far both Laverne’s public identity and that of Caitlyn Jenner, have made a conscious effort to conform to standard beauty ideals, offering an unoffensive image of femininity.
I don’t expect trans people to carry the torch for the entire feminist movement and battle all gender stereotypes in addition to the discrimination they face already because of their trans identity. however, this photo just isn’t as subversive as it seems. Jenner has made a choice to look (through surgery) and dress in a way that glamorizes a very narrow kind of feminine beauty, and is also decked out in designer clothes – so we can all go out and buy her look. And this image also creates an apparent dichotomy between masculine and feminine representations that seem to be on complete opposite sides – an issue which should bother trans people as much as it bothers us, as it’s holding them to the same narrow normative beauty standards.
at the end of the day, there is nothing truly revolutionary about the image of femininity offered here or of the role of the female body in any of these images.
the final photo I would like to share is one that has cropped up quite a bit on my feed lately supposedly celebrating motherhood and challenging norms which call on women to cover up while breastfeeding.
however, a closer look at this photo will reveal that the model is holding her 4 month old naked child like a casual handbag, and that this entire photo aesthetic calls to mind the use of a baby as a glamorous accessory. the designer clothing on the model and the nudity of the child, juxtaposed with her face which seems to be experiencing pleasure or release, which could be interpreted as sexual, is all incredibly disturbing. Once again, an image of supposedly female power is co-opted into the market driven consumerist world of glossy magazines, and the good intentions (maybe) of the storyteller are lost.